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Discussion in 'Food & Travel' started by jmarquez1976, Jan 17, 2006.
There are only a handful of Freebirds. There's the original shop in Santa Barbara, and now a handful of locations in Texas, but it's hardly a massive corporate chain.
yeah but not the kind that he's talking about. i think the best taco places here in Austin are the little taco stands. ummm some of the best stuff in the city. well actually it is the best tacos you can find here in Austin
I went to one during my last visit back to Dallas (in Olde Town), and it might as well had been part of a massive chain. I had the quesadilla suiza, incidentally, not a burrito, so...
15 locations in Texas. No, not taco bell, but that is a bunch.
Interesting that I just finished reading 1491, which talks a lot about maize and its affect on indian, pre-columbian and world culture.
I have a hankering to get down to Oaxaca, climb up to Monte Alban, look around, than then spend the next week living on beer and whatever I can put on corn tortillas.
I have spent little time in Mexico, but I remember one time I was down in Puebla and a lady was making corn tortillas and we ate them with just a bit of butter and salt. Man, they were good.
Who is that looney looking guy from Chicago who does the Mexican cooking show on PBS now and again? It's kind of fun because he LOVES MEXICAN FOOD SO MUCH.
Rick Bayless....yeah he is pretty goofy...he is not particularly good as a Food Show Host. However, I have one of his cookbooks, Authentic Mexican: Capturing the Flavors of a World Class Cuisine, he did a great job on the book. Also, he runs what are suppossed to be some of the very best Mexican restaurants in the country...Frontera & Tobolobampo in Chicago.
Cult of the Nopal
Alright, continuing with Mexican ingredients....we come to the Nopal (Paddle Cactus). The Nopal is as Mexican as you can get....in fact, it is immortialized in its colloquial use that parallels the American phrase "As a American as Apple Pie" and its on the Flag for God's sake.
The Nopal is one of Mexico's sacred vegetables, as it is found & consumed just about anywhere & everywhere in the country. It is a very hardy plant in very harsh climates, and is a good analogy of the Mexican people....extremely resilient, a little thorny on the outside, and a great treat for those who know how to unlock its gifts.
The Nopal is so inherently part of Mexican cuisine that any restaurant that doesn't have it on the menu is incomplete...and this goes for High End establishments as well as Casual sit down places. This takes us back to why I am unsatisfied with L.A.'s Mexican dining situation....the plant grows all around the Southwest, you can buy it fresh at Whole Foods, Farmers Markets, Ethnic Markets & even some mainstream supermarket chains...yet for some fuct up reason...it is nearly impossible to find restaurants that serve it.....and when they do, they are often from a can =(
How to eat Nopal? The most common recipe in the Mexican repertoire is the Cactus Salad (chilled steamed tender cactus strips with fresh diced tomatoe, onions, cilantro, avocado & a little bit of good salt).
The Nopal has a slightly green, crisp flavor that is echoed in Silver Tequilas...and it melds with other flavors quite easily. Further, the Cactus Salad plays right in to the Mexican culinary scheme. Earlier, I mentioned that Rice & Beans as sides where a cop out...a shortcut, taken by cheap Mexican restaurants. The thing to understand about Mexican Culinary philosophy is that it is important to balance Cold & Hot foods (e.g., topping Pozole with crisp Cabbage) & to balance Cooked & Uncooked foods. In the traditional Comida scheme, you might eat something like:
> Soup (obviously Hot & Cooked)
> Saucy Pot Roast with a Side of Cactus Salad
> Fresh Fruit for Desert
Mexican cuisine is not just about spicy & bold flavors...its about balance & health as well.
Other than Cactus Salad...the Nopal is often Grilled or Griddled & served in Sauce. In high end Mexican restaurants you might get a Filet Mignon served on Griddled Nopal that is swimming in a Tomato-Chipotle sauce. A forkful, of steak, nopal & seared salsa is certainly something memorable.
On the vegetarian front (there is tons of vegetarian food in Mexico...mostly because people can't afford to eat meat every meal...not out of choice...although the average Mexican meal probably contains 3 to 4 ounces of meat used mostly to flavor the sauce, vegetables & tortillas rather than as a protagonist) the Nopal is often served in rich sauce, like say a Mole, and accompanied with a nice wedge of Cheese or hard boiled eggs.
