Coconut rice pudding

Easy recipe with photos for Coconut Rice Pudding

Mexico’s tropical climate is perfect for coconut palms. They grace the coastline in much of the country. Coconut water and cocadas (coconut macaroons) are sold everywhere along roadsides and in markets. Rice came to Mexico by way of the Philippines, and was quickly embraced by the everyday cook, usually as a course on its own served as a sopa seca, a dry “soup”, before the plato fuerte, the main course. Rice and coconut seem like a natural combination in this creamy, flavorful pudding.

Rice pudding is a favorite Mexican dessert at fiestas, especially birthday parties. But I can’t say it is a favorite of mine, because it us usually dry, thick  and gluey. Coconut Rice Pudding corrects all of these shortcomings, but then it is no longer an authentic recipe. There are times when authenticity is not as important as making a dish that is very inviting and tasty. This recipe was inspired by one that is served at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. You can find it on epicurious.com.

Coconut Rice Pudding
serves 6-8

  • 1 cup (7 oz./200 grams) raw rice
  • 2 cups (480 ml.) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3.5 grams) salt
  • 6 tablespoon (2 oz./60 grams) sugar
  • 3 tablespoon (.75 oz./80 grams) cornstarch
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups (480 ml.) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon (.5 oz./12 grams) vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon (4 grams) coconut extract (optional)
  • 1/2 (3.5 grams) teaspoon salt
  • Toasted dried coconut flakes
  • Fresh fruit slices
  1. Bring water and salt to a boil. When water reaches a boil, add rice and swirl pan for a few seconds to dissolve salt. Cover and cook on very low heat for 15 minutes. Turn off heat. Do not lift the lid. Let rest for 10 minutes to completely absorb water. After 10 minute rest, fluff with a fork.
  2. Bring coconut milk to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring every few minutes.
  3. While coconut milk is heating, whisk sugar and cornstarch in a 1-quart bowl until blended. Whisk in eggs one at a time, until very smooth. Whisk in salt.
  4. When coconut milk reaches a simmer, slowly add to egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour back into a  pan on the stove and cook over medium-low heat stirring constantly until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon.
  5. Pour coconut sauce over rice and gently fold together. Stir in vanilla and optional coconut extract.
  6. Press plastic wrap on surface of rice pudding and refrigerate until cold, 4-6 hours.
  7. Serve garnished with toasted coconut and slices of fresh fruit.

Notes:

The small dish pictured above is a piece of inexpensive, low-fired pottery that is ubiquitous in Mexico. Dishes range from small bowls to very large cooking pots called cazuelas. I love the primitive look and feel of them, though they chip easily. I could use a pressure-cooker to cook beans, but I prefer to use the clay bean pot, which Mexican cooks claim gives a better taste to the beans. While potters assure us that today’s pottery is lead-free, just to be safe, I do not use them for storage or for acid foods.

Huevos a la Mexicana — Scrambled Eggs with Tomato, Onion and Chile


A Classic Mexican Recipe

Huevos a la Mexicana is the easiest way to get an authentic Mexican breakfast on the table. We have had this simple dish at restaurants all over Mexico, usually served with warm tortillas and frijoles refritos on the side. With few ingredients, it is basically scrambled eggs cooked with the tri-color vegetables of the Mexican flag — tomatoes, onion and green chile. Regular scrambled eggs now seem a pale imitation.

Huevos a la Mexicana
serves 2
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 serrano chile, finely chopped, or 1/2 of a large poblano chile, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2  large tomato, chopped
  • chopped cilantro for garnish

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and saute onion and  chile until onion is translucent. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds longer, stirring. With a fork, lightly beat eggs with a pinch of salt. Add eggs to vegetables in skillet and cook until eggs are almost done, then add tomatoes for the last few minutes of cooking. Salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro and serve with hot frijoles refritos and tortillas.


Notes:

The easiest way to peel garlic is to hit a clove with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Bring your fist down on the flat of the blade, smash the clove, and the skins will come loose and peel easily.

The easiest way to mince garlic is with a garlic mincing tool. Most of us can’t mince garlic as fine as it should be quickly. The tool makes quick work of this. Also, reserve one cutting board for garlic and onion. You don’t want your sliced melon to have a linger of eau de garlic.




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A Tamal Day in La Cruz, or How I learned I am Not a Natural Born Tamal Maker

Freshly made tamales with pork, chicken,
and poblano chile with cheese

Tamales are made fresh every Wednesday in La Cruz, Nayarit, by a crew of women who gather together and knock out about 200 tamales in four hours. It is quite a scene to witness, and it was another experience all together to put on my apron and join in.

