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Posts Tagged ‘merida’

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As you saw from my last post, we had Thanksgiving in Merida this year at my mom’s. Since we’re not a traditional posse, we decided not to do a traditional meal. But let’s be honest here, turkey was not on the original Thanksgiving menu, a feast that lasted for 3 days and included seal, deer, fowl (most historians think it was actually duck and goose), lobster, and other seafood creatures. So, are we the non-traditional family or are all of you who eat turkey?

With that, being a Jewish family, we decided to make brisket. Being the best cook in the family I was charged with braising the bovine. However, back to the non-traditional thing, I did not do a traditionally Jewish-flavored brisket. Since we were in the Yucatan I decided to do a Yucatecan-flavored brisket, something that every Mayan Jew in the world could enjoy. In Spanish brisket is called faldo de res, pibil is traditional Mayan seasoning (sour orange and achiote), hence, we ate Faldo de Res Pibil.

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My ingredient list included 5 tbsp achiote paste, 1.5 tbsp dried cilantro, 1.5 tbsp peppercorns, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 2 cups sour orange juice, 2 cups water, 1 tbsp salt, and 2 tbsp minced garlic. Oh, and 3 pounds of faldo de res.

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Really simple, I mixed everything together in my mom’s braising pan, drowned the brisket in it, covered it, and let it slowly braise in the oven at about 275 degrees for about 6 hours or so.

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I also made Yucatecan pickled onions. I sliced up 7 small onions and boiled them for about 10 minutes.

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After that, I strained them and let them soak in a mix of 1 cup of orange juice and the juice from 1.5 limes. I put that all in the fridge and let it rest until serving time.

While everything was in the oven we all decided to head out to a festival being held in the town of Tekanto, about 45 minutes from Merida. They had set up a bull fighting ring in the town center. I have never been to a bull-fight, and while the night we were there wasn’t the actual fight, it was very interesting to see the Matador understudies and the entire culture surrounding the bull-fight.

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If you ask me, I don’t quite get the fascination with the whole thing. It’s really not fair to the bull seeing as it gets poked and prodded before being taunted for all to see. If you want a fair fight, poke and prod the matador too. Then we’ll see survival of the fittest as nature intended.

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Before taunting the bull they paraded a heifer around and sliced its throat for all to see. That brought on some major cheers. Again, I just don’t get it, but it is a sight to see, no doubt about that. These guys had that thing butchered down to the bone within 20 minutes, I’ve never seen such fast knife work. I thought about inserting one of the photos I took of the butchering, but it’s pretty graphic, so use your imagination. I hear that the meat is donated to feed the less fortunate, so I’m cool with that, but it’s still rather inhumane.

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When we got back to mom’s the brisket was ready. I let her do the carving. Unfortunately for me, I was in the middle of a sparring match with Montezuma so I didn’t get to enjoy a full meal. I did taste some of the brisket though, and it was delicious! If I ever make it again I would probably cut the sour orange juice down by a half cup and replace it with more water as it was a strong flavor, but it was a good flavor, especially seeing that it was my first attempt at something like this, something that may never have been done before since pibil dishes are usually marinated and then cooked in banana leaves, not braised. That’s the fun of cooking, trying something new and learning as you go.

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What better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than to get away from cold Chicago and bask in the Mexican sun? Well, I was with my obnoxious family that took 2 hours to decide, read that argue about, what to do for every meal, so maybe it could be better? Actually, I’d have it no other way. A little aggravation is good for the soul. One thing that was easily agreed upon was heading to the San Benito Market in Merida (where my mom lives) with my two brothers. If you read my post on the market from the last time I was in Merida, you’ll see that I’m a big fan of the various tacos and other food items one can gorge themselves on. One thing I didn’t try on my past trip was any of the seafood. So, my brothers and I set off to find out if it’s as good as the 4-legged creatures one can devour there. We did start off with a couple of tacos each for an appetizer.

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What we found in the pescado section was that none of the “restaurants” served fish ceviche. All of the camarones one could want, but no fish ceviche. One of the stalls was willing to make it for us though. So, they headed over to the fishmongers and grabbed a couple of fish for us. One was a snapper and the other was something else. I did see some baby hammerhead sharks at the fishmongers’ counter (don’t know why my older bro didn’t get a good photo of those as I didn’t have my camera with me, but he’s not as bright as I am, so we’ll give him a pass), and the other fish did have a sharky texture, but I’m not sure if it was shark or not.