The Nopal is also used in Soups, and Sauteed with Eggs and/or Chorizo for breakfast.
Re: Cult of the Nopal
That seems odd - I wouldn't say it's common in Austin, but I certainly saw it often enough. Although usually it was quite slimy which leads me to believe it probably came from a can.
I was recently in Mexico and we had a cookout and I wanted to buy some nopales to throw on the grill - would that have been good or would it need to have been paired with beef or something?
Speaking of cactus, we randomly bought some Agave syrup in the store just out of curiousity and I really like it on pancakes. It's not very sweet and apparently it's suitable for diabetics, retains minerals, etc. I suspect we will be seeing more often on store shelves in the foreseeable future. I wonder if I can buy it in NYC very easily? Probably at Whole Foods but I bet it's expensive there...
Re: Cult of the Nopal
1) Slimy means that they either didn't know how to cook it, or it was from a can.
2) Yup, Grilled Nopales are good...but needs some additional flavoring. Don't know if you have had Asadero Cheese...but it is made specifically so that you can put it right on a Grill & it won't melt all over, it just gets a little "fried"...anyway its very common to have grilled Asadero, onions & chiles on a Nopal "sope" Nopales are very versatil...get to know it, you will find some interesting things to do with it.
3) Mexico is at the forefront of diabetic research....Nopales have been showing to improve insulin resistance (Type II Diabetes), over the last 10 years Mexicans have found dozens of new ways to have more Nopales including, on of my favorites, Nopal "smoothies" sweetened with fresh pineapple juice.
4) Agave syrup has all the Registered Dietitions excited because it does have an extremely Low Glycemic Index (it doesn't give you the harmful highs & lows associated with sugar & honey)...so Diabetics can have it rather safely. I wonder, how Tequila relates to Diabetics.
And on a random note, research concluded that vinegars might also "cure" Type II diabetes. So there you go...we just need to come up with a recipe for Nopales en Escabeche (pickled).
Most people don't realize that the Chinese are great bakers, and they are very, very flexible. In Mexico City, Chinese bakeries have the same prestige as French pastry places. And in Los Angeles, before the explosion of sub-urban malls, Chinatown was THE place to go if you wanted any type of cake, cookie or pastry.
Over the weekend we went to East L.A. to search out a little Salvadoran Restaurant that makes the best Pupusas & Plaintain Empanadas in the City. Afterword, we stoped at a Chinese bakery...and not too surprisingly...they had Tres Leches Cakes, Sherry Gelatine, & Private Label Cajeta (Goat Milk Caramel).
This thread is fantastic!! I was born and raised in El Paso, and miss the authentic and Tex-Mex versions of food from my youth.
Adding a little to the burrito discussion...... in the Texas border region (northern Mexico, southern Texas, New Mexico) burritos are rarely served huge (Misson/Chipotle style). In that part of the country, the burrito is a low cost snack/meal option designed for portability, ease of preparation, and ease of consumption. And they rarely (if ever) contain rice.
I would love to hear some discussion of the importance of eggs/breakfast in the Mexican diet.
Keep up the good work jmarquez1976.
I have to admit that the Texas border use of burritos, seems a lot closer to Mexican culinarly philosophy. The California burritos are certainly tasty...but if you eat like that on a regular basis, you are looking at another Supersize Me type scenario. Specially the ones that are loaded with bland cheese & sour cream contain upwards of a 1,000 calories....and not much fiber (Flour tortillas typically don't have much...and rice certainly doesn't).
On the rare occassion that I do eat a burrito, I usually get an All Meat (no rice & beans) & I just eat half of it with a side of beans or salad.
Re: Cult of the Nopal
2. Shoot - wish I had known that because we were shopping on New Year's day and the fish market had closed so we scrambled for enough stuff to throw on the grill to feed 25 people. BTW, there was some smack talk about quality of meats in different countries, but the chicken that we grilled was amazingly good. (The beef ribs were a different story - inexpensive and tough but tasted good. We didn't try the goat head or giant cow tongue.)
Nopal smoothies sound great. There is something intriguing about nopales that makes me want to try to make them - I just got a Rick Bayless cookbook for x-mas so I'll see what recipes it has. Since I'm not in Texas where you can find it growing wild, I wonder if I could grow it indoors?
Thanks for the info.
