Molletes and Salsa Fresca

Molletes are common lunch fare, found in mercados and street stalls, but so easy to make at home. They are Mexico’s grilled cheese sandwiches, but heartier with refried beans and salsa fresca, fresh salsa that Russ and I still call pico de gallo — beak of the rooster — because that’s the name we learned when we first encountered it on our early trips to Mexico.

Bolillos, the crusty yeast rolls found everywhere in Mexico, are the base for molletes. During these covid days (months), my neighbor Maria and I take turns going into Mascota to pick up our pre-ordered groceries from Pepe’s. When I ordered bolillos, I got round, soft rolls. Not what I wanted. The next time it was my turn to go in, I pointed to the pointy rolls in the glass case in front of the store, not knowing what to call them, because to Pepe they weren’t bolillos. But they were! The grocery receipt itemized them as bolillos telera grande, a full 8″ (20 cm) long. We had molletes muy grande! If you can’t get bolillos or teleras by any name, crusty French bread makes a fine substitution.

Molletes ~ serves 4-6

  • 3 bolillos, or French bread cut into 6 4-6″ lengths
  • 4 tablespoons soft butter
  • 2 cups refried black beans, hot
  • 9 ounces grated manchego or Oaxaca cheese
  • 6 tablespoons cotija cheese, crumbled, optional garnish
  • 2 cups fresh salsa (recipe below)
  1. Cut bolillos in half lengthwise. Using a fork, pull out much of the doughy interior. Lightly butter cut side of bolillos and toast under a broiler until light brown.
  2. Heat oven to 400ºF (180ºC).
  3. Spread about 1/ 3 cup of refried beans across toasted side, filling cavity.
  4. Sprinkle cheese over beans and return to oven until cheese is melted.
  5. Spoon salsa generously over melted cheese, topping with optional cotija cheese. Serve immediately. Good with pickled onion, cebolla encurtida.

Salsa Fresca or Pico de Gallo ~ about 2 cups

  • 2 Roma tomatoes, about 10 ounces (283 g), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (2.4 oz/68 g) minced red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 – 2 jalapeño or serrano chiles, seeded and finely minced
  • 1/2 cup (.7 oz/20g) cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Mix all ingredients. Adjust salt

Notes ~

~ For breakfast, serve molletes with a fried egg on the side. Russ wanted his with a scrambled egg on top (pictured below). And additional salsa verde, just because. I don’t know if Mexicans add eggs to molletes, but it worked for us.

~ On one of our trips to Mexico, before we made it our home, we came across a panedería with a wood-fired oven in the little town of Ciudad Fernández, in the state of San Luis Potosí. Such crusty bolillos, with a hint of wood smoke. Twenty-some years later, those bolillos remain a delicious memory.

~ The double “l” in mollete is pronounced as a “y” sound. Mo-YEH-tay. Bolillo is pronounced bo-LEE-yoh.

© 2009-2021 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

Simple bread and butter

Two of the things we missed when we moved to Mexico were good, whole grain bread and the wide selection of butter available in the U.S. The large supermercados do a decent job of offering multigrain bread, but they don’t have the chew and crust that make a great bread. In Mexico’s defense, bread is not part of the traditional diet. And butter options are limited. If you are an expat who is missing bread and butter a cut above what is generally available in Mexico, the answer is to make your own and it couldn’t be easier.

Jim Lahey’s popular no-knead bread recipe has made a huge impact in home kitchens. So easy, yet so good. If you have never baked bread before, you can make this one and feel proud of your accomplishment. My bread is a version of Jim’s, with whole wheat flour (harina integral) added, sometimes seeds, and yogurt instead of water for a sourdough-like tang. I’m not a real sourdough baker, so I pretend. An 18-hour rise allows for flavor and yeast to develop.

Jim Lahey’s recipe calls for baking in a cast iron pot with a lid, which I don’t have. I improvise by using an insulated cookie sheet and a stainless steel bowl. You could also use a Pyrex dish with a lid. By covering the bread, steam helps form a crusty crust. An 18-hour rising time allows the flavors to develop.

