Sunday, June 27, 2010

South of the Border

Although it is hard to imagine, in this year of grace 2010, a generation ago the American culinary landscape (outside the Southwest, and major urban areas like Chicago and, thankfully, Detroit) was singularly devoid of decent Mexican cooking. I was stationed in Quantico in 1979 and remember being referred to the near-by Taco Bell when I inquired about local Mexican restaurants.

The recipes contained in this cookbook, one of the Better Homes and Gardens series and published in 1977, include instructions for preparing staples like tortillas and chorizo, which at that time could not be found in the average American supermarket. They look authentic to me, although my mother the Tejana is no longer around for me to consult.

Flour Tortillas

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking poder
1 tablespoon lard or shortening
½ to ¾ cup warm water (110°)

“In mixing bowl stir together flour, salt, and baking powder. Cut in lard till mixture resembles cornmeal. Add ½ cup warm water and mix until dough can be gathered into a ball (if needed add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Let dough rest 15 minutes. Divide dough into 12 portsions, shape into balls. On a lightly floured survace, roll each ball to a 7-inch round. Trim uneven edges to make round tortillas. Cook in ungreased skillet over medium heat about 1 ½ minutes per side or until lightly browned. Makes 12 tortillas.”

(I have to confess that my own tortilla recipe uses Bisquick™ and that the grad-school classmate who gave it to me swore it is the real deal. Her mother and grandmother use it and although their last name is Loewenberg they were both born and raised in Mexico City).

Canned or jarred salsa is readily available even in my tiny village, but now that it is summer and I have eaten the very first tomato from our garden this morning (woohoo!), I will be making the fresh kind until the supply runs out.

Salsa Cruda

4 medium tomatoes (1 ½ pounds)
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped green bell peper
¼ cup olive oil or cooking oil
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped canned green chili peppers
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
dash pepper

“To peel tomatoes, dip them in boiling water for 30 seconds, plunge into cold water. Slip skins off, chop tomatoes. Combined chopped tomatoes with onion, celery, green bell pepper, olive or or cooking oil, green chili peppers, vinegar, mustard seed, coriander seed, salt, and pepper, Cover; refrigerate several hours or overnight, stirring occasionally. Serve as a relish. Makes about 3 cups.”

Okay, I use a food processor and a lot more onion and pepper, and I don’t bother with peeling the tomatoes. The oil/vinegar ratio is acceptable, but I use 5 tablespoons of vinegar to one of oil. This is not as puckery as it sounds. I also put in as much chopped fresh coriander as the herb garden is willing to give me.

All in all, this is a decent cookbook and one that doesn’t try to pass off bastardized versions of bad American dishes as Mexican. I am thinking in particular of the recipe for Insalata Sombrero from my copy of a Gephardt’s Mexican Foods promotional cookbook. Surely no senora in San Diego or Guadalajara ever…ever…served her family a salad consisting of a scoop of cottage cheese on a pineapple slice, liberally sprinkled with chili powder.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds good but they don't use baking powder that I know of..
Having lived in CA and enjoying all kinds of Mexican foods I was very sad to find no tortillas in MO when I moved here in the 70's.. the only ones I could buy came in a round flat tin can and was made by Old El Paso.. and there was only 10 of them in a can so I had no choice but make my own.