Maita’s Arepas; How to make Arepas in 10 easy steps

Maita’s Arepas

We have a market near our home that sells locally grown fresh vegetables for great prices. Like green, red and yellow bell peppers for $ 0.69 each, or bags of large carrots for just $1.

It’s wonderful to my husband and I, because we budget a certain amount of money each week for groceries and also because it allows us to purchase great fresh produce for healthy meals.

Last week we bought some fresh sweet corn – my husband intended to either make grits or cornbread with it.

He didn’t.

But seeing the ears of corn reminded me of a time in my youth, when I lived in Venezuela. And they reminded me of my grandmother, Isabel. We called her “Maita.”

I remember visiting Maita knowing that she was going to cook arepas, a Venezuelan bread made from corn meal, thicker than a tortilla, but thinner than a biscuit. She would cook something different each visit, but one thing always remained a constant in her kitchen – the arepas. And when Maita cooked arepas, she made them from scratch.

Maita was from the countryside, but lived in a town, so her house was not like the countryside she grew up in. But she had a miniature farm of sorts.

She had ducks and chickens, all kinds of herbs and vegetables, several fruit trees – all on a small scale compared to the farm she and my grandfather, Abuelito Gabino, owned in another area.

She had a grinder on the corner of the heavy, red, wooden dining room table. She would use it to grind fresh coffee, corn, meats, and grains.

My brothers and I would fight over who would get to grind corn and coffee for her. Anytime we arrived at her home and saw the corn sitting on the table, we would get excited at the prospect of using the grinder!

I see now that she was subtly making us work, but at the time, we just thought it was fun.

So once the corn was ground, she would make corn flour, then would add the flour to some salt water and mix it. She never used measures, but cooked on sight, scents and tastes alone. Even if there were a recipe, she may not have been able to read it anyway.

Maita grew up in an era of dictatorship in Venezuela; an era when women were not permitted to attend school, so she never learned to read or write. But she was no fool, and nobody could make a fool of her.

Though she couldn’t read words, she could read people, and knew when others were trying to cheat her, which, as she grew older, rarely happened. People actually began to fear her because of her straightforwardness, sternness and stubbornness.

She, to me, was proof that nothing can limit you except yourself and your attitude toward life.

So, once the flour became a dough, she rolled the dough into balls and formed the arepa discs with her hands. Her hands were like decades of life lessons and large family gatherings.

As a young woman, she adopted four of her nieces and nephews after their mother – her sister – died. So while in her early-to-mid 20s, Maita was caring for her mother and four children, all by herself. She went on to marry Gabino by age 30.

For years before marriage, she honed her culinary skills out of necessity.

She used her hands for everything.

I remember each arepa having indentions of Maita’s small-but-strong fingers.

Her fingers were as strong as her will – a will that decided life wasn’t going to determine her success or her children’s success. A will that never allowed her to give up.

In fact, once married, she and Gabino had 3 sons and a daughter. All of whom went to college, graduated and had families.

She proved to me that your limitations don’t have to be your offspring’s limitations.

She would cook the arepas on a dry skillet and never used a spatula. She would flip each arepa by hand.

She even used her hands to discern if the arepas were ready. She had a way to tell when each arepa was finished – she would pick them up and slap them with her finger. She’d determine the arepa’s readiness based on the thumping sound it made.

She always made 2 giant arepas for Abuelito’s lunch, and even when we weren’t there to help her cook, we would eat her arepas because every day she’d send a basketful home to us by way of my father.

She lived into her 80’s and died in 2007, just a couple of years after my family moved to Mexico.

Maita loved cooking. She loved cooking arepas. But most of all, she loved cooking arepas for us. It was one of her many ways of showing how much she loved us.

 

Now, I’ll give you a quick tutorial of how to make arepas like Maita (without the fresh ground corn)!

 

* (In the US or other countries: You can find “Harina PAN” -A special Corn meal for arepas- in Latino stores or supermarkets with a wide variety of international items).


 

How to make arepas in 10 easy steps (tutorial with picture guide)

  1. 1 Cup of warm water (this is for enough arepas for 2 people) in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
  2. Add a teaspoon of salt to warm water.
  3. Slowly mix Harina P.A.N. into water

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until smooth

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until it thickens (into mashed potato-like consistency).

4. Let sit for a few minutes while you turn on the stovetop or griddle to medium-low heat and prepare your non-stick pan.

5. Roll dough into balls

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6. Flatten dough ball into arepa

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7. Place arepas on cooking surface on medium-low heat

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8. Cook approx. 7 minutes on each side (this really depends on the pan, but see photo below for what arepa should look like)

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and cover to keep moisture in

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9. Remove from heat once they are ready. You’ll know they’re ready when they make a hollow sound when thumped in the center (see video below)

When arepas are ready

10. Cut open and fill with cheese, meat, or anything you want and enjoy!

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Dulce Tailandia, Dulce arroz con mango

Amo Tailandia!

 

Todo sobre ella: su gente, sus paisajes, la comida… Si… especialmente, la comida.

