Yesterday was one of those magical days that can only happen in Mexico. We had driven to the mountain town of Mascota in the state of Jalisco to take care of some business. Just the drive itself, through the scenic, greening mountains, would have made the day special enough. Going to Mascota always includes a visit to Cuka and Capi’s rancho to buy eggs, cheese and cream. Cuka invited us to stay and eat the afternoon meal with her family. She was going to make Gringa Tacos, often seen on local menus and seeming to have no explanation for its curious name. The mountain air had made us hungry and we would have been fools not to accept an invitation to sit at Cuka’s table. Suddenly, the day was even brighter.
I had my camera, but I didn’t have my reading glasses, so I couldn’t see the settings on the camera view finder. Even though some of these photos aren’t as clear as they could be, the meal was too special to not share with you the making of Gringa Tacos in Jalisco.
Gringa Tacos, at least the way Cuka makes them, are freshly made corn tortillas filled with cheese and seasoned beef, served with an avocado salsa, a tomatillo salsa, and chopped cilantro and onion. For a simply made meal, the tacos were muy mexicano y excelente!
It took Cuka about two minutes to make an avocado salsa in the blender, using one large avocado, three raw, chopped tomatillos, a few tablespoons of chopped onion, salt and enough milk to thin for a pourable consistency. Never, never have I come across a salsa with avocado and milk. I should know by now to expect the unexpected when I’m in a Mexican kitchen. Cuka said a green chile could be added for piquancy, but she didn’t add it this time.
In another two minutes, she had a red salsa prepared by first grinding in the blender a small handful of toasted chiles de árbol, then adding raw garlic, cooked tomatillos, water, salt, and a bit of yesterday’s salsa roja, the latter to add color, she said. I liked her freestyle use of some left-over salsa for the sake of a redder color.
Next, she tore apart some queso adobero, so named for its resemblance to the shape of an adobe brick. It was stringy, like Oaxacan string cheese.
A pan of coarsely ground beef, chopped tomato, chopped poblano chiles (which Cuka called chile gordo), onion and a bit of chopped bacon was already cooked. She told me this was similar to chorizo, a common Mexican sausage usually made with pork. Words can not describe the fine balance of flavor and seasoning achieved with so few ingredients.
Cuka was zooming and I had to move quickly to keep up with her. She dashed into the adjacent laundry/sink room to knead masa dough — purchased from a Mascota tortillaria — on a metate. How many photos I miss because the room is too dark, and I don’t want to intrude with a camera flash! This was another missed shot, with Cuka in a blur of motion.
Then back to the kitchen, with a primitive wooden bowl full of pinched off pieces of masa, each the exact same amount, despite their irregular shape, to produce perfectly round tortillas of the exact same size. (This is where I would be using my kitchen scale, weighing by the gram, and still coming up with strangely shaped tortillas. Not Cuka, who must have made by now thousands of tortillas in her life time.) The tortilla press was set up next to the stove, a comal already heating. Cuka got to work.
As Cuka pressed tortillas and placed them on the comal, her sister was turning them over, and adding cheese and meat once they were cooked. Each was topped with a cooked tortilla, sandwich-like, and heated through.
You can see the tortilla press in the foreground. I like the salt container — a coconut shell with a blue enamel lid. I want one.
Upon being served, I learned the name of their ranch —Rancho La Escuadra, so named for its square shape of land. We had green mango ate for dessert, bought in San Sebastian, a near-by town famous for its ate. A cross between jelly and fruit leather, ate is usually too sweet for me, but this was just right, with a sublime taste of mango, this month’s favorite fruit on Cooking in Mexico.
Scenes from the ranch.