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This woman, with all of her years of skill and knowledge, proceeded to skin, inspect, and chop up the various fish. Then she added the lime juice, salt, and pepper, and mixed it around for a bit. She dumped it out and did it all over again and again tasting each time to make sure it was just how she wanted us to eat it.

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Once the fish was “cooked” enough and had enough of the seasoned lime flavor she mixed in some diced onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. Out of the mixing bowl and onto our plate.

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When a little old Mayan woman serves you something she just made right in front of your eyes with a smile like that, how can it not be delicious? Well, it wasn’t delicious, it was beyond delicious! It was delovecious! You see, I had to make up a lame ass word and it still doesn’t do justice to what she just whipped up. With some tortilla’s and super spicy salsa verde none of us had ever eaten a ceviche quite so good. You could really taste the love she put into that dish. This woman didn’t want three handsome men like us (I’m by far the most handsome of the three, and I smell the best too) to go unsatisfied. I think all three of us left a little piece of our hearts, and stomach linings with her.

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This year for Thanksgiving we didn’t really have much of a plan. There weren’t a lot of options on the table for us. We could have gone to my mom’s in Merida, Mexico, but flights were very expensive this year. We could have gone to my Grandma’s in the Quad Cities, but no one there cooks anymore, they go to a restaurant in Andalusia. Not exactly a mouth-watering proposition. Almost all of our friends were with their families. It wasn’t until 3:00 Thursday afternoon that we figured out what to do. With so little time we decided to keep it very simple. So, we headed to Stanley’s and Whole Foods to get the fixin’s we needed to make a small dinner of four portions.

First thing I made was a sweet potato puree soup. I skinned and chopped up two medium-sized sweet potatoes and tossed them into a pot with 3 garlic cloves and 2 cups of chicken stock. I brought it to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer for 20 minutes until the potato chunks were nice and soft. Once it cooled down a little I threw it all into my blender with a cup of soy milk and pureed it nice and smooth. I seasoned it with some salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of cinnamon and then poured it back into the pot ready to re-heat once everything else was done.

For the rice I simply rinsed 2 cups of rice and put it in our rice cooker. Once I poured in the water I added one diced carrot and 1.5 tablespoons of dried hijiki. I let it sit for about 30 minutes and then hit the start button. Simple as that.

For the Turkey I just got a 1.75 pound breast. I laid it in a large rimmed baking sheet and covered it with a mix of 2 tablespoons of miso, the juice from one lemon, the zest from half of the lemon, and some black pepper. After evenly coating the top of the turkey with the miso I put it on the lower 3rd rack of the oven at 400 degrees. I let it roast for about an hour. Once the hour was up I took it out and put a bunch of haricots vert all around the pan and poured 3/4 cup of chicken stock around the bird. I put that back into the oven for another 15 minutes. When I took it out I let the bird rest on a board and set the haricots vert aside. I mixed together 1 tablespoon of miso and 1/4 cup of chicken stock and poured that into the pan to mix with the rest of the juices. That was my sauce for the turkey after slicing it.

While the turkey was cooking I melted 1/4 cup of butter and slowly carmelized 1 sliced onion for about 20 minutes.

To serve, I sliced the turkey and laid it on top of the haricots vert. I spooned some sauce on top and then laid down some of the onions. I garnished it all with the other half of lemon zest. The soup and rice were on the side.

I cheated on dessert, we just picked up a pumpkin pie and some vanilla ice cream. It’s a shame we didn’t plan ahead because both Yuki and I make a mean pumpkin pie. I also make a pretty good ice cream. Oh well, we weren’t trying to impress anyone this year, so this worked out just fine. Maybe next year we’ll be more creative and extravagant. In the meantime, everything turned out really tasty and we have no complaints. It sure beats a restaurant in Andalusia.

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I’ve been mulling this recipe over in my head since my trip to Merida. I wanted to somehow make a Japanese flavored Chiles Rellenos. Last night, for Meatless Monday, I gave it a shot. Not sure it’s exactly the way I had originally planned, but it turned out pretty good.