 

Hace unas semanas – a principios de Abril – cuando se acercaban las fechas en que se celebra el Año nuevo Tailandés, quise celebrar con uno de mis platillos tailandeses favorito: Mango Sticky Rice (Postre hecho a base de Arroz con mango y leche de coco)

 

En 2011, pase un poco mas de un mes en Tailandia. En aquel tiempo, acababa de llegar a Singapur, y tenia un contacto en Tailandia que estaba encargada de un orfanato, a quien decidí ir a ayudar, y también para explorar el país, con la intención de mudarme como misionera ahí.

 

Y déjame contarte que de verdad tuve la oportunidad de explorar.

 

Cuando llegue a Bangkok, llame desde el aeropuerto a mi único contacto en la ciudad, para confirmar en donde nos veríamos. Ella contesto, y me dijo que no estaba en la ciudad por el momento “regresa después”.

 

“Regresa después??” Como si se tratara de mi llegando después del horario de apertura de un supermercado. Esto era mas serio que llegar después de que cerraron la tienda – Yo estaba en un país completamente nuevo y mi único contacto me acababa de decir “regresa después”.

 

Sentí mucho miedo. Este era mi primer viaje a un lugar completamente desconocido.

 

Me sentí frustrada, y tiendo a culparme cuando las cosas no funcionan.

 

Enmudecí y me quede paralizada. Pensando “vete”, pero no tenia dinero para pagar un viaje de regreso. No sabia que hacer, a donde ir, a quien llamar.

 

Ni siquiera sabia como salir del aeropuerto.

 

Mi plan había fracasado.

 

Volví a la realidad – Necesitaba hacer algo. No podía solamente sentarme en el aeropuerto de Bangkok.

 

Todos mis miedos de pronto tornaron repentinamente en una nueva fuerza.

 

No se si tu que estas leyendo, crees en Dios, pero en ese momento, sentí una fuerza tan grande desde mis entrañas que la única palabra para explicarla es Dios.

El me dijo “Viniste hasta acá desde México. Saca el mejor provecho de esta oportunidad”. Sabia que Dios me había llevado a Tailandia con un propósito.

 

Los planes cambian, pero siempre hay un propósito, y normalmente, es bueno.

 

Y fue así como las cosas empezaron pasar.

 

Mis primeros días en Bangkok me aloje en una habitación en donde el único sonido que podía oír durante la noche, fueron las ratas corriendo por toda la habitación.

 

Pero sabia que de alguna manera, las cosas iban a mejorar.

 

Pocos días después de mi llegada, una muy buena amiga mía, vio una publicación que hice en Facebook y me contacto. Me dijo que se había mudado recientemente a Tailandia y vio que estábamos en la misma ciudad, así que me ofreció hospedaje, para que me quedara con ella y su bella familia.

 

En ese momento, pase de dormir en una habitación junto a ratas, a dormir en una casa junto al lago!

 

Los acontecimientos que tuvieron lugar en ese tiempo son lo que dieron forma al amor que siento por Tailandia.

 

Me di cuenta de que no necesitas pasar un tiempo muy largo con alguien para convertirte en alguien notable en su vida.

 

Pase varias semanas entre Bangkok – La mega ciudad, Chiang Mai – las áreas extremadamente turísticas, Mae Sot – la frontera con Myanmar, y Korat – la zona de campos del país.

 

Decidí que me mudaría a Tailandia.

 

Mi idea era volver a Singapur, recoger mis maletas y volver a Korat en dos semanas.

 

Ciertas circunstancias cambiaron mis planes y nunca volví. Hasta el día de hoy, me persigue esa idea… preguntándome que habría sido aquello que no sucedió.

 

Pero como dije antes, los planes cambian. Y siempre he sido del tipo de persona que sigue caminando a pesar de la tormenta.

 

Pensé en los altos y bajos de aquel viaje a Tailandia. Desde el temor aterrador que me paralizo al principio de mi viaje, hasta el primer día que salí a explorar la ciudad de Bangkok, comiendo Mango Sticky Rice (Dulce de Arroz y mango con leche de coco), ese viaje fue colorido con belleza total.

 

Recuerdo caminar por la ciudad, tomando tuk tuks, perdiéndome y encontrándome de nuevo una y otra vez. Me encontré un mercado en la calle (tianguis). Y me arriesgue a ordenar ese postre de arroz y mango.

 

Fue tan delicioso que cada que pude pedí el mismo postre en cada restaurante tailandés (probablemente si lo encuentro en el menú de algún restaurante local lo pido).

 

Todos estos pensamientos inundaron mi mente, supe que tenia que preparar este postre, solamente para satisfacer mi propio antojo.

 

No pude hacer el platillo inmediatamente. Porque se necesita equipo especial para prepararlo correctamente. Necesitaba comprar un Vaporizador de Bambú.

 

Encontré uno en oferta en un mercadito asiático local, pero se puede conseguir en línea por menos de 10 dólares.

 

Prueba esta receta y enamórate de Tailandia como yo lo hice. La preparación de este platillo requiere un poquito mas de dificultad que para otras recetas que he compartido (porque son varias cosas al mismo tiempo). Trata, valdrá la pena hacerlo.

