Monthly Archives: September 2010

Everybody Goes to Rick’s

The College Kritter and I spent the spring break week in Mexico. It took some time to organize and plan all the activities in order to cram as much as possible into measly seven days, but it was worth it.

We are both laid back, uncomplicated (the best compliment from my German brother-in-law, Thomas*), and interested in the same things. I knew that food would be as important to my eldest as it is  to me, and I researched for weeks the best and the most authentic, off-the-beaten-path places to kick back and enjoy the real Yucatecan cuisine. Wherever we went we were enveloped in the smell of freshly made corn tortillas, barely four inches in diameter, warm, pliable, and usually made on the spot by huipil-wearing Mayan women. We trusted our Spanish-speaking meseros’ suggestions when ordering, and indulged in Grilled Conch, Queso Relleno, Pollo Pibil, Sopa di Lima, Relleno Negro, Longaniza di Valladolid, and Poc Chuc. We bought spices and pastes from the market at Valladolid, hoping to capture the magic of Yucatán once we return to our California home.

For a while we did not crave Mexican food. Our senses were satisfied. I cooked Mediterranean, and Indian, and Serbian for weeks. The Beasties whined for enchiladas. Husband wanted a taste of our Mexican vacation. But I was still not ready. I have been transformed. I watched teenage girls put the thin tortillas on the comal, flip them with their hands, and move them to a plate. I tasted thin slices of arrachera grilled for a mere second and served with roasted onion, avocado, and lime. I encountered achiote paste and habanero salsa. Mexican cuisine would never be the same in our house.

And then, just for fun, I entered Rick Bayless’ Twitter contest: for four weeks he tweeted a recipe from his new book, Fiesta at Rick’s, under 140 characters, challenging his followers to decipher it, cook it, and photograph it. He chose one overall winner a week, and another nine runners-up. All of them received a copy of his book.

Each week I gathered the necessary ingredients, followed the recipe, cooked it, and served to the family (after I tried to take the best photo my camera would muster). And each week I heard only the grunts of satisfied bellies. The final week featured grilled pork ribs. I prepared the rub and Husband tended to grilling. Our photo was chosen as the overall winner and I was beyond excited!

Some time later, the book arrived, signed by Rick Bayless. I spent a couple of minutes getting high from the new-book-smell. After I glanced through it, I knew that we would not be disappointed: the glossy pages revealed dozens of recipes that appealed to me immediately. And some of them threw me right back to Yucatán for a moment. Remembering the accolades I received from the family upon serving Rick’s dishes, I decided to cook from his book, one or two recipes at the time.

Tipped off by our Mexican neighbors, we visited a near-by Mexican store, Tula Market, and left with some queso fresco, Yucatecan habanero salsa, nopales (cactus fruit), and freshly made, warm from the comal, corn tortillas, which we attacked as soon as we entered the car.  Our Persian market had some thinly sliced beef, knob onions, and tomatillos. We were good to go!

While the beef was getting happy with the marinade, I roasted the tomatillos with some onions, garlic, and jalapeños for salsa verde. Nopales were bought cleaned of thorns and they met the Weber grill accompanied by halved onions. In no time we sat the table, placed a bowl of home-made guacamole on the “lazy susan”, flanked by some sour cream, lime wedges, and habanero salsa. When the beef finally hit the grill, sizzling, we started piling our plates with the nopales, onions, and salsa. After a couple of minutes, I cut the striped steak into ribbons and passed around still-warm tortillas. Ice-cold Pacifico put the final touch on this Mexican feast.

The flavors were light, bold, and clean. Everything merged together to bring about a simple meal bursting with fresh taste. If only I could have summoned the sound of waves breaking on the shore, I would have been transported back to Yucatán.

*it is his birthday today – Glückwünsche für dein Geburtstag, mein Bruder!

GRILLED SKIRT STEAK TACOS WITH KNOB ONIONS AND CACTUS  – TACOS DE ARRACHERA AL CARBÓN CON CEBOLLITAS ASADAS Y NOPALES (adapted slightly from Fiesta at Rick’s, by Rick Bayless)

Ingredients:

Marinade:

  • 6 unpeeled cloves of garlic
  • 3 Tbsp sunflower or olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa:

  • 1 lb (6-8 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and halved
  • fresh hot chiles, stemmed (jalapenos, serranos), 2-3
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • a bunch of cilantro
  • 1 tsp salt

The Rest:

  • 1 lb skirt steak
  • 3 medium cactus paddles (we bought ours already cleaned of thorns – to clean them yourself, wear the gloves, trim a thin layer around the cactus and cut out the spines)
  • 1 big bunch of knob onions (or spring onions – the bulbs are bigger than scallions), cut in half

Directions:

MARINADE:

Place the garlic in a skillet and cook on medium heat until softened, 10-15 minutes. Cool, peel, and process in a food processor along with oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves and oregano. Place the beef in a Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over it. Close the bag and rub the marinade with your fingers over the enclosed steak. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes (or as long as 6 hours) in the refrigerator.

SALSA:

Roast the tomatillos and peppers under the broiler, for about 5 minutes. Turn and roast the other side. Place into a blender together with cilantro and all the juices and puree until coarsely ground. Add the onions and salt.

GRILL:

Heat the grill to medium-high and grill the cactus and the onions, previously brushed with oil and seasoned with salt (put the cactus on the hotter side, the onions on the cooler side of the grill, with the round part of the bulb down). Flip the cactus after about 3 minutes, cook on the other side and leave on the cool side of the grill. After 10 minutes, onions should be soft. Scrape both onto the dish.

Place the beef over the hottest part of the grill and cook for about 2 minutes per side. Take it off and let it rest for several minutes.

Cut the steak into long ribbons, slice the cactus into strips, and sprinkle both with some salt. Serve with warm corn tortillas, onions, salsa verde, a squeeze of lime and some avocado.

MARINADE:

Place the garlic in a skillet and cook on medium heat until softened, 10-15 minutes. Cool, peel, and process in a food processor along with oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves and oregano. Place the beef in a Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over it. Close the bag and rub the marinade with your fingers over the enclosed steak. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes (or as long as 6 hours) in the refrigerator.

SALSA:

Roast the tomatillos and peppers under the broiler, for about 5 minutes. Turn and roast the other side. Place into a blender together with cilantro and all the juices and puree until coarsely ground. Add the onions and salt.

Heat the grill to medium-high and grill the cactus and the onions, previously brushed with oil and seasoned with salt (put the cactus on the hotter side, the onions on the cooler side of the grill, with the round part of the bulb down). Flip the cactus after about 3 minutes, cook on the other side and leave on the cool side of the grill. After 10 minutes, onions should be soft. Scrape both onto the dish.

Place the beef over the hottest part of the grill and cook for about 2 minutes per side. Take it off and let it rest for several minutes.

Cut the steak into long ribbons, slice the cactus into strips, and sprinkle both with some salt. Serve with warm corn tortillas, onions, salsa verde, a squeeze of lime and some avocado.

I am linking this post to Hearth ‘n Soul, hosted, among the others, by Alex of A Moderate Life.

This blog post is my contribution to 12 Days of Bloggi-Mas, hosted by A Moderate Life and Alternative Health and Nutrition News.

Brenda of Brenda’s Canadian Kitchen has a really neat blog event called Cookbooks Sunday. She encourages her readers to dig up the cookbooks, make a recipe or two, and link to her site on the first Sunday every month. I am excited to be a part of this group.

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