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Posts Tagged ‘salsa verde’

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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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Belly Shack has been open for, I don’t know, a little more than a year now. I remember freezing my nads off with my buddy Nick early last winter walking 2 blocks from his place for our first taste. I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times since. But this weekend Yuki and I met up with one of our friends there and they both wondered why I haven’t blogged about it yet. So ladies, here it is, my blog about Belly Shack.

Located right under the Western “L” stop this is Chef Bill Kim’s second joint. Like its counterpart, Urban Belly, Chef Kim fuses Asian and Latin seamlessly. It’s also similar to Urban Belly in that it is counter service, communal dining, and recycled fixtures. They differ in that Urban Belly is based on ramen noodles while Belly Shack is sandwiches.

During this trip I ordered the special that they had running, a pulled pork sandwich with pickles. I’m not a big pickle guy, so Yuki polished those off for me. The sandwich was fantastic though. Pulled pork served with sautéed mushrooms, bean sprouts, melted cheese, cilantro, salsa verde, and Korean chili paste. My only problem with it was that they cut the pita bread and served it like a Western-style sandwich. With all of the juice it was a sloppy sandwich. It would have been better served Middle Eastern-style stuffed into the pita. Oh well, still a delicious sandwich well worth gorging on.

Yuki ordered our favorite sandwich on their menu and one of the best sandwiches in all of Chicago, the Asian Meatball. Juicy, tender meatballs of pork and beef served inside a pita with somen noodles, bean sprouts, mint, and Korean chili paste. Just thinking about this sandwich makes my mouth water.

Our friend ordered the Korean BBQ Beef. Extremely tender beef that just falls apart. The beef has sliced scallions and fried garlic chips on top along with some ssam paste. Next to it is kimchi and some flat bread. For this dish you make your own little sandwiches, much more Asian in presentation. I have no beef with this dish, it was outstanding.

She also ordered the Togarashi Fries. French fries topped with togarashi and lime zest served with a curry mayonnaise.

Belly Shack isn’t the cheapest sandwich in town at $9 a pop, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more flavorful, well prepared one. This place is definitely worth the visit.

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With the weather getting really cold here in Chicago already, my mind starts to go towards stews, braises, and soups. Being Jewish, a good chicken soup with matza balls is always a winner (at least the way I make it), but I wanted to do something different. Since my mom lives in Mexico I thought I’d make a Mexican-Jewish soup. I made a relatively classic chicken pozole verde but dropped some matza balls in the soup instead of tortilla chips. 

Most of the recipes I found online used a combination of store-bought chicken broth and water with chicken breasts. Making a simple chicken broth is really easy so I opted to use plain water and chicken thighs. Dark meat has much more flavor than white meat and I never use breasts when making a soup. What I did was bring 10 cups of water to a boil and then put 2 pounds of skin-on bone-in chicken thighs in. Once it came back up to a boil I turned the heat down to medium and let it simmer for about an hour. Every 10 minutes or so I skimmed the surface to remove the muck and some of the excess fat. Once I had gotten all of the chicken flavor into the broth I removed the chicken, took off the skin and bones, and shredded the meat. I set the meat aside while I prepared the verde part of the soup.

The verde part is really just a simple salsa verde, much like you’d be served at a taqueria with chips. I used 1 pound of tomatillos, 2 poblanos, 2 jalapenos, 5 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of cilantro, 1 small onion, and 1 tablespoon of dried oregano. I gave everything a rough chop and tossed it into my processor. I processed it into a smooth salsa and added a ladle of the broth to make sure everything mixed nicely.

I heated up a soup pan and poured in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and then added the verde. As you can see from this picture it started off a nice bright green. About 10-15 minutes later with occasional stirring…

…you can see it took on a much more drab color. That’s what you want in order to get rid of the raw flavors of the garlic and jalapeno and whatnot. Then I poured it into the broth and made the matza balls.

