Seasons Greetings Part II - Nuts to you!

Late July through early October is walnut (nuez de castilla) and pomegranate (granada) season in central Mexico. Walnut vendors who ply their wares,from popular markets to the metro, arrive in the city in droves from the hilly and cool-climated states surrounding the capital. These are fresh nuts, usually sold partially opened. The meat, laborious to extract, is almost green, wet and uncured, and if not used immmediately, must be dried or roasted: if packed as is, it will become moldy.
Although walnuts are enjoyed as snacks, they are principally used to make the rich sauce served over stuffed chiles – the patriotic Chiles en Nogada - next week I will report on
this emblematic dish. The cultivation of walnuts originated in Persia and they were brought to Mediterranean Europe by early spice traders; they then made their way to the new world with the Spaniards. Their brief seasonal appearance is also much appreciated in Spain and France today.
Also originally native to Arabia are pomegranates. These spectacular fruits have been much celebrated in art and literature as symbols of fertility, due to their physical beauty and plethora of seeds. Here, they are consumed en mass – mountains are sold at every market in the country. And, of course, the seeds dot the surface of the aformentioned chile en nogada, providing a pleasingly tart counterbalance to the heavy cream and nut sauce.
As neither ingredients are commonly used in other traditional Mexican dishes, I have provided two of my favorite recipes which together utilize all three - counting the mushrooms of last week’s post - extraordinary summer-fall gifts from the Gods.

Chicken with Pomegranate & Porcini

This recipe comes from the extraordinary tome The Silver Spoon, sort of an Italian Joy of Cooking, which only recently has been translated into English and Spanish. The recipe most likely of Sicilian or Sardinian origin, as those cuisines incorporate some North African influences.

1 chicken cut up into 12 pieces
2 tb olive oil
3 tb butter
1 large onion
½ cup (about 30 grams) dried porcini or chanterelles, re-hydrated in a cup of hot water.
The juice of 4 pomegranates, about 1 cup
1 pomegranate, for seeds to garnish
4 sage leaves, chopped
2-3 tb crema (crème fraiche)
a little flour for dusting
salt and pepper

Wash and dry the chicken; dust in flour and brown, in a large skillet or low clay cazuela in the oil and butter; set aside.
Saute the onions; wring out the mushrooms and add to the pan. Sauté for a couple of minutes.
Add the chicken, pomegranate juice, mushroom water, and sage. Cook over a low flame, partially covered, for about an hour, or until chicken is falling
apart tender. If there is a lot of liquid, remove chicken and boil down to concentrate. Stir in crema at the last minute and adjust salt and pepper. Remove to serving platter.
Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve. This dish goes nicely with fresh egg fettuccini.
Serves 4-6

Spinach & Walnut Salad

This is a Syrian salad as I have adapted it from the excellent Street Food By Tom Kime
As there are many Syrians in Mexico, undoubtedly someone here will be making it.

2 tb olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
¼ kilo (1/2 lb) spinach leaves, tough stems removed
1/3 cup walnut pieces
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ cup thick plain yogurt
½ ts sugar (optional)
20 fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
seeds of 1 small or ½ large pomegranate, about 3/4 cup
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat and cook the onion 4-5 minutes until pale golden.
Add the spinach and cook for a couple of minutes to wilt. Remove from the heat, empty spinach mixture into a shallow bowl and wipe the pan dry. Roast the walnuts in the dry pan for a few minutes, being careful not to burn them; cool and coarsely chop.
Mix yogurt with garlic and sugar, add a little salt.
Toss spinach with yogurt, place on serving platter, garnish with mint and pomegranate leaves.
Serves 4

On another note, the Pasqual company, who makes Boing!, is an independent, employee-owned maker of soft drinks, and is on the verge of collapse. This is due to the hard-sell tactics of Coca Cola and other monster foreign based drink sellers who control 96% of the market. Boing! is made with fresh fruit juice (OK, and more than a wee bit of sugar), is delicious, comes in groovy vintage-looking bottles and is truly Mexican. Support it!

