Friday, October 28, 2016

My Guilty ‘Mexican’ Pleasures

A first for this new occasional series: today I’m writing about something I’m craving instead of something I’ve made. I quite like actual Mexican, from carts staffed by actual Mexicans to upscale small-plate taqueria Distrito (by Philadelphia’s own Jose Garces.) This post is not about that Mexican. I also have a great love for entirely inauthentic tex-mex vicinity stuff that I learned to love in my youth, and I want to talk about that today.

First, the essential ready-made elements: nacho-cheese Doritos and Ortega taco sauce. Doritos are crushed fine and sprinkled into tacos, burritos, or on top of bowls. Ortega taco sauce is delicious. I have nothing else to say. My pretentious foody self disdains my enjoyment of it, but that doesn’t stop it being really enjoyable to eat. For my family, it was always taco sauce in place of salsa for our Mexican attempts.

Refried beans are the other anchor of my nostalgia Mexican. I like to start with canned whole pinto beans. Pre-mashed are never as good, and starting from dry is more work and planning for no flavor benefit my palate can detect. This isn’t a pure nostalgia. We used to use a mix and re-hydrate it. This way is better. I start with some diced onion and pepper, cook them down until they’re soft, add spices: cumin, coriander, and cayenne, unless I’ve use a jalapeno. Deglaze with tomato when the spices inevitably stick, then add the beans. I drain 2/3 of the cans, or thereabouts, and leave the rest. Let the beans warm through and take up flavors, then mash with a potato masher and they’re done.

That’s the core of it. It needs something to complete the protein. Rice works, and lime-cilantro is the seasoning for that. I love chicken cooked with an achiote rub. The original was ground beef cooked with chili powder, no other seasoning except some salt. Traditional fixings are grated cheddar and some raw vegetables: bell-pepper, scallion, tomato, cucumber, lettuce. Wrap in a ten-inch tortilla, and if, like I was, you’re a boy growing both up and at the waist, eat two of them for dinner.

I’ll make some changes putting this together now. Eat less in a sitting, for one. I’ll also probably cook most of my vegetables, because it’s cold here. I may buy the hot Ortega taco sauce, instead of medium, to account for my increased spice tolerance. I’ll keep the lettuce. Romaine for preference, for the crunch.

It seems to be a theme here, but this food is all about how it makes you feel, how it makes me feel, more specifically. This three steps removed Mexican is all about satisfaction for me. It fills you up, sticks to your ribs, etc. The crunch, the acid, the spice all make things interesting while you chew through a solid core of stodge in rice and beans and beef. I’m looking forward to it.

I don’t know how useful or inspiring this entry is for anyone without my strong nostalgia for a particular of kind of Mexican-inspired Americana, but that’s what’s on my mind for food today, and it’s been too long since I posted something here. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by.

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