 


 

DULCE DE ARROZ Y MANGO CON LECHE DE COCO – Mango Sticky Rice

(3 personas)

Ingredientes:

Salsa de coco dulce y Arroz:

1 Taza de arroz dulce glutinoso

2/3 Taza de leche de coco

1/4 Cucharadita de sal

1/2 Taza de azúcar

Salsa de coco salada:

1/2 Taza de leche de coco

1/4 Cucharadita de sal

1 Cucharadita de harina de arroz / Maicena

1 Cucharadas de agua

2 Cucharadas de Mung beans tostados/ Semillas de sésamo tostadas.

2 Mango fresco pelado y cortado cuidadosamente en rodajas gruesas.

INSTRUCCIONES:

[Arroz glutinoso y Salsa Dulce]

Enjuaga el arroz en un tazón y disipar el agua hasta que el agua sea clara.

Déjalo remojando en agua durante la noche (o por unas pocas horas antes de cocinar).

A la mañana siguiente, cuela y escurre muy bien el agua.

Pon el arroz a cocer en la vaporear de bambú. Coloca una tapa encima del arroz para guardar el vapor.
(Nota: Yo tenia un pedazo de gasa en la cocina y lo puse en la parte superior del arroz antes de poner la tapa, sólo para asegurarme de que mantenía el vapor.)

Cuece a vapor sobre el agua hirviendo durante unos 30 minutos.

Mientras se cuece el arroz, en una olla pequeña a parte, a fuego medio, mezcla la leche de coco, el azúcar y la sal. Revuelve hasta que el azúcar se disuelva y apaga el fuego.

(No quieres cocinarlo durante mucho tiempo, usa el calor sólo para mezclar los ingredientes. Una vez terminado, ponlo a un lado y mantenlo caliente con su tapa puesta).

Una vez que el arroz se ha cocido, vacíalo en un recipiente y vierte inmediatamente la mezcla del dulce de leche. Revuelve y tápalo muy bien.

Es importante trabajar tan rápido como sea posible para mantener el arroz caliente.

De esta manera, mientras descansa, el arroz absorberá todo el líquido del dulce de leche.

Deja reposar durante unos 20 minutos. Después de que el tiempo haya pasado, abre y revuelve cuidadosamente otra vez. Déjalo reposar por lo menos otros 20 minutos.

Si no tienes vaporera de bambú, utiliza una vaporera de metal con una gaza alrededor del arroz para evitar que caiga en el agua hirviendo al fondo de la olla. O puedes tratar en la estufa.

Yo nunca he tratado de hacerlo de esta manera, pero aquí es una sugerencia:

Por cada 1 taza de arroz añade 1 y 1/4 Taza de agua.

Deja hervir con la tapa hasta que haya absorbido el agua (No agitar). Una vez que ha absorbido toda el agua, retíralo del calor con la tapa puesta y dejarlo reposar durante 10 minutos.

Salsa de Coco Salada:

Mezcle la harina de arroz / Maicena en agua hasta que ese disuelva.

En una olla pequeña, agrega la leche de coco, la sal y la mezcla de harina con agua. Cocina a fuego medio-bajo

Revuelve hasta que comience a hervir y a espesarse.

Apaga el fuego y déjalo enfriar.

(No lo cocines demasiado tiempo, sólo hasta que hierve la primera vez y comienza a engrosar, de lo contrario la leche de coco se disolverá y tendrás que empezar todo de nuevo!)

¡Si tus Mung beans (Moon beans) o las semillas del sésamo no están tostadas, tu puedes tostarlas!

Para los Mung beans: Hierve en una olla pequeña hasta que estén suaves.

Una vez suaves. Cuela el agua y colocarlos en toallas de papel, para que absorba el exceso de agua.

Tuéstalos en una sartén seco a fuego medio durante 3-5 minutos o hasta que estén ligeramente dorados, revolviendo de vez en cuando.

Semillas de sésamo: solo tuéstalos en el sartén hasta que doren.

Sirve una porción del dulce de arroz junto a algunas rebanadas de mango y añade un poco de la salsa de coco salado en la parte superior del arroz.

Espolvorea algunas de las semillas tostadas de Mung beans/ semillas de sésamo.

¡Disfruta!

Cocinando en Frances – Coq Au Vin

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Me pare en mi cocina el Domingo por la tarde y empecé a acomodar los trastes que se habían quedado desde la noche anterior secando. Teníamos amigos que nos visitarían para la cena y quería asegurarme de que todo estuviera en orden.

 

Mi esposo acababa de prender la televisión en la sala y vino a la cocina a preparar una “botanita” (pasapalo) que nos mantuviera sin tanta hambre hasta la hora que nuestros invitados llegaran para la cena.

 

Abrió el refrigerador y buscando entre los gabinetes, encontró los restos de un trozo de salami ruso que compramos la semana pasada en una tienda europea que encontramos en Baton Rouge. Después, encontró y abrió un paquete de queso de chivo y se fue a la alacena buscando galletas saladas.

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Corto en rebanadas delgadas el salami, apretó el plástico que cubría el queso, tomo las galletas, acomodando todo sobre nuestra tabla de madera camboyana Vandywood, convirtiéndola en una tabla de queso y charcutería, y me pregunto si quería un poco antes de que se regresara a la sala, para lo que indudablemente seria su “siesta dominguera”. Mi esposo necesita tomar una “siesta” los domingos por la tarde… Aparentemente que siente la necesidad de hacerlo, como un niño.

 

Mientras veía la preciosa bandeja de charcutería que Aarón hizo, recordé que hace un tiempo no muy largo, cuando mi mama y yo viajamos a por España, Italia y Francia, en nuestro camino para visitar a unos queridos amigos en el Reino Unido. Fue en Francia, que descubrí la esencia de la degustación de vinos y quesos.

 

Ese viaje fue hace cerca de dos años. Rente una habitación en un hotel muy pintoresco para mi madre y para mi en Paris.

 

El hotel era pequeño, pero lo suficientemente grande para tener un elevador, muy antiguo por cierto. Cuando hice la reservación, elegí la opción menos costosa porque estábamos viajando bajo presupuesto. Sin embargo, una vez que llegamos, el personal del hotel fue caluroso y atento; cuando nos vieron, nos ascendieron a una habitación con vista a la Torre Eiffel. Quizás, fue el hecho de que éramos una madre y su hija viajando y explorando vida juntas lo que los hizo ser mas generosos con nosotras.

 

El hotel ofrecía una degustación de vino y quesos cada noche. Yo había estado en degustaciones de vino y queso antes en mi vida, pero esta vez fue muy diferente! El queso era cremoso y muy sabroso; y el vino, emparejado con el queso, tenia sabores que nunca había notado antes en vino.

 

Siempre había oído a gente describiendo vinos – diciendo cosas como “es acido, o afrutado, o con sabor a nuez – honestamente, esta fue la primera vez que detecte esos sabores por mi misma. O tal vez, fue solo el hecho de que estaba en Paris, y la idea romántica del vino, queso y pan me envolvió… soy una romántica empedernida!

 

Durante ese tiempo, me acerque mas a mi mama, de una manera inexplicable. Reímos juntas, aprendimos sobre otras culturas juntas, conocimos a gente nueva juntas … y todo en un viaje en el que yo no estaba incluida.

 

Inicialmente, mi papa viajaría con mamá, pero debido a una situación con su pasaporte venezolano y retardos en una visa, no pudo ir, así que tome su lugar. (también fue bueno, porque hablo inglés y estudié francés e italiano en la escuela.)

 

Acomode el último de los platos, preparándome para nuestros invitados a la cena, me serví otra galleta con salami y queso de cabra, y empecé a recordar mi primera vez cocinando comida francesa – en la universidad, mientras estudiaba francés.

 

En la escuela a la que asistí en la Ciudad de México, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), al estudiar una lengua extranjera, nos sumergíamos en la cultura de esa lengua.

 

Así que para francés, aprendimos el idioma y entre otras cosas, algo de cocina francesa. Aunque mis habilidades en el idioma francés se han desmoronado con el paso del tiempo en mi memoria (ahora estoy tratando de recuperarlo), no creo olvidar jamás algo que una de mis profesoras nos enseñó a cocinar.

 

Coq Au Vin – Pollo al vino

 

Quizás por lo sabroso que fue, o, probablemente, lo recuerdo muy bien por las risas y la diversión que tuvimos durante su preparación con mis compañeros de clase. Como cuando supe que mi amiga/compañera de clase había contrabandeado dos botellas de vino al salón de clases para poder preparar el platillo.

 

Cuando empecé a recordar aquel Coq Au Vin, los ingredientes comenzaron a volver a mi memoria, y decidí tratar de reconstruir aquella deliciosa comida francesa… claro, sin el contrabando de vino!

 


Coq Au Vin

(Para 2 personas)

 

(Todas las medidas son aproximaciones. Yo fui ajustando las medidas conforme fui cocinando)

 

Ingredientes:

2 Piezas de muslo con piernas con hueso y piel

1 Taza de vino tinto. Tradicionalmente Burgundy (No teníamos Burgundy, así que usé Merlot – pero cualquier vino tinto seco esta bien.)

3 Tiras de Bacon cortadas en trozos (Aprox. 1/2 pulgada)

¼ Libra (1 Taza) de Champiñones, cortados en mitades

½ Cebolla amarilla picada finamente

1 Cucharadita de Aceite de oliva

1 Cucharadita de Tomillo seco (Usa un par de tallos de tomillo fresco en lugar de si puedes!!)

4 Cucharadas de mantequilla (media barra de mantequilla)

1 Cucharada de harina

½ Taza de caldo de pollo

Pimienta al gusto

Sal al gusto

 

INSTRUCCIONES:

 

Sazona el pollo con sal y pimienta. Déjalo a un lado reposando.

Precalienta el horno a 375* F (190*C)

En la estufa coloca el tocino en una cacerola – o sartén amplio – (Debe ser sartén/olla para hornear, porque mas adelante en la receta la meterás al horno)

Una vez cocido y crujiente, retira el tocino del fuego, escurriéndolo y dejando grasa en el sartén. (Si notas exceso de grasa, puedes retirar un poco)

Coloca el pollo en el sartén con la grasa del tocino. Cocina a fuego medio-alto hasta que la piel esté dorada y crujiente – no te preocupes por cocinar el pollo completamente en este paso. Se cocinará más tarde. Por ahora solo queremos darle color al pollo.

Una vez dorado, retira el pollo y colócalo a un lado.

En el mismo aceite, saltea la cebolla hasta que quede translúcida. Agrega los champiñones y cuece hasta que estén ligeramente dorados.

Añade la mantequilla hasta que se derrita y agrega la harina. Mezcla. Este paso engrosará su salsa.