What Mexico lacks in butter, it more than makes up for with crema, very close to sourcream, but better. Like crème fraîche, crema is cultured with naturally occurring bacteria until it reaches a slight, acid flavor. As it turns out, crema makes an excellent cultured butter, with more depth and complexity than sweet cream butter. Crema, brought in from local ranches, is sold fresh in many of the small grocery stores, sometimes from a bucket in the cooler, usually in one-pint cartons. If you have a food processor, you can have butter in minutes. Well, add about 10 more minutes for washing the butter, but we’re talking again about great results for not much time and effort.

Easy, No-knead Bread

  • 10.6 oz (300 grams) whole wheat flour
  • 3.5 oz (100 grams) white flour
  • 1.4 oz (40 grams) gluten flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) plain yogurt OR 1 1/3 cups (316 ml) water
  1. Mix all dry ingredients in a standing mixer bowl, add yogurt (or water) and mix using dough hook until a ball of dough forms. OR mix by hand in a large bowl until dough forms, adding more flour or more liquid as needed to form a sticky dough. You want dough that’s very sticky, but can still be handled.
  2. Cover well with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 18 hours.
  3. Place dough on well floured board and fold over on itself twice. Form a ball, with seam on bottom.
  4. Place dough on parchment paper and slash top of dough with a very sharp knife. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to almost double in size, about 1 hour, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
  5. Preheat oven to 450 F/232 C. If using a cast iron pot with lid, pre-heat pot in the oven for 30 minutes. If using an insulated cookie sheet and stainless bowl, there is no need to pre-heat sheet and bowl.
  6. Using the parchment paper as a sling, carefully lower dough into the now very hot cast iron pot, leaving parchment paper in place, or place on baking sheet. If using baking sheet, cover with an overturned stainless steel bowl about 8″ across and 4″ deep, lined with a 3″ wide strip of parchment paper.
  7. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid or bowl and bake another 20 to 30 minutes, or until well browned and bottom sounds hollow when thumped.
  8. Allow to cool 1 hour before slicing.

Cultured Butter

  1. Process 4 cups (960 g) crema in food processor bowl until butter curds separate from the liquid. This may take as little as 30 seconds, or up to 2 or 3 minutes.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer curds to bowl, and with the back of a spatula press out milky liquid until there is almost no more to press out. Save buttermilk for baking.
  3. Wash butter by adding 1/3 cup very cold water to bowl, and press water and butter together, washing out more milk from butter by pressing with a spatula. Repeat 3 or 4 more times, kneading butter with spatula until almost all liquid is removed.
  4. Knead in 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Refrigerate or freeze. This makes 640 grams of butter and 1 overflowing cup of buttermilk.

Notes ~

~ It is vital that yeast is fresh for any bread recipe. Store it in the freezer, where it will keep well for a year or more.

~ You can tell when bread has risen enough when you gently press a finger 1/2″ into the dough and an indentation remains.

~ The more sour the yogurt, the better approximation of a sourdough flavor.

~ In Mexico, gluten flour can often be found at bulk spice/seed/flour stores. La Abejita in Bucerias carries it. The large supermercados that carry imported foods sometimes have Bob’s Red Mill vital wheat gluten flour.

~ Sweet butter can be made the same way by using sweet, heavy cream. It may take longer in the food processor to become butter. Pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized cream will not have the same flavor. Avoid using cream with additives. Commercial brands of crema acidificada, like Lala or Alpura brand, will not make butter, as they have stabilizers added. These products are closer to commercial, American sour cream. Look for a pure cream product. 

~ The buttermilk by-product can be used in any recipe calling for buttermilk. This is real buttermilk.

~ Other agitation methods can be used to make butter. A large jar sloshed by hand, a regular mixer, or a blender will make butter. If you use a jar, make sure it is large enough to allow the cream to move around vigorously.

~ For 4-ounce bars of butter, press 1 pound into a parchment-lined, rectangle container. When cold, cut into 4 bars, wrap and freeze.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

Black Bean Soup

These have been hard times, these last few weeks. Writing up a recipe has seemed so trivial, when others are crying out. There is a heaviness that seems heavier than COVID-19 ever did. Minneapolis and the tragic death of George Floyd brought injustice into sharp relief. Things are not going to be the same again, but they shouldn’t be. There seems to be progress happening. One can only hope that America gets it right this time.