Tamales have been made since 5,000 to 8,000 BC by Aztecs and other indigenous people of Mesoamerica, using their most common food staple, corn. These women working today, with children underfoot, can most likely trace their matriarchal lineage back several thousand years without a break in tamal production. For those who appreciate history, this is quite a fact to ponder.

When I arrived this morning, potatoes were being peeled, chiles were being cleaned and soaked, and the chicken and pork were already simmering. I took my place at the long table and was handed a potato peeler. I peeled and chopped potatoes, then went to work boning chicken.


Other women were putting the chile sauce together. Re-hydrated chiles guajillo (also known as chiles tenir) chopped onion and garlic, cumin and tomatoes were pureed in a blender with chicken broth to a sauce-like consistency. At the same time, the corn husks were being cleaned and soaked, and some were torn into narrow strips to use for tying the ends of the tamales.

A strong-armed woman started to mix the masa. First, melted lard was mixed with baking powder, a cooking technique I had not encountered before that surprised me. In Mexico, baking powder is called “Royal”, the brand name of a popular baking powder. No wonder I raised eyebrows when I once asked for “polvo de horno” at the store.

Cooked rice was added next. The second surprise — I wasn’t expecting this ingredient and had never read of it in any tamal recipe, but I was told it provided the right consistency to the tamal dough. Finally, six kilos of dry masa and three handfuls of salt were added. Except for the blender, there was not an electrical appliance in sight. Hands and arms did all the work.

Everybody took a place at both sides of the table to work assembly line style. At the head of the table damp corn husks were being separated from a wet bundle and handed to the next person, who patted in a layer of masa. She handed it on to the next woman, who added the filling. It was then handed on to her neighbor, who rolled the tamal into a neat bundle. It then passed on to be tied at both ends. At the bottom of the table, the last woman collected the finished tamales and packed them in a pot.

I didn’t know whether to expect this to be an all-day job or not. It would have taken me about a month to make 200 tamales by myself, but these women were all efficiency and practice.

There were three different fillings: roasted poblano chile strips (rajas) with cheese; chicken cooked in chile sauce; and potatoes with pork cooked in chile sauce.

I wanted to help, but I also wanted to do the least possible damage. Patting just the right amount of masa in just the right place on the corn husk seemed to be a specialized job.

Even adding the filling didn’t look easy. Too much, and it would ooze out when cooked, too little, and the tamal would be skimpy. I didn’t think that making tamales would be such a skilled job, and I was lacking the skills.

I found my place at the bottom of the table, tying strips of husk to secure the tamales. Really, anyone can tie a knot. How could I mess this up? First, I was told I was tying the wrong end. Tie the wide end first, the bottom of the corn husk. OK, I can do this. Then I was told to tie it tighter. By now, I had chile sauce oozing all over the place. My hands were dripping and the husk strips were getting too wet and slick to hold on to. And I was the only one with  a puddle of chile sauce in front of me. Would I be a complete failure? This photo was one of my first attempts. I should have waited another 15 minutes to show you the lago of chile sauce in front of me. But by then, I had chile sauce running down my arms and couldn’t even pick up the camera.

Twenty or thirty or sixty-five tamales later, I had it down pat with only a smidgen of chile sauce oozing out. Can you tell which ones I tied?

By now, tamales were starting to cook, each pot labeled with time and type. The large pot of chicken tamales would cook for 2 hours, the smaller pots of pork tamales and poblano with cheese tamales took 1 hour.

You can come by any Wednesday morning to order your tamales with or without chile. The tamal kitchen is at Monica’s house, located directly across from Estetica Luna Azul on Calle Delfin, one block uphill from Philo’s Club. Place your order and come back at 6 p.m. to pick them up. You can probably just show up at 6 and buy without ordering, but you won’t get any without chile sauce. Enter in a drive-way across from Luna Azul. There will be women seated, ready to sell tamales.

The tamales with chile sauce are not hot, but rather have a savory flavor that permeates the masa. I recommend either the chicken or pork tamales with chile. The tamales with poblano chile and cheese are cooked without chile sauce, lacking that wonderful flavor imbued in the masa. Cost is 11 pesos each. After watching all the labor that went into this, I would say you are getting a bargain.

Notes:

A small Spanish lesson. Despite the common gringo usage of the word “tamale”, this word does not exist in Spanish. Singular is tamal. Plural: tamales.

Tamales are often accompanied by hot atole, a corn-based beverage. For special occasions, champurrado (recipe), a chocolate flavored atole, is served.

Emboldened, I eventually made tamales all by myself — chocolate tamales! Here’s the recipe: Tamales de Chocolate.

