Mexican dinner

Mexican dinner

After I graduated from law school and had taken my first bar exam, I rewarded myself with seven weeks traipsing around Mexico solo.  I visited 15 states, became pretty fluent in Spanish and had a wonderful time.  During my trip, I travelled to Northern Mexico to the State of Coahuila (City of Saltillo) to visit some friends I had made on a prior trip.  They were students at an agricultural university there.  Northern Mexico (La Frontera) is to Mexico as Texas is to the U.S.: ranches, pickup trucks, cowboy hats and boots.  Surprisingly, however, the further south you go in the US towards Texas the slower people speak (that Texan drawl).  But in Mexico, the farther north you go towards the U.S. border, the faster people speak.  One day during my visit my friends decided to cook dinner.  We bought steaks, raided the experimental corn and vegetable fields and had this fine repast.  I’ve adapted it only slightly.  You can substitute canola oil for lard but you will lose the authentic Mexican flavor.  Lard (Manteca) is available in many grocery stores sold in blocks, but I make my own.  Whenever I buy pork, I trim the fat and freeze it separately.   When I get a critical mass, I defrost it and slowly render it in a sauté pan over medium low heat.  I then pour it into a bowl and store it in the fridge.  This time, however, I had some fresh boneless country-style pork ribs I bought on sale to use in another meal.  I trimmed 4 oz of fat off of them, and tossed the fat into the skillet before making the rice.  When the fat became crisp, I discarded the crispies (George Bush Sr. loves these “chicharrones” as a snack).  Half the fat went into the beans and the other half into the rice.   This meal serves four with some leftover beans and rice.

Beans

 

  • 8 oz dried beans (pinto are traditional in Northern Mexico, but I used black), soaked in six cups of water overnight.
  • ½ onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped (use vinyl gloves while handling hot peppers)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp lard
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 oz crumbled cotija or feta cheese
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro

 

Drain beans.  Put them in a large pot and add six cups of clean water and all other ingredients except lard, salt, cheese and cilantro.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to low, cover and simmer until beans are soft and can be mashed (abvout two hours).  Add lard and salt to taste.  Garnish with cheese and cilantro.

Carne Asada

  • 1 pound beef sirloin steak, 1” thick,  trimmed of fat
  • Juice of one lime (to juice lime, roll it on a counter with your palm, using good pressure, then microwave it for 20 seconds, let cool before cutting in half and juicing).
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce (yes my friends used soy sauce!)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground New Mexico chili powder
  • ¼ cup canola oil

Marinate steak overnight in a plastic zipper bag in the remaining ingredients.  Turn bag occasionally.  Just before dinner, drain and grill steak 7 minutes on each side for medium rare. Heat marinade in the microwave till boiling and serve on the side.

Mexican rice

Mexican cooks attempt to achieve the exact opposite result with rice from Italians.  Mexican rice is flaky, and not starchy.  The secret is to soak the raw rice in a bowl of water, rubbing it between your fingers and draining off the starchy liquid.  Repeat several times until you can see through the water.  Drain well and spread the rice on a tray in a shallow layer to dry for at least one hour.

  • 2 tbsp lard
  • 2 cups long-grained rice prepared as above
  • ½ onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 15-oz can of tomatoes, drained (save liquid)
  • Chicken stock added to tomato liquid to make 2 cups
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • Salt to taste.

Heat lard in a skillet or large sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add dried rice and stir until rice is translucent.  Add onion and garlic and cook until they are soft.  Mix in drained tomatoes and pour in stock/tomato liquid.  Turn up the heat and bring to boil, and then turn down the heat to low and cover tightly.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.  Uncover, stir in carrot.  Cover and steam rice for another 20 minutes.  Uncover and stir in peas.  Cover and steam for another 5 minutes or until peas are heated through.  Salt to taste.

Round out the meal with boiled corn on the cob (basted with melted butter, lime juice and chili powder) and a salad.

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