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Celebrate the red, white and green: Mexican Independence Day is Saturday

Updated: 
September 12, 2017 - 12:05am

This Saturday, we honor Mexican Independence Day when, in 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo urged his people to rebel against 300 years of oppressive Spanish rule. In a patriotic cry for freedom and racial equality that still has relevance today, the Catholic priest helped launch a grassroots revolt that was long fought (about 10 years) and hard won. Much dancing, fireworks, food and drink ensued.

Not that we need an excuse to enjoy one of the most popular of cuisines, but having it on a special day makes it taste just that much better. Here are a few easy recipes to try at home. I was aiming for “real” Mexican recipes that were a step up from the usual drive-thru takeout food without requiring the long, slow, all-day preparation that is the hallmark of “authentic” recipes … viva la casa!

Queso Fundido (Mexican Cheese Fondue)

This delicious warm treat takes only about 20 minutes to prepare. I like sprinkling it with toasted pumpkin seeds and a little chopped fresh cilantro before serving. Great with soft tortillas or chips; makes 6 servings.

1 lb. Mexican cheese: queso “Cacique” or “El Mexicano” or any other queso blanco, cut into small chunks

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 4 limes (about 1/4 cup)

6 to 8 drops Mexican hot sauce

Slowly melt cheese in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When almost melted, add the garlic, lime juice, and the hot sauce, and heat through. Serve immediately with tortillas or chips.

Poblano Pesto

Poblano chilies add a dark pine-green color and texture and a rich, smoky flavor to this pesto. Try it with angel hair pasta and grilled shrimp, as a topping for enchiladas or roast pork. Best to use it the same day as made, before it loses the bright, clean flavors. Recipe from “Coyote Café” by chef Mark Miller; makes about 1 1/2 cups.

6 tablespoons pine nuts

6 medium poblano chilies, roasted and peeled

1 small clove garlic

4 to 6 tablespoons virgin olive oil

1 bunch cilantro, leaves only

Sea salt to taste

Juice of 1 or 2 limes

1 large sweet red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced

Lightly roast the pine nuts in preheated 350-degree oven; let cool. In a food processor, pulse the pine nuts, poblano chilies, garlic, olive oil and cilantro into a rough paste. Add salt and lime juice to taste, then stir in diced red peppers. Serve in desired recipe.

Crispy Beef and Bean Taquitos

While this Tex-Mex favorite can be found in the frozen foods section of markets, they don’t do justice to the crunchiness and juiciness of homemade versions. This recipe from “Cook’s Country” magazine uses ground beef instead of long-braising chuck; makes 12 taquitos. Serve with avocado sauce, guacamole, or sour cream.

1 cup, plus 4 teaspoons vegetable oil

8 ounces lean ground beef

1 onion, halved and sliced thin

2 jalapeno chilies, stemmed, seeded and minced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 cup canned pinto beans, rinsed and mashed

8-ounce can tomato sauce

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

Salt and pepper

12 6-inch corn tortillas

1 large egg, lightly beaten

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add beef; cook, breaking up pieces with a spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain in colander; set aside. In same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in jalapenos, garlic, cumin and chili powder. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in mashed beans, tomato sauce, water, cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir in drained beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and begins to sizzle, about 10 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a bowl; set aside to cool.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set wire rack inside a second rimmed baking sheet. Wrap six tortillas in clean, damp kitchen towel, place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and microwave until hot and pliable, about 90 seconds. Working with one tortilla at a time, brush edges with egg. Place a row of 3 tablespoons filling across lower half of tortilla; fold bottom up and over filling. Pull back on tortilla to tighten it around filling; roll tightly and place seam side down on lined baking sheet. Repeat, then microwave remaining six tortillas and repeat with remaining filling. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat to 200 degrees.. Heat remaining 1 cup oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Using tongs, place six taquitos, seam side down, in oil. Fry until golden, about 5 minutes. Flip and fry until second side is golden, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to wire rack on baking sheet; place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining six taquitos; serve warm.

Albondigas

Garlic, onions and rice are mixed with finely chopped meat for these Mexican meatballs, simmered in a savory tomato sauce. Serve alongside just about anything. Recipe from “Latin American Cooking” by Susan Bensusan; makes enough for 6 servings.

2 pounds ground beef

1/2 cup chopped raisins

1/4 cup chopped olives

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Fresh ground black pepper

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs

6 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1/2 cup beef broth

In a large bowl, combine beef, raisins and olives. Season with the sugar, salt and a little pepper; mix well. Form into small balls; coat with egg, then roll in breadcrumbs. Heat butter in a large frying pan; add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add meat balls and fry about 15 minutes, until brown and cooked. Add tomatoes; simmer 5 minutes. Remove meat balls from the sauce, to a serving dish, and keep warm. To the pan sauce, add parsley and broth; simmer 5 minutes. Pour sauce over meat balls and serve hot.

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