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Cuisine Mexicaine – La Gourmandista

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Etiqueta: Cuisine Mexicaine

Barbacoa at Home: A Fancy Lunch

Nothing more obnoxious than a plate of cold food food when, in order for it to taste good, it ought to be warm. And this is exactly what I went through when encountering for the first time the traditional lamb barbacoa from the State of Mexico at the young age of eight. Still such a bright memory. My mom served me a portion with the plate full of the greasy cold meat while looking at me defiantly, almost sparkling firecrackers at a distance off her eyes. You all know what I am talking about, right? I mean, moms do that to their offspring, sometimes. The following 20 years, as I’m sure you can imagine, I wanted nothing to do with the popular lamb barbacoa.

I grew up and began to give food that I previously wasn’t fond of a second chance. Maybe my previous first impression of a dish could change now. I was right and it has become a beloved the dish. Something served at parties in small towns and prepared in different forms for weddings, Easter, and even family get-togethers. Now, I drive more than 100 miles to get the one carefully prepared by chef Cristina Martínez of Philadelphia’s South Philly Barbacoa.

Therefore, when she announced they’d come to DC, and orders for sale would be available, I quickly put my name in the list. I wanted to be among the fortunate ones so badly. Lucky for me, I was. I received an SMS the night before confirming my order. Now, I only had to arrive on time to the address in my message sharply at 11:00 AM. 

I woke up quite early since I had a dentist appointment. What was I thinking?, I told my self. Who in the name of God goes and gets anything fixed in their mouth before being able to taste these delicious tacos and believe it would be a good idea? That was SO stupid of me! Oh well! Half my mouth was numb. Fortunately I had no pain, I drove as fast as possible to arrive just in time at Rabaut Park in the Adams Morgan area of town. It was only necessary for me to find a parking spot.

15 minutes going round and round and nothing. I started to get worried and desperate at the same time. I didn’t want to end up losing my beloved package. My order wasn’t big, but it was lunch, and I had only had some fruit and a cup of coffee for breakfast. Round and round again, I finally found where to park the car. I ran and followed my Google Map to arrive in the least time possible to meet with Ben, Cristina’s husband, by his truck. There, he had all the packages ready and labeled for the craving souls who stared at them as the greatest treasures on the face of Earth.

I have no idea how, but I made it there. 5 minutes later I was about to receive my little piece of heaven in the form of lunch. I got the package, paid for it and headed home, but… where was the car? I started walking very doubtful of my whereabouts and hoping to find it without getting lost. Totally unsuccessful, about 30 minutes later and a bit tired of walking, I got to the car. Exhausted, but happy, I went home.

Upon arrival, there was fanfare. A few minutes in the oven for the meat to be warm and ready to eat. That memory of the cold barbacoa left a mark, so, let us all be patient for a little more time. Warm up the tortillas on the comal for a moment as well and serve with all the toppings on a platter for everyone to prepare their tacos as they like them. In bowls, we served the stock that goes on the side of this meat with rice and chickpeas. It’s a bit spicy, but Cristina makes is perfect for all of us to tolerate.

Finally, I have my taco. It’s warm, just as it should. The tortilla is not masa, but nitxtamal and her aroma gives the information away. It’s like going back in time, to my hometown in the 1980s. I bite it and you can see it in my eyes. I’m crying. They’re so good, they remind my of my dad, of my grandma, and even of my mama looking dagger at me. I reflect on it for a moment and come to the conclusion that giving a second chance to this taco was the best decision ever. Our first encounter wasn’t good, but now, it’s fascinating and I go wherever necessary to find it. The only requirement is for it to taste like my homeland.

Address: 1140 S 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA

Phone: (215) 694-3797

Note: Only cash payments accepted here. An ATM is available for withdrawals if necessary.

Hibiscus Enchiladas in a Chipotle and Chile de Arbol Salsa

Anyone who knows me or who simply follows this blog either on the web or via social media can see that I am an omnivore and that most of my family is as well. However, I am conscious that global food trends are becoming more and more vegetal every day. Now, enchiladas have always been part of the Mexican diet, right? Well, a couple of years ago when I was visiting family and friends in Mexico City, I found a similar option in a menu at a restaurant where I went to have breakfast, and even though my choice was a different one, they stayed in my mind for a while. Months afterwards, I had made hibiscus agua fresca, but before disposing of them, I decided it was the best moment to try my own version of the dish. Here’s what I did:

Hibiscus Enchiladas in a Chipotle & Arbol Chili Salsa

When I was a child, enchiladas were normally stuffed with chicken. This vegetarian option is delicious and gives a second life to your hibiscus flowers after aromatizing your agua fresca.

