Make Mine Marinade! Banana Vinegar to the Rescue


 We get a lot of people who love our banana vinegar but don't quite have the confidence to use it in the kitchen. The idea is good, but the execution isn't clear. It's understandable. It's new, strange and intriguing. 

In a mortar, start with garlic, salt and oregano Indio. Mash with a pestle until you have a paste. Then drizzle in olive oil and banana vinegar and whisk until you have a sauce. Of course, the whole mess can go into a food processor but that's not nearly as much fun and it's harder to clean. 


I've had great success with this on turkey breast fillets and pork tenderloin. Let them rest in the marinade for a few hours before cooking. 


Your Secret Ingredient: Oregano Indio

Did you know our Oregano Indio is back in stock? The cooperative had all kinds of trouble getting it to us but now we have lots and the future looks bright. 

Did you see this video about the people who grow and harvest your oregano? I would watch it with you but I can't see it without starting to cry. It's a happy kind of crying. Some people are just wonderful and are trying to do the right thing. 

Homeward from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Buy Oregano Indio at Rancho Gordo. 

The Anti-Father's Day Message from Papa Steve

My youngest was very nervous about what to do on Father's Day. I gave him hell for not giving presents to his grandmother this last Christmas. He was of the mind that drawing a picture was too juvenile and he wanted to buy her something nice. This is a lovely thought, only he didn't do it. And he didn't make a drawing or pick wildflowers or make her breakfast or give her a gift certificate for a hug-- nothing! I hit the roof and I think we all now understand that giving is just as important as getting. 


He hesitatingly asked what I was thinking of for Father's Day and for me, he's off the hook. I couldn't care less. I am so lucky to have two kids, live in a place I love and the icing on the cake is Rancho Gordo. I can push my wares on people who actually want them and in fact, they want more than we can produce. I am lucky, happy and I don't need a Hallmark Holiday to remind me. We're spending the day together because that's what we do, not because of the calendar. 

There's too much pressure these days. "Tell Dad you love him by buying him tools."

On the other hand, a day to celebrate our unique relationships with our fathers isn't a bad thing. It's obvious and I don't mean to be preachy but the best thing you do is be there with him and it's A-OK to keep your wallets closed. 


Let's Make Pork and Beans, Norteño-Style

As you can imagine, I have a rather large (O.K., huge) collection of cookbooks, especially on Mexican food. Before everyone and his brother was writing about Mexican food, there was very little good stuff available. I still love collecting less than helpful, pre-Diana Kennnedy era, cookbooks. There is so much wrong with most of them but you can't help thinking they maybe got one or two things right and the enthusiasm (and often the graphics) are charming. 


One huge exception to these old books is Cooking and Curing with Mexican Herbs by Dolores L. Latorre, a book focusing on the cuisine and herbs of Northern Mexico. Most of the food is simple but there are very few compromises, which is nice, and when you consider the book was written in 1977, it's impressive. 

This is a simple recipe for Puerco Con Frijoles (Pork and Beans) and I've exchanged the ubiquitous pintos with our exceptional Eye of the Goat, a bean that would also be right at home in Coahuila, Mexico. 

Puerco con frijoles
Serves 6

1/2 pound lean pork, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 serrano chiles, seeds and veins removed
1 teaspoon Oregano Indio
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon oil
3 cups cooked Eye of the Goat beans (or Pintos)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Brown pork in oil; add the onion, garlic and chiles and stir until the onion is glazed. Add Oregano Indio, cumin, salt, and pepper, and simmer for 20 minutes. Combine with beans and simmer for 10 minutes longer. 
Serve hot with bowls of raw chopped onion, fresh table salsa and limes so guests can help themselves to the toppings. 

(Adapted from Cooking and Curing with Mexican Herbs (Encino Press 1977) by Dolores L. LaTorre)

Buy Eye of the Goat heirloom beans at Rancho Gordo.

Buy Oregano Indio at Rancho Gordo. 

A Little Trick: The Bean Mash


If you want to add some creamy goodness to your beans without adding good cream, try taking about half a cup of your cooked beans and some of the broth and mash it with a fork in a bowl. Now add it back to the pot and stir well. Your clear bean broth is now soupier and richer. 