Text and Photos © 2009 Nicholas Gilman - all rights reserved


My Favorite Mexican Foods and Where to Eat Them - Part 1

Since 1978 I have been looking for Authentic Mexican Food in Mexico. The real, the undiscovered - by foreigners, anyway. The search for the miraculous, as my friend Stan likes to put it.
I never did find a guide book (or person for that matter) to help me, so I wrote one and became the guide myself. I have eaten my way through the capital as well as far beyond the D.F.'s borders, from Mérida to Monterrey. I've wined and dined in Polanco, eaten worms in Oaxaca, munched on armadillo in Chiapas, hitched and hiked and grifted, too. Still, certain simple (or not so simple) dishes, seemingly common, remain my favorites. Unrivaled examples of all of them are available within the confines of the Federal District. With a good metro map in hand I invite the reader to travel this mouthwatering inventory of Mexican classics.

I always ignored these seemingly calorie-laden bombs until I read an article asking famous Mexicans to name their favorite foods. That of alternative dramaturgue Jesusa Rodriquez was flautas. I had to find out more about them. They have since become my favorite antojito (corn-based snack). Elongated rolled tortillas (hence the name which means “flute”) are filled with potatos, chicken, cheese or barbacoa (roast lamb), deep- fried golden brown, then topped with cream and salsa verde, and sprinkled with grated queso fresco and shredded lettuce. For reasons unbeknownst to anybody, Flautas are usually served with caldo de gallina, a chicken soup better than any Jewish grandmother can make. My favorites come from a nameless stand in the Condesa on the west side of Calle Chilpancingo (fourth from the corner of Baja California by the metro Chilpancingo stop). Open Monday through Saturday, they do such a booming business that they have expanded into the facing storefront. A chilled mango Boing! is the perfect accompaniment.

Tostadas are the quintessential Mexican antojito. A crispy fried tortilla piled high with a meat (or fish) filling, then garnished with lettuce or cabbage, cream and salsa; there are infinate variations. Seafood tostadas can be especially spectacular.
In the middle of the Coyoacan market you’ll find a gastronomic art installation at Tostadas de Coyoacán – dozens of huge plates of mouth-watering tostada toppings. Shrimps, chicken, crab, mole, the list goes on. I start with their succulent lemony ceviche, topped with bright green salsa, then move on to pulpo, then maybe cochinita pibil...... I’ve eaten as many as four at a sitting, but I don’t recommend this. To drink, order agua de melón from the stand next door. (Be sure to choose only Tostadas de Coyoacán – their competitors are not as good.)

I love a warm hearty soup on a “cold” winter D.F. day (how dare I complain about the weather here…). Once I observed two shy campesinas, attired in home-made cotton dresses with rebozos draped over their shoulders, waiting patiently at the counter of the carnicería. When their turn came they asked for “una cabeza, por favor” (“a head, please”). The butcher looked at them quizzically (as did I) and asked what sort of head they needed. Their answer produced a huge, grinning pig’s head, which made even them laugh. “What will you do with it”, I queried? “Pozole, of course!” they replied.
Pozole, is the archetypal Mexican comfort food--a soup fit for a king. Basically, it’s a hearty meat broth, laced with chili and augmented with hominy (known as cacahuazintle in Mexico). The hominy is prepared by a process called nixtamalización, that is, soaked in lime, as for corn tortillas, which softens the kernels. Two blocks from Santa Maria de la Ribera’s groovy old Kiosko Moro is the extraordinary La Casa de Toño (Sabino 144), a pozolería set in a 19th-century mansion. Rich, red hominy laden pozole with all the trimmings is the specialty, although sopes. tostadas and other antojitos are also offered. At $34 pesos for a pozole grande you’ve got a real bargain, too. The appropriate maridaje is horchata..

“But eet ees confit!” my French friend exclaimed when I showed her a large copper cauldren where pork carnitas were bubbling away in their own fat. The good parts of the pig are roasted this way and chopped up to serve - hence the name "little meats". They should be eaten cloaked in a tortilla, with an array of red and green salsas, cilantro, onions and a squirt of limón, of course. I always order ‘maciza’ which gets you an assortment of pieces, mostly the less fatty, but a little crispy skin. A specialty of Michoacan, there are thousands of carnitas joints all over town, but finding a great one is a task. I was drawn by the crispy brown crust and roasty aroma of these porky treats at La Reina de la Roma, my current favorite. They’re located at Campeche 106 (in front of the Mercado Medellín) in Colonia Roma. Proper quaff would be a crisp refresco de manzana (in a vintage bottle), or beer.

