This week’s menu was a challenge. Not because the dishes were difficult, but because January is. Or at least my January is. Ingredients that didn’t arrive, an oven that didn’t work, the general malaise of “it’s cold and this is a comfortable place to sit and I’m not masking up to go out … you can call it lazy if you want. I’m gonna call it “Drew’s seasonal adjustment.”
I set out to make a Mexican feast celebrating foods from Pueblo - mostly because I wanted to make Mole and it seemed like a great idea to surround that wonderful dish with some of the other dishes from that area. Only the peppers I needed didn’t arrive in my grocery delivery – so there went my plan to make Chiles en Nogata –delicious technicolor stuffed Poblanos with walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. I ran out of masa harina – so I couldn’t make the pseudo-homemade corn tortillas I had planned. And that aforementioned broken oven? That ended my plan to make a jiggly creamy flan as a dessert.
Stuff happens. It just seems to happen more in January. Maybe it’s just that the small stuff hits harder when your world has shrunk into a few warm(ish) rooms cowering behind frosted windows blanket bolstered doors. Maybe it’s just that we still think of January as a reboot – while the universe is just flowing on.
In the end, what remained of this week’s planned menu was a delicious respite from that cold lonely January. It’s warming and rich, and fills your kitchen with smells – amazing, delicious smells – that almost make up for the grey and the cold. It’ll probably leave you with leftovers, and that’s one of the best parts because leftover mole makes for phenomenal nachos, killer breakfast burritos, chilaquiles …you name it. And if you’re like me, stuck in a cold grey place in the middle of a cold, grey mood, halfway through a cold, grey month? You can pretend for a few minutes that you’re in a warm place far away from that snow covered walk you should probably shovel.
When it comes to crunchy, there’s nothing that compares to jicama. The giant tuber – actually the root of a type of bean – is almost like a gigantic water chestnut. White, crunchy, an mostly water. It makes it a fun textural addition to all sorts of things – though I personally question the recent trend of adding it to Guacamole. Who needs crunchy guacamole when chips exist?
Regardless, it makes a fun and refreshing salad because … well, it doesn’t really taste like much. That means that whatever flavor you send it’s way, that’s the flavor it brings to the table. This one is simple, just the jicama, some carrots for contrast, and a slightly sweet and sour lime vinaigrette. It’s quick to put together, and a great side to balance the spicy and complex flavors of Mexican foods.
Serves 4 as a salad.
1 Jicama Root
1 medium carrot
Juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced cilantro
1 tsp red pepper flake
1 tsp granulated sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground cumin
Peel the jicama and cut into thin matchsticks.
Place the jicama matchsticks in cold water to stay crunchy as you prepare the rest of the salad.
Peel, trim, and crush or microplane the garlic.
Peel, trim, and just the carrot into thin matchsticks.
Place the garlic in a non-reactive bowl with the lime juice.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Add the cumin, red pepper, salt, sugar, and black pepper.
Whisk the oil into the lime juice mixture.
Drain the jicama.
Toss the jicama, carrots, and minced cilantro with the dressing.
I don’t think I need to say a whole lot about black beans. They’re black beans, and this isn’t even the first time I’ve included them in a menu. They’re a good match to the mole here, and you’ll need some of them to make the black bean puree that accompanies the fried plantains.
Makes a lot of black beans.
1 ½ cups black turtle beans, soaked overnight with ½ tsp baking soda
1 piece smokey bacon
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken stock
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste.
Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover them by ~2 inches. Add ½ tsp baking soda to the water.
Trim the onion.
Peel and trim the garlic.
Add the beans, bacon, stock, onion, garlic, cumin, 1 tsp kosher salt, and bay leaves to a large pan over medium heat.
Bring to a simmer.
Cook until the beans are tender 60-90 minutes.
Discard the bacon, bay leaves, and onion.
Taste for seasoning and add additional salt as necessary (they can handle a lot of salt.)
Fried Sweet Plantains with Black Bean Puree
When we were living in DC, there was a tiny neighborhood restaurant made famous by a visit from one of America’s more recognizable food personalities. Despite that visit, it never garnered the sort of insane lines that other places that guy (Get it? I’m hilarious.) has shown up. That meant that we could/would/often did stop there on the way back from a weekend market day to pick something up. Well, not something. One thing. Sweet fried plantains with black beans. We’d carry them home the few blocks to our place and devour them - crisp and caramelly on the edges, soft almost custard like interior - before even thinking about breakfast or lunch or … I was going to say coffee, but that’s not actually true. I mean these things were good, great even, but there are some sacrifices it’s just not safe to make.
Anyway, after a half decade of experimentation I can tell you the real key to getting perfect soft, crisp edged sweet fried plantains – and unfortunately, it’s this: buy really ripe sweet plantains. That’s not easy everywhere. I can tell you it’s not easy in Ohio. You’ll have the best luck at international markets or curating your own collection of slowly ripening plantains that you bought sort of … unripe.