I love the episode where he goes to the market in Mexico City (I think) to explain carnitas. It looks like he's about to jump in the vat where they're cooking down.
Re: Cult of the Nopal
1) Yeah..almsot all the Chicken in Mexico is Free Range....and is absolutely phenominal. The beef is usually made for long slow cooking, but is likewise tasty because it gets to roam & eat grass (and Nopal in some occassions)
2) I have seen people keep Aloe indoors...so Nopal might not be out of the question.
Eggs in Mexico
Back by popular demand...the subject at hand is Eggs (at the request of one of our Veggie friends).
Eggs are and have always been crucial in Mexico. In Contemporary Mexico, they play a vital role as the least expensive complete protein (along with milk & cheese). In this role, Eggs can be eaten at any time of day...and frequently subsitute Meats directly in many classic recipes.
In Ancient Mexico, Eggs (Bird, Turkey, Duck, Turtle etc.,) played a dual role.
> As just another protein source in the diverse pre-hispanic diet. (Eggs were not as easy to obtain as today)
> As part of the Ancient Haute cuisine. Early Spanish writings tell us that the Aztecs used Eggs (& Avocado) in a similar role that Cheese plays in Contemporary Mexican cuisine. They were used to contrast spicy sauces...and for textural layers. As an example, one Moctezuma's favorite dishes was a folded over Enchilada stuffed with Shredded Turkey & topped with slices of hardboiled Eggs. Incidentally, a similar dish is still very common in the Yucatan and referred to as Papadzules (Tortilla stuffed with Chopped Hard Boiled Eggs & Smothered in Pumpkin Seed Sauce):
Eggs are very common as a breakfast food. Most preparations aren't particularly exciting (Eggs scrambled with Chorizo or Salsa, Omelettes with cheeses & vegetables etc.,)...but there are couple of notable Mexican egg dishes:
> Huevos Ahogados (Drowned Eggs)...these are typically Eggs that are poached directly in a thin salsa (your favorite salsa...that is slightly diluted with a combination water & chicken/veggie broth). These are great because salsas add lots of flavor without adding much calories, sugar or fat...and because you don't lose any of the egg as you do when you poach in a water/butter solution.
One of the essential things to know about Mexico...is that its cuisine is very, very seasonal....and whenever something is in season...we find a way to sneak it into almost everything we eat. As such, the salsas are often used to cooked a bit of greens or mushrooms before the eggs are added. This is notable, because in a typical day in Mexico...you can easily eat 10 fruits & vegetables without even noticing.
In addition to Poaching in Diluted Salsa...Mexicans also poach Eggs & Serrano Chiles in a Bean Broth (I love Black Bean Broth myself). The Eggs are served with the Poaching broth in a bowl and then topped with a little bit of chopped onion & herbs for an unforgettably delicious, light yet satisfying breakfast.
Another great little touch to Eggs...is "Blistering." Basically you fry a couple of eggs in good quality Lard (pork fat that is leftover from frying bacon or carnitas....not the refined, tasteless crap in a box)....and you take spoonfuls of the hot lard and pour over the top of the eggs a few seconds after you crack them into the pan. It creates an interesting texture...and adds a little more of the lard flavor.
As far as lunch or dinner uses of eggs...people frequently serve fried or hard boiled eggs and fresco cheese in their favorite salsa or mole. Also, eggs (with mushrooms) are used to extend a little bit of meat. For example, you make take some leftover shreeded beef, a bunch of meaty mushrooms, onions & poblano chiles...and then sautee them with a couple of eggs...and everything served in a cooked salsa, to be eaten family style with a bunch of beans & corn tortillas.
Eggs Part II - Souffle Batter
And to round up the Eggs discussion, I forgot to mention the most important non-breakfast; non-dessert Egg application..........Souffle Batter.
In the States, the best know Mexican dish that uses the Souffle Batter is:
Known rather loosely as the Chille Relleno, its a Roasted Poblano Pepper, stuffed with Cheese, then dipped in frothy egg batter rolled with a little flour or cornmeal....and panfried to a golden brown.
But the Poblano is not the only food that gets this treatment:
(Stuffed Pumpkin Blossoms)
(Native Mexican Greens)
On the DVD of Once Upon a Time in Mexico, there's a Ten Minute Cooking School extra where Robert Rodriguez shows how to make Puerco Pibil, the dish that Johnny Depp's character eats in every Cantina he goes to. I tried making it and loved it. I now cook it every few weeks or so.
