Posts Tagged ‘pico de gallo’



We used to do production for clients in a factory near Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. At the end of a long day we would head to this charming Mexican restaurant that welcomed us with sparkling tiny white lights strung through the trees and a gurgling fountain in the enclosed patio. We would immediately sink into relaxation. The first thing on our menu was a frosty margarita followed by my pick, nachos. Until recently I had never bothered to make those delicious nachos at home, but urged on by Steve (who had a yen for them) I decided to give replicating our favorite the old college try. When all was said and done, I think I made nachos that were even better than we remembered.
Here’s what I did.
I covered the bottom of a large jelly roll pan with chips (I use Xochitl brand, Mexican style stone-ground corn chips). I sprinkled carnitas over the chips followed by black beans and pico de gallo. Then I did another layer of chips followed by the same threesome. Sprinkled cheese over the top and put the whole mess in a very hot oven. In about 10 minutes we had a melted cheesy mess that we garnished with guacamole and more pico de gallo. It was delicious. All that was missing was the twinkling lights and gurgling fountain.


1 tablespoon lard or peanut oil
5 pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into large chunks
Salt to taste
About 2 cups chicken stock or nonfat, low-sodium chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon pure chile powder (not commercially packed seasoned chili powder)
1 teaspoon ground cumin


Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pork, season generously with salt, and sear, turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until very crusty and dark brown.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the browned pork to a double layer of paper towel to drain off excess fat.
Add 1 cup of cold water to the pan and bring to a boil, scraping the brown bits up from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Return the drained pork to the pan. Add just enough chicken stock (or broth) to almost cover the meat with liquid. Make sure you do not cover it entirely. Stir in the garlic, bay leaves, chile powder, and cumin.
Transfer to the preheated oven and roast, turning the meat occasionally, for about 3 hours or until the pan is almost dry and the meat is falling apart.
Remove from the oven and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a plate to cool. Let rest until cool enough to handle.
When cool, pull the meat apart into almost bite-sized pieces. The carnitas may be made up to this point and returned to whatever cooking liquid is left in the pan. Then, stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Place the pork pieces in a baking pan along with the liquid and roast, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the pan is dry and the pork pieces are almost charred and crispy. This meat may be used for tacos, nachos, burritos, or enchiladas.



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As you can tell, lately I’ve been on a Mexican food kick – burritos one night, mole the next, and then for breakfast a big plate of beans and eggs in the form of huevos rancheros.  As much as I love pico de gallo (the ubiquitous dip served with chips in every authentic or wanna-be Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant), it is impossible to make at this time of the year ‘cause the tomatoes are so anemic and tasteless, so I try to make my own “authentic” Mexican cooked sauces to keep on hand when I need a south of the border fix.

To make the huevos, griddle up some corn tortillas (one for each serving and a couple for dipping and cleaning the plate).  Top with refried beans, then with 2 fried eggs, sunny-side-up, drizzle with tomato sauce, and serve as is or with a side of yellow rice.  On this morning, I grilled some of those sweet little peppers that come, pre-bagged, in a colorful mix that I found languishing in the back of the fridge to accent the plate as we were having friends join us.

Here’s my sauce:

1 pound ripe (ha!) tomatoes

Couple of chiles – jalapeño, Serrano or whatever is available, cut in half, lengthwise

3 cloves garlic

Cilantro or epazote to taste

Salt to taste

            Place the tomatoes, chiles, and garlic in a stovetop grill pan over medium heat.  Grill, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until nicely charred and soft to the touch.  You might have to step away from the stove from time to time as the fumes from the cooking chiles can be powerful.

Remove from the grill and set aside until cool enough to handle.  When cool enough to handle, core the tomatoes, stem the chiles, and push the skin from the garlic.

Combine the tomatoes, chiles, and garlic in a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Add the cilantro or epazote and season with salt.  Process, using quick on and off turns, to make a chunky sauce.

Scrape the sauce into a clean saucepan and place over medium heat.  Cook for about 5 minutes just to allow flavors to blend.  Taste and, if necessary, add more cilantro and salt.

Serve or transfer to a container and store, covered and refrigerated, for up to a week or so.

And here’s my refried beans: 

2-3 tablespoons bacon fat or lard (if you want to be good use canola oil, but why?)

Any amount of cooked beans you like – either pinto or black (with cooking liquid separately reserved if you have it) – I usually make about 4 cups

3 cloves garlic, minced or more if you like

3 sprigs epazote or cilantro or more if you like, finely chopped

1 jalapeño serrano chile, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

Salt to taste

Heat the fat in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the drained beans along with the garlic, herbs, and chile.  Cook, pushing down on the beans with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, until all of the beans have been mashed into the fat.  Lower the heat and season with salt.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently and adding reserved bean cooking liquid to keep the mixture moist, but not runny, for about 20 minutes or until the flavors are well blended and the mix is very flavorful.  Serve immediately or store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.


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The other morning Steve and I got to chatting about Mexican food with our waiter, Ivan, at our favorite local diner, Café 82 on Broadway and 82nd Street.  Ivan is from Moreles and when I began asking him something about tacos and tortas, he whipped out his cell phone and starting showing me photos as he explained how his mother (who, he said “sold food for 20 years”) made his favorite dishes.  Then, it turned out that Ivan had been in the restaurant business in his home state before making his way to New York City so we had plenty to talk about.  Fortunately for us it was a slow morning so he could talk for a bit.

As Ivan talked, my egg white omelet gelled on the plate as I yearned for some of the deliciousness that he described.  When he got to cemitas, a typical Mexican sandwich made with “Milanesa” (you got it, just as it sounds a chicken cutlet breaded and fried as for the Italian veal cutlet Milanese) Ivan gave us the filling – Milanesa, sliced avocado, jalapeños, red onion, queso, tomato or pico de gallo, and papalo piled on a cemita sesame roll.  I got everything except the papalo.  I had never heard of it.

That was all Ivan needed to hear.  “Tomorrow I will bring you papalo and pipicha (showing each in photos on his cell phone) from my supermarket in Queens” (a borough of New York City).  Now he really had me – pipicha, what was that?  “Very strong herb” said Ivan, as he assured me that I would like it once I tried it.

True to his word, the next morning Ivan handed me a shopping bag that was emitting an aroma that was a mix of the laundromat, wet towels, cilantro, lemon rind, a weeded garden in the rain….it was, in fact, indescribable.  It was papalo and pipicha.  Papalo was very pretty; it looked a bit like soft green watercress.  Pipicha looked tall and weedy – just like something a gardener would like to get rid of.  My bill for my bag of herbs was $2.75 – certainly could tell we weren’t shopping in Manhattan.

We were having friends in for dinner so I made a pureed bean soup as a first course, seasoning it with just a few sprigs of the pipicha and then I garnished the bowls with papalo.  Let me tell you, the pipicha gave the soup a really indefinable flavor that caught everyone’s attention as they tried to guess what I had put in the soup.  The papalo leaves created a great conversation point.

The next day we used the papalo to give “authentic” flavor to some burritos that I cobbled together for dinner.  Haven’t quite figured out how to use the bundle of pipicha yet – it is pretty strong. But the best thing that came from our conversation with Ivan was the promise that his wife would spend a day in the kitchen with me.  I can’t wait!

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