First thing I did was roast the poblano peppers on the open flame of my stove-top till the skin was completely charred. Then I let them steam themselves in a bowl covered with plastic-wrap for about a half hour.

While that was going on I made the filling. I sautéed some green onions and garlic in a little vegetable oil for about 5 minutes. Then I added one teaspoon of mirin, two teaspoons of sake, and three teaspoons of soy sauce. I also threw in some chili powder. Once that was all mixed together I dumped in some diced tofu and let it simmer for a few minutes and absorb some of the flavors.

Next, I peeled the skin off the poblanos and made a slit down one side to remove the seeds. Once the poblanos were all cleaned out I stuffed them with the tofu and set them aside.

The sauce was very simple to make. I first sautéed a half onion, diced, in some vegetable oil for a few minutes until soft but not burned. Then I added some grated garlic and let that cook for a couple of minutes. A couple tablespoons of red wine, a couple tablespoons of soy sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, and a few dashed of chili powder then let it simmer till it thickens up a bit. Just before serving I turned the heat off the sauce and added a little sesame oil and some chopped cilantro.

For the veggies, I just doused some yellow string beans and maitake mushrooms in some olive oil, salt, and pepper and threw then under the broiler for about 10 minutes. For the last few minutes I also put the peppers under to heat them back up.

I served everything with white rice, slices of avocado, cilantro garnish and a simple salad. The salad was green leaf lettuce and cherry tomatoes with a shiitake-sesame vinaigrette. It all turned out better than I expected.

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I must have driven my mom nuts with my quest to find the ultimate Queso Fundido in Merida. I was first turned on to the dish from a Rick Bayless “Mexico: One Plate at a Time” episode. He was on scene in Merida at a restaurant I couldn’t find and they served him this big dish of Dutch cheese stuffed with chorizo and drowned in a spicy tomato sauce. Somehow I got the name of the dish screwed up. I had first thought it was called Queso Relleno, then, for whatever reason I thought it was Queso Fundido. Credit that to me mis-browsing Bayless’s website. In season 4 he featured Queso Fundido, in season 5 it was the Queso Relleno that I was really after.

At any rate, I asked a couple of Meridaians (is that a word?) where they go for Queso Fundido. A waiter at one restaurant mentioned a place that my mom and step-dad have been to. Then, when we were at Mayapan, there was a small group of college students touring archeological sites and their local guide was from Merida. So, I asked him and he said, “go to El Fogoncito“. So, that’s where we headed.

Turns out that there are two El Fogoncito’s in Merida, so we went to the one closest to my mom’s house. Much to our disappointment it was located in a brand new modern mall. The atmosphere was so generic we could have been at a TGI Friday’s (turns out that it’s also a major food worldwide food chain, no surprise). No culture whatsoever. But, they do have Queso Fundido con chorizo.

I was a little worried because it was priced about half of what everyone elses entrees were. Was this a meal or an appetizer? When it showed up it was a small earthenware dish filled with melted cheese, chunks of chorizo, and a couple of flour tortillas. It was definitely not a main dish. It was, however, absolutely delicious! I mean, let’s be honest here, it was melted cheese and chorizo. I scarfed that thing down like it was nothing. Since it was an appetizer I was still hungry afterwords.

Seeing that they served Tacos al Pastor, I really had no choice but to order a couple. Not quite as good as the one I ate at the San Benito Market, but still pretty good. These were served more traditionally with onions, jalapeno, cilantro, and a slice of pineapple.

With plenty of room in my belly for dessert I also had to order the flan. This one was clearly not as good as the flan I had in Cozumel’s Sabores. You could definitely taste the love put into that homemade flan that this one lacked as this one was more mass-produced. The texture was a little more jelloey than flan should be and I’m not a big fan of the maraschino cherry on top (save that for lame cocktails), but overall it wasn’t that bad.

I didn’t get the dish I was after, but that was no one’s fault but my own. I guess I’ll have to bother the hell out of my mom about it again next time I’m in Merida. Sorry mom.

