Saturday, February 2, 2013

Following the trail of chiles....

Homemade Guacamole w/tostadas and queso fresco
I've discovered a curious fact about myself. Truly, it should come as no surprise. When I went to make cube steak with mashed potatoes the other week, the facts hit me over the head:  

I cook better Mexican food than American food.

There, I said it. It's out and for what it's worth I never saw it coming. It was subtle at first. A plate of quesadillas here, a pot of posole there, with some queso fresco spinkled on in between. I've always been a good cook and baker of luscious desserts. I took over the making of chocolate chip cookies from age ten or so, and then was entrusted with the famous One Egg Cake my mom created. Supper was made by me every now and then and if asked I could whip up most anything. 

I remember my Aunt Vera telling me once that if you can make a white sauce that isn't lumpy, then you're a true cook. I would whisk that creamy roux to within an inch of it's floured up life until not a lump could be found. My soups were dreamy as were the casseroles that had just the right seasonings added to them. 

When I lived in Mexico with George's family I was introduced to a different way of cooking. At first I was shy, and really, they didn't want me helping with the cooking so I simply observed. Frijoles for breakfast? With beaten eggs and a small molcajete of salsa the flavors were divine. Bistec and cebolla simmered in a light tomato salsa became a favorite dish. Chunks of crispy pork covered in a blazing chile de arbol sauce still makes my mouth water. Sopes with creamy queso fresco, pork tamales with piquant salsa verde in a steaming husk, savory soups with chicken feet, and the tostadas from the market. Those tostadas are the first thing I head for when going into town when we visit. 

The sights and smells of Mexican cooking overcrowded my brain for almost a year, then bam - we headed home to Ohio. Back to Amish cooking and tuna casseroles. I experimented with different flavors back then. Mexican ingredients, authentic ones, weren't readily available so we worked with what we had. Many different variations of enchiladas were attempted. Some were successful and the ones I use today come from a very refined recipe that has been altered frequent times over the years. I am still learning.

Steak Quesadillas
I find myself in the present day mulling over different recipes in my head. Wouldn't this steak go great with these mushrooms in a crisp quesadilla? Sauces blend in my brain until I see them made and sitting on my counter. Rice, those granules of little flavor are turned into a pot of beauty with good fry and simmer of just the right amount of liquid gold. It's a process than I've learned in and out and become very good at. 

There are days, though, that I sit and wonder what to make for supper. I realize that those days are the ones I'm not making Mexican food. There is no hesitation when chicken needs to be boiled and shredded for a spicy Tinga with onions. Stacked on a crispy tostada with cheese and a side of black beans, it's a no-brainer. Ask me to make a tuna casserole and I fold. Really, I can still make a mean tuna casserole but my heart just isn't in it. My heart is loaded with flavors of that warm land to the south. The one that can take a simple masa dough and turn it into magic brimming with beans and cheese. 

Chiles Rellenos

That taco truck hovers every closer to my line of vision. My mind is creating the menu every day that goes by, refining it, adding to and taking away. The grill and fry station seem clear as a bell in my mind as does the meat I want to make and shred or the salsa to blend and imbue with rich goodness. The flavors are melding in my coterie of recipes until I just want to burst. 

It is no surprise that my heart isn't much into American flavors anymore. I love them dearly, but my heart pounds for that spicy scald of flavor as it rushes past my taste buds and warms my stomach. I guess there is something to be said for following your stomach AND your heart. Stay tuned to where the chile trail leads me. 


Leslie Limon said...

I have the same problem! I have days where I miss American food, but for the most part I cook mostly Mexican, with lots of chilies. :)

mkh said...

It was a weird feeling realizing my American food was lacking. But then again, when you're married to a Latino we KNOW where our passion lies, right? :) Good luck with your new venture, Leslie! So exciting!

Tracy Anne said...

My grandma, Irene Hummel loved Mexican food! When she came to visit in California we went to Los Delicios many times and she'd eat the entire bowl of hot sales! I love it too and have not found a really great place here in the ATL...