Frankly, I love clear bean broth when the beans are heirloom and fresh but a fellow likes a change once in awhile. This is also a nice trick for vegans who aren't eating cream, yogurt or other dairy products. The mashing doesn't taste like dairy but the texture does seem a little more indulgent. 

The beans in the photo are Domingo Rojo. 

An Insider's Guide to Mexico City

You can imagine how many people call me for good information on Mexico City. The town has so much buzz, and for good reason. It's a little intimidating if you've never been or don't have high school Spanish behind you but it's not impossible and you are likely to have an amazing time. 

My first real trip was in the 1990s. I went alone before a friend good meet me later in the week. I had callouses on my feet from walking everywhere. I remember walking down a sunny street in the Centro, passed a Licuado store selling Mexican smoothies. I'll admit there was a skip in my step. I was independent and having a wonderful time. As I passed, a young girl yelled out from inside the store, "¡Buenas dias, guapo!" This was followed by giggling and I felt like I was on top of the world. 

I feel stupid when people ask for suggestions. All the regular recommendations are probably essential for a first time visit. The museums, the parks, Frida and Diego's house, etc, are all great. For me, meals at Contramar and Pujol are necessary but I can think of 10 other places that deserve your attention. The reality is that these days when I am in Mexico, my friends normally pick me up at the airport and whisk me off on some journey. I haven't had a chance to linger in D.F. for years. 

This is why I love Jim Johnston's Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler. Jim has lived there for many years and seems to know exactly what I'll need. It's great armchair reading and even better to take with you.  The 16 walking tours will make you feel like a local in no time. 


Mazano Chiles Steamed Like a Tamal: Diana Kennedy's Chile Canario en Pilte

Manzano chiles are also known as Peron and apparently in Oaxaca, Canario

They look like habeneros but they have much more flesh and a less tropical, but no less delicious, flavor. They are powerful but not quite as humbling as a habanero. The seeds are black and shouldn't be eaten. I've fermented the chiles and they were incredible. 


Every time I look at Diana Kennedy's Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy I find something different. Her recipe for Chile Canario en Pilte is simple and completely new to me. From the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, it's easy to like, especially if you have access to yierbasanta. 


I've had banana leaves in my freezer for months, waiting for something to be done with them. A quick rinse under warm water made them pliable enough to cut and fold. A longer soak might have been better but I was impatient. 

Six manzano chiles were cut in quarters with the seeds removed. Diana calles for thinly sliced scallions but I had to do with onions cut into half moons. All is tossed with sea salt. 

On each banana leaf went several yierbasanta leaves (also known as hoja santa or acuyo, depending on where you are in Mexico) topped with the chile/onion mixture. 


The banana leaves are folded up into a nice rectangular package and then tied. 


This is a beautiful clay steamer from Los Reyes Metzontle. We import them as part of the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Prjoect. I about plotzed when I first saw it. We now carry two sizes. The larger is better for a big tamal party and while at first I thought the smaller version would be kind of silly, it's the one I use more often, for steaming things like this and everyday vegetables as well. 


A banana leaf is placed on the bottom and then the packages are stacked up, ready for their sauna treatment. 


After about 35 or 40 minutes (probably less in a metal steamer), the aroma is heady. The chiles are soft and onions are infused with both the chile and the yierbasanta. There's nothing quite like it. 


I had made some blue corn tortillas and even stuffed some of them with refried black beans. This chile relish was perfect for them. 


Later at dinner, I made a simple pork tenderloin and thought to bring out the Chiles en pilte. All was fine until I hit a very hot one. The heat was unbelievable and I had to excuse myself for a moment. When I returned, I went back for more. 


More Fun with Fresh Xoconostle

Our local market again had xoconostle, the super sour prickly pears that are loaded with good nutrition and are a hoot to cook with. 


If the light in my kitchen looks angelic, it's because it is! A foggy morning makes my photos look as if a professional took them. 

These are the xoconostle roasting on a clay comal (pan). You can see that the pan has a slip of cal on it to protect the clay. This is handiest for making tortillas but I have a dedicated comal to tortillas, another for vegetables and another for chiles. I'm a little obsessive and I love my toys.


It takes a while for the fruit to roast, even on a moderate heat. They should be soft and hissing as they release some of their juices, but not burnt. 

Cut them in half and scoop out the seeds and center pulp. I put them in a pitcher with some honey and water and in about a week I should have some mead. 