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While we were in Merida we spent an afternoon walking through an ancient cave in the Yucatan called Lol Tun.  In the Pre-Columbian days there were an estimated 800 people living in it. It really is an impressive site with the highlight possibly being the 15,000 year old reverse hand-print paintings on the cave walls. At any rate, we filled up on lunch prior to walking through the cave.

I’m not sure what this place is called, but it was directly across the street from Lol Tun, so we gave it a shot. While we were sitting there waiting for our food, out of nowhere, something that felt like mud hit my arm, WTF! I wipe it off and look around. I didn’t see anything at all. Then I look up and see two little geckos hanging out on the wooden ceiling beams. A few seconds later another muddy item hits my arm. Little bastards! They both shit on my arm! I ought to grill them up and eat them for that! If they had shat on my food instead of my arm I would have eaten them instead.

I ordered the Salubtes. Hand-made tortillas piled with shredded turkey, tomato, lettuce and chopped onion. They were pretty damn good. About the right size too because I wasn’t starving and I had to try some of Yuki’s dish.

She ordered the Pollo Pibil. Chicken marinated in achiote (annatto), sour orange juice, peppercorns, garlic, cumin, salt, and then wrapped in banana leaves and baked. Although, instead of wrapping it in banana leaves and baking it they grilled it with the marinade and served it with rice, french fries, and a small salad with avocado. It truly was outstanding! As soon as I can fire up the grill in Spring you can better believe I’m going to try my hand at this marinade.

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I’ve long been a believer that the only way to truly understand a different culture is to head straight over to the local markets. So, our first morning in Merida, Mexico, a few weeks ago with my mom and step-dad (they live in Merida) we stopped at the San Benito Market.

What I love about the San Benito Market is that it’s not a food market, it’s not a textiles market, it’s not an appliance market….it’s all of the above! Whatever you need to buy you can get at San Benito. Need some produce? They’ve got everything from hundreds of different chilis to pineapples to freshly butchered meats. Need clothes and footwear? Take your pick! How about kitchen knives and other little chochkies? Sure. You can even buy a pet bird there. However, to me, the absolute best part of the market are the food stalls. With so much to choose from, various tacos, tamales, empanadas, sopas, etc., we decided that it’s best to just sample as many different tacos as our bellies could stomach.

The first stop was this stall that served up some outstanding carnitas.

Fresh slices of pork fried up on his hot slate to tasty perfection! Garnish with some onions, cilantro, carved up radishes, and salsa verde and you’re ready for all sorts of goodness. I really could have just ordered more of these, but there were more items on my menu to digest. So,…..

…it was off to this stand for a choice of more carnitas or…

…these achiote turkey tacos. I had to go for the turkey since I just downed a couple of carnitas. These were served with pico de gallo and lime wedges. Wow! I have never had pulled turkey so good. Screw Thanksgiving with its roasted bird, I want these little morsels instead. 

After walking around a bit more something caught my eye.

How on Earth could I walk past something like this without giving it a try? Influenced by Lebanese immigrants from three hundred years ago Tacos al Pastor are truly a thing of beauty. Juicy pieces of pork marinated in a red chili sauce, piled on top of each other, and roasted upright on a spit much like a gyro or schwarma. These are the kings of tacos.

I actually ate this guy’s pastor because the other one would have taken too long to cook. I had to have one and I had to have it quick!

Typically served with a slice of pineapple, instead, this guy served his with a creamy avocado salsa, chipotle salsa, and lime. MMMMMMM! That was it, the piece de resistance! Sorry La Pasadita, I love you, but you just don’t quite hold up to the genius of meat cooked on a spit and served in a tortilla.

Everything was washed down with some Jugo de Mango. The juice carts serve their juices with a plastic bag on top. This serves two purposed. First, the bag keeps the flies out of the sweet nectar. Second, it somehow keeps the drink cold so that the ice doesn’t melt, even though it’s 90 degrees outside. Genius!

Surprisingly, I was not met by old Montezuma himself. Either he took the day off or my stomach is stronger than it used to be. Just goes to show that street food in markets like San Benito are every bit as sanitary as a regular restaurant. Plus, you get the added bonus of auto emissions to help give the food that indefinable taste. The Japanese call it umami, I call it delicious!

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