Una vez muy bien mezclado, agrega el vino mientras que la cacerola esté a fuego medio por cerca de 5 minutos (en lo que se consume el alcohol). Añadir el tomillo y dejar cocer durante otros 5 minutos.

Agregue el tocino que se dejó a un lado. Vierte poco a poco el caldo de pollo, y deja cocinar unos minutos, moviéndolo según sea necesario. Prueba el caldo, añade mas sal o tomillo si es necesario.

Añade el pollo, sube la flama a fuego alto y baña (vierte cucharadas de la mezcla liquida sobre la carne) durante aprox. 2 minutos. Toma el sartén y con cuidado, colócalo en el horno en 375*F durante unos 45 minutos.

A los 30 minutos, abre el horno y con cuidado, de nuevo baña el pollo con cucharadas del jugo. Cierra el horno y déjalo terminar la cocción. Si ves que el pollo está listo antes de que los 45 minutos, sácalo del horno – El horno de cada casa trabaja diferente!

Retira del horno y dejar enfriar un poco.

¡Sírvelo con verduras frescas y Bon Appetite!

Tacos Dorados (Taquitos)

During the Easter season in most Latin American countries, many people refrain from eating meat. The month leading up to Easter is the Catholic season of Lent – and most Latin American countries have deep rooted Catholic backgrounds.

This is a time when lots of seafood is consumed.

Growing up, though, my family wasn’t Catholic. So during the Lent season, we were one of the only families around that was eating meat regularly. (Also, my mom didn’t like cooking seafood because of the lingering fishy scent.)

Last week, as I was thinking about Lent and seafood, and the fact that my family continued eating meats throughout the season, I was reminded of a time I was served some of the best fish soup I’ve ever eaten.

Before you get your hopes too high, I’ll tell you that this post is not about that delicious soup – though I am going to track down that recipe for a later date. Now, in Mexico we eat tacos dorados with soup, much like in many places soups are served with sandwiches or loaves of bread. Today’s post is about that delectable, crispy bite of comfort that’s often served with a soup and can stand alone just as well – Tacos Dorados.

It was a few weeks before Easter in the early 2000’s when a college classmate and friend looked over at me and said, “Hey, let’s get a group together and go to Acapulco.”

So, naturally, as I am full of spontaneity I said, “Yeah! That would be fun. Let’s do it!”

Within 24 hours, a group of five of us were on our way from Mexico City to Acapulco – about a 4-5 hour drive. In the group were my friend and his brother and sister, and my brother and me.

We had family friends that owned a house in Acapulco, and were away on a vacation of their own, who said we could use their house during our stay, so we were prepared for a non-expensive miniature beach vacation among friends.

The only expenses we would incur would be food and gasoline.

Then, on our way to Acapulco, I remembered that I had a friend who lived right outside of the city – in El Coloso. This friend, Eli (pronounced Eh-lee), would eventually become my best friend, traveling companion, and maid of honor. (In fact, we always talk about how, in that time, we never thought we’d be living in a Malaysian jungle together, or getting a free flight to Hawaii together, or getting lost together in different parts of the planet.)

I messaged her, and she replied telling me she would be in class on the day of our arrival.

Once we arrived in Acapulco and reached one of the most known beaches, we looked around and were all, frankly, quite disappointed. That’s when I decided to call Eli, who had just finished her college classes for the day.

Eli brought us away from the touristic areas and to the most beautiful local beaches with golden sands and crystal clear water nestled in between two mountain peaks. Needless to say, we were excited to find such a lovely area, and we decided that is where would continue our vacation the following morning.

That next day, Eli’s mother – Mama Berna – sent, with her daughter, some fish soup and tacos dorados for us to enjoy on the beach.

I grabbed a taco and poured some soup in a container and tasted both. As expected, the taco was perfection, but the soup surprised me with its delicate and intrinsic flavors.

Usually, fish soup is strong – it’s aftertaste and smell overpowers

This soup, however, was not that. The fish wasn’t soggy. It’s consistency was pure. The vegetables had a nice fish taste, but didn’t lose their vegetable essence.

I remember thinking a hot soup would not be good for a day at the beach, but it was actually light and refreshing and perfect for a beach day.

Seriously, I will get that recipe and make it for this blog one day.

Maybe the reason I thought the food was so good that day was because Mama Berna did not know us – we were just friends of her daughter – and she went out of her way to show us such love and hospitality.

Mama Berna really became someone very special to me that day – even without knowing her until later. She made that food with love and gave it to us without asking for anything in return.

That day changed all my thoughts on fish. It made me more open to seafood – as my mother didn’t cook seafood and we didn’t live in an area where seafood was fresh and readily available.

My little brother, Jorge, on the other hand, was not as open to anything seafood. He refused to taste the soup and missed out on a real delight. He didn’t care about the soup. So we didn’t care about him.

“Whatever,” I said. “Just eat sand.”

So we ate. We finished the soup and turned toward that heaping plate of about 50 Tacos Dorados, which I had already enjoyed eating one earlier, with my soup.

They were gone.

Jorge had eaten the entire plate of Tacos Dorados.

Still, to this day, when I think of Tacos Dorados, I think of what they probably would have tasted like after that delicious fish soup. And in my dear brother, this is one of his favorite dishes.

