Tag Archives: Mexico City

A Party to Die For: Negra Modelo Celebrates Día de Muertos with Rick Bayless

 

Photo: Neal Agustin
In Mexico, ordering a ´dead´Negra Modelo, means you are looking for a really cold one. Photo: Neal Agustin

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Undoubtedly, one of my favorite rituals of el Día de Muertos, is cooking with the family, along with setting up the ofrenda (literally, “offering”) in honor of those who have departed.  Ofrendas are created to remember, invoke and delight our deceased relatives, and are the centerpiece of this symbolicaly-rich celebration.

My maternal grandmother took this festivity very seriously, and since her unexpected departure a few years ago, my uncle and my mother make a yearly pilgrimage to my grandma’s native Puebla, to continue on this three-thousand-year old tradition.

Ofrenda in honor of my grandma Julia.
Ofrenda in honor of my grandma Julia.

I did not make it to Mexico this time around, but luckily for me, Mexico came to Chicago. I had the privilege to be invited to celebrate el Día de Muertos with one of my favorite Mexican imports, Negra Modelo.  Negra Modelo drafted no other than Chef Rick Bayless to delight us with a walkthrough of this fantastic Mexican celebration through a few dishes.

During the event, I had the privilege to chat with Bayless, and hear his point of view on Mexican food and its execution outside of Mexico. An anthropologist at heart, this celebrated ambassador of Mexican cuisine, understands the cultural forces that have shaped Mexican food across the US.

 After the mariachi serenaded guests, (what a perfect touch!) Bayless delivered a cooking demonstration from a stage designed to look just like an ofrenda.

Neal Agustin
Photo: Neal Agustin
Photo: Neal Agustin
Photo: Neal Agustin

Guests were later delighted with a variety of fantastic Mexican dishes from this presentation. We are very excited to share one of these recipes with you so that you can bring it to life in your own kitchen.

Sugar skulls are a ubiquitous element of el Día de Muertos. They serve as a reminder that death awaits us at any corner. Negra Modelo invited local artists to create personalized handcrafts for guests to take home.

I was already a fan of the creamy, malty flavor of Negra Modelo, and after this party,  I have no doubt I will continue to like it in the afterlife.

Disclosure: I am a blogger sponsored by Negra Modelo. All opinions are my own.

 

Estampas de mi Ciudad – Death is a Party

  

“The Mexican is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, and celebrates it. It is one of his favorite playthings and his most steadfast love.”   

-Octavio Paz

Photos: Lissette Storch – Puebla, Mexico

In modern Mexico exchanging sugar skulls is a playful part of the celebration of el Día de Muertos, a festivity as complex, colorful and surreal as the Mexican people themselves. It is also a clear illustrative of Mexicans’ ancestral relationship with death.

Death is a verb and a noun.

In Mexico, death is an ultimate experience of life, and in what seems to be a constant attempt to make it look approachable, we have made her look human and we have dressed her up; we have given her nicknames, le hablamos de tú*.

Death is a ‘she’.

Originally, sugar skulls were created as a reminder of the fact that death  awaits us at any turn, and it is one of  the many expressions of our inevitable relationship with “the lady with many names”: La Catrina (“the rich or elegant one”), La Tía de las Muchachas (“the girls’ aunt”), La Fría (“the cold one”), La Novia Blanca (“the white bride”). Death is a character that wanders amongst us.

Death is life.

Like any other Mexican celebration, food is at the center of el Día de Muertos. Along with pan de muerto (literally, “bread of dead”) and cempasúchil flowers, sugar skulls are staples of this festivity. It is virtually impossible to stumble upon any particular element of  el Día de Muertos that does not have a deliberate purpose or meaning. From the bread that symbolizes the circle of life and communion with the body of the dead, to the flowers that make a nod to the ephemeral nature of life, this ritual, especially in rural Mexico, is rich in both form and content.

I grew up in the city, and for the most part, I participated in these festivities as a spectator. It was not until my grandmother died a few years ago, when my uncle and my mother took over perpetuating this three-thousand-year-old tradition, that I became involved and more intrigued by it.

Year after year, the family travels to a small village in the outskirts of Puebla to  set up an ofrenda for my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and other deceased  relatives. They are remembered with their favorite food and dishes. My grandmother  for example, loved to cook, so aside from prepared meals, her favorite kitchen tools are also set around her picture.

Candles are used either as symbol of hope and faith, or as a way to light the path of the dead as they descend. Water is included to quench the thirst of the souls, and as a symbol of purity. With these ofrendas, the dead  are remembered and invoked.

The celebration continues in the cemetery, where the living and the souls eat together, listen to music, and even enjoy fireworks.

For a few days in November, in Mexico, death is a party.

The cementery of San Francisco Acatepec, where my grandmother is buried.
Hablar de tú‘ means to address someone casually, vs. the respectfully ‘usted’ that is reserved to address those who you don’t know or those who haven’t granted you permission to do otherwise.

 

Receta: Pastel de Elote

Foto: Chef Atzimba Pérez
Foto: Chef Atzimba Pérez

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Hace unas semanas tuve el privilegio de conocer a la chef Atzimba Pérez, orgullosa embajadora de la comida mexicana en Chicago.  Para esta extraordinaria michoacana, (cuyo nombre significa “princesa de agua” en Purépecha), la gastronomía ha sido una constante en su vida.