  • Chopping board
  • Chef's Knife
  • Baking sheet
  • 2 Medium skillets
  • Blender
  • Turner or Rigid Spatula
  • Several spoons

For the sauce:

  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 árbol chili (hydrated)
  • 1 smoked chipotle chili
  • 60 ml vegetable stock (if necessary)
  • Kosher salt and allspice (to season)

For the stuffing:

  • 50 g hibiscus flowers (dehydrated)
  • ¼ onion (finely diced)
  • 1 clove garlic (finely chopped)

To assemble the enchiladas:

  • Frying oil
  • 12 Corn flowers
  • 100 g Mexican crema
  • 100 g Cotija cheese
  • ¼ onion (finely diced)
  1. The easiest way to make this salsa, I think, is to put the onion, the garlic clove, and tomatoes to roast in the oven at 350 °F (180 °C) with a drizzle of oil. Then, blend with the chipotle and the re-hydrated árbol chiles. Season with kosher salt and allspice and adjust the texture with a bit of vegetable stock. You don’t want your salsa to be excessively runny.
  2. Then, in a skillet with a little bit of oil, sweat the onion and then add the garlic and the hibiscus flowers as well as a couple spoonfuls of salsa to season the flowers.
  3. Warm your tortillas and then slightly fry them for a moment in a skillet with oil.
  4. Form your enchiladas by taking a bit of the flower stuffing and folding the tortilla by half.
  5. Bathe with the salsa and add a bit of the Mexican crema or crème fraîche, fresh finely diced onion and a bit of cotija cheese on top. If you want to omit the crema and the cotija you will have some delicious vegan enchiladas.
  • Hibiscus flowers generally come as the by-product that is left over after preparing a pitcher of agua fresca on the warmer days or tea on the colder ones. 
  • If Mexican crema is not available, substitute with crème fraîche. Avoid using sour cream.
Main Course
enchiladas, lockdown2020, Mexican food, stay home, Vegetarian

My Flavorful Shrimp Tacos au Gratin Recipe

It is said that the acclaimed Tacos Gobernador (Tacos of the Governor) were invented at a Restaurant called ‘Los Arcos’ in the state of Sinaloa in Mexico especially for the then State Governor, Mr. Francisco Labastida. After doing some research here and there, I found that there are quite a few versions for this recipe. Therefore, what I did was to prepare something closer to my childhood memories and the ingredients available.

Shrimp Tacos au Gratin

Frequently people ask me for a "taco recipe" and I explain that anything you roll into a tortilla will be the perfect taco recipe. However, this is an actual thing that's only served as a taco.

  • Chopping board
  • Chef's Knife
  • Medium Skillet with lid
  • Small saucepan
  • Immersion blender or blender
  • Medium bowl
  • Comal or griddle
  • Spatula
  • Spoon

For the Shrimp:

  • 1/2 onion (finely diced)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 1 dash olive oil
  • 15 shrimp (medium, shelled and de-veined)
  • 150 g cheese (Mozzarella, Chihuahua, or Emmental)
  • Salt and Pepper (to season)

For the Sauce:

  • 1/2 onion (finely diced)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 2 Roma tomatoes (cored, seeded, cubed)
  • 5 g tomato paste
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 30 g crème fraîche

To assemble the tacos:

  • 8 flour tortillas
  • 1/2 avocado (sliced)
  • 2 Roma tomatoes (cored, seeded, finely cubed)
  • 1/2 onion (finely diced)
  • Chile serrano or jalapeño (finely diced, seeded (if desired))

For the shrimp:

  1. On your stove top set to medium-high heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil. Then add the garlic, and a moment later add the shelled and de-veined shrimp. Season and sprinkle with the grated cheese on top. Cover with the lid and let the remaining heat melt the cheese on its own away from the heat.

Prepare the Sauce:

  1. In a saucepan with some olive oil sweat the onion. Then, add te garlic and the tomato concassé and at least one chipotle pepper in adobo (being careful on how spicy you want your sauce to be). Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Once your sauce is well cooked and seasoned, mix in the crème fraîche, put it in the blender or use an immersion blender to process the sauce, and verify seasoning once more.

Assemble the tacos:

  1. Once both preparations are ready, heat up your tortillas in a griddle or a 'comal'. Your tortillas can be flour or corn, it's up to you. I personally prefer the flour tortillas as these tacos are originally served.

