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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Beyond Taco Bell - Exploring Mexican Food

My daughter pointed out last night that I misspelled hola, the Spanish word for hello, in Tuesday's blog title.  I'll take her word for it although this is the same daughter who once assured me that 'Soy gracioso' meant 'I am very grateful'.  So, after last year's ice storm, I told my Mexican gardner, "Soy gracioso!", as I paid him for cleaning up the fallen limbs in my yard.  He had a puzzled look but that's characteristic for many of our Spanish/English conversations.  A few days later, Grace announced in the car that she was mistaken.  Soy gracioso means I am very silly.  It was a long time before I called Mr. Pacheco again. 

Though learning to speak Spanish can be tricky, learning to cook Mexican food is not that difficult.  The rewards are worth the effort with meals made from fresh, simple ingredients.  If you've never made salsa yourself, or eaten freshly made salsa, you are missing out on a real treat.  Good salsa, like everything else, must have good ingredients.  I find it hard to find good tasting tomatoes in the grocery stores and sometimes, even at the farmer's market.  I've tried to grow my own but I have too much shade and too many raccoons.  The best store bought tomatoes around here seem to be the cherry or grape tomatoes.  Everything else is tasteless or mushy.  Chopping all those small tomates can be tedious but also theraputic.  When my kids eat fresh salsa, I don't mind how many chips they eat.  Tuesday's blog had some simple salsa recipes but look around and try some different ones.

Today, I'm going to share two recipes that my family likes from the magazine I mentioned Tuesday.  Both are easy and are good examples of healthier Mexican food.  Serve the soup before the fish tacos or regular tacos if you wish.  It does sound unusual but I promise it is delicious.  The Oaxacan Rice and Beans makes a flavorful side dish packed with vegetables.

Avocado Soup
2 ripe avocados, peeled and cut up
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup light sour cream
Bottled hot pepper sauce
Fresh chopped cilantro and tomatoes, optional
In a blender or food processor, combine avocados, onion, carrot, garlic and 1 cup of broth.  Cover and process until almost smooth.  Add the remaining broth, sour cream and a few dashes of hot sauce.  Cover and blend again until smooth.  Pour soup into a bowl and cover surface with plastic wrap.  Chill 1 to 24 hours.  Serve chilled soup with fresh cilantro and tomatoes if desired.  To serve soup warm, heat gently in a saucepan for 10 minutes but do not boil. 

Oaxacan Rice and Beans
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 fresh poblano pepper seeded and chopped or 1 4 oz. can of diced green chile peppers, drained
1 fresh jalapeno pepper seeded and chopped or use jarred
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup white rice
2 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 cup frozen (or one can) green beans, thawed
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
In a large skillet, cook carrots, onion, peppers and garlic in oil for 3 minutes.  Stir in the uncooked rice.  Cook and stir constantly over medium heat for 3 more minutes or until vegetables are soft and lightly browned.  Stir in broth and 1/4 tsp. salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add green beans and black beans, cover and heat through.

Plan a fiesta this weekend and serve some good Mexican food.  It's a great excuse to whip up a batch of margaritas too!       

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