Caldo Tlalpeño

Years ago, when we lived outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, we would make the five and a half hour drive to Juarez, just across the Mexican border. It was a quick weekend trip for south of the border food, shopping and sights. One of the attractions was a restaurant whose name I no longer remember, but its bowl of Caldo Tlalpeño has kept its place in our gustatory memory bank. Its chile chipotle heat was the kind that could take the roof of your mouth off, but we had to order it every time. It was just that good.

Our Juarez shopping excursions were memorable, also. One of our favorite stores was run by FONART, a government agency to promote the sale of Mexican arts and crafts. FONART stands for Fondo Nacional para el Fomento de las Artesanías. (Thank goodness for acronyms.) The FONART store in Juarez was where we bought our first Huichol yarn art, craft of the indigenous people of Jalisco and Nayarit, and made by pressing colorful yarn onto a beeswax- and resin-coated board. Contemporary Huichol yarn art uses more subtle colors and intricate patterns, but we still enjoy the primitive design we purchased decades ago with the classic Huichol symbols of deer, corn and peyote.

Caldo Tlalpeño is named after the community of Tlalpan on the outskirts of Mexico City. Like all soups, there are many variations. With or without vegetables. With or without rice. Cheese or not. But chicken, avocado, garbanzo beans, and chipotle chile seem to be common denominators. Melted cheese in the bottom of the bowl adds richness.

You can start with poaching a chicken and using the broth, or use the breast meat from a Costco roast chicken with additional broth, as I did here. Either way, it’s a warming soup for a chilly day. If you are in Mexico, where chilly days may be few and far between, soup is good for the soul, regardless of the outside temperature.

For the U.S. readers, do you have a Mexican grocery store in your town, or a well stocked Mexican foods aisle at your grocery store? That’s where you would find canned chipotle chile en adobo, the smoked, dried jalapeños in a vinegary tomato sauce that scream five-alarm fire. But it is oh so good, that the heat is worth it. Use judiciously.

Caldo Tlalpeño serves 4

  • 2 cups (10 oz./283 g) cooked chicken breast, cut into bite-sized strips
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crushed
  • 1-2 tablespoon chipotle chile en adobo, finely minced, or to taste
  • 6 oz. (170 g.) manchego cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 1 large avocado, sliced
  • cilantro for garnish
  • salt to taste
  1. Bring chicken broth to a simmer and add rice, beans, chicken, oregano and chipotle chile. Return to simmer.
  2. Divide cheese among 4 bowls.
  3. Ladle soup over cheese.
  4. Garnish with avocado slices and chopped cilantro.
  5. Serve with hot tortillas and slices of lime.

Notes ~

~ Diana Kennedy adds green beans, carrot and tomato to her recipe in “The Cuisines of Mexico”, making it more of a vegetable soup, and probably more traditional. This version more closely resembles the caldo we had in Juarez.

~ Monterey Jack or mozzarella could be used instead of manchego cheese.

~ The Fort restaurant outside of Denver makes a similar Juarez version, giving it the whimsical name, Bowl of the Wife of Kit Carson. If you are in the Denver area, this restaurant is worth seeking out.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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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

 

 

Peach Galette

It’s peach time in the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental of western Mexico. Small cling peaches — duraznos — are coming down to roadside stands in Mascota, a treat we look forward to every summer. Juicy and flavorful, we mostly eat them out of hand, but they also are wonderful in quesadillas, popsycles and galettes.

I’m having a hard time with desserts in Mexico lately. Often they are super sweet, which is not agreeing with my move toward consuming less sugar. The trinity of classic Mexican desserts — flan, rice pudding and pastel de tres leches — are all overly sweet, but that’s just my opinion. It’s easier to get away with using less sugar in a fruit dessert. The fruit lends its own sweetness, without the need of excess sugar.

Galettes are more forgiving than pie crusts. Pressed out either by hand or a rolling pin, their rustic, free-form shape leaves no doubt they are homemade, a good thing these days when many of us have abundant time to spend in the kitchen and want to admire our efforts. And show off on Instagram how we are spending our time at home!