'Mas mexicano que mole', goes the saying, and no food better represents the spirit of Mexico than this famous dark, rich and spicy sauce.”
Isn’t that the one made with chocolate?” people often ask when the subject turns to mole, but chocolate is the least of it. While some of the best known moles do indeed include chocolate amongst their many ingredients (the dark ones of Puebla and Oaxaca for example), many do not.
What is mole, really? The word derives from the nahuatl “molli” which means a sauce of ground chilies and nuts or seeds and spices. Perhaps coincidentally moler means to grind in Spanish. The Enciclopedia Gastronómica de México lists 37 varieties of moles from 21 states. It is generally agreed that mole is made of chilies, dried or fresh, spices, herbs, vegetables or fruit, and thickened with seeds, nuts or corn masa. Truly a celebratory dish, in most Mexican families it is reserved for special occasions. The tiny, atmospheric Fonda Mi Lupita, in business since 1957 on Calle Buentono 22, near Delicias in the centro offers only sweet, chocolate-y mole poblano; it is among the best in the city. Order chicken, either pechuga or pierna, or enchiladas, or simply mole with rice and tortillas, all served with the traditional garnish of raw onion rings, sesame seeds and crumbled queso fresco. They also have mole to take out.

A note to my readers: Forbes Magazine has recently named Mexico City one of the world's top five cities in which to eat well: click here for a link to the article

Text and Photos © 2009 Nicholas Gilman - all rights reserved.


Border Crossings - Burritos in Mexico City

I can’t say I ever ate a Tex-Mex meal I really liked. The concept seems to me like the worst of both worlds. And at the risk of alienating my Bay Area Buddies, I’ve always secretly hated burritos. I mean those two pound sinkers containing mushy beans, watery guacamole, flaccid cheese, weird orange ‘Mexican’ rice, chili-less salsa and more. I know they are made, sold and eaten by Mexicans, but does that make them Good Food?
Burros (better known by their diminutive burritos ) are really another name for tacos, only in the northern states of Mexico are made with wheat tortillas rather than corn. It is rare to find them in La Capital.
That’s why I was curious about a stand I pass all the time on Av. Insurgentes which always seems to have flocks of people around it: Los Burritos.
This neighborhood institution is set against a triangular city block which houses a lone, shuttered Porfiriato mansion which has sat forlornly for years like Madama Butterfly waiting for her Pinkerton, hoping to be rescued from the encroaching glass and steel forward-looking-only madness of the newly energized Reforma.
Los Burritos is always crowded with office workers, policemen, housewives and hipsters and I discovered why. The burritos are made Sinaloa style. There are eighteen different choices, from costillita con champiñones, a simple hash of pork rib and mushrooms, to the more exotic flor de calabaza and the redundantly named poblano de Puebla. Whichever you order, the combination of ingredients is sautéed fresh, covered with a hand-made 78 RPM record-size flour tortilla to steam for a minute, anointed with bean paste to give it some body and doused with one of five salsas, all unusual - I like the naranja con chile, the orange juice giving it a nice zing. Or the roasted morita especial, deep and dark. They are then wrapped, tucked and served – happily for the environment, on a re-used bag-covered tray. Not exactly what I would call a light repast, they are hearty and filling, not nearly as weighty as their full-figured northern neighbors.

And if you have burri-cravings and find yourself below the D.F. Mason-Dixon line of the Viaducto, there is always Los Burritos de Fuentes, in Coyoacán, whose fast food ambiance tries to Mc-emulate other plasticized chains but whose food is real. And they serve a beer I've never seen before called 'Malverde'. And they are open until well after the party has lost its spark.

Los Burritos
Calle Havre, near the corner of Insurgentes, Zona Rosa
open Monday - Friday 11-7 PM
Saturday 12-8 PM

Los Burritos de Fuentes
Miguel Angel de Quevedo 482 (accross from the Comercial Mexicana), Coyoacán
Open Monday-Thursday 1PM-1AM
Friday, Saturday 2PM-4 AM

Text and Photos © 2009 Nicholas Gilman - all rights reserved.