  2. Assemble your tacos by putting some of the grated shrimp, generously add some sauce, and decorate with some pico de gallo prepared by mixing the onion, tomato, and chili peppers in a separate bowl. A slice or two of fresh ripe avocado will add a little something to your bite.

  3. Lastly, enjoy!

Main Course
Sinaloa, taco, taco gobernador

When I Became Conscious that I knew Nothing about Mexican Cuisine

Very proud and with my beautiful diploma under my arm, it was time for me to take the plane and fly over the Atlantic to come back to my country. The expat adventure had finished, just as school had; at least for the moment. Now, I could be considered as a professional cook, however, I still had 2/3 of the pastry path still to go. Therefore, I promised myself I would be back in France for continue studying at the end of year. But for now, it was the time for me to come back and settle in Mexico City.

I arrived and had to undo my ten suitcases. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I came back with double the amount of baggage I left… but it happens, doesn’t it? If not, it did happen to me. In my defense I can only say it’s because I came back with a new profession that demanded that I acquire tools and uniforms I decided to bring myself instead of sending them boxed in the move.

I was anxious to begin preparing everything for everyone. Moreover, I wanted to reconnect with my delicious Mexican Cuisine. No more would I have to make tortillas from scratch whenever we want to eat tacos, and obviously, everyone laughed when they knew I had started to cook Mexican food in the land of Napoleon. For me to explain what happened in the next few weeks is a bit complicated, for everything I was craving demanded me to prepare something more like a Tartiflette with Reblochon cheese instead of crispy chicken taquitos. The latter would be eaten out. I analyzed the situation, and I not only realized how France had changed me as a person, but also realized that I craved what I knew how to prepare; for the Mexican food I prepared was nothing else but my mom’s cuisine, and she would cook without chili, without pork, and without any fat.

It was incredible I didn’t know the difference with different types of chili (such as ancho and colorado). However, it was my reality, which meant it was time to be humble and learn about it. But, where and with whom? A total mystery at the time, and it was up to me to solve it, if I was interested in getting educated in regards to mole, adobo, and other delicacies I would start to soon discover, even though I dared to eat them since probably forever.

From Ensenada To Mérida and all the Way to Paris: Ven a Comer (Come to Eat)

Me and my classmates have been learning how to cook meat ‘saignante’, which literally means it has to still be bloody for months. We’re learning how to differentiate between Pont Neuf and Anna potatoes -both of them are very different, yet they’re both potatoes. Thus, when the administration employees went looking for volunteers to talk about habanero and pasilla chiles, and even black recado, I don’t have to emphasize how much I wanted to help out, since surely I was not only going to learn, but I would have the chance to get to know and work hand in hand with some of the big ones from back home.

Two days of masterclasses during the afternoon, but we had to be there at the break of dawn in order to have everything ready just as if we were going to have a small service, for a tasting would take place, and we were expecting about a 100 people to attend, and yes, we only had a few hours to get ready. The rendez-vous was in no restaurant, but in a two-story gallery which had been very well prepared for us to work in the lower level, while upstairs everything had been set up as a television studio for the demonstration to take place. The city was just waking up; it was 7:30AM. Mexico was already sleeping; it was past midnight.

Chef González Beristáin giving his class

My role was to give a helping hand as much as I could. I was to peel carrots, score the duck breasts, and serve as a communicating liaison between the organizing French speakers, and the Spanish-speaking cooks. Up to there, no problem whatsoever. I had already learned so much, and the show hadn’t even begun.

The first team began to work. The chef, a big name: Guillermo González Beristáin, and he was accompanied by his sous chefs. His restaurant: Pangea in Monterrey, right there by the Cerro de la Silla. The mission: A duck breast accompanied by a foie gras sauce and red mole, a pickled carrot purée, and a pickled red onion gelatin.

The clock was now striking three o’clock in the afternoon. We’d had lunch and taken a break. The class was about to begin. During that time, the second team arrived. The chef, even though unknown to me, I was very curious to hear to attend his class. His name: Ángel Vázquez. He would be cooking with his sous chef, who was also his wife. His restaurant: Intro, in Puebla, probably the most important Mexican city in Culinary history, I believe. The mission: A ceviche tostada made from dry shrimp, but I would not see their prep work, I would actually get to sit down in their class. How curious was I!

The Chefs & I: Guillermo González Beristáin, Diego Hernández Baquedano, Franck Poupard, and Ángel Vázquez

 The people started to arrive and take their seats. We knew it would be broadcasted via Livestream… ¡I was so excited! Well, up until the moment when the lights, the microphones, the cameras, and the enormous amount of cables made me conscious that we were live and that it was available anywhere around the globe.