Parte destino, parte camino, Atzimba nos cuenta que su mamá preparaba la comida para celebrar las fiestas patronales, mientras ella ayudaba y observaba cómo se les daba vida a los platillos típicos de su pueblo. Atzimba nos dice: “Yo tenía mucha inquietud por descubrir nuevos sabores, y probar formas diferentes de hacer las cosas. Desde chica yo tenía mis recetarios y mis libros de cocina.” Más tarde, Atzimba abrió una lonchería para pagarse la carrera en gastronomía: “La comida era mi sustento físico y mi sustento económico. En la escuela vendía pies de queso para poder costear mis prácticas semanales.”

Plato a plato, Atzimba ha conseguido un lugar  como representante de la cocina mexicana en Chicago, donde recientemente estableció su propia compañía de banquetes.

Su comida es tan hermosa y orgullosamente mexicana como su nombre. Hoy, para celebrar lo que queda del mes patrio, les comparto con mucha emoción la receta de la chef Atzimba Pérez para preparar pastel de elote.

Ingredientes



  • 3 tazas de elote tierno
  • 5 huevos
  • 1 lata de leche condensada
  • 1/2 barrita de mantequilla
  • 1/4 de taza de aceite de maíz
  • 1 cucharadita de vainilla
  • 1 taza de harina
  • 1 1/2 cucharadita de polvo para hornear

Procedimiento

  1. Cierne la harina y el polvo para hornear.
  2. Derrite la mantequilla y licúala con el resto de los ingredientes
  3. Mezcla con la harina y el polvo para hornear
  4. Engrasa y enharina 1 molde refractario rectangular mediano ó 2 moldes pequeños.
  5. Vacía la mezcla y pónla a hornear a 320° durante 45 minutos hasta que obtenga un color miel.

Disfrútalo con un vaso de leche fría.

Según la receta de la chef Atzimba Pérez, reproducida con el permiso de la autora.  Para más información sobre Atzimba, visíta  su página de Facebook haciendo click aquí. 

Nuestra Mesa – De Ángeles y Guerreros: Chiles en Nogada

Foto: Manuel RIvera
Foto: Manuel Rivera

Quien tiene la fortuna de visitar México en septiembre, descubrirá que los chiles en nogada empiezan a decorar los manteles, al mismo tiempo que los adornos tricolores que anuncian la llegada de las fiestas patrias aparecen por doquier. Literalmente chiles en salsa de nuez o “nogada”, este plato se le atribuye a la creatividad culinaria propia del estado de Puebla, y se dice que los chiles en nogada fueron servidos por primera vez en el siglo XIX para celebrar la independencia de México.

Mitad plegaria, mitad receta, cuenta la historia que las monjas agustinas de Atlixco, Puebla, improvisaron este platillo en honor del caudillo Agustín de Yturbide, quien durante su viaje a la Ciudad de México desde Veracruz, se detuvo en Puebla tras firmar el Tratado de Córdoba. Este documento establecía la independencia de México, es por eso que los colores del Ejército Trigarante, y ahora también los de la bandera mexicana, están representados en este plato.

Mitad guerrero, mitad ángel, esta delicia exige que al chile poblano se le de vida con un corazón hecho a base de carne, frutas y semillas disponibles en México durante el mes de septiembre, incluyendo pera, durazno, manzana y piñón. Para rematar, la salsa de nuez que le da nombre al plato es muy delicada, y está acentuada con semillas de granada.

Mitad indígena, mitad español, este plato es completamente mexicano y no puedes dejar de probarlo.

En caso de que quieras recrear esta joya culinaria en casa, nuestro colaborador y amigo, el chef Aldo Saavedra, viajó a Atlixco Puebla para traer a Nuestra Mesa, una receta inspirada por las monjas de la órden de las Clarisas, quienes se dedican a elaborar este platillo desde 1924. El chef Saavedra nos cuenta que originalmente, las monjas preparaban chiles en nogada para festejar el cumpleaños de una de las abadesas. Los invitados ocasionales empezaron a crearles fama, hasta que las monjas decidieron venderlos. El chef nos dice: “dado que no son restaurante, el servicio único es para llevar. Con nuestro plato en mano, nos dirigimos a la plaza del pueblo, a sentarnos al pie del kiosco, para disfrutar de este platillo ejecutado con gran maestría, pasión y precisión.”

PICADILLO

Ingredientes:

  • 3 cda manteca de cerdo
  • 1 diente de ajo picado
  • 2 cdas de cebolla finamente picada
  • 500 gr de lomo de cerdo molido
  • 50 gr dejamón de pierna
  • 500 gr de jitomates asados
  • 500 ml de caldo de pollo
  • 1 pizca de azafrán
  • 1 pizca de clavo molido
  • 1 pizca de comino
  • ½ cdta de canela molida
  • 1 manzana picada
  • 1 pera picada
  • 4 cdas de piñón rosa
  • 4 chabacanos deshidratados picados
  • 30 gr de pasas güeras remojadas en ron
  • 20 almendras picadas
  • 4 cdas de acitrón picado
  • 1 cda de azúcar moscabado
  • sal y pimienta al gusto
  • 1 taza de jerez

Procedimiento: 

  1. Calienta la manteca de cerdo y pon a sofreír el ajo y la cebolla hasta que estén transparentes, después agrega la carne de cerdo y el jamón.
  2. Cuando la carne esté dorada, agrega los jitomates, deja que se sofrían un poco y después agrega el caldo. Deja hervir hasta que se seque y la carne este tierna.
  3. Cuando todo empiece nuevamente a sofreírse, agrega todas las frutas, las especias, las pasas, las almendras y el acitrón.
  4. Revuelve y espera 5 minutos hasta que todo se sofría y vayan integrándose los sabores. Agrega el azúcar, un poco de sal, la pimienta y el jerez.
  5. Mueva constantemente, hasta que espese, rectifique la sazón .
  6. Retira del fuego y deja entibiar antes de rellenar los chiles.

CHILES

Ingredientes:

  • 16 chiles poblanos pelados
  • La mezcla de picadillo
  • 50 nueces de castilla frescas peladas( sin cascara dura , ni la cascara suave café, deben ser totalmente blancas)
  • 750 ml de leche
  • 250 gr de queso fresco
  • 1 bolillo remojado en leche con canela y azúcar
  • 125 ml de jerez seco
  • 3 huevos
  • 2 granadas rojas
  • perejil para decorar
  • manteca de cerdo para freír

Procedimiento:

  1. Un día antes de empezar la preparación, limpia las nueces de la cáscara y la piel. Pónlas a remojar en leche hasta cubrirlas.
  2. El día que se van a comer los chiles, muele la nuez con el queso y el pan remojado y el jerez.
  3. Si la salsa está muy espesa, agrégale un poco de crema o leche
  4. La salsa puede servirse a temperatura ambiente o puedes calentarla un poco ( no mucho porque se puede cortar)
  5. Hay dos maneras de servir los chiles, una es rellenarlos y salsear, poniendo encima la granada y unas hojas de perejil. La otra es capearlos, para lo que se baten las claras de los 3 huevos y después se le agregan las yemas. Posteriormente, el chile ya relleno, se pasa por un poco de harina y después por el huevo, para ponerlo a freír en la manteca. Escurre y sirve cubierto de salsa y granada.

El chef Aldo Saavedra ha cocinado para huéspedes de establecimientos como el conocido Hotel Condesa D.F. y ha contribuído con sus recetas en proyectos con marcas de la talla de Larousse y Danone. En Nuestra Mesa, el chef Saavedra comparte con los lectores de La Vitamina T, su pasión por la cocina y por México.

Quesadilla: More than Cheese Meets the Tortilla

Delicious quesadillas made with blue-corn tortillas materialize right in front of patrons’ eyes in La Marquesa, Mexico. Photo: Lissette Storch
Delicious quesadillas made with blue-corn tortillas materialize right in front of patrons’ eyes in La Marquesa, Mexico. Photo: Lissette Storch

You will never go hungry in Mexico City, where quesadillas,sopes and other garnachas* are easily found street-side and served either as a snack or a meal. Filled with a variety of stuffings ranging from flowers and vegetables, to meat and even insects, these portable pockets of pure joy are a staple of any modern Mexican meal. Given the apparent simplicity of their execution, it would be easy to assume thatquesadillas are predictable and uninteresting, but skilled artisan hands bring these delicacies to life in such way, thatdefeños** will consider traveling to indulge in a perfect one. La Marquesa, a national park west of Mexico City, is a popular weekend getaway as well as a quesadilla haven. Here, locals and visitors are able to choose from a multitude of establishments offering a variety of quesadillas among other local delicacies that include trout and even rabbit.

For a sampling of Mexico´s mestizo nature in a bite, (the fusion concept of a quesadilla already combines the Spanish word for “queso” with the Aztec word “tortilla“) try a chorizoand cheese quesadilla. More pre-Hispanic stuffings includeflor de calabaza (zucchini blossoms) or huitlacoche (corn fungus). The latter might not sound too terribly appealing, but trust me, there is a reason why Mexicans have consider it a treat for centuries.

If you are in Mexico City and the foodie in you wants to venture to La Marquesa, we recommend making a day trip out of this culinary excursion. Consider hiring a reputable cab company to drive you to and from the food area. La Marquesa is about an hour away from downtown Mexico City.

*Garnachas: Slang term for comfort-food, usually made out of corn on a comal.

**Defeño: A citizen of Mexico City.

Chiles en Nogada: The Dish of a Revolution

Photo credit: Lissette Storch  Mexico City, Mexico
Photo credit: Lissette Storch Mexico City, Mexico

If you have the good fortune to be in Mexico late in the fall, you will likely find chiles en nogada appear on many menus. Literally “peppers in walnut sauce”, this seasonal delicacy attributed to the state of Puebla, was served for the first time in the 19th century to celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spain.

Part prayer, part recipe, the story tells that Augustine nuns from Atlixco, Puebla improvised this dish in honor of Mexican caudillo* (and later Mexico´s first emperor) Agustín de Yturbide, who made a stop in Puebla on his way to Mexico City after signing a document in Veracruz establishing Mexico´s independence. Fittingly, green, white and red, the colors of the Mexican flag, are represented on the plate.

Part warrior, part angel, chiles en nogada calls for poblano peppers to be stuffed with a mixture of meat and fruits, which allows for a variety of textures in every bite. To top it off, the walnut sauce is very light and deliciously accented with pomegranate, available in central Mexico through mid September.

Part indigenous, part Spanish, this plate is all Mexico, and the edible equivalent to CliffsNotes on this country’s dichotomies both in personality and history.

Do not pass up the opportunity to try it.

We recommend:

 La Hostería de Santo Domingo 

Belisario Domínguez 7o, Mexico City

La Parrilla Leonesa

Blvd. Manuel Ávila Camacho 1515, Cd. Satélite, Edo. de México

*Military leader

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Recipe: Beat the Heat with Mezcal and Sesame Seed Ice Cream – Nuestra Mesa

Photo: Manuel Rivera
Photo: Manuel Rivera

To beat this summer heat with a unique Mexican version of ice cream, our friend and contributor chef Aldo Saavedra, shared with us a recipe to make a delicious mezcal and sesame seed treat.

Just like tequila, mezcal is made from agave. This smokey-flavored artisanal drink is slowly becoming popular as another Mexican contribution to gastronomy worldwide.

Ingredients: 

Ice Cream Base

This is the foundation for any ice cream, and it can be used to create any other flavor. The sky is the limit! It is all up to your imagination.

  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 10 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups of whole milk

Mezcal and Sesame Seed

  • 7 tbsp of your favorite mezcal
  • 2 cups of toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 cups of semisweet chocolate (in chunks)

 Process:

  1. Boil the milk along with the cream and mezcal in a pot.
  2. In a separate container, whip the egg yolks with the sugar until fluffy.
  3. Once your milk mixture has reached the boiling point, add half of the volume to the whipped egg yolks, and continue to whip until the yolks and the mix are incorporated.
  4. Add the whipped egg yolks to the pot on the stove and stir with a wooden spoon on low heat until the mix thickens.

5. You will know it is time to remove your mix from the stove, once you are able to draw a finger on the wooden spoon without it dripping. Remove and let the mix cool over ice.


6. Once cold, put the mix in a blender with the sesame seed and blend.  Strain.
7. Transfer the strained mixture into a container and place in the freezer. Stir about every 10 minutes until it reaches the desired consistency.
8. Add the chocolate and mix.

You can store your ice cream in plastic containers in the freezer. Enjoy!

Mexican Chef Aldo Saavedra regularly shares with La Vitamina T’s readers his passion for his country and for Mexican cuisine as a cultural expression. Chef Saavedra has been part of the team in charge of delighting guests at a variety of reputable establishments, including Hotel Condesa D.F. He has also partnered in projects with global brands such as Larousse and Danone

Nuestra Mesa – Empanadas de Plátano Macho*

Empanadas de plátano. Foto: Manuel Rivera
Foto: Manuel Rivera

Las empanadas deben su moderna popularidad a los colonizadores españoles y portugueses, quienes las introdujeron a lo largo y ancho de América Latina y otras colonias.  En México, la selección de empanadas que forman parte del acervo culinario popular, incluye una variante de raíces inglesas: los pastes. Famosos en el estado de Hidalgo, este plato encuentra su origen en los cornish pasties, mismo que fue introducido al país por mineros británicos.

Adaptadas para reflejar los sabores e ingredientes de donde quiera que vayan, las empanadas son una encarnación local de este concepto español. Hoy, el chef Aldo Saavedra, nos trae una receta para hacer unas deliciosas empanadas rellenas de México.

Rinde para 20 piezas  
Ingredientes:
  • 1 kg de plátano macho maduro
  • 30 ml de vinagre blanco
  • 4 cdtas de azúcar.
  • 300 gr de harina de trigo
  • Sal y pimienta al gusto
  • Frijoles negros refritos
  • Epazote
  • Queso panela
Procedimiento:
1- Lava los plátanos, haz unos pequeños cortes a la cáscara  (3 ó 4 por pieza).
2- Pon agua a hervir (la cantidad que sea suficiente para cubrir los plátanos). Agrega el vinagre y el azúcar, y los plátanos. Después de que suelte el hervor, cuenta 5 minutos.
3- Retira. Escúrrelos y pela los plátanos en caliente.
4- Machaca los plátanos haciendo un puré que sea lo más fino posible. Incorpora la harina, sal y pimienta. Mezcla bien.
5- Deja enfriar. Refrigera durante 2 horas.
6- Saca la mezcla del refrigerador y forma pequeñas bolas con la mezcla. Prensa con una prensa para hacer tortillas cuidando que la empanada no quede muy delgada.
7- Rellena con una cucharadita de frijoles, un pedazo de queso y una hoja de epazote.  Cierra la empanada y pónla a freír hasta que tome un color dorado.
8. Escurre, sirve y disfruta.
* En México, el plátano macho es un plátano más grande que el común y no puede comerse crudo. En otros países se les conoce como hartón o maduro. En Estados Unidos es similar al ¨green plantain¨.
El chef Aldo Saavedra ha cocinado para huéspedes de establecimientos como el conocido Hotel Condesa D.F. y ha contribuído con sus recetas en proyectos con marcas de la talla de Larousse y Danone. En Nuestra Mesa, el chef Saavedra comparte con los lectores de La Vitamina T, su pasión por la cocina y por México.

Tamales de Mango del Chef Paco – New Rebozo

Tamales con queso de cabra, chipotle y salsa de mango como solo en New Rebozo.
Tamales con queso de cabra, chipotle y salsa de mango como solo en New Rebozo. Foto: Brenda Storch

El Chef Paco del conocido restaurante New Rebozo, en Chicago, generosamente nos compartió esta receta para hacer estos deliciosos tamales de queso de cabra y chipotle con salsa de mango. ¡Que los disfruten!

Masa

  • 1 kilo de masa blanca de maíz para tamal
  • 1   1/2 tazas de caldo pollo o agua
  • 1  taza de aceite de olivo
  • 1 cucharada de sal
  • 150 gr. de queso de cabra
  • 1 cucharadita de salsa de chile chipotle
  • 35 rectángulos de hoja de tamal de unos 18 x 15 cm.

Salsa

  • 2 mangos, pelados y cortados en cubitos
  • 1 chile jalapeño
  • 1/2 cebolla picada
  • 1/3 pimiento rojo finamente picado
  • 1/3 pimiento amarillo finamente picado
  • 1/2 manojo de cilantro cortado en pedazos pequeños
  • Sal y pimienta al gusto

Pon lo ingredientes en un recipiente hondo y mézclalos hasta que estén bien incorporados.

Preparación:

  • Mezcla la masa en el caldo hasta que quede incorporado todo. Prueba la sazón.
  • Con una cuchara sopera, pon en el centro de la hoja la masa, el queso de cabra y el chile chipotle.
  • Envuélvelo como un burrito de 5 x 7 centímetros. Salen como 36 tamalitos.
  • Prepara la vaporera con agua, pon los tamales y tápala.
  • Pón los tamales a cocer con flama alta.  Una vez que empiece a salir el vapor, baja la flama a fuego medio y deja cocinar durante alrededor de 50 minutos.
  • Déja reposar los tamales hasta servirlos con la salsa.

¡Oh My God!

Receta publicada con el permiso del autor. 

Chef Paco´s New Rebozo – Oh My God!

Cochinita pibil tacos await you at New Rebozo in Chicago's Gold Coast.
Cochinita pibil tacos await you at New Rebozo in Chicago’s Gold Coast.

If you visit New Rebozo, chances are that aside from a remarkable meal, you will be delighted by owner Chef Paco’s warm and exuberant personality.  After more than 20 years of success at his Oak Park location, where Chef Paco (A.K.A. Francisco López) is already a fixture, this Mexico City native decided to bring his creativity and passion for authentic Mexican food to Chicago’s Gold Coast.

Holy mole! Chef Paco delights his guests with his complex, yet surprisingly down-to-earth mole Poblano, at New Rebozo.

Chef Paco equates food to the dynamics of everyday life: “Life can be sweet and sour… even salty, add love to it and you will strike a balance.”  His philosophy spills into every corner of his restaurant. There is definitely love in New Rebozo, named after a shawl Mexican women wear. From the cozy fireplace to the thoughtfully picked art, the dining room and patio embrace you like welcoming Mexican embassies. Do not expect to find cultural clichés here.  New Rebozo is the real deal both in form and content. “My work is about making people happy,” said Paco. “That’s my ultimate goal.”

Full of flavor, depth and whimsy, it is so fitting that mole is one of Chef Paco´s specialties. Very few words say fiesta and Mexico as loud and clear as mole does, particularly in the countryside, where this traditional dish is served during important celebrations such as weddings and christenings. Chef Paco´s mole Poblano is so good, I have no doubt that my Pueblan grandma, who was often charged with making the mole for her village’s fiestas patronales*,  would have approved.

Watermelon mojitos: Oh my God!
Watermelon mojitos: Oh my God!

If you visit New Rebozo,  do not miss the cochinita pibil tacos, a delicacy straight from Yucatán. There is a piece of Mexican heaven in every perfectly flavorful bite and they are surprisingly not greasy. The watermelon mojitos are also quite memorable- one sip of those glorious cocktails had my entire table exclaiming in unison: “Oh my God!”

*In Mexico, fiestas patronales are a village’s most important celebration, and are typically dedicated to the patron saint the village is named after.

New Rebozo Chicago

46 E. Superior

Chicago, IL 60611

(312) 202-9141

Open Mon-Sun 12-10 pm

New Rebozo Chicago on Urbanspoon

Méx-O-Logy – Margarita, Señorita

We are very excited to launch our new column, Mex-O-Logy, a space dedicated to sharing recipes and tips so that you can mix your own Mexican-inspired libations.

¡Salud!

Margarita, Señorita

Mexican transplant Myrna Rodríguez, conjures up Mexican-influenced libations.
Mexican transplant Myrna Rodríguez, brings and exciting twist to traditional drinks.

By Myrna Rodríguez

Definitely a drink that makes us think of summer, and actually, one of my favorite cocktails, this Mexican classic is a crowd pleaser. Way before I knew tequila was made of agave, I already thought this cactus was fun: I remember traveling with my family to Guadalajara as a child, and being marveled at the endless fields of agave I could see in the distance.

Margaritas are perfect for your summer cookouts, and very easy to put together. Here is my favorite recipe:

Ingredients:

1 ½ oz tequila

1 oz orange liquor

1 lime juice (freshly squeezed)

¾ oz agave syrup*

* Equal parts agave syrup/boiling water. Let it rest until cold, then use.

I usually shake the margaritas with big ice cubes so that they cool faster. Strain the mix into a rock glass then fill up the glass with fresh ice. Add a wedge of lime to garnish and enjoy!

Photo credit: Myrna Rodríguez
Photo credit: Myrna Rodríguez

A business woman by profession, and a mixologist by passion, Myrna Rodríguez holds a masters degree in business and is a certified mixologist. Inquisitive and creative, she keeps up with new techniques, while drawing inspiration from her two grandmothers (one Mexican and one Honduran). Raised and educated in Monterrey, Mexico, Myrna infuses her recipes with Latin American flavors and ingredients, and brings an exciting twist to traditional drinks.

Find Myrna sampling food around Chicago, or delighting her lucky friends and acquaintances with Mexican-influenced beverages.

My Search for the Holy Grail – The Best Taco al Pastor in Chicago

A few weeks ago, I set out to find the best taco al pastor (‘shepherd-style’ taco) in Chicago. This down-to-earth, charismatic delicacy is a dietary staple of  defeños*, and despite the fact that in Mexico City taco stands abound, any local will tell you that not all tacos al pastor are made equal.  Finding the perfect taquería is almost a rite of passage, one that speaks to the way we connect with our city and beyond- a Mexican’s relationship with their pastor is emotional… personal, mystical.

The Genesis

Finding good tacos (let alone authentic ones) north-of-the-border is not so easy. Our taco al pastor story in April made me aware of the fact that I am not alone in this realization. I asked La Vitamina T readers and friends to submit their favorite al pastor destinations in Chicago. A few Facebook posts and tweets later, I had a list of 18 different establishments  endorsed by locals, among them, several Mexican transplants. Similar to how my friend Dave from New Jersey can recognize a good Philly cheesesteak, I figured recommendations from Mexicans added instant credibility to the suggestions.

This is how my search began.

Below is the final list of nominees. I visited every  establishment on this list without letting the owners or staff know my intention, as I  thought this might  influence the quality of the service:

  1. Atotonilco (I tried the tacos in both locations, Joliet and Chicago)
  2. Big Star
  3. De Cero
  4. El Pastor
  5. El Tío Luis
  6. El Solazo
  7. Indio
  8. La Ciudad
  9. Lagartija
  10. Los Comales
  11. Los Gallos
  12. L´Patrón
  13. Mercadito (tacos al pastor are only a seasonal item, so we did not get to try them)
  14. Rubi’s Market on Maxwell
  15. Taco joint
  16. Taquería Juanito
  17. Tierra Caliente
  18. Zacatacos  (Berwyn location)

Several Pepto Bismol doses and 3 extra pounds later, my wandering through the streets of Chicago and its suburbs came to an end. Dozens of tacos have been sampled and scorecards have been tallied!

 Each taco has been carefully evaluated based on criteria that we believe brings to life un taco al pastor “hecho como Dios manda.” (according to God’s orders)**

 I am now ready to “go tell it on the mountain”!

* Defeño is a Citizen of Mexico City (D.F.)

** Mexicans say something is made como Dios manda (according to God’s orders) when something is accurately accomplished.

The Exodus

If you, like me, have lived in Mexico for the great majority of your life, you will be perplexed to hear what has been smuggled into menus, and sold and passed up across the country for the real deal: some of the most popular and readily available counterfeit versions are stuffed with ground beef and covered with cheese or something resembling cheese; others are called tacos al pastor, and are served with sliced lettuce and tomatoes. Heresy!  In certain places, you might be given a choice of hardshell or softshell taco. During my search I found that even some of the taquerías in predominantly Mexican neighborhoods have lost their way- in their attempt to  to cater to a non Mexican palate, they have begun serving some of these apocryphal versions.

This leads me to provide the following word of caution: If you are visiting Mexico and you are looking for a hardshell taco, you will give yourself away as a tourist. We simply don’t have them. We have tostadas, which have a crunchy surface similar to a totopo, which is considered a completely different plate.

In the northern part of the country, flour tortillas were made popular by the Jewish settlers in the area. Still, you will find that most tacos in Mexico are made with corn tortillas.

Leviticus 

Treating oneself to tacos al pastor is an experience that entails a known ritual. Taquerías usually go from the very informal ´hole-in-the-wall’ joint, to fancier establishments featuring a more elaborate set up. The dynamics are the same across the board, and patrons know what to expect:  quick service, dinner and a show. Taqueros (half cooks, half ninjas) conjure up juicy tacos with meat and pineapple they shave off from a giant spinning skewer, to then catch the pieces in a tortilla with quick, precise movements. They do this gracefully, while keeping tallies, processing new orders, and sometimes, giving change and even interacting with the crowd.

Tacos al pastor must meet the following criteria:

1. Must be roasted vertically in a spit called trompo (top), which is clearly visible.

2. Should be made with pork meat, seasoned with a variety of chilis and achiote, which gives them their color.

3. These tacos are served in small tortillas (about 4 1/2 inches in diameter).

4. Tacos al pastor must include a chunk of grilled pineapple, chopped cilantro, raw onion and limes.

5. Salsas are very important in taquerías, and often times they become and element of differentiation.

6. Lime should be abundant and readily available.

Methodology

Each taco was evaluated using a scale of 1- 5 points for a total of 30 points in six different categories:

  • Meat quality
  • Meat flavor
  • Tortilla size and quality
  • Portion size
  • Accuracy/freshness of ingredients
  • Quality of salsa

Points were assigned using the following scale to score each taco:

1= Disappointing

2= Meh…

3= Ok

4= Really good, but not extraordinary or the real deal

5= Perfect. ¡Órale! Am I in Mexico?

Revelation

I have eaten the fruits of ¨the promised land” and I cannot honestly say that my search led me to tacos al pastor exactly like the ones I would find in Mexico City, but I uncovered some really good ones that will definitely hit the spot.  Overall, I was surprised to find that the meat in the eateries we visited was generally saucier than it is in Mexico. Also, portions are usually much more generous and, for some reason, when it comes to tacos al pastor, those with pineapple are very hard to find.
Many taquerías only take cash, so make sure you stop at an ATM ahead of your visit!

And the Winner is..!

 

De Cero – 28/30 Points

De Cero (The Loop)

Taco al pastor at De Cero,   814 West randolph St., Chicago
Find juicy, spicy tacos al pastor at De Cero, 814 West Randolph St., Chicago

Meat Quality: 5  Meat was absolutely fantastic.  We did not see the trompo, but we asked and confirmed it is indeed there.

Meat Flavor: 4    Flavor is really nice, but the meat has a bit of a kick to it.

Tortilla Size and Quality: 5  Tortillas were fantastic. Perfect size!

Portion Size: 5   Perfect ratio. This bundle of joy offers the perfect burst of flavors in each bite.

Accuracy/Freshness of the Ingredients 5 Really fresh ingredients, a check for cilantro, onion, pineapple (although cubed) and lime! The ratios were so good in each bite, I did not let the cubes deter me.

Salsas 4:  I got red salsa with my order which was really, really  good. 

Note: We attempted to get tacos al pastor at De Cero in three different instances. We were persistent and were able to understand why these tacos fly away. Every bite is perfect. The tacos are a bit spicy (and pricey), so make sure you order an horchata to wash them down and know that the meal will be well worth your money. Luckily, this taquería accepts credit cards, so the amount of cash you brought with you won’t  limit the amount of tacos you enjoy.  I am really intrigued by their tamales verdes. I can´t wait to go back!

First Runner Up

Big Star – 27/30 Points

Big Star (Wicker Park)

Taco al pastor at Big Star, 1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago
Tacos al pastor at Big Star, 1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago

 

Meat Quality: 4  Really good and not too fatty.  Meat was a bit chunky, which is why we did not rate it a 5.

Meat Flavor: 4    Flavor was really nice, maybe a bit sweet, but really good. Saucy, not dry as it should be.

Tortilla Size and Quality: 5 Perfect size. Tortillas were great.

Portion Size: 5 Perfect portion

Accuracy/Freshness of the Ingredients 5 Really fresh ingredients. I loved to see pineapple on them, which is not easy to find, so I did not allow the cubes to worry me.

Salsas 4 Salsa is good and they have chiles toreados (grilled jalapeños), as well as pickled peppers and carrots. But, you will have to order them separately, as they do not come with your order.

Note:

We waited for about 3 hours to get a table at this famous eatery, which was even more difficult considering the aroma around the restaurant teases you with a preview of what is to come. There is a walk-up window with considerably faster service.  The bar is quite a bit noisy, so if this is where you want to hang out, you will have to be prepared to forego conversation and focus on your food, which is well worth it.  Bring cash with you.  They only take cash! Service from the greeters might be a bit rough, but will improve once you sit down.

Second Runner Up 25/30 Points  (Tie)

Taquería San Juanito (Albany Park)

Taco al pastor at Taquería San Juanito 4714 N Kedzie Ave,  Chicago
Taco al pastor at Taquería San Juanito 4714 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago

San Juanito was the only place where the meat was not saucy. I found their meat flavorful, but the taco had no pineapple, which lowered-down their score. Green salsa was particularly memorable.

Zacatacos (Berwyn)

Taco al pastor at Zacataco in Berwyn.
Taco al pastor at Zacatacos 6224 Cermak Rd., Berwyn

Zacatacos in Berwyn features the most tender meat you can possibly imagine. The tacos are a bit bulky and a come in a bigger tortilla, but are still really good. Salsas are amazing.

Of Note:

Bien Trucha (Geneva)

I really liked the concept of Bien Trucha, a modern-looking Mexican restaurant that reminded me of the vibe of restaurants in Mexico City. Food, not kitsch is the focus here, and the execution of the tacos spoke to quality. Also, Bien Trucha was the only establishment that got the pineapple right, as they had just a chunk of it  vs. the cubes I found in other restaurants.  I don’t remember getting any salsa with my tacos and had to ask for lime, but if you have had enough of taco talk, try their guacamole of the day or their Pulparindo cocktail! The photo below is not the best because I did not have very good lighting inside the restaurant.

Tacos al pastor at Bien Trucha 410 W State St, Geneva
Tacos al pastor at Bien Trucha 410 W State St, Geneva

Del Seoul (Lincoln Park)

This was not a taco al pastor and definitely not on the list, but in all fairness, some of the ones I tried were not really tacos al pastor either. This grilled  pork taco, a gift from the streets of LA (where fusion happens everyday) was so incredibly delicious, I thought it deserved to be added. The name of this Lincoln Park gem is code for those who know how to read it: Spanish speakers, will  phonetically  understand “Del Seoul” as “del sol”, or “of the sun”.  Mexican cuisine allegorically represents the sun in a meal with a tortilla.
Brilliant branding, brilliant food!
FInd this taco with tangy grilled pork, onion, cilantro, slaw and sesame seeds at Del Seoul  2568 North Clark Street Chicago
Find this taco with tangy grilled pork, onion, cilantro, slaw and sesame seeds at Del Seoul 2568 North Clark Street
Chicago
De Cero is our reigning champion, but if you think there is a 30/30 taco out there, let us know. In the mean time,  ¡a taquear!

 

Hybrid Animals, Hybrid Celebrations: Mexico’s Day of the Mule

Photo credit: Lissette Storch – Mexico City, Mexico

If you find yourself in Mexico during the months of May or June, and you see mules made out of dried corn leaves being sold everywhere, you might wonder if this handcraft is part of the local charm. It is, but only seasonally. This hybrid mammal appears just in time for the Catholic celebration of Corpus Christi or Día de la Mula (Mule’s Day), and sometimes you may find them stuffed with candy.

Some attribute the association of mules with this festivity to the fact that in the 1500s, the faithful went to church carrying the best of their harvest on their mules to give thanks. This is a nod to pre-Hispanic rituals, in which gratefulness was shown to several deities through offerings.  Even today, more than 500 years later, it is easy to see pre-columbian traditions seeping through modern-day celebrations.

Others explain this whimsical tradition with legends featuring mules kneeling down in reverence. My favorite one is the story of a man who, while wondering if he should dedicate himself to a life of priesthood, asks God for a sign. When he went to church on a Corpus Christi Thursday, he found himself in the midst of a crowd of men and mules. The man said to himself that if God were present, even the mules would kneel down. The story, of course, tells that a mule did.

Curiously, the word “mule” is also used it to refer to someone who is advantageous. If someone wishes you un ‘Feliz Día de las Mulas’ it could be either friendly ribbing, or time to wonder…

Estampas de mi Ciudad – Desayuno Chilango* (Breakfast in D.F.)

Tortas y Licuados  Mexico City, Mexico  Photo by: Brenda Storch
Tortas y Licuados Mexico City, Mexico Photo: Brenda Storch

You may or may not be familiar with the term torta, the Mexican interpretation of a sandwich. Tortas are brought to life using bolillos, a type of bread with the perfect amount of crunch and yield to provide textural contrast. When it comes to this Mexican plate, there are no rules:  budget and imagination are the only boundaries to what you can create. 

Tortas are usually served for lunch, except when they are filled with a tamal, in which case they are called guajolotas or “female turkeys”. This is a popular breakfast meal.  According to some food intellectuals, such peculiar name was given to tamal-stuffed tortas in the early 1900’s, due to the fact that back then, this plate was created with a low-quality bread called guajolote (turkey).

Licuados are close to the concept of a smoothie, with the exception that in Mexico, the fruit is usually mixed with milk and even cereal and raw egg yolks.

Here, licuados are a breakfast staple.

Just like sports have permeated the vernacular in the US, in Mexico, food has found its way into language in a rather ubiquitous way.  For example, the expression, “se comió la torta antes del recreo” (having finished one´s torta before recess) means a couple is expecting a child before getting married.

This photo was taken at one of the handful of stands offering tortas and licuados  in downtown Mexico City.

*Chilango is a term to refer to someone from Mexico City.

Uno de los Siete Moles de Oaxaca: El Mole Amarillo

Foto: Manuel Rivera
Foto: Manuel Rivera

Sin lugar a dudas, el mole es una de las grandes estrellas de la comida mexicana. Aunque  diferentes historias sobre su origen hacen de Puebla el marco del génesis de este manjar, es en Oaxaca, el quinto estado más grande de la República Mexicana, donde el mole se ejecuta en una gran variedad de formas.  Oaxaca tiene siete moles:  negro, coloradito, amarillo, verde, chichilo, rojo y almendrado. Estos moles representan los ingredientes y la diversidad cultural de  cada una de las regiones oaxaqueñas.

Desde el complejo mole negro que requiere de más de 30 ingredientes para su conjuro, hasta el almendrado, cada uno de estos moles es tan delicioso y diferente como el que le sigue. Hoy, el chef Aldo nos trae a Nuestra Mesa, la receta para hacer mole amarillo. Aunque este mole es tradicionalmente hecho con carne de res, esta versión incorpora carne de pollo.

INGREDIENTES 

(Rinde para 6 personas)

  • 3 chiles guajillos
  • 1 jitomate mediano
  • 1 tomate verde
  • 2 piezas de clavo de olor
  • 2 piezas de pimienta gorda
  • 1 cucharadita de orégano
  • 1 hoja de hierba santa
  • 200 gramos de masa de maíz
  • 1 litro de consomé de pollo
  • 1 1/2 kilo de pollo cortado en piezas y cocido
  • 200 gramos de ejotes limpios, cortados y cocidos
  • 2 chayotes cortados en cubos grandes y cocidos
  • Sal al gusto

PREPARACIÓN

  1. Pon a cocer el chile y el jitomate en poca agua. Esto muele con las especias, con excepción de la hoja santa. Cuela.
  2. Añade el consomé de pollo y pon a hervir en una cacerola, agregando la hoja santa y sal al gusto.
  3. Poco a poco y sin dejar de mover, agrega la masa licuada con un poco de agua hasta formar un atole. Continúa cociendo hasta que esté espeso, cuidando de no subir la flama.
  4. Al servirlo se agregan las verduras y el pollo.

¡Acompaña con tortillas!

El chef Aldo Saavedra ha cocinado para huéspedes de establecimientos como el conocido Hotel Condesa D.F. y ha contribuído con sus recetas en proyectos con marcas de la talla de Larousse y Danone. En Nuestra Mesa, el chef Saavedra comparte con los lectores de La Vitamina T, su pasión por la cocina y por México.