“Everyday we are blessed by the saints when we make tamales” ~ one of the tamal makers

 

Jocoque cheesecake with lemon orange curd and candied orange zest

Cheesecake with Lemon Orange Curd and Orange Zest

Having a source for home-made sour cream and eggs from free-range chickens means that dishes made with these ingredients, whether sweet or savory, take on a special charm. Really, how often do you come across home-made sour cream? A holiday is always a good reason to make a special dessert, and I couldn’t think of anything better for these ingredients than Cheesecake with Lemon and Orange Curd, garnished with Candied Orange Zest. For the curd and zest, I used the very last oranges from our winter harvest.

The mountain town of Mascota in the western state of Jalisco is known for candied fruits, home-made cookies and a type of sour cream called jocoque, a fermented cream product. I count my lucky stars each time we walk into the welcoming ranch house of our neighbors and buy something so fresh and close to the earth as this jocoque. But it sat in the fridge, as special as it was, while I wondered what to do with it.

Jocoque is good enough to take a spoon to and enjoy as is. When we visit our mountain friends, we are served dishes of it straight up, it’s that good. It’s one thing to eat it straight out of a dish when served as a guest. Eating it like this in our own home is another matter. It’s sour cream, after all, no matter how good it is, and we are as brainwashed as everyone else that we shouldn’t over indulge in straight fat. But a cheesecake? For the holiday week-end? No problem.

The cheesecake recipe was inspired by Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe in The Cake Bible — no cake baker should be without this book. Curd is so easy to make, I almost don’t need a recipe. And the candied zest is easy too — it’s just a matter of blanching zest, then simmering in a simple syrup.

Jocoque Cheesecake
1 8″ cake, serving 8

  • 10 oz. (284 grams) cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup (2.3 oz./66 grams) sugar
  • 2 large eggs (3.5 oz./100 grams; weighed without shells)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups (17 oz./484 grams) jocoque or sour cream
  1. Butter the sides of an 8″ springform pan or 8″ cake pan and have ready a larger oven-proof dish to serve as a water bath, or Magi Cake Strips (see note at end of post) and an insulated cookie sheet. Pre-heat oven to 325 deg. F. (163 C.).
  2. Mix cream cheese and sugar on low speed until very smooth.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed until incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl.
  4. Add vanilla, salt and sour cream and mix just until blended. Do not over-beat.
  5. Pour batter into an 8″ springform pan or 8″ round cake pan with sides 2″ high. If using a springform pan, double wrap exterior of pan in a large sheet of aluminum foil (being very careful not to perforate foil) and place pan into a larger oven-proof dish. Pour boiling water in oven-proof dish to a depth of 1″. If you are using a cake pan, you do not need to wrap in foil before setting in water.
  6. Or wrap springform pan or cake pan with a double layer of cake strips (see note below) to prevent over-baking and place on an insulated cookie sheet (a cookie sheet with a pocket of air in its center). If you use this method, you do not need a water bath.
  7. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 deg. F. (71 C.) when checked with an instant-read thermometer. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in the oven with the door closed for 1 hour.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan. The gradual cooling prevents cracks. When the cheesecake has reached room temperature, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  9. To remove from pan: if you used a springform pan, run a thin knife around the edge of the cheeecake, release spring and remove ring when cake is chilled. If you used a cake pan, run a thin knife around sides, and hold the pan over a stove burner until bottom of pan feels warm to the touch. Gently invert onto a plate.
  10. Cover with 2/3 cup of Lemon Orange Curd and decorate with Candied Orange Zest. Serve cold.
Jocoque Cheesecake Topped with Lemon Orange Curd

Lemon Orange Curd

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 eggs
  • 12 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 pinches of salt

  1. Mix all ingredients in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Cook until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, stirring continuously. If curd starts to boil, briefly remove from heat. Curd is done when it becomes thick and coats a wooden spoon.
  3. Cover and refrigerate.

This recipe makes more than is needed for the cheesecake. Extra curd is a wonderful topping on toast.


Orange Zest

With a zesting tool or very sharp paring knife, cut strips of peel (without white) from 1 orange. In a small saucepan, cover zest with water and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain, discarding water. Make a simple syrup with 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Gently simmer zest in syrup for 15 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain zest on a plate. While still moist, toss with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Notes:

Baking a cheesecake is a delicate operation. Cheesecakes can turn out dry and cracked if baked without benefit of a water bath or Magi Cake Strips.

Magi Cake Strips can be purchased on line or at cookware stores. To use them, soak first in water, then squeeze out excess water with your fingers. Wrap around cake pan and secure with a large straight pin or paper clip. Not only do these strips keep cheesecakes creamy, they prevent regular cakes from baking too quickly on their outer edges and doming in the center.

Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, and Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, has created silicone strips that do not need to be soaked in water or secured with a pin, therefore, they are much easier to use. They are available on line or at cookware stores.