I had company this morning. 

My friends in Hidalgo use the skins in their salsa and I've started doing the same. I was in a rush this morning, so I threw the xoconostle in a blender with some onions, garlic and fermented serrano chiles I'd made earlier, with a splash of water. 


The resulting salsa is plenty sour so there's no need for limes. I have pork chops in the fridge for tonight and I think they have a date with this salsa. 

Your Beans Are Seeds

Most of us know this, but in case it's news, your beautiful Rancho Gordo heirloom beans are also viable heirloom seeds. 


Just toss some in the ground and cover by about half an inch, keep them moist (but not over-saturated) and within a week you'll be the proud parent of a new crop of legumes. 

You can eat them as green beans, shelling beans or dried beans. They are hard to screw up. Runner beans seem to prefer cooler nights but beans are easy. 

Kitchen Tools: A Spoon for Straining

This may seem obvious but a slotted spoon for straining is pretty key. I had a large one but I tended not to use it much. This is a tablespoon and very handy for lots of things, but especially for taking a big spoonful of cooked beans from the fridge and adding them to something else. Sometimes you don't want the pot liquor. 


I've also used a vintage tomato server from my Patrician service but it's a little delicate. This spoon is terrific. 

I made an omelet the other morning and the filling was mostly from various leftovers: lambsquarters in a chile sauce, some meat from a ham hock, nopalitos and of course it's always appropriate to add a few beans to almost everything. 



Good Pasta, Like Good Beans, Doesn't Need a Lot of Help



I'd forgotten how good pasta can be. I've been off it lately because I refuse to buy Barilla for political reasons and most of the domestic brands have left me cold. Plus, I'm eating more Mexican and "California" food, whatever that is. 

I was given a box of Baia Pasta and I just took a short trip to heaven. Or Bologna. I was starving and didn't have time to make an elaborate sauce (which I had felt this quality pasta deserved.) Instead, I just put a pat of butter, a splash olive oil and some salt in the bottom of my bowl and added the drained pasta. A gentle squeeze from a Meyers lemon and the a dusting of good parma cheese and I was off to the races. 


But it really brought home the fact that when you use quality ingredients, you should gently reveal their excellence, not mask it or even try to "match" things up. I let the pasta be the star and it was. 

I've been in touch with Baia and we're going to work on a perfect pasta e fagioli recipe. 

Fermenting Chiles

Everyone seems to have fermenting fever these days and I'm no exception. Kraut, beets, kombucha and kimchi are all my companions in the kitchen. I'm sure this is a healthy thing but even if it isn't, I love the off-the-grid self sufficiency and the delicious flavors. In the unlikely event that kombucha is the equivalent of a Pepsi, I still choose the homemade drink. 


In the photo you can see my latest batch of serrano peppers, onions and garlic in a 5% brine. I used to add some dried Mexican oregano but I didn't like the way so much would float to the surface and the whole point seems to be to keep everything submerged. Adding later actually tastes better to me. The fermentation takes about a week but I like to keep it going as I can. Too long and the chiles can turn to mush. This isn't a horrible thing. You can just gently strain the jar and put the remaining vegetables into the blender and call is salsa. 

The top of the Mason jar is secured with a very clever gadget called Kraut Source. I was in on their initial Kickstarter funding and it's one of the very few new gadgets that has stood the test of time. I have three and I'm considering more.


Pineapple Vinegar Dressing with Chocolate (!)

I see you rolling your eyes at me! Stop it. 

This sounds disgusting but it was a winner. I was reading a recent Bon Appetit magazine article about Modern Mexico and I was prepared for a lot of silliness but instead it was a really smart article by Nils Bernstein. 


One of the dishes was a salad made with a vinaigrette with instant coffee. At first, like you, I thought, why bother? Then I tried it. It was very good. Then I thought, if coffee is good, wouldn't chocolate be better? Guess what? It was. 


The original recipe called for sherry vinegar and while that's nice, in fact, very nice, I decided to try it with our pineapple vinegar. Friends, I don't have to do anything clever for a good long time. This was great and it's time for a victory lap and a long rest on my laurels. 

