When you love to cook and then you marry a Mexican man, an exciting culinary adventure soon follows! My Suegra (mother-in-law) has laughed at me many times as I follow her around the kitchen, pen and paper in hand, taking copious notes and asking a lot of questions. She’s told me more than once, “No te complicas toda!” Don’t complicate everything! Through her, and my husband and several of his aunts and sisters, I have learned to cook many amazing and delicious traditional, authentic Mexican dishes. As it relates to The Table of Promise, I have specifically noticed how modern processed foods have made their way into the traditional Mexican kitchen. I can kind of understand the appeal, after all, many of these dishes would take 8 hours to prepare without modern conveniences. But the down side, of course is that Mexicans are experiencing a rampant increase in obesity and obesity related diseases, thanks to our creeping western diet. Just Google “Obesity in Mexico” and you will see a woeful amount of results.
Since the dawn of this blog, whose author is my personal friend (a little bragging there) I have started asking my Suegra not how she makes it, but how did she make it 30 years ago. As much as I can I try to incorporate the traditional methods into my Mexican cooking. My MIL used to use lard and homemade stocks, she used to literally slaughter a pig, sell off parts to the townsfolk/neighbors and then cook or preserve the rest. She would grow their own corn and she would prep it and my then young DH had to run it into the village to the miller who would grind it and soak it in Lyme to make it into masa. One time he forgot to pick it up and got into trouble because they had no tortillas for dinner: a sacrilege in Mexico...one of his favorite stories.
Now she buys tortillas from the tortilla lady, uses American bouillon, and Wesson vegetable or canola oil. She resisted the microwave for years but has over the last two or three succumbed to its convenience.
I also see things in Mexico that make me sad. For example: traditional Mexican pastries are not very sweet at all, more like bread with a hint of sweetness. Their cakes always have fruit in them. But over the last 10 years there has been a proliferation of prepackaged, ultra sweet Hostess like things. A company called Bimbo makes these packaged sweets. I used to think they were owned by Hostess or Little Debbie or Entenmanns' but it's not. Bimbo is just a huge sugar producing conglomerate like any other. Mexican sodas used to be club soda with fresh fruit syrups, now it's all chemicals, food coloring and added sweeteners. Dominos Pizza, among other obvious fast food restaurants has become increasingly popular in Mexico, as has Wal-Mart and its wholly owned subsidiary Bodega, which is the same thing only cheaper if you can believe it. Originally Wal-Mart put up Bodegas because Wal-Mart was not a terribly recognized brand. That's changed over time and they have been putting up more Wal-Mart’s instead of Bodegas lately…with devastating affects on the already unstable economy and putting thousands of small businesses out of business.
I see Mexico following in the footsteps of the gringos for better or worse and I try to be a positive influence against the tide of cheap, refined food. I try to encourage my Suegra and sisters-in-law to stick to their traditions, but often time and money win out over things like taste, tradition or nutrition. To me, the flavor of the traditional Mexican cooking is worth the effort, but I find many dishes are just as easy to prepare in the traditional method.
The following dish is one of my favorites and I try to make it as authentically as I can. Puerco en Adobo is pretty spicy normally but you can do it with less spice if necessary…me and my DH, we like it burning hot, so this is tailored to our preferences:
Puerco en Adobo:
Lard or your preferred cooking fat
Meat, any kind in any amount, for this recipe I used about a pound of pork loin, cut into manageable pieces
Dried chilies*, any combination of your favorites, I prefer Ancho for spice and Guajillo for depth, but I used Pasilla this time cause it’s what I had around. I also like Morenos but they are REALLY spicy.
1 cup Chicken Stock (or 1tsp bouillon, that’s what Suegra uses today)
3 to 5 Whole peppercorns
2 or 3 cloves
1 to 3 cloves of garlic
Rice, prepared as you like
Beans, already cooked and mashed
Tortillas, preferably corn
Queso Fresco to garnish
Crema Mexicana (sour cream) to garnish
*A note about dried chilies and other traditional Mexican ingredients, you can find them in any Mexican or Latino grocery store. I PROMISE you almost every town in America has one: it’s a tiny little hole in the wall place with a sign like Mexican Deli, or Latino Grocery. They’re everywhere if you just look for them. They have bags of dried chilies and cans of adobo and boxes of Tia Maria cookies or Abuelita hot chocolate mix. And behind the refrigerated counter they have the fresh chorizo, queso fresco and fresh chilies. I have lived in NYC, Bumble Town, USA and many places in between and I can always find one.
Get your rice going first, it should be ready by the time the meat is.
Place 5 or 6 chilies into a small sauce pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cover and let them boil for about 5 minutes or so. Turn off the heat but leave them covered while you do the next part.
Trim and slice your meat however you like. If it’s big, boney pieces boil them with lots of salt and pull them out when done. If it’s smaller boneless pieces (like mine were) salt and pepper both sides, heat some oil or fat in a pan over medium heat and put the meat in the pan. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 5 to ten minutes. Keep an eye on the meat and flip it when ready sometime during the next few steps.
Crush and peel the garlic, toss it into a blender (or mortar and pestle) along with the peppercorns and cloves.
If you’re using a blender you can also add the bouillon or stock, if you’re using a mortar and pestle, you won’t add the stock till you’re putting things in the pan.
By now your chilies should be nice and soft. You can pull the stems right off and the seeds will just fall out. Put the chili skins into the blender or mortar. If you’re using a blender, also pour some the chili water in to the blender, use a strainer if you’re spice-conscious or the seeds will go in and make it killer hot! Blend till smooth, or mix and mash till a nice thick paste forms.
By now your meat should be done. You’re supposed to take it out of the pan and then add it back in after your sauce is well mixed, but I never do, that just dirties extra dishes IMHO.
Pour the sauce into the pan. (if you’re using the mortar and pestle you kind of have to take the meat out, add the paste and mix well with juices in the pan, then stir in the stock and a little chili water for added depth and flavor - about ½ cup, then add the meat back in)
Bring to a boil (WEAR AN APRON!! It will be bright red and splattery, I’ve ruined many shirts) then simmer for 5 minutes or an hour…depending on how much time you have and how much liquid you put in. If you used the mortar and pestle you’ll probably have to simmer longer to get the thick gravy-like consistency we’re aiming for.
While it simmers you can get your beans and rice together and heat your tortillas, preferably on a Comal, or put each one directly on the flame of your burner for about 3 seconds on each side. Wrap them in a towel or put them in your tortilla warmer.
Serve your meat in Adobo with the rice, beans and heated tortillas. If desired crumble the Queso Fresco over the top and keep the crema handy in case you made it spicier than you thought…heehee.
This post s part of Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays