Just a note: Thanks to everyone who's supported me through Round #1 of Project Food Blog! Thanks to all of you here I am ready for Project Food Blog #2 The Classics
This is where we're asked to recreate a classic ethnic dish. Haha!! I cook Indian food, can't get more ethnic than that thought I. No French or Italian need apply. Ok, check that. Italian I do, but French is a killer for me. Last time I tried anything French it went directly to the garbage can with a resounding thud. It did not pass go, it did not collect the 500 dollars, it did not hit the plate in any way shape or form. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was off the hook there!
Then I read the rest of the rules. We had to cook something that we don't normally cook
. We had to step outside our comfort zone
. Oops, no Indian. Now what?
My mom has always been a sucker for Mexican food. She loves it! She would get incredible take-out from a little neighborhood joint called The Hot House. I always wanted a taste but she'd say, "sorry this is just for grown ups. You wouldn't like it." I wouldn't like it?! Really, Julia Child? So the charred fish sticks and gummy, boxed mac and cheese I was fed? That she thought I liked?!
On that day, Mexican food became a forbidden food in our house. When other kids were breaking into their parents' liquor cabinet, I was looking through the fridge for my moms' doggie bags. I loved it so, even her exploding tamale cans didn't put me off. So that was enough to send me scurrying back to my own hemisphere. Mexican food it would be.
One of my favorite restaurants in LA is La Guelaguetza, and my very favorite dish is their Mole Negro. What can you say about a culture that knows how to mix pork and chocolate together exquisitely?? You think inventing the light bulb is a big deal? No, no, no, no. I'll take the dark, just give me the chocolate. I'd been fantasizing about it lately. I decided to make a Mole Negro, yellow rice, black beans and some homemade corn tortillas. I figured that would be a big enough challenge for me and definitely outside my comfort zone.
One of the first things I found out in recreating this much loved dish, is that when preparing a curry the meat or fish is cooked in the sauce. When making a mole the meat and the sauce are prepared separately and then mixed together at the end.
Since Mole is divided into two parts, that's how I'll explain this.
First, The Meat
I started with 2 lbs of pork loin. I trimmed off any heavy duty fat as I was trying to make this a healthy mole.
Note the charming butchers' gloves. I cannot recommend these highly enough. I learned my lessons the hard way! Cut the meat into 1 inch chunks more or less.
I went "old school" with this mole and cooked it in clay pot from Columbia that Paula Wolfert gave me a few years ago. It's my favorite as you may tell from seeing it in almost every recipe. I added 10 cups of water and a bit of salt and pepper.
I brought the pork to a boil then turned down the heat and simmered it for about an hour or so.
While that was going on it was time To Grind Mix and Blend the Mole
There are a lot of ingredients in this dish. I'm used to cooking with a bunch of different spices with Indian food, but these were different spices. Different chilies. I didn't know a Pasilla ages into an Ancho. I actually took a book of pictures into the market with me. They looked like mug shots. I felt like a character from "Law and Order SCD : Special Chili Division"
"Excuse me Mister, have you seen this chili?" I know I was the joke of the produce department at the Hispanic market I visited, but they had mercy on me and helped me find everything I needed.
Before going into a Mole, all the ingredients are roasted and toasted and soaked. This intensifies the flavor. First I stemmed and seeded my chillies.
There are warnings galore about wearing plastic gloves when doing this. I have to confess, I generally "go commando" as after years of turning chapattis with my bare hands, I have no nerve endings left in my fingers. So do as I say not as I do. Wear the gloves. Please.
In a large skillet I roasted the chilies until they were toasty.
I put the toasted chilies in a bowl and tossed in dried apricots and raisins and soaked everything in hot water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, I was thinking of La Gueletaza and how I used to just drive over there. I used to complain about the traffic. Ha! Traffic? Really? How spoiled was I? Here I was, giving every nut, vegetable, and fruit in my pantry a freakin' spa day!!! I never dreamed how hard those guys worked!!
So I soaked everything for 30 minutes, I got it all nice and soft. I got it in the mood. I started to think about why I decided to cook Mexican food as a challenge. Like Indian food there are many regional cuisines and an amazingly varied history. I was also fascinated by the similarities between Moles and Curries. Some people have called Mole the Curry of the West and some call Curries the Mole of the East and some just ought to forget the whole thing and enjoy their food.
Meanwhile what wasn't soaking, got roasted!
Toasted bread is one of the ingredients used to bind a Mole together. This gave me a chance to use this nifty little Finnish stovetop toaster given to me by my friend Heikki when he returned from his regular summer in Helsinki. It looks like a thing my Orthodontist used to make me wear, but hot damn, did it work!! Gotta love those Finns!
Once everything was soaked and drained, roasted and toasted and crumbled, it was put into the food processor.
Well, maybe not quite Mole, but the base of the Mole. As they say, The Raw Mole!
Time to cook it. I heated 1 tablespoon of oil in my big clay pot and once it was hot, Boom! In went the Mole. It reminded me of the final tempering in Indian cooking where spices are added to hot oil or ghee, and then infused into the finished dish. Except I wasn't finished. Not by a long shot.
The raw Mole went into the hot oil and then was cooked for about 5 minutes or so. The idea was to get everything thickened and fragrant. I added in 4 cups of the stock the pork had cooked in. Finally it was time for the money shot, the honey and the chocolate!
I simmered the chocolate sauce for about 10 minutes than added in the drained cooked pork. I cooked it all slowly on a low heat for several hours to let the flavors blend and make sure everything was tender.
I seasoned the black beans with cumin and bit of fresh chili that I'd grown on my deck, and sprinkled them with some queso blanco. Remembering the wonderful rice they always serve at Guelaguetza, I made a yellow rice with annatto seed, which I learned is what they use to give butter its' yellow color. It also gives any piece of clothing that gets near it that same yellow color too, as I discovered.
And of course those tortillas! I mixed a masa batter, rolled little balls and put them in my tortilla press. Yes, I do cop to owning an authentic wooden tortilla press.
It was given to me by an ex
who turned out to be one of the Queen of the Mean Girls . This "frenemy" brought it to me after visiting her family in Mexico City (when she was still speaking to me) and I have always worried that maybe it was haunted so I've never used it. But I decided it was time to break the curse. I lined it with a cut up Ziplock bag to keep the dough from sticking.
Then I pressed down hard!
Somehow I don't think that's exactly how the Aztecs did it, but I pretended it was my old Frenemys' head and so it worked for me.
I fried the tortillas up on my tava. It was the closest piece of equipment to an authentic comal I could find. Dinner was served.
For dessert I fixed a simple Mexican vanilla ice cream drizzled with homemade dulce de leche sauce.
What did I learn, from stepping outside my comfort zone? I learned I loved and missed La Guelaguetza, but since I "had" to try this, I was able to bring a little bit of it home with me. Gracias Foodbuzz.