Peach Galette

Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups (180 g) whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (70 g) cold, solid coconut oil or butter
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup (80 ml – 120 ml) ice water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling

  • 4 cups (1 liter) sliced peaches
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon cream, milk or almond milk and 2 teaspoon coarse sugar for pastry wash
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup, or strained, warmed apricot jam to glaze peaches
  1. Mix flour and salt.
  2. Cut cold coconut oil or butter into chunks, and blend into flour with a pastry cutter or in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
  3. Add 1/3 cup ice water, until mixture comes loosely together. Form into ball by hand. Add more water if it seems too dry to form a ball.
  4. Flatten into disc about 5″ (12 cm) across, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing filling.
  5. For filling, mix cornstarch with sugar, then combine with peach slices and almond extract.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 400 F (200 C)
  7. On a floured surface, roll out pastry into a circle about 12″ (30 cm) across. Ragged edges are OK, in fact, they are preferable.
  8. Spoon peach slices into center of pastry, leaving a 2″ (5 cm) edge clear of fruit.
  9. Working in a circular motion, fold pastry edge over fruit.
  10. Brush folded pastry edge with almond milk, and sprinkle with coarse sugar. I use the unrefined, light brown sugar common in Mexico, azúcar estándar.
  11. Bake on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper 25 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is starting to color slightly and peaches test tender with a paring knife.
  12. While still warm, brush peach slices with agave syrup or apricot jam.
  13. Cool. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or plain yogurt.

Notes ~

~ Azúcar estándar is the common sugar in Mexico. Made from sugar cane, it is coarse and light brown, and slightly unrefined. Years ago, we were puzzled to find it in the produce section of grocery stores, probably located there because of its plant origin.

~ Whole wheat flour is common in Mexico, and my favorite brand is Espuma de Chapala. Its high protein content makes it a good choice for bread baking. If you find whole wheat flour bitter, it is not fresh, the oil in the germ having turned rancid. Toss it out.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

New World Chocolate Cake

It’s hard to imagine a world without chocolate or chile. We can thank the New World for giving us cocao pods, from which chocolate is made, as well as chiles of all kinds. This cake, so easy to make that even a baking novice would have success, is rich with chocolate and flavored with a subtle kick of ancho chile powder.

Ancho chiles are the dried form of fresh poblano chiles, the large, mild chile commonly used for chiles rellenos and chiles en nogada. Once dried, they take on a deep burgundy color and a complex, fruity flavor. I have become so enamored with ancho chile powder lately, that I’m adding it to to my morning cup of Pero, Russ’es glass of whipped dalgona coffee (which is having its moment), and a cream sauce tinted with light peach hues from the chile powder.

I know not everyone is a fan of chiles’ heat, but take my word that the pairing of chocolate and chile is a natural. If you are one of those who can’t handle chile, this still makes an excellent chocolate cake with the chile omitted, albeit, in my opinion, not the cake it would be with chile.

Use a very good quality cocoa powder. It makes a difference, as I finally learned when I gave Hershey’s the heave-ho after reading it was made with cocao beans harvested by child slave labor. Cocoa powder and other chocolate products labeled organic or fair trade indicate child slave labor was not used. Cocoa products so labeled are also a better quality, delivering a richer chocolate flavor. La Comer and Mega supermarkets in Mexico offer a good selection of organic products, including organic cocoa powder produced in Mexico.

New World Chocolate Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups/180 grams whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup/50 grams cocoa powder, unsweetened
  • 2/3 cup/145 grams sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup room temperature coffee, or water
  • 5 tablespoons melted coconut oil, or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F/180C. Grease and flour sides of 9″/22 cm round cake pan. Line bottom with parchment paper.
  2. Sift or whisk dry ingredients in large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk together wet ingredients.
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and quickly stir until no lumps remain.
  5. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The top should spring back when lightly pressed. If the gently pressure of your finger in the center leaves an indentation, bake a few minutes more.
  6. Cool in pan until slightly warm. Run a thin knife around sides of pan, and invert cake onto a plate, then invert again right side up on serving plate.
  7. Serve when completely cool with lightly sweetened whipped cream dusted with cinnamon, ice cream, or crème fraîche (aka crema in Mexico).