Pineapple Vinegar Vinaigrette with Stoneground Chocolate
If it tastes overtly like pineapples or chocolate, you've used too much. It's a new taste and lovely. You can experiment with different vinegars but don't mess with the chocolate. Artisan chocolate from Mexico is the only way to go. 

3 tablespoons Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
3 tablespoons Rancho Gordo Stoneground Chocolate, finely grated
salt and pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

Whisk together the vinegar, honey, chocolate, salt and pepper until the chocolate is incorporated. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing has emulsified. Serve room temperature over salad greens. 


Happy Hippie Breakfast

I've been on a Yellow Indian Woman kick these days. They're such a delicious, dense yet soft bean and they have a superior broth. You can have them in a salad or you can be like me and enjoy them with brown rice, making your inner hippie happy. As I get older, my inner hippie is never far from the surface. 


I also had some leftover nopalitos (boiled cactus paddles) and just to make it all seem like a party, I chopped up some fresh mozzarella. The mozzarella started to melt and mix with the bean broth and suddenly it was a pretty good breakfast. 


I have a ham hock sitting in my fridge but I still prefer these beans with just olive oil, onion and garlic. 

Editorial: Leave 5 de Mayo Alone!

I wish people would calm down about Cinco de Mayo.

So many of my friends are up in arms over the gringo celebrations. They can't wait to correct those that are celebrating. Some are well-intentioned and but some seem determined to rain on the parade at any cost. 

No, it's not Mexican independence day. No, it's not a national holiday in Mexico. Or France. But I have been in celebrations outside of Puebla for it. In fact, the neighborhood right outside of the airport in DF celebrates and holds up traffic on the 5th. I know this to be true as I almost missed a flight because of it.

The funny thing is less than a year after the famous battle, France came back with a vengeance and gave Mexico Maximilian and Charlotte, which in turn turned Juarez into a hero. It's a fascinating era worth exploring and maybe even celebrating. (If you are interested, check out News From the Empire. It's a terrific book.)

Rather than being shrill and pedantic about how we're doing it all wrong, how about we make better food and let people come to no other conclusion than the fact that Mexico is incredible? Why not use it as an opportunity to talk about Mexico's incredible history and how it ties in with ours? It's not enough, but it's a day dedicated to Mexico and Mexican food. That's a great opening. Rush in and take over instead of complaining.

End of rant. Thank you for your very kind attention. 

Breakfast at the Hacienda

I just came back from co-hosting our last Beans Tour (The Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Food and Agriculture Tour and Workshops) in Hidalgo. I'm sad to say goodbye to this project but I'm more than happy to linger over the photos, especially of the food! 


The first morning. Waiting for the guests. 


Chabela and her kitchen staff prepare the masa treats. This morning, it's tlacoyos stuffed with refried beans and cheese and sopes, topped with several different ingredients. (Tlacoyos can be many things, depending on where in Mexico you are.)


It's starts with the masa. Without it, you're off to a rocky start. 


What did you have for breakfast?


One of many, many sopes I consumed that first morning. 

Asparagus-Bean Broth Soup

Excuse me if this was your idea and I've unknowingly borrowed it, but I had about three bunches of asparagus bottoms in my fridge. I snap them and let them break where they want naturally, usually about three quarters of the way down and I make the asparagus as a vegetable and save the woody bottoms until inspiration hits. 


I have been a pressure cooker kick lately so I cooked about three bunches worth of woody stems with plenty of water and some sal mixteca for about 30 minutes on high pressure. After a quick release, I tool the asparagus out and worked it through a food mill, leaving rich delicious liquid below and all the woody fiber in the mill. 

In a soup pot I sauteed some onions and garlic in a little olive oil and once soft, added a spoonful of dried porcini mushroom powder from the Wine Forest. This made a thick paste. Then I added the liquid from the pressed asparagus and about a cup of leftover bean broth from a pot of Ayocote Morados I had in the fridge. 

Obviously you can use a different bean or omit it all together. I love the porcini powder but you could omit it and maybe add some soy sauce of fish sauce or nothing. If you don't have a food mill, you could push the puree through a sieve,, using the back of a wooden spoon to help but for my kind of cooking, I find I use a food mill a lot. I've tried something similar with an immersion blender but there's little worse than fibrous strings ruining an otherwise velvety soup. 

The bigger point is many people through away their bean broth and woody vegetable waste but I was able to make it into several swell meals.