Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Mexican Fiesta!

Our nation seems to be on a Mexican food rage. You can find places like Chipotle and Taco Bell everywhere, and grocery stores are stocked with Old El Paso seasonings and meal kits. Although I do love a good crispy taco, your typical "Mexican" joint is not all that authentic. I wanted my Mexican meal to be as legit as possible, so I researched in to what a real Mexican meal looks like.

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There are many different regions of Mexico with distinct differences in cooking styles. While you may find the flour tortilla on plates across Northern Mexico, the southern areas serve a good corn tortilla with most of their meals. Mexicans generally eat four meals a day. Their largest meal is comida (which means food). It is generally served in the afternoon and consists of a soup, beans, and meat. Homemade tortillas or rice often accompany the meal.

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My first dish is a cold refreshing soup that is perfect for hot days. Everyone in my family loved it served with tortilla chips. It is kind of like guacamole in soup form. It is pretty filling, and I think it could be served alone as a nice lunch with chips and a cold fruit smoothie.

Sopa de Aguacate
serves 4
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, diced
4 cups chicken broth
2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
cilantro, to serve
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Once the oil sizzles, add the onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook for 5 minutes until fragrant. Add the tomato and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the broth, bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes or so. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly. In a large blender, blend the avocados with the soup. Refrigerate until cooled, about 3 hours. Serve topped with the cilantro and seasoned to taste. My family loved to dip their tortilla chips in this like guacamole.


 
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Along with a liquid soup, a sopa seca, or dry soup, is often served with at a Mexican table. How is rice considered a soup? Just think about it, you prepare rice the same way you would a soup. It starts out with a lot of broth and some vegetables, and then the rice soaks up all the moisture. This rice is set apart from your general prepackaged "Mexican Rice" that is colored with food die and tastes artificial. Toasting the rice before you cook it really brings out the extra flavor, and the fresh produce make it all the more delicious. Spanish rice gets its yellow color with saffron, and traditional Mexican rice is colored with tomatoes. It's easy to prepare, and tastes great.

Arroz a la Mexicana
2 cups dry long grain rice
4 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, peeled
2 tomatoes, cored
4 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan with a lid. Add the rice. Cook the rice until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Stir every few minutes or so to make sure the rice does not burn. Combine the tomato, garlic, and onion in a high speed blender. Blend until the mixture in completely smooth. Add the blended vegetables to the pan, stir them together with the rice, and cook for 5 minutes. Pour in the broth and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes, or until all the moisture has been absorbed. Stir occasionally while it cooks. Season to taste and serve.



 
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Refried beans really are not refried at all. They are just cooked twice. No one in my family really liked these. I think I left the onion chunks a little too big. If you still want to make them, make sure you allow enough time to fully cook the beans. It is a easy, but lengthy process.
 
 
Frijoles Refritos
8 ounces dry red beans
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp ground cumin
4tbsp oil
1 onion, finely chopped
¼ tsp cayenne pepper powder
salt and pepper, to taste

Cover the beans with water in a pot. Bring the beans and water to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes, remove from the heat, cover, and allow the beans to soak for at least an hour. Drain the beans. Pour 4 cups of water into the pot along with the garlic and 1 tablespoon of cumin. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover partially. Cook for about an hour, or until the beans are tender and the water has been absorbed. Stir the beans occasionally as they cook. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion for 10 minutes, or until it is tender. Add the beans and the remaining ingredients to the pan. Take the pan off the stove. Mash the beans into a paste and serve with tortilla chips.


 
 
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One thing I found in common with all of Mexico was their wide use of tomatoes in cooking. I looked long and hard for a main dish recipe without them since I am allergic, and only was able to find one where tomatoes were optional. I'm not generally a fish fan, but I had to make it since I could not eat the soup or rice. Fish is often served in the Yucatan region where seafood prevails. My dad is a fish snob, so the only flatfish he likes is halibut. We live no where near the coast, so the halibut was pretty expensive. Feel free to double the recipe if you want a larger serving. Everyone loved the fish and wished they had more.  

Sautéed Flatfish with Lime
serves 4
1 ¼ pound halibut, flounder, or another flatfish cut into 4 pieces
2 tbps oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
dash of cayenne pepper powder
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper, to taste
cilantro, to serve

Sprinkle a little cayenne pepper power onto the fish. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the fish and garlic. After 2 minutes, pour the lime juice over the fish into the pan. Cook the fish for 2 more minutes, flip, and cook until a thermometer registers the internal temperature of the fish to be 145 degrees. Serve topped with cilantro and seasoned to taste.

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Dessert was a fresh, juicy pineapple that everyone enjoyed. Fresh fruit is a great way to round out a meal.

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Except for the refried beans, the Mexican dinner was a success. Harper had a little friend over, and they were not really fans of the food, but I think that was because the rice was red and the soup was green. Harper said she liked the taste of the rice, soup, and little bite of fish my mom gave her, but she ended up just eating a bowl of cereal. My mom, dad, and Sydney, on the other hand were huge fans of the fish. My mom said that it was cooked perfectly, and my fish snob father even approved. My mom also said the rice was some of the best she had ever had.

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