All that said, this is a great Mexican dish to enjoy with friends and family, especially with little ones who like to eat with their hands!

 

Enjoy!


 

TACOS DORADOS

The biggest issue of Tacos Dorados is that you must have access to corn tortillas, or at least MASECA corn flour.

Either purchase corn tortillas from your local grocer, or follow the instructions to make tortillas on the package of MaSeCa. I like to make my own tortillas, which is pretty easy.

 

— To make corn tortillas, add water to MASECA corn flour (use amount directed on package) and salt; then knead. Roll into balls and flatten to thin-ness of a tortilla. Place on dry skillet on medium heat and cook both sides. —

 

The tacos, traditionally, are filled with cooked shredded chicken, beef, or boiled and seasoned potatoes.

DIRECTIONS:

  • Heat tortilla in microwave or stovetop, remove from heat, and place line of meat/potatoes in the middle of the tortilla.
  • Take one edge of the tortilla and reach toward the protein, and pull it toward the edge as you roll the tortilla tightly – Be careful not to spill out any of the meat/potatoes.
  • Once rolled, seal the end with a toothpick. The toothpick keeps the taco closed once placed in the hot oil. Use more than one toothpick if necessary.
  • Place oil (vegetable oil, canola oil, etc.) in a pan and bring to medium-high heat.
  • Place tacos into hot oil and fry until golden and crispy on all sides. If you have a fryer, this process is much easier.
  • Put the tacos on a platter with napkins or paper towels underneath to allow excess oil to drain.

At this point, once cooled, remove toothpicks and the Tacos Dorados are ready to be consumed. You can eat them alone as a snack, with a soup, or as a meal topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, avocados, salsa and whatever else your heart desires.

Pasticho: The Venezuelan Lasagna

While scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post from a friend of mine who lives in Venezuela, or so I thought. In his post, he was informing his friends that he had recently moved to Europe and was apologizing to all the people he was unable to say goodbye to.

I got a bit sentimental and said, “No. He’s the last one of the guys. He can’t leave!”

This friend – Pedro – was someone that was a childhood friend; one of several in a group of us who lived in the same apartment complex as children; we have all continued to stay in touch with one another throughout the years.

I spent the first 13 years of my life in Venezuela, before moving to Mexico. Most of the others in this group of friends in Venezuela moved away as well. Pedro was the last of us that remained.

I started thinking about those childhood days, living in that residential apartment complex. We didn’t have to go outside to play, we would just meet downstairs in the lobby area every day after getting home from school and doing homework. That’s why this group became so close.

There were 12 apartments in the building, four to each floor, and each family knew the others.

I remember making friends with the Italian family in the apartment above mine. I’m not exactly certain if they were in the country for business purposes, for family, or for some other reason, but I was glad they were there.

Venezuela, in that era, had a thriving petroleum industry, and many Europeans immigrated there in the 1940s-1980s as they left their war torn countries, seeking asylum and a better life for their families.

We had a lot of immigrants from Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Arab nations. In the ’60s, Venezuela was becoming known as the “Dubai of Latin America.” One of the most beautiful things about Venezuela is the combination of people and their traditions, and the fact that no matter the color of a person’s skin, or the accent of one’s tongue, we’re all proud to be Venezuelan.

As I’ve grown older, I have realized the influence other countries have had on Venezuela through the many years, especially in food.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to travel through Europe – My mother and I visited several countries, including France, UK, Spain, and Italy.

The first meal I ate while in Italy was lasagna. When I had that first bite of authentic Italian lasagna, my firth thought was, “wow, this tastes a lot like pasticho!”

So, a couple days ago when my friend posted that he would be leaving Venezuela, so many thoughts ran through my head, but nearly all of them ended at the same point: I want pasticho.

Pasticho is basically Venezuelan lasagna, but instead of marinara, we use a béchamel sauce, which is made with a milk-based roux.

This was one of my favorite meals as a little girl – and it’s still one of my all-time favorites.

Mom would cook the dish for me every year for my birthday. It reminds me of a simpler time; some of the best years of my life. It reminds me of myself – a mixture of flavors, some strong, some soft; a fusion of cultures, but very Venezuelan. A perfect mess.

In fact, the word “Pasticho” translated from Italian to English means “mess.”

So today, I made Pasticho. It’s similar to lasagna, but made with a cream sauce. Try it. I think you’ll like it. It is Venezuela.

 


 

Pasticho

(feeds 3-4 people)

 

Béchamel:

2 Cups of Milk

1 tsp Corn starch (maizena)

1 tsp All-purpose flour*

4 tsp Butter

1 pinch Nutmeg

1 pinch Salt

*If you don’t have cornstarch substitute it with flour.

Melt butter in the pan, on medium heat. When it starts to brown, add corn starch and flour. Continue stirring constantly, and add milk until the mix becomes smooth.

Add nutmeg and salt.

Once you get the consistency wanted take it out of the stove and letting seat in a side. (Consider that when it cools down the consistency is going to get a little thicker than when you first take it out of the fire).

** If the béchamel is too thick, add a little more of milk. If it is too light, let it simmer on low heat, stirring constantly.

 

Meat sauce and pasticho construction

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 Box of Lasagna pasta

1 lb ground beef

5 Chopped Tomatoes

1 clove Garlic chopped

1 Onion, finely chopped

1 Red bell pepper, finely chopped (optional)

1/2 Cup Red wine (I used brandy this time because we didn’t have red wine, and I really liked the results)

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Approx 7-10 stalks of fresh Parsley, finely chopped

Approx 10-12 large leaves of fresh Basil, finely chopped

1 tsp Oregano

1 bay leaf

1 pinch cumin

Pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste

2 cups Mozzarella cheese

Parmesan cheese

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive oil in large pan on medium heat and sauté garlic, onion and red bell pepper. Add tomatoes. When vegetable mix starts changing color, take half of it and blend.

Add blended mix back into vegetable mix.

Add ground beef, mix, and cook.

Add red wine and allow to simmer on low-medium heat for about 10 minutes to cook out alcohol.

Add Worcestershire Sauce, herbs, cumin, salt, pepper and bay leaf and let simmer on low for about 15 minutes.

In a square baking dish, coat sides with butter and place a few scoops of béchamel sauce on bottom of dish.

Place lasagna sheet(s) across bottom in layer-style.

Layer lasagna sheets, béchamel, meat mixture, and cheese. Then add another layer of pasta sheet, béchamel, meat and cheese – until ingredients are finished.

The last layer should be béchamel sauce with a thick layer of mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake on 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Remove aluminum foil and place uncovered dish back into oven for another 5 minutes to allow cheese to brown.

Remove from heat. Let cool.

Serve

New Orleans style Red Beans and Rice

Just the other day, Joha and I were walking through a grocery store aisle to buy some rice, which has become an essential food item in our household.

As we picked up the rice, I noticed bags of red beans placed nearby – living in South Louisiana, these items are synonymous with one another.

For those unfamiliar with this southern, more notably creole, delight, Red Beans and Rice is an extremely common meal throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. It’s served in every school cafeteria, usually on Mondays.

Why Mondays? Well, historically in the South, Sundays were for large meals for the family after church, usually consisting of a Sunday Ham and lots of vegetables and such, while Mondays were when the men went back to work, the children went back to school, and the women washed all the clothes. So on those Mondays, the mothers would repurpose the ham bone and cook it with red beans on the stove all day while they were outside washing. That’s why Red Beans and Rice is known in the South as a Monday dish.

As a homeschool student, I didn’t know about the Monday recurrence until I was in college when I noticed the pattern.

Every Monday for four years, Red Beans and Rice was on the cafeteria buffet line. Every single Monday. And though I didn’t eat it every single week, I loved it.

I grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi – an hour East of New Orleans; then after high school and junior college, I went to Louisiana State University and moved to Baton Rouge – an hour West of New Orleans.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the world famous New Orleans, working as a musician – singing on Frenchmen and Bourbon streets; and as a photographer, catching the unique beauty; and simply exploring what the city has to offer.

It’s almost as though New Orleans is a magnet to me, and I am drawn to it and its eccentricities; its music. And especially its food.

So as we stood in the grocery store aisle between the rice and the red beans, I said, “hey, you want to make red beans and rice?”

“Yeah, let’s do that!” she responded.

I’ve only cooked the dish once before, and I learned a lot from the first experience, so I was determined to make a good pot and show Joha the basics of creole flavors that I’ve learned throughout the years. Basics, like the term “trinity” (which is onion, bell pepper, and celery), what’s in a decent roux, and what spices are in most “Cajun seasonings” (salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper in varying proportions, give or take a couple ingredients).

To many around the South, this dish reminds them of their childhoods, but to me (because I really wasn’t completely enveloped in the Red Beans and Rice Mondays culture until later in life) it reminds me of music – in particularly, Jazz music.

I remember going to a recording studio last year and laying down vocal tracks for a friend’s band’s upcoming album.

The studio was just like New Orleans – it was small; felt like it was once someone’s home; it had tons of history plastered on the walls with photos and art; and was filled with music, with instruments everywhere and even embedded in the artwork around the studio’s entirety.

I sang the song I was to be featured on, and then we played around with some vocal parts to other songs, and just had a good time listening to parts of the unreleased album.

Then I left and drove a few blocks away to a place that’s been said to have the best fried chicken in America – Willie Mae’s Scotch House. I ordered the chicken with a side of Red Beans and Rice, and it was incredible.

Red Beans also reminds me of jazz because of the way it’s cooked – everybody’s has a different flavor. Some like it sweet, some like it spicy, but for me it depends on my mood while I’m cooking.

This is another one of those recipes that has tons of variants, so I recommend looking over this recipe and then doing it, but different.

Make this recipe your own, have fun, and enjoy the meal!


New Orleans stlye creamy Red Beans and Rice

1 lb Red Beans

1 ham hock

1 tbsp. grease (use bacon grease, lard, oil, etc)

4 tbsp butter

1 white onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

Water as needed

1 container (32 oz) Chicken Stock

1 tbsp Salt

1 tsp Black Pepper

1 tsp Garlic Powder

1 tsp Onion Powder

½ tsp Cayenne Pepper

1 tsp Dried Thyme

½ cup chopped fresh Parsley

2 Bay Leaves

1 package of Andouille Sausage

Rinse beans and allow to soak in a bowl filled with water overnight. Once the beans have been soaking for at least 10 hours;

Heat grease on medium heat in a large pot (if you plan to use a crock pot for the red beans, sauté these ingredients in a large pan instead of a pot). Sauté garlic, onions, bell peppers and celery and add a pinch of salt and pepper, then add ham hock. Add butter and allow mixture to cook down to a golden color.

