Last night was Week Two of my Cooking Challenge.
Page 67 of Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen had a recipe for "Essentially Garlicky Achiote Seasoning Paste". Seeing that I really couldn't serve that as a main course, no matter how many times I doubled the recipe, I bent my rule a bit and went to page 167, which yielded better results.
Here is the recipe I used, complete with my comments in italics.
Herby Ricotta-Poblano Tacos
Makes a generous cup of filling, enough for 8 tacos
8 tacos? That didn’t sound like a lot so I doubled the recipe. Turns out, we had plenty left over.
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled - I had a huge ass can of minced garlic. I dumped in 8 scoops of minced garlic. That still didn’t seem to be enough though.
2 fresh poblano chiles - Apparently my local Rouses, Super Wal-Mart or Whole Foods have never heard of this item so I bought a can of Original Fire Roasted Diced Green Chiles.
1 cup ricotta cheese ("the freshest you can find") - "the freshest I can find" was in the dairy section of Rouses. I did search Whole Foods for “fresh” ricotta. It just doesn’t exist – at least in New Orleans.
4 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs (such as cilantro, epazote, thyme, marjoram) - I found a spice jar of cilantro and I already had a spice jar full of thyme and marjoram. I think the marjoram is from the late 1990's when I was going through my Ethiopian food phase. (I can still smell the Doro Wat cooking on my stove!)
I asked the nice man stocking the fresh fruit/vegetables at Rouses if they carried fresh epazote, but I think I stumped him. Maybe I mispronounced the word. On my later trip to Whole Foods I stumbled upon some epazote.
Wikipedia says, “Epazote is used as a leaf vegetable and herb for its pungent flavor. Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to the liquorice taste of anise, fennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. Epazote's fragrance is strong, but difficult to describe. It has been compared to citrus, petroleum, savory, mint and putty. Although it is traditionally used with black beans for flavor and its carminative properties, it is also sometimes used to flavor other traditional Mexican dishes as well: it can be used to season quesadillas and sopes (especially those containing huitlacoche), soups, mole de olla, tamales with cheese and chile, chilaquiles, eggs and potatoes and enchiladas.”
Since I am doubling the recipe, I used 2 teaspoons each of cilantro, epazote, thyme, and marjoram. That gave this dish an interesting flavor! In a good way.
Salt, about 1/4 teaspoon - Finally, something that I already have in my kitchen.
About 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground - Thanks to a present Lloyd gave me a few years ago, I actually had freshly ground pepper.
8 corn tortillas (plus a few extra, in case some break) - Break? The ones I bought are soft. Hell. Did I buy the wrong thing?
1 1/4 cups Tomatillo-Green Guacamole - After searching Rouses and Super Wal-Mart for poblano chiles, fresh ricotta cheese, and epazote, I was worn out. I did a cursory search for this item and then picked up some Pico de Gallo style Guacamole from the refrigerated vegetables section.
3 or 4 radishes, thinly sliced or cut into matchsticks – I totally skipped this ingredient. I don’t believe in garnishes.
A few tablespoons chopped white onion, for garnish – Another garnish? Another skip.
Big, beautiful sprigs of cilantro, for garnish - How about sprinkling some from the spice jar that I have? Done.
Rick Bayless: 1. The filling. On an ungreased griddle or small, heavy skillet set over medium heat, roast the garlic, turning frequently, until blackened in spots and soft to the touch, about 15 minutes. Cool, peel off the papery skins, then finely chop.
Me: 1. The filling. Pour some pre-chopped garlic from my can into a skillet. Push it around until it starts to burn a bit.
Rick Bayless: 2. Roast the chiles directly over a gas flame or 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened on all sides, about 5 minutes for open flame, about 10 minutes for broiler. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand 5 minutes. Peel, pull out the stem and seed pod, then rinse briefly to remove bits of seeds and stray bits of skin. Chop the chiles into 1/4-inch bits.
Me: 2. Add the small can of Original Fire Roasted Diced Green Chiles to the garlic. If I remember correctly, green chiles are not that hot. I had a can of Chipotle Chiles left over from another recipe so I added one of those too.
Rick Bayless: 3. In a medium-size bowl, mix together the garlic, ricotta, fresh herbs and half the chopped chiles. Taste and season with the salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.
Me: 3. Medium-size bowl. Check. Mix together the garlic, ricotta, herbs and half the chopped chiles. Check. Taste and season with the salt and pepper. Check. Cover and set aside. Check. Finally, a step I can complete.
Rick Bayless: 4. The tortillas. Set up a steamer (a vegetable steamer in a large saucepan filled with 1/2 inch of water works well); heat to a boil. Wrap the tortillas in a heavy kitchen towel, lay in the steamer and cover with a tight lid. Boil 1 minute, turn off the heat and let stand without opening the steamer for 15 minutes.
Me: 4. The tortillas. Read Rick Bayless's instructions and disregard. Open the package of corn tortillas. Place them attractively on a large plate.
Rick Bayless: 5. Finishing the dish. Just before serving, mix the remaining half of the chopped chiles into the guacamole (plus enough water to make it easily spoonable), and spoon a portion of it onto each of the 4 serving plates. One at a time, spread a generous 2 tablespoons of the ricotta filling over each of 8 hot tortillas, roll up and divide among your individual serving plates. Sprinkle with the radishes and onion, lay on a sprig of cilantro and you're ready for some light, zesty flavors.
Me: 5. Finishing the dish. Just before serving, mix the remaining half of the chopped chiles into the guacamole (plus enough water to make it easily spoonable). Check. Spoon a portion of it onto each of the 4 serving plates. Wait, what 4 serving plates? One at a time, spread a generous 2 tablespoons of the ricotta filling over each of 8 hot tortillas, roll up and divide among your individual serving plates. Oh, I get it now: There are two different items going on here - the guacamole and the ricotta stuff. I was thinking this was one big dish. Sprinkle with the radishes and onion, lay on a sprig of cilantro and you're ready for some light, zesty flavors. Check.
Christine, Karlie, Pam and little Karley (yes, spelled differently) joined Carlos and me. Carlos supplied the – very classy – chips and three types of dip. Pam offered to bring a homemade Mexican Apple Tart, but ran out of time and pick up some cookies from Subway.
We all sat around, eating and drinking wine. It was especially nice to hang out with Pam. Since she has moved back to New Orleans (about six months ago, after living in Minneapolis for 10 years), we haven’t had a real chance to talk with her.
We are having the same crowd over next Wednesday. I will be cooking from page 67 of Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver – picked out by Pam, though no one opened the book.
After next week, Carlos and I will add some of our friends to the Wednesday rotation.
Carlos thinks my attention span for this project will hold until December. I’m not sure I’ll make it that far.
Until next time…Bon Appétit!