4 very ripe yellow/sweet plantains
1 cup prepared black beans (see above) with cooking liquid
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp dark rum
3 tbsp water
Sour cream or full fat Greek yogurt as garnish
Mash or puree the beans with their cooking liquid. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt as necessary. You’ll want them saltier than if you were just eating them alone.
Prepare a thick bottomed pot with fry oil. Heat the oil to 325°F
Peel and cut the plantains into 3-4 inch pieces.
Fry until the edges are just beginning to brown.
Remove from the fry oil and drain.
Add the drained plantains to a new, dry pan over medium high heat.
Add the sugar, rum and water and cook, tossing frequently, until he plantains are glazed with syrup.
Serve with the mashed beans and a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.
Pollo en Mole Poblano
Mole Poblano is probably the king of all sauces. I mean, sure, there are other contenders, but do the other contenders include a list of ingredients that can include everything from seeds and nuts, to dried fruit, chili peppers, crackers, and chocolate?
To the uninitiated this sort of sounds like the world’s worst trail mix, like something that bearded hippy guy in college told you “ITS AN ENERGY MIRACLE MAN. YOU NEED IT TO HIKE THE A.T.”
Instead, it really is one of the world’s great sauces. Rich, complex, silky smooth and so good you can literally just spoon it onto a tortilla. Recipes vary, as do traditional accompaniments. Most if not all include chocolate. The name – poblano – doesn’t mean it’s made from Poblano peppers (though I include their ripe, dried equivalent – Ancho – in this recipe). It’s because the style originates in Pueblo. There are a number of Mole’s from different areas in Mexico – Oaxaca is said to have eight – but the Mole Poblano has become the form most familiar in the U.S. A food historian can probably tell you why that is. My guess would be because it’s really, really, good.
1 recipe Mole Poblano (below)
4 chicken leg quarters
4 cups chicken stock
1 large jalapeño pepper
1 medium carrot
½ white onion
1 stalk celery
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds (as garnish)
Peel, trim, and coarsely chop the carrot.
Clean and coarsely chop the celery.
Peel, trim, and half the onion.
Half the jalapeno pepper lengthwise.
Bring 4 cups of chicken stock in a large pot to a low simmer.
Add the pepper, the onion, carrot, and celery along with the salt, vinegar, and cumin.
Return the mixture to a low simmer.
Add the chicken and poach until very tender- nearly falling from the bone 30 minutes or more depending on the size of the leg quarters. With large pieces of chicken, you may have to work in batches and reheat. This is fine.
Drain the warm poached chicken and arrange on a plate.
Drape with a generous portion of mole Poblano and garnish with cilantro and sesame seeds.
1 medium onion
½ cup olive oil
3 Dried Ancho Peppers
6 Dried Pasilla Peppers
1 dried chipotle meco pepper
4 cloves garlic
2 star anise pods
1 3-inch piece cinnamon
1 tsp black peppercorns
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup shelled pumpkin seeds
2 cups water
½ cup crushed tortilla chips
2 medium tomatoes
4 small tomatillos
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 oz lime juice
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried epazote (or 1 tbsp minced fresh cilantro)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp prepared tahini
Peel, trim, and coarsely chop the onion.
Peel and trim the garlic.
Coarsely chop the tomatoes.
Peel, and coarsely chop the tomatillos.
Remove the stems from the dried peppers and shake to remove the seeds.
Add the seeds to a small pan over medium heat and toast until they’re fragrant. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Add the olive oil to a large pan over medium heat.
Add the cinnamon and anise pods and cook 1 minute.
Add the stemless and seedless pepper pods to the oil along with the chopped onion, pumpkin seeds, and garlic.
Cook until the onions just begin to brown.
Use a slotted spoon to remove all solids from the oil.
Add the tomatoes, tomatillos, and raisins to the oil.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatillos have softened, and the tomatoes have broken down.
Add the peppers and onions and pumpkin seeds and spices back to the pan along with two cups of water, the dried epazote, cilantro or oregano, the chocolate, tahini, crushed tortilla chips, sugar, and salt.
Cover, and cook for 30 minutes on a low simmer.
Remove from the heat, transfer to the container of a high-speed blender and process until very smooth – adding water as necessary.
Wipe out your pan and pour the mixture back into it through a strainer, using a silicone spatula to push the mixture through, discarding any remaining solids.
Bring to a simmer and cook on low until the mixture is thick and glossy.
This is the dish I didn’t get around to working on this week because of a non-functional oven. Even though I don’t always include a dessert with these menus, I really intended one. Bu that didn’t happen. So, If you like flan, and want flan, try this one from Serious Eats. It’s a double caramel flan, and that’s the good part. That and saying Flan. FLAN. It’s sort of fun.