A Mexican Feast
by Mark R. Vogel

I love Latin food.  Latin America is all of the beautiful land south of the United States.  Latin cooking thus embraces the cuisines of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.  I particularly enjoy Mexican food, be it authentic Mexican or Americanized Mexican.  It was Latin food and the guidance of a Puerto Rican chef named Felix who sparked my early interest in cooking and eventual pursuit of a professional culinary career.  Latin food and Felix will always hold a special place in my heart.

I equate Latin cooking with bold and often spicy flavors.  Good Latin food has a depth of flavor coupled with a bright intensity.  I relish its reliance on fresh, aromatic herbs and vegetables:  chile peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions, cilantro, epazote, cumin, coriander, etc.  I also love rice and beans and all the delicious and varied ways that Latin chefs can bring them to new heights.  

In the recipes that follow I endeavor to capture those two features: a depth and intensity of flavor.

 

CHICKEN FAJITAS

 

1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 cup beef broth or stock

2 – 4 oz, habanero sauce (see recipe below)

3 oz. tomato sauce

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon chili powder

Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 poblano peppers, cut into thin strips

1 medium onion, sliced thin

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

Flour tortillas, as needed

Salsa, as needed for topping, (see recipe below)

Mark’s hearty pinto beans ( see recipe below)

 

       Trim the thighs of excess fat and then slice into fajita-sized strips.  Combine the fluids and seasonings in a large bowl and whisk to fully combine.  Add the chicken and vegetables, stir, and allow to marinate for one hour.  Pour all of the contents into a pot and bring to a full boil.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Uncover and simmer another 15 minutes to reduce the fluid.  Spoon some of the mixture into a flour tortilla, top with some of the salsa and enjoy.  Serve with the beans.

 

MARK’S HEARTY PINTO BEANS

 

1 lb. pork neck bones

Salt & pepper to taste

Olive oil, as needed

1 cup beef broth or stock

2 - 4 oz. habanero sauce (see recipe below)

3 oz. tomato sauce

1 small onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon chili powder

1 (15.5 oz.) can Goya pinto beans

           

          Pork neck bones usually come with some adjacent meat still attached.  This is preferable since we want the meat in addition to the bones, for flavoring and to nibble on with the beans.  Season the bones with salt and pepper and sear them in hot oil until browned.  Once browned, drain some of the excess fat/oil if you like.  Add the fluids and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze.  Add the onion, garlic, seasonings and additional salt and pepper.  Cover and gently simmer for an hour.  Add the beans and simmer uncovered until the beans are hot and the fluid has reduced somewhat. 

 

SALSA

 

4-5 ripe, on-the-vine tomatoes, chopped.

Kosher salt to taste

1 small onion, chopped.

1 poblano pepper, chopped, for mild salsa or 3-4 jalapenos for hot.

Cilantro, chopped, to taste

Juice from one lime           

 

            Chop the tomatoes and place them in a fine mesh colander with some of the salt over a large bowl.  Allow some of the fluid to drain while you prepare the other ingredients.  This will prevent the salsa from being too watery.  Chop the onion, peppers, and cilantro and combine with the drained tomatoes.  Add the lime juice and additional salt to taste. 

 

HABANERO SAUCE

 

1 cup water

1/3 cup of red wine vinegar

1-3 fresh or dried habanero peppers, depending on how hot you like it.

1 large red bell pepper

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

 

Roughly chop the bell and habanero peppers, (or grind the habaneros if using dried).  Bring all of the ingredients to a boil, and then simmer, covered, for 8-10 minutes.  Finally, puree the mixture in a blender.  If you don’t want any heat, just eliminate the habaneros from the recipe.  You will still have a delicious red bell pepper sauce.


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