Southwest Heritage Beans

Rich and I were in Tucson earlier this month and while visiting a farmers' market, I discovered a stand that sells a great variety of Southwest Heritage Beans. Martha Ames Burgess is the friendly lady who was tending this stand. She was also selling other seeds and spices. I bought chia seeds to put in my granola and I bought a couple of her heirloom beans; "Colorado River" and "Tom's Mix". Martha gave me one of her recipes to try, which I will soon, but I already had one in mind that I've been wanting to prepare.

The following recipe is usually prepared with pinto beans, which are the most used in my kitchen, but this time I used the Colorado River beans and it turned just as good and the heritage beans made it a lot creamier. Mmm, sabrosa!

Sopa de Frijoles
(Bean Soup)

3 C. frijoles de la olla, pot beans that is (whole canned pinto beans can be used)
2-3 C. bean broth (if using canned beans, you can use water)
1 T. oil
1/4 C finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 sprig of epazote, chopped (optional)
1/4 t. ground cumin
1 T. dried Mexican oregano

Salt to taste
Oil to fry
4 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips and fried
Queso fresco or Mexican crema or crème fraîche
Strips of fried pasilla chile or sun dried tomatoes could be used for garnish (optional)

In a blender, purée the frijoles with 2 cups of broth. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and sauté the onion until transparent. Add the garlic and epazote, cook for a couple minutes. Stir in the cumin and oregano, cook for a few seconds longer, then add the beans from the blender. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil, add salt to taste and reduce to simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes. If too thick, add the remaining cup of broth. In a separate pan heat about 1/2 inch of oil and fry the tortilla strips a few at a time until crispy. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with tortilla strips and queso fresco or dollop of cream. If using, add garnish.

Septiembre - Mes de la Patria

Every 16th of September is a Mexican Fiesta! On this day Mexicans all over the world celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule. As good Mexicans, we celebrate throughout the month of September. Why? Well, because Septiembre es el Mes de la Patria!

Like at most festivities, certain foods are considered representative of Independence Day. People are compelled to cook the traditional antojitos Mexicanos or a variety of finger foods. A favorite is posole, a soup made of hominy and pork. Other foods have the colors of the Mexican flag - green, white and red, like chiles en nogada. Of course green or red enchiladas are some of my favorites.

My family had gotten together a few times this month to cook some of the traditional dishes and I have prepared a couple of Mexican recipes with a little twist of my own. Here is one:

Enchiladas en Salsa de Chile Poblano y Elote
(Enchiladas with Poblano Peppers and Corn Sauce)

For the sauce:
1 T. olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
6 poblano peppers;
roasted, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 C. fresh corn kernels (frozen corn can be used instead)
1/4 C. cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 C. evaporated milk (light...or not, your choice)
Salt to taste
12 corn tortillas
1/4 C. vegetable or olive oil

For the filling:
1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
2 C. queso fresco; crumbled (fresh feta cheese can be used instead)
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 C. cooked sauce ingredients (optional)

Toppings (optional):
Sour cream, hot sauce and cilantro.

The fastest way to roast the poblanos is on an open flame over the stove. Place them directly on the flame and rotate as they roast until they blacken all over. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic. Let sit while you clean the corn and chop the rest of the ingredients. When the poblanos are cool, complete the process of peeling, seeding and coarsely chopping them.

In a large frying pan heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent. Add the peppers and corn and continue cooking for about 3 minutes. At this point, you could reserve part of this to use as a filling.

Transfer all ingredients to a blender or food processor. Add the milk and cilantro and purée. Return to the pan and keep warm.

Brush both sides of the tortillas with oil. Heat a flat skillet and slightly fry one tortilla about a minute on each side.

Transfer to a plate, fill with chicken and cheese, onion 
and cheese, or with sauce ingredients and cheese. Roll and place in an oven proof dish. Repeat until all the
tortillas are used.

Pour the sauce on top of the enchiladas and bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until heated through. Serve hot and top with sour cream and hot sauce. Garnish with cilantro.

Viva Mexico and its food!


Herb Salt

Sometime ago I discovered the pleasure of cooking with herb salt. I used to buy an Italian blend of sea salt and fresh herbs that I love. I use it in roasted potatoes, grilled fish or chicken, soups, eggs; I add it to almost every thing! I have been using this salt for, I don't know, at least five years now. It never occurred to me that I could make my own.

For Mother's Day, it is a tradition in my family to give presents not only to our own mom but to all the women in the family that have the fortune of being mothers. Since there are gazillions of these women in my family, the presents are often simple and more of a token than an expense. I usually try to give something homemade. I will never forget the year I went down to the canyon and cut big bunches of wild daisies. Rich made flower bases out of tree branches and I filled them with fresh cut flowers from the canyon. My mom and sisters loved them.

Last May, while trying to think what to give to my mom and sisters for Mother's Day, I picked up the jar of my herb salt, as I often do, to inhale the great aroma of the herbs I love. I read the ingredients just to discover that I have almost all the herbs used in this mix growing in my back yard. What a nice surprise. My mind was immediately made up, I was going to make herb salt to give as a Mother's Day present!

I had no idea how to make this but I didn't think it would be difficult. After a little research I found out that some people dry the herbs in a 200° oven for 24 hours before mixing them with sea salt. The label on my Italian mix said that to preserve the bright color of the herbs longer, they mix the herbs with sea salt while still fresh . Since I like what I've been buying, I decided not to dry the herbs - I wanted to replicate the salt that I know and love so much.

Since this salt is about the herbs more than it is about the salt, I didn't need to get the most expensive sea salt. I just bought a big box of sea salt at a restaurant supply store and used the herbs from my back yard. I cut and cleaned several sprigs and leaves of rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme, garlic and onion chives, and a couple of big garlic cloves. I chopped everything very fine and placed it on my kitchen counter in between two layers of paper towels to aerate overnight. The next morning, I mixed everything together with sea salt and voilà! I had herb salt.

There are many mothers in my family, so I had to fill about two dozen small jars of salt and decorated them with a homemade label that listed the ingredients and suggestions on how to use it. Everyone loved it and has been using it in their cooking. Last week, several of my sisters returned the empty jars and asked me to fill them up again. I just made another batch of herb salt but this time I dried the herbs in the oven, but only for a couple of hours instead of overnight. There was nothing wrong with using fresh herbs but I wanted to try drying them to see the difference. I liked it both ways.

Prieta's Herb Salt
2 C of mix herbs; rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, garlic and onion chives (or anything you like.)
2 C sea salt
2 large peeled garlic cloves

Clean and pat dry the herbs or spin in a salad spinner. Place herbs on a baking sheet trying to keep on a single layer. Place in a 200° oven to dry for a couple of hours. When the herbs are dry they crumble easily. Grind them all together in a blender, food processor or in a molcajete. In a big bowl, mix sea salt and ground herbs to combine.

Finely chop the garlic and add to the mixture. I do not dry nor grind the garlic but I make sure it is chopped very, very fine. Store the herb salt in a glass container until ready to add to your favorite dishes.

I use this salt with everything but it is specially good with fish, chicken, and potatoes. Another version I make is sea salt with herbs de provence (savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender) that I buy at the Farmer's Market. This one is really good with meat and with vegetables.