The class began sharply on time. Some of my teachers, as well as my classmates were in the audience. I was so proud that they could get to see just a bit of everything my Aztec land has to offer. The chef made his presentation, and then I participated in the plating of his delicacies. Between you and I, everything was sweating -even my earlobes- because I couldn’t deny it, I was shaking, and before all those lamps and cameras, the only thing I could do was focus and act quickly, for this rookie apprentice was next to world-class professionals. In the end, everything turned out marvelously. The second presentation went more smoothly, and since I was without any stress whatsoever, I could enjoy not only the chef’s teachings, but also a small bite of what he prepared, while I had the chance to say hello to all those familiar faces I found in the event.

On the second day we began again at dawn. Today, the trip would take us in a couple of breaths to the northeast part of the country, right there by the vineyards of the Guadalupe Valley in the city of Ensenada, in the State of Baja California, and then all the way down to the southeast to the place where there are no jokes, but ‘bombs’… yes, ‘bomb’ means joke in Yucatán. I got to work with Diego Hernández Baquedano. I had recently watched a documentary about him not long ago, even though I wasn’t familiar with his cuisine. His restaurant, Corazón de Tierra in Ensenada, was already in my ‘go-to’ list and hope I get the chance to go eat there, soon. Diego, who also went with his sous chef, presented a tamal, but this had nothing to do with anything I had tasted before. I understand, however, this is one of the classic preparations in his restaurant, even though some adjustments had to be done due to ingredient constraint. They called it a Celery Strained Tamal with duck and red mole. The tasting was served in a very modern way; in a verrine. It was so good. How innocent had I been, for I thought I wasn’t going to discover much… it was such a great surprise to see my country’s gastronomy have so many new proposals.

Last, but definitely not least, Roberto Solís entered the scene. He brought us a black recado taco. When I read the program I thought it was to die for, and made no mistake. It was awesome! He came from the very opposite edge of the country; from the southeast peninsula. His restaurant: Néctar. Honestly, I had never heard about him or his restaurant, but in my defense, I haven’t been to the beautiful Mérida in over 20 years. I think it’s time to go and discover what people are doing there.

An enormous alebrije making an appearance at the park of La VilletteThe event passed by so fast, but I felt as if a truck had run me over. I had worked between 18 and 20 hours between both days. I was so tired, but so happy, and no one could take that away from me. On the weekend and more relaxed, we went with some friends to taste the tacos prepared by the chefs in the food trucks installed at the very popular parc of La Villete. The best, apart from the revisited indigenous delicacies, was to have the chance to talk with them with no formality whatsoever and even share a beer in the midst of the Parisian summer. So much was there to learn from them, so proud was I to share with my friends from all over the world my country’s richness. I’m still grateful for it, and to keep on discovering this universe, that even though I know it isn’t endless, now, I feel it is.

A Small Step, but My Own Giant Leap

Since I was 8 years old, I found my special place at our home’s kitchen. And even until last December, I was just a small home cook passionate about eating well at preparing good food for my people in order to pamper them, to treat us, to share it with our friends and adorn our table, but moreover, it was for me, to enjoy myself, to de-stress. I was an expat who had to find a way in order to recreate the flavors from a faraway land which we missed and learn how to mix it with the new ones.

Firstly, I learned how to make tortillas. Before, I just had to go and buy them. Then, I searched for specific recipes for things I wanted to prepare, such as pan de muerto for the Day of the Dead, or Rosca de Reyes for Epiphany, or even tamales for February 2 to celebrate Candlemas. Lastly, I was courageous enough to prepare dishes from our new home, and I did so with a Quiche Lorraine just the way Mrs. Guyon (or Mamie Gigi for the grandchildren, a.k.a the mother of our dear friend Stéphane) does it, and then even a pot of Bœuf Bourguignon according to the instructions in the cookbook of the very important French Chef, Mr. Paul Bocuse. And it was just then, when I realized I was living in the Mecca of world gastronomy, and therefore decided to follow upon a childhood dream which I had ignored for almost 20 years.

The beginning was more than 8 months ago, and I can’t find any word which may better describe my passage by the kitchens of Le Cordon Bleu than a whole adventure in itself. I thought I had come to learn French Cuisine, and in fact, I learnt everything again from scratch. How to hold a Chef’s Knife and take care of any product since the very first Lemon Sole I found myself in front of, and which I had to cut to obtain its filets. A few months later, I was capable of deboning a whole chicken almost without any tears. I got to know new products and learned the difference between a jus and a sauce. Towards the end of the journey, I even had the courage to create new recipes.

