Sunday, July 29, 2012

Simply Rajas

Poblano peppers, roasted with the outer skin removed

Rajas. They’re not your everyday condiment. They don’t come in cans or jars (at least not the good kind). And they don’t make themselves. You have to intend to make them. You must plan ahead. At least a little. Why is this, you ask? Because the main ingredient is a fresh chile poblano.

Cooking fresh (or dried) chiles usually requires roasting, de-seeding, and de-steming. The roasting process is important in that it's easy to burn the chiles. The goal is to char them so that the flavor seals in and the skin is easy to remove when cooled. If you’ve never worked with fresh chiles before, I suggest you “cut your teeth” on a rajas recipe.

Now, there are many different rajas recipes out there. Some include sautéed garlic and onions, others a mixture of cream and white cheese. The recipe included here is typical of Zacatecas, a state in central Mexico, and one that I prefer because it highlights the flavor of the poblano pepper.

And best of all, you only need three ingredients.


Recipe Type: Condiment

Author: Gilda Claudine

Prep time: 30 mins

Total time: 30 mins

  • 6 Poblano peppers

  • 1 white onion

  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed Key Limes

  • Salt to taste
  1. In a broiler or on a griddle, roast the peppers.

  2. Allow them to char slightly and remove from the heat.

  3. Place them in a plastic bag and allow them to "sweat."

  4. Once the peppers have cooled, remove them from the bag and pull away the outer skin.

  5. Cut in half and remove the stems and seeds.

  6. Cut into 1/4 inch strips and set aside.

  7. Cut raw onion into 1/8 inch thick slices so that they are slightly thinner than the peppers.

  8. Marinate the peppers and onions in the freshly squeezed lime juice for at least one hour in the refrigerator.

Serve as a complement to tacos, eggs, enchiladas. Sprinkle with a bit of queso fresco.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sour Orange Marmalade

This summer, while traveling in Italy, I came upon a wild sour orange tree at a friend's house. Since sour oranges are hard to come by, I couldn't pass up the chance to grab a few and to make sour orange marmalade.

In Mexican cooking, sour orange juice is used, among other things, in cochinita pibil. Since it's difficult to get access to sour oranges, we buy the bottled sour orange juice for this. But here I was in Italy, loaded up with these superb oranges, and not exactly in the mood for cochinita.

Even though we were surrounded by all types of citrus trees in Laredo, where I grew up, my mother never made jams or marmalades. From my own experience, however, there are few things more appealing than spreading your own marmalade on a piece of buttered toast. The bright orange, purple and ruby shades of apricot, raspberry, strawberry, or plum jams in little jars are a summer bounty and an opportunity not to be squandered.

Needless to say, I've had to learn on my own the art of jam/marmalade making. It's not hard unless you decide to make jam for an army. My advice is to make a manageable amount, so the task doesn't become a total chore and to experiment with different fruit/sugar ratios until you find the balance you like. But remember, it's the sugar that makes the fruit transparent and gorgeous, as well as providing the 'preservative' so your jam won't spoil. The rule of the thumb is one to one, in other words, the same amount of sugar to the amount of fruit.

Sour Orange Marmalade

Recipe Type: Condiment

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 30 mins

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour 30 mins

Serves: 10

Reaching in your pantry or refrigerator for a jar of your own jam or marmalade is just pure magic. Opening the lid brings back the summer sun under which that fruit grew to warm you later in the winter.

  • 7 sour oranges (or regular oranges)

  • Sugar (a quantity that after measuring the amount of orange peel is the equivalent amount, approximately)

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Wash the oranges thoroughly, using a brush to scrub well.

  2. Cut the oranges in half and juice them well, setting aside the juice and seeds.

  3. After juicing, cut the peel into thin strips with a sharp knife.

  4. Boil the seeds in a cup of water for about 10 minutes, in order to use the pectin from the seeds for your marmalade liquid.

  5. Strain the liquid from the seeds (discard the seeds) and put in a pot along with the orange juice and the orange strips.

  6. Simmer the orange strips for about 20 minutes.

  7. Add the equivalent amount of sugar as the amount of orange slices you had and cook for another 30 minutes.

  8. When it looks translucent and the liquid has a certain thickness to it when you spoon it out into a place, it is done.

  9. Stir in the vanilla.

  10. Spoon into sterilized jars (boiled in a pot of water for about 15 minutes) and seal.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lime Leaf Agua Fresca

Dear Reader:

We hope you are standing by waiting faithfully, patiently, and in utter suspense for the latest entry to our blog. Which Gilda is to blame for the recent lapse? Well, La Ahijada was off to Yale on a writing seminar. And as for me, the end of the school year is a big change of gears. I was frantically turning in grades and focused on the final, pesky details involved in taking a group of active 14 year olds to a small, historic town in Mexico.

The two weeks in Mexico are now a self-contented blur. The students basically took over the town. They made extraordinary leaps in their knowledge of Spanish, made meaningful friendships, played soccer, and performed community service. Also, these boys tried traditional Mexican food and (gasp!) survived for two weeks without soft drinks. I put down the initial near insurrection by simply putting on my ear plugs and then plying them with some of the aguas frescas I remembered from my childhood, so good, so healthy, so icy-cold on a hot day. The whining for Cokes tapered off to barely audible murmurs by the end of the trip as the boys had gone through gallons of agua de jamaica, horchata, hoja de limón, agua de sandía, guanábana, tamarindo, or guayaba. I even heard some boys talking about how limonada made with real limes is just incomparable to anything out of a bottle or can.
I hope you find this unusual agua as delicious as I have found it. It has the green freshness of the leaf of the lime tree. If you have access to lemon leaves, rather than lime leaves, you'll be able to make an equally delicious agua. Perhaps you don't have access to citrus leaves at all, so as a last resort, you might look for a store or market that sells limes or lemons with the leaves still attached.

Lime Leaf Agua Fresca

Recipe Type: Beverage

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 10 mins

Total time: 10 mins

Serves: 6

This is a refreshing summer drink you can make if you have access to fresh lime or lemon leaves.

  • About 25 lime leaves without stems

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • 10 leaves of mint for garnish in each glass

  • juice of two limes or one orange

  • 8 cups water
  1. Using a blender, blend the lime leaves in 2 of the cups of water and the sugar

  2. With a strainer, pour into a pitcher and add the other 6 cups of water

  3. Adjust for sugar, and squeeze the 2 limes or the one orange

  4. Stir, add ice and pour into glasses garnished with sprig of mint.