Field to Feast: Poblanos, Two Ways

I’ve been spending entirely too much time sitting at my desk and not enough of it standing in the kitchen, which has resulted in a pretty impressive knot in my right shoulder. But the boys are great company, even if they’re weird (and occasionally smelly — eye-wateringly so). I look over to find them in the strangest positions, fast asleep:

Brothers | Minimally Invasive

Bless.

But I did manage to cook up a couple of recipes featuring poblanos last week. I absolutely adore these peppers from Bialas Farms because they have some character — not insipid or bland, but full of flavor with a peppery bite. The obvious place to begin was with poblanos with crema, something I make whenever I’ve stocked up on these peppers. The major players are onions, poblanos, crema and cheese, but this is a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I couldn’t find crema this time, so I used heavy cream mixed with roughly an equal amount of full-fat sour cream, and it worked perfectly.

Poblanos in Crema | Minimally Invasive

I just never said it was pretty.

I love to serve it with homemade corn tortillas, but a good packaged variety would really cut down on the work involved. For me, making the tortillas is worth the effort, especially when it comes time for dessert and I smear a little honey butter on a still-warm tortilla and sprinkle it with a little salt. It’s heaven, I tell ya. I take the easy way out and use a cast iron tortilla press, but if you really want to get down and dirty, have at it with a rolling pin!

Both the poblanos with crema recipe and tortilla how-to are from Simply Recipes. I used Bob’s Red Mill masa harina this time and liked it just as much as the Maseca brand I’ve always used in the past. Bob’s is much easier to locate around here, so it probably will become my default brand for tortilla-making.

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The other obvious choice when you have a surfeit of poblanos is chiles rellenos, which always remind me of my mom. They were her favorite item at the local Tex-Mex joint when I was a kid (Anyone else miss the old Pancho’s on Veterans Boulevard?), though I didn’t understand the appeal of the dish at the time. I was more of a cheesy enchilada girl, you see. But now that I’m older, I get it. Problem is, I don’t want to go to the trouble of making an authentic version of it, both for the gut-busting cheese filling and for my fear of frying, even in miniscule amounts of oil.

So I healthed it up, with inspiration from Vegetarian Times.

Chiles Rellenos | Minimally Invasive

The most difficult part (IMHO) of making this is charring the poblanos and somehow removing the seeds and membranes without completely destroying the pepper. What worked best for me was charring them over open flames on my gas burners just until blackened; any longer over the flames and they turned too mushy to handle. After they rested in a covered bowl for five minutes or so, I used a paper towel to get rid of most of the blackened skin, then slit open one side of the pepper and carefully scooped out the membranes and seeds with a small spoon. If you have an easier way to go about it, please let me know in the comments, because I do plan to make this again someday.

Instead of a fully cheesy center, I stuffed the now-prepped poblanos (only four large ones, though I’d recommend going with six to use up all of the filling) with a mixture of onions, diced mushrooms and spinach sautéed together, then mixed with a can of rinsed black beans and about two ounces of shredded mild cheddar. Jack would work here, too, or any of your favorite melty cheeses. I think I seasoned it with some ground cumin along with salt & pepper, but it’s honestly a little tough to remember. (And I rarely write things down as I’m cooking.) I closed up the peppers with wooden toothpicks before dipping them in an egg wash (just one beaten egg), then in corn meal seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little chipotle chile powder. They baked at 425°F for 25 minutes.

For the sauce, I sautéed a chopped onion, minced garlic clove, some ground cumin and coriander seed, Mexican chile powder, and salt & pepper in a little olive oil until the onion was softened. I added a box of Pomi chopped tomatoes and a chopped chipotle chile in adobo sauce and let it bubble away until the poblanos were about five minutes from being ready. At that point, I blended the sauce until it was completely smooth, then enjoyed the hell out of my lunch. Unfortunately, I only made four of these peppers, which Gil and I finished off in one sitting. If you make this, I’d certainly suggest doubling whatever recipe you use. It’s well worth it. You could change out the stuffing ingredients to use what you have on hand — corn, zucchini, rice, quinoa, etc. I love adaptable dishes!

And poblanos. I really, truly adore them.

Redo weekend

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Sometimes it’s a good idea to revisit old favorites. I’ve been really blah with overtones of meh lately about pretty much everything including preparing meals. Like Milli