Life carries on, and we still eat. Comfort food sounds appealing now, and something easy to prepare sounds good, too. This simple black bean soup is satisfying, and true to Mexican seasoning. Curiously, we never see bean soup on menus here. Beef vegetable soup, chicken vegetable soup, and tortilla soup, but not bean soup, even though Diana Kennedy includes a few in her books. This recipe can be made with any bean you have. Here in our part of Mexico, black beans, creamy peruano, and azafran beans are common. But you could use white beans, pinto beans, even kidney beans.

I’m not on the recent sourdough bandwagon, but I have been making a whole wheat version of Jim Leahey’s no-knead bread, a good soup accompaniment. Its overnight rise gives depth to the flavor.

Black Bean Soup

  • 2 cups/450 grams/1 lb. dry black beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dry Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dry thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 tablespoons sauce from canned chipotle chile en adobo
  1. For a quick soak of dry beans, cover beans with water in sauce pan, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, and boil for one minutes. Cover and let sit for 1 hour.
  2. Drain, cover with fresh water, add onion, garlic, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, and 2 teaspoons salt, and cook until tender, checking to maintain water level.
  3. When beans are tender, puree with immersion blender or standard blender until roughly smooth, not pureed. Add more water if needed to thin to soup consistency.
  4. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro and crema, Mexican sour cream.

Notes:

~ If cooking dry beans seems daunting, use 4 15-oz. cans of cooked beans.

~ After years of cooking beans in an olla de barro, a clay bean pot, I switched to a pressure cooker. Using a clay pot is muy mexicana, but takes so much longer. The bean pots are now used to hold kitchen utensils.

~ Chipotle chiles are large, dried smoked jalapeños. They are commonly canned in adobo, a sauce of onion, vinegar and tomato.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Making ricotta cheese, sort of

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Living in Mexico can be eye-opening — provided you keep your mind and eyes open. I was reminded of this when I  first made requesón cheese, the name for ricotta in Mexico. It’s sold at all the cremerias here, but it’s so easy to make, plus home-made ricotta is much smoother and cheaper than store-bought.

Rural living in Mexico has a lot of pluses, one being that we can buy raw milk, sometimes so fresh it is delivered warm from the cow. As much as I would like to drink raw milk, I always pasteurize it first. It still remains unhomogenized, with a thick layer of yellow cream on the top.

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The eye-opening part of making ricotta occurred when Ruby, our house cleaner, tasted my ricotta and politely declared it “requesón lite”. What? I had followed the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen to the T. She patiently explained that requesón is made from suaro, the whey collected from cheese making, not from whole milk.

This explains why American ricotta recipes start with whole milk. After all, how many of us have a small herd of dairy cattle, make vats of cheese every day, and then have 10 gallons of whey to use for making ricotta?  No, I didn’t think so.

Our favorite way to eat ricotta is spread on toasted seed bread, the so-called “Life Changing Bread” from My New Roots.

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Unless you have your own herd of milk cows, here is how to make ricotta, even though Ruby probably thinks I’m cheating.


Ricotta/ Requesón

makes about 350 grams or 12 ounces

  • 2 quartst/2 liters whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons/30 ml. white vinegar
  • 1/6 cup/ 40 ml. lemon juice
  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat milk and salt over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
  2. When milk reaches 165 degrees F./ 74 C., remove milk immediately from heat and add vinegar and lemon juice, stirring gently. Extra cooking will result in curds too firm for ricotta.
  3. As soon as curds form and the whey becomes mostly clear and yellow, pour into the cheesecloth-lined colander. It will take between 5 seconds and 10 minutes for the curds to form. If curds do not form, gently stir in more vinegar, one tablespoon at a time.
  4. Allow to drain for only a few minutes, until you have a spreadable consistency. Upend the cheesecloth into a bowl and stir the ricotta with a fork, breaking up the curds until it is smooth. If you would like it more moist, stir in a few tablespoons of reserved whey. Refrigerate.