The last time I made matza balls my mom called me out for using matza ball mix. So, this time I did it from scratch. Honestly, there really isn’t much difference. I used 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of matza meal, 3 eggs, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and some cracked black pepper to taste. I mixed everything thoroughly in a glass bowl, added about 4 tablespoons of cold water and mixed that in, then covered the bowl and threw it in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

Then I got the accoutrements ready for the soup. I got out the shredded chicken, 3 radishes thinly sliced, 1 avocado, a 28 ounce can of hominy drained and rinsed, and a large handful of watercress chopped. I added the chicken and hominy to the soup and slowly brought it back up to a low boil while the rest of the ingredients stood aside and waited their turn.

When the soup was at a low boil I got the matza ball mix out and turned it into matza balls. With moist hands I rolled out balls about the size of silver dollars and dropped them in the soup. A lot of people cook theirs in plain boiling water and then add them to the soup. I’ll never understand why as that prevents them from absorbing the broth’s flavor. I want tasty balls! Once my balls were all swimming in the soup I covered it up and let them cook for about 30 minutes.

For a side I just made a simple tomato and watercress salad. I quartered a bunch of cherry tomatoes, laid them on a bed of watercress, and drizzled some sesame dressing on top.

To garnish the soup I added the sliced radish, the watercress, I diced the avocado, and squeezed some lime juice in.

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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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So, I’m sittin here at mi mama’s casa in Merida, Mexico. For whatever reason, I can’t seem to get this Chiles Rellenos I ate in Cozumel the other day out of my taste buds. It was hands down the best damn Chiles Rellenos one could digest! Not wanting to spend a ton of pesos at extremely subpar, boring restaurants on the tourist strip of Cozumel I asked Donna of Aqua Safari (the hotel/dive shop that we stayed and dove with, and will again hopefully in the near future) where she goes to eat. I figured that she’s been there long enough to know all of the good spots where we can get the local flair. I figured correctly, as I usually do. She sent us to Sabores. It’s literally the home of a mother and her son and daughter that doubles as one of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever come across.

We walked into the house and straight back to their garden patio. As you can see, it was a little tropical paradise. Palm trees, a little canopy, and a few tables all graced by some beautiful birds there to pic up any crumbs. I guess humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy Sabores.

When we sat down they immediately brought us a pitcher of this red drink. I thought to myself, “this is the first time I’ve ever been served Kool-Aid at a restaurant…weird!” Turns out it was Jamaica, a common drink in the Yucatán made with hibiscus. It does taste similar to Kool-Aid, but it’s much better for you as it isn’t processed artificially sweetened dye. We also had a choice of two soups. I got the Sopa Pasta and Yuki got the Sopa Verduras. Same great broth, chicken consomme, but mine had noodles while hers had vegetables. If I were a bettin man, and I am, I’d bet that’s how they got their names.

Once we finished our soup they brought us their dry-erase menu board. Note, the dollar signs are pesos and not dollars. At about 12-13 pesos to the dollar you can do the math, or let a calculator do the math for you. All you really need to know is that there is no possible way to get home cooked food of this quality for anywhere near this price in Chicago, or on Cozumel’s tourist strip for that matter.

Here’s the Chiles Rellenos. Man, just looking at this picture makes me crave it again! I got con carne option. Perfectly seasoned ground beef stuffed into the roasted poblano and drizzled with Mexican crema. Delicious chunky refried frijoles negros, rice, slice of lime, and a small salad on the side to help push the food through my tracts. Yuki got the pollo milanesa, thin chicken breasts breaded and deep fried, to perfection I might add. Not oily at all, but nice and crisp while the meat stayed juicy. Along with the usual condiments of salsa verde, salsa rojo, and tortillas we were set! Until dessert at least.

What true Mexican meal is complete without flan? Not this one! The best flan ever! Creamy, but light and not heavy. Just a touch of lime to balance the caramel. It was outstanding.

Everything was top-notch. You could really taste that this food was cooked in someone’s home, and cooked with care. Next time I’m in Cozumel I am definitely heading back to Sabores. If you know what’s good for you, especially what’s good for your taste buds and stomach, you will too if you ever go to Cozumel.

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