Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Have some tacos and beer and let ourselves go

OK, this post is about neither tacos nor beer. But it is about my near obsession with good Tex-Mex food, and the title is from a song I like, so deal with it. "But wait," you say, "you live in London. How could you possibly get decent Tex-Mex there?" The truth is, you can get acceptable Tex-Mex here (and there are good burritos here and there) but until we found these places, I had to rely on my cooking skills to get us through.

The first thing I had to master was salsa. This is not my recipe - it's my friend H's (actually I believe it's her stepmom's). I've been making it so long from memory now, I think my proportions might be a bit different, but for all intents and purposes, it is hers. This is my first foray into blogging food photos, so bear with me if they suck...

Homemade Salsa

What you need:
1/2 medium yellow onion (I used about 2/3 of the one pictured because it was a bit small.)
About 3 medium jalepenos (You can use fresh, but I like the canned ones that have the carrots and onions in them. I used La Preferida brand this time, but others are fine.)
2-3 cloves garlic
About 1/4 c cilantro leaves (called coriander in the UK)
4 400 g cans peeled whole plum tomatoes (In the US, I used 2 large cans - can't remember the weights of those!)
Salt to taste (about 1 1/2 tsp)
Splash cider or white vinegar (about 1/2 tsp)

Food processor

Cut the onion, garlic and jalepenos into chunks and whiz in a food processor into small pieces. Add the cilantro and process a bit more (you don't want to obliterate the cilantro, so wait until the other stuff is pretty much done before adding it).Transfer the onion, etc. to a bowl.

Begin processing the tomatoes; I do one can at a time (about 4 tomatoes). Just pulse them 3-4 times so that they stay a bit chunky. If you overprocess, you'll end up with "salsa water" (as H says). As each batch is finished, add it to the onion, etc. in the bowl.

Stir everything up, add the salt and vinegar, and taste. Remember you can always add more jalepeno (tip: use the liquid from the jalepeno can to add a bit more spice without having to process another chili), cliantro, salt, etc. Store in the fridge, and it should last for a couple of weeks. Also, the flavors will blend as the salsa sits, so let it stand for at least a couple of hours before making any final adjustments to the taste.

I've been making quesadillas in various forms for ages. But they are perfect with the salsa, and also helped us get our Tex-Mex fix when there were no restaurants for us to frequent. Plus, I promised them in my first post about fast food.

Easy Cheese Quesadillas
Flour tortillas
Shredded cheese (I use mature/sharp cheddar here, but Pepper Jack, Jack or a Mexican blend would all be fine.)
Non-stick spray (e.g., Pam) (You can use vegetable oil, but I prefer this lower-fat version)

Heat a skillet (big enough for the tortilla to lie flat) over medium-low heat (if it's too hot the tortilla will brown and burn before the cheese melts). Spray with non-stick spray and add the tortilla. Cook for about 10 seconds on one side to soften, then turn over. Add the cheese so it covers half the tortilla, then fold the tortilla over. Cook until brown on the bottom, then flip and continue cooking until the other side is brown.

Serve with salsa, guac (see below), sour cream (or plain yogurt for a low-fat sub if, like me, you live in a place where low-fat sour cream doesn't exist) and refried beans.

Variations: Make these slightly less easy, but certainly more nutritious, by adding some chicken breast chunks sauteed with onions (and peppers if you like them) and chili powder. Sauteed spinach and/or mushrooms are also a good filling.

Since I also promised quick-fix guac in that first post, here it is:

Mash up a ripe avocado (if it is not ripe when you buy it, stick it in a paper bag for a day or so to speed up the ripening). Add a squeeze of lime juice (lemon will do, or really you can leave it out altogether), some salt and pepper, and a couple of spoonfuls of salsa (homemade if you've got it; if not jarred is certainly fine). That's it!

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