Notes ~

For a coconut version, omit the chile powder and cinnamon. Generously coat the inside of the cake pan with coconut oil or butter, then coat the pan with dry, unsweetened coconut. Add 1/2 cup dry, unsweetened coconut to cake batter.

To slice cleanly, use the thinnest knife you have, sawing it slightly as you slice through the cake.

So what’s the deal with all the variations of how to spell chile? Chili is the bean and meat concoction, sometimes spelled chilli. Chile with an “e” is how the fruit (yes, botanically it’s a fruit) is spelled in the Spanish language, and since it originated in Latin America, that’s the accepted spelling.

Variations of this recipe have existed at least since WWII, when bakers made do with what was available. Without eggs and butter, this cake is vegan.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Where in the world is the shrimp cocktail sauce?

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The temperature is staying hot — too hot — here on the west coast of Mexico. Some days, I would rather not eat at all than have to cook. An easy — and cool — solution has been to prepare shrimp cocktail, cóctel de camarón, in the morning, and then assemble everything at dinner time with a minimum of time spent in the kitchen.

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This shrimp cocktail recipe is an adaptation of cóctel de camarón as it is served at Ocho Tostadas in Puerto Vallarta. Theirs is served hot with catsup, but we prefer it cold and catsup-less.  Maybe, without catsup, it isn’t a cocktail at all. Whatever it is, we love it, and it is perfect for warm weather. If you are already having chilly days, try the warm or hot version of cóctel de camarón. If we ever have a chilly day, I will also, but I may have to wait until January.

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It is not necessary to devein shrimp (see notes below). I’m telling you this now just to save you a lot of time and work. After years of working in a restaurant, where I had to devein twenty pounds of shrimp at a time, I am so happy to come to the conclusion that my time is better spent on other things,  like taste testing tostadas.

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The La Cruz fish market sells farmed estuary shrimp from San Blas, a coastal town north of us. Their trucks drive right by our front gate, but I find it more interesting to walk down to the fish market and check out the fishing boats and their catch.

Farmed shrimp sounds like a good idea, since shrimp from the ocean are dredged, a practice which damages the ocean floor and brings up lots of by-catch, fish brought up in the nets that are not intended for the market, and often tossed back into the ocean dead. As you most likely know, our choices in food purchases have consequences.
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A recipe is almost not needed. Cook as much shrimp as you want. Peel, then refrigerate in the broth. When cold, add chopped tomato, avocado, onion, cucumber and cilantro to shrimp and broth. Serve with wedges of lime, tostadas and bottled hot sauce. This is how Ocho Tostadas serves cóctel de camarón, but there is room for innovation if you are so inclined. Radish slices, torn baby lettuce, grated carrot, whatever is in your fridge and sounds good. Think of this as a shrimp salad swimming in flavorful broth. Here is a recipe if you like to have things spelled out like I do when making something for the first time.

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Cóctel de Camarón — Mexican Shrimp  Cocktail     Serves 2

  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) unpeeled, headless shrimp
  • 2 cups (1/2 liter) cold water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • chopped cilantro
  1. Bring salted water to a boil and add shrimp. Cover and simmer for about 3 minutes, or until done. Drain, reserving broth, and peel shrimp. Refrigerate shrimp in broth until cold.
  2. To serve, divide shrimp and broth between two bowls, and top with diced vegetables.
  3. Serve with lime wedges, bottled hot sauce and tostadas.

Notes

~ Cooking the shrimp unpeeled gives a more flavorful broth, plus the peels remove more easily from cooked shrimp.

~ To devein or not to devein, that is the question. I don’t. After a bit of research, I came to the conclusion that removing the vein from shrimp is purely for aesthetic reasons. Basically, we don’t want to look at the little black line and think about what it represents. Eating the vein is not unhealthy, it is not dangerous, and because of this, many cultures do not devein shrimp. It just isn’t necessary unless you have a lot of time on your hands and have a squeamish bent.

~ For an authentic Mexican cóctel de camarón, serve warm or hot with a generous squeeze of catsup.

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