Here's the recipe:
Below is one version of the dish, adapted from Robert Rodríguez's DVD extras on Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Puerco pibil was the favorite of a character named Sands.
5 Tbsps. (75 ml) annatto seeds
2 tsps. (10 ml) cumin seeds
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) peppercorns
8 allspice berries
½ tsp. (8 ml) whole cloves
2 habanero chiles (or milder chile)
½ cup (120 ml) orange juice
½ cup (120 ml) white vinegar
2 Tbsps. (30 ml) salt
8 cloves of garlic
Juice of 5 lemons
Splash of tequila
5 pounds (2.3 kg) pork butt
Banana leaves and/or heavy-duty aluminum foil
White or Spanish rice, taco shells, or tortillas for serving
Place the annatto, cumin, peppercorns, allspice, and cloves in a spice grinder and process to a fine powder. (You can use an electric coffee grinder for the spices, but it will not be suitable for coffee afterwards.)
Remove the seeds and veins from the habanero chiles and chop coarsely. (If you want a hotter dish, leave some of the veins and seeds in. If you want a milder dish, substitute a milder chile.)
Process the orange juice, vinegar, chiles, salt, garlic, and the powder you made in step 1 in a blender or food processor until liquefied. Add the lemon juice and tequila.
Cut the pork into 2 inch (5 cm) chunks. Leave the fat on the meat, to keep the pork moist while roasting; you can remove it after cooking if you wish. Place in a large, self-sealing plastic bag with the marinade. Seal bag and turn to evenly coat the meat. Refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours, turning occasionally.
Heat oven to 325° F (160° C). Remove the meat from the marinade and wrap tightly in banana leaves or foil so no steam can escape. Place packet in roasting pan. If using banana leaves, an outer wrapping with foil will help seal in the steam. Roast for 4 hours. Open packet carefully; the meat should shred easily with a fork.
Serve over rice, or shred and serve with taco shells or tortillas. Makes 15 servings.
"El, you really must try this because it's puerco pibil. It's a slow-roasted pork, nothing fancy. It just happens to be my favorite, and I order it with a tequila and lime in every dive I go to in this country. And honestly, that is the best it's ever been anywhere. In fact, it's too good. It's so good that when I'm finished, I'll pay my check, walk straight into the kitchen and shoot the cook. Because that's what I do. I restore the balance to this country."
I have a question. I bought some achiote paste a little while ago and i have no idea how or in what to use it. (i gather achiote is annotto.) I have found that i like to use a little bit in chili whre it provides nice color and a good little tang, however i would really like some ideas on how it is "properly" used. can you help?
Gringo Tex just provided it for you. Achiote paste is spiced with garlic & possibly cumin etc., All you need to do is dilute it in an acid (Sour Seville Oranges or Lime/Grapefruit/Orange mixture as an adequate replace; Pickling Vinegar from some canned Jalapenos, Mexican Pineapple Vinegar or other acid) then you can use this as a marinade or wet rub on Pork, Chicken, Fish or Shellfish. Then use the Banana Leaf grilling method I discussed earlier, follow Gringo's instructions for Roasting...or get your Water Smoker hot & bothered and slow cook.
You can also fuse the Achiote flavor combinations I mentioned with other flavors that sound good to you!
BTW, you are correct Achiote = Annatto
This thread officially kicks ass. Growing up in California I have a deep affection for the Tex-Mex/Cali-Mex style of cooking, Lupe's in Thousand Oaks, CA and Herbert's Taco Hut in San Marcos, TX being two of the finest restaurants on this here earth, but I really like this take on traditional Mexican fare. There are really great flavors that have been overlooked for too long. We've gotten lucky in this area with the arrival of a couple of proper Tacquerias, though for good or ill the Central American style of food, oft appended with "Mexican too", still rules the day. Mind, I've come around to the papusa. But I digress.
When the time comes I've some comments on the nectar of the agave and the recent appearance of Especialidades Cerveceras Casta.
With all those spices maybe it isn't a problem, but with some slow cooked pork dishes like pulled pork and kahlua pork, I like it in the beginning and then it starts to have a wet dog quality I'm not crazy about. I assume this dish doesn't suffer from this?