Notes

~ Have everything ready before the milk heats — vinegar and lemon juice measured, colander lined with cheesecloth and set over a large bowl.

~ If using commercial organic milk, don’t use milk labeled UHT (Ultra High Temperature). The curds will not form as readily or as well.

~ Don’t use Meyer Lemons, as they are not acidic enough. Even regular lemons can vary in their acidity, requiring more lemon juice to curdle the cheese. All vinegar, instead of any lemon juice, supposedly can make the milk curdle sufficiently, but I haven’t tried it.

~ Don’t throw out the whey! It’s great in smoothies, soups (so I read), and for bread making. My chickens like it, too.

~ Make an easy and impressive Raspberry-Ricotta Cake with this recipe from Epicurious.

© 2009-2019 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Día de la Independencia at El Molcajete

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El Molcajete provided the perfect setting for our celebration of Independence Day in Mexico on September 16. Set on a lake shore. Mountains in the background. Menus in hand. This was the way to say, “Viva México!” An afternoon of eating, drinking, laughing and chatting. What better way to celebrate our adopted homeland.

A molcajete is the carved, black basalt bowl with a grinding tool, the mortar and pestle of Mexico, the first food processor in the Americas. With a molcajete, endless varieties of salsa are created, chocolate and coffee beans are ground, seeds and spices are blended into a smooth paste for mole, the rich sauce that dresses chicken, turkey, and pork.

El Molcajete, our local restaurant, boasts the world’s largest molcajete as its namesake. A for real, carved basalt molcajete that weighs close to 8,000 lbs. (3.5 toneladas) and is big enough to make 350 quarts of salsa, is registered with Guinness World Records.

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An order of Chingaderas started us off while we enjoyed the vista and decided what to order next. A chingadera loosely — and politely — means “whatever”. The menu description, “totopos sobre una cama de frijoles banandos con carne en su jugo y queso fundido“, included a lot of “whatevers”: fried tortilla chips on a bed of seasoned refried beans with meat in its broth and melted cheese. Dip in a tortilla chip and scoop up a bit of everything. Yummy.

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After commenting on how high the lake is now after a couple of rainy months, and gazing at the distant mountain whose name translates to “good for nothing”, I remembered a conversation with a neighbor a few months before.

Me (en español): Why is it called Good for Nothing?

Beto: Because you can’t do anything with it, not even climb it.

Me (to myself): A mountain has to be good for something?

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Wanting to make the afternoon at El Molcajete last as long as possible, we slowly studied the menu and discussed all the options, reminiscing about past meals we had enjoyed here.

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We had already tried the signature dish, Molcajete, a steaming, hot molcajete of seafood, chicken or beef, or a combination, with avocado, grilled onion, green chile and a nopal cactus pad, topped with local fresh cheese, and served with corn tortillas.

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We settled on Arrechera. Rather, Russ did. I had already decided I was too full after the Chingaderas to eat another bite. When his plate arrived, I took one look and my appetite returned. Sweetheart that he is, he shared it with me. Marinated, grilled flank steak, grilled onion, chile and nopal cactus pad, refried beans, and guacamole con mas totopos.  The plate was also carved from basalt and very, very hot.

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Marco, our waiter, and a local high school student, couldn’t have been cuter in his revolution-inspired outfit. He waited attentively on us, checking to see if we needed more of anything, refilling my glass with ice, bringing Russ another cerveza. The place was packed, and he managed to keep up with all his tables.

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To get to El Molcajete, go south out of Mascota toward the lake, Presa Corrinches. Continue through the small settlement of La Providencia to the lake shore where you will find El Molcajete, the first restaurant on the left.  Open seven days a week from 11 am until 9 pm. I hope Marco is your waiter.

For readers who don’t live close and are wondering where in the world this is,  Mascota is a county seat, a “municipio” in the state of Jalisco, on the west coast of Mexico, and is about two hours by car east of Puerto Vallarta. Don’t be confused by the sign in front that says Restaurant “La Terraza”. This was the former name before the record holding molcajete was acquired, and a new sign is not yet in evidence. Such is Mexico. Viva México!

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