(If you wish to add herbs other than what is listed in ingredients list, add them to this mix. I have added fresh basil here in the past or other herbs that were growing in my garden.)

Once golden brown, add chicken stock, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, thyme and parsley.

(If using crockpot, transfer everything into the crockpot now)

Drain water from red beans and add beans into the soupy mix. Stir and let boil (unless using crockpot).

Add bay leaves. Cover and let cook on low-medium heat for 3 hours. If using crockpot, cover and let cook on low all day (6-8 hours).

With about an hour remaining, take a fork or spoon and smash about half the red beans on side of pot. This will give the mixture a smooth creamy style. If using a crockpot, remove half the beans, placing them in a separate bowl and smash them with a fork. Once creamed, place back into crockpot.

Add sausage to mix and continue to let simmer on low-medium heat.

(Add hot sauce or jalapeño pepper if desired for spice.)

*Continuously taste throughout process and add seasonings as desired.

**If using crockpot, refrain from opening top a lot. Professionals claim that each time the crockpot’s top is opened, it’s like you lose 30 minutes of cook time.

Separately, prepare rice to serve with red beans.

Serve Red Beans with Rice.

Mama Juanita’s Tostadas de Tinga

My husband and I are on a pretty tight budget. We are actually living off of about $80 a week on groceries – that’s like $12 a day for two people; which is like $2 a meal per person, if my math is correct.

One way we’ve found that saves a lot of money on chicken is to purchase a whole frozen chicken and break it down ourselves, instead of buying packs of chicken breasts or wings or some other part already butchered.

I usually take the ribs, neck and other unused bones and boil them to make a stock, and then pick the meat off those bones to use in dishes.

Today, as I started separating good meat from bone and cartilage, I remembered family members doing the same as I was growing up.

I started thinking about my grandma.

Mama Juanita.

Mama Juanita was one of the most loving and caring women I’ve ever known. When my family moved to Mexico from Venezuela, we moved in with her and my grandpa for a few months, and I learned so much from her, and about her, in that time.

I learned that when she got married to my grandpa – whose mother died years prior to their marriage – she took on the responsibility of her husband’s young brothers, who were orphaned. She adopted them, becoming a mother of four immediately upon marriage.

She and Grandpa then went on to have six daughters and a son, and Mama Juanita’s job for most of her life was to be a mother and wife.

She showed love through actions … and through food.

I began thinking of one of the first foods she taught me how to make – Tostadas de Tinga, which is a common dish in Mexico made of shredded chicken and a tomato-based sauce on top of a fried tortilla.

I was a 14-year-old junior high student and had just gotten home from school. I looked around and realized that my mother had already bought groceries and uncooked food was in the kitchen, and I was home alone.

But I was hungry. I didn’t want to wait for mom to come home and cook.

I already knew how to cook rice, so I was pretty sure I could handle any other culinary challenge. So I decided, after seeing the ingredients at my avail, to make Tostadas de Tinga.

But the problem was that I didn’t know how to make the staple dish.

So I called Grandma, then walked about a block to her house, grocery bags in hand, knowing that she would teach me how to prepare the dish. Honestly, I was hoping that she would just cook the meal for me and I’d learn as she cooked.

So I brought the groceries to her kitchen and prepared to help Mama Juanita with the meal she would surely make for me.

Something she always said (and now my mom says) is that “Somebody that helps is always welcome,” and I was sure that I was going to be a good helper.

But Grandma had different plans.

She sat down and explained each step to me as I completed each task, from peeling and cutting onions to placing the meat on the tostada shell.

So that day, I learned how to make Tostadas de Tinga, and I’ve never forgotten.

Mama Juanita passed away in 2012, but she left plenty of great memories and great food. And it’s amazing how those foods can bring back those memories!

I loved my grandma; and she loved me. My name – Johana – actually derived from “Juana,” which I take pride in because I know I will always have a piece of her with me.


 

TINGA

[Tinga can be eaten several ways – in tacos, on tostadas (my preferred way, with sour cream and queso fresco), with rice and beans, or a myriad of different ways.]

 

1 Large chick breast, shredded

3 Tomatoes

½ White Onion

2 Cloves of Garlic

Small bunch of fresh Cilantro (not enough to make the sauce green, just try to use your common cooking sense)

1 Cup Chicken Stock

1 Chipotle Pepper in adobo sauce (canned chipotle or fresh)

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

1 tsp Cumin

 

Cut onion in thin slices and sauté on medium heat

While onions are cooking, blend tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, chipotle and about ½ cup of chicken stock

When onions turn translucent, add blended mix.

Add cumin to sauce and stir.

After about 5 min on medium heat, add chicken to sauce and continue stirring.

Add salt and pepper.

Let cook 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

*You will have about ½ cup of Chicken stock left over. This is so if/when the Tinga begins to dry out, add more chicken stock to keep saturated.

**If you want the Tinga spicier, blend more chipotle with some chicken stock and add to mix.