And even when there has been a lot of acquisition, I am sure this is just the beginning. I have to keep on working, training myself to master it all. Evidently, I would have loved more training, more theory, more direction in plating, and more hours dedicated to matching wines with different plates, but professions are not just learned at school. One has to fly to become a pilot.

Life brought me to Paris for a specific reason, and while walking my own path, I chose to live this amazing culinary adventure. The diversity of nationalities found in the group of students made the classes richer, but thanks to most of the Instructor Chefs being French and evidently holding on to the savoir-faire of their ancestors, the training became unique in its class.

What is the best Mexican restaurant in Paris?

As a Mexican, I feel proud of my land and its people. However, there is something that in my personal opinion is the crown jewel of my country, and that is its gastronomy. And no, I don’t mean the so-called Mexican food that you can now find all over the place. I’m not talking about Old El Paso burritos or the ‘delicacies’ sold at Taco Bell, so please, let us leave the Tex-Mex behind for a while, or at least for today. 

I close my eyes for a moment and go back to my childhood and teenage memories. Now, I am certain that I can associate every city I have ever visited in my country with a specific dish which has captivated me, or which is characteristic of their cuisine. From north to south, from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico; some of them are very elaborate, others not as much, but among my favorites are the delicious meat cuts from Monterrey, or their dry meat with scrambled eggs and red salsa, the flour tortillas from “Doña Concha” in the northern region of Torreón, as well as the various cheese types from the state of Chihuahua in the north, or the state of Oaxaca in the southeast, impossible to find anywhere in France. And what about the “pescado zarandeado” that reminds me of the stony beach of Yelapa in Jalisco, or the “chiles en nogada” which not only transport me back to Puebla, but to marvelous adventures in my own kitchen on more than one Independence Day as well. And of course, I can’t leave behind the Yucatecan dish of black beans with pork that my granny used to call “poor people’s food” because when she was young, this was easy and cheap to make. To me, this is one of the most exquisite delicacies I have ever tasted. Of course, I could continue on and let the list become infinite, given that the more I get to know my country, the more I fall in love with its cuisines.

Anyway, let’s carry on…

Personally, I think that when one is far away from their homeland, what one misses the most are the ingredients one is used to cook with, what is typical for one’s household… what one is used to eating, and we generally take it for granted before moving to a new and different place. Fortunately for me, I don’t miss chili and spicy food in my every day diet, but tortillas… I have to say that I do miss them. So, as we have come and gone between  our dear beloved Mexico and France, we have carried canned, dehydrated, and sous-vide products. From Spain we brought dehydrated ‘nixtamalized’ corn flour to make masa and we learnt how to work with our hands to be able to create delicious sopes, gorditas, and even freshly made tortillas to accompany the Mexican-style rice with mole that made us feel like we were in a Michelin-Star restaurant – especially when our meals were accompanied by a French wine. This resulted in the creation of new meals that I am proud of being able to produce, thanks to the help of my friends from La Costeña, Mi Viejito, Herdez, and other staple Mexican food brands.

However, part of the adventure is also looking for something and not stopping until you find it, and fellow nationals who we’ve met in this beautiful city we now call home, together with locals, have recommended that we go to various restaurants where they claim real Mexican food is served. And maybe a bit out of curiosity, but also we may had been craving cochinita pibil (a typical dish from the Yucatan Peninsula), or a simple cactus salad, but we headed to number 57 in Boulevard Montparnasse in district 6 towards the well-known Hacienda del Sol. We arrived, and a short, bronze-skinned Mexican server received us. He greeted us in French, but immediately switched to Spanish when we gave him the name the reservation was under. We had a marvelous meal… scrumptious, good typical homey Mexican food that I, to date, am not capable of reproducing in my kitchen due to a lack of know-how, in the case of the barbecue, and due to a lack of ingredients for the cochinita pibil – I have no annatto (achiote). Maybe this is why it tasted even better.

I’m not sure I would be willing to pay 8 Euros for a glass of hibiscus water again, but, it was worth it, since I was able to see so many French people having a good time, experiencing a little piece of the land that I come from, sharing dishes so that everyone could taste what they had all ordered. It was also worth it for having been able to hear a bit of Spanish that sounded similar to mine.

Address: 57, Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris, France

Subway Station: Port-Royal (RER)

Telephone: +33 (0) 1 4326.2653

Note: This restaurant has permanently closed.