An alternative to purchased cake strips is to make your own with aluminum foil and wet paper towels. Cut a length of foil 8″ wide and 18″ long (diameter of cake pan doubled, plus 2″ extra for securing with a pin). Soak paper towels and squeeze out excess water. Fold into 2″ wide strips and lay on foil. Fold foil over 3 times, so that finished strip is 2″ by 18″. Wrap around pan twice and secure with a long straight pin or a large paper clip. The double wrapping around the pan is necessary for a cheesecake if you don’t use a water bath. If you are making strips for baking a regular cake, the pan only needs to be wrapped once around to slow baking of outer part of cake.

I have never read a recipe that called for using cake strips and an insulated cookie sheet, instead of a water bath, for baking a cheesecake.  My cheesecakes baked this way come out as tender as any baked in a water bath. I think I may be on to something. To no longer have to use a pan of near-boiling water and have the risk of a soggy cheesecake if the foil is perforated will be welcome news to all cheesecake bakers. Feedback via the comments will  tell me if this is a sure way of baking a creamy, tender cheesecake or not. Please let me know if you try this method.

Zesting Tool

 

Chilaquiles — Tortillas and Eggs with Salsa Verde

A Classic Mexican Recipe

Chilaquiles, a popular breakfast dish found on Sunday brunch tables in almost every hotel restaurant in Mexico, is one of my favorite ways to eat Salsa Verde. I love the tang of the green salsa set against the sweet corn tortillas and the rich egg, cheese and cream. One of my cookbooks translates the name as Tortilla Hash, a name I don’t like at all. Hash is too common a word, but when I take a good look at the photo above, I guess it is hash-like.

Diana Kennedy, in her wonderful book, From My Mexican Kitchen, Techniques and Ingredients, offers the information that chilaquiles is a Nahautl word meaning chile and wild greens. She goes on to say that she has never known this dish to be made with wild greens. But another chilaquiles recipe in A Cook’s Tour of Mexico by Nancy Zaslavsky (St. Martin’s Press) uses epazote, an herb cooked with beans (and found in the wild), which I happen to have on hand for my next pot of black beans. So this version is true to the Nahautl translation.

I know you were cooking with me yesterday, so you have plenty of salsa verde in your fridge, right? If not, see the recipe from the previous post. (Chilaquiles are also made with Salsa Roja, a tomato based chile sauce.)

Chilaquiles
1-2 servings, depending on your appetite

  • 6 day-old corn tortillas
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil (I use avocado oil)
  • 1/2 cup salsa verde
  • 2-6 tablespoons of water, if needed
  • 2 leaves fresh epazote, chopped (optional)
  • salt to taste
  • 2-4 eggs, depending on number of servings and size of appetites
  • 2 tablespoons queso fresco, queso adobero, or cheese of your choice, crumbled or grated
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican crema, sour cream or crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon mild onion, chopped
  • cilantro for garnish
  1. Stack tortillas and cut into twelfths, like pie wedges.
  2. Heat oil in a heavy skillet and fry tortilla pieces until small brown spots start to appear. Add more oil if needed. Don’t let tortilla pieces get too crisp. Some softness should still remain. Drain on a paper towel.
  3. Add salsa verde to the hot skillet. Add water if necessary until you have a thin consistency.
  4. When salsa is bubbling, add tortilla pieces and chopped epazote and stir until combined. Cook about 2-3 minutes over medium heat, adding more water if the tortillas soak up too much moisture. Salt to taste.
  5. While the chilaquiles are cooking, cook eggs, either sunny-side-up or over-easy. For runny yolks, break the eggs into a hot pan in which you have already heated butter or oil. The pan should be hot enough so that the eggs start to sizzle when they go in the pan. Immediately cover the pan and turn off the heat. The residual heat will produce perfectly cooked eggs with runny yolks in about 2 minutes, while the tortilla pieces finish cooking in the salsa.

A very hungry person could eat all of this. Two moderate appetites will want to share it. So divide the tortillas among two plates, or one. Gently set the eggs on top, and garnish with crema, chopped onion, crumbled cheese and chopped cilantro.

Notes:

  • For this dish, day-old tortillas are best. If you are buying packaged tortillas in a grocery store, consider them already at least a day old.  I hope someday you can find tortillas hot off the press. The difference between freshly made tortillas and packaged ones is like the difference between fresh tuna and canned.
  • In restaurants, chilaquiles may be offered with shredded, cooked chicken breast instead of eggs.
  • Unless you live in a community with a Mexican grocery store, epazote will be hard to find. There is really no substitute, but I assure you that chilaquiles are excellent without it. Fresh epazote smells and tastes like a weed, but an interesting weed. I can’t even compare it to any other herb. When used judiciously in a cooked dish, it imparts a flavor like nothing else can. (Epazote is often added to black beans, where it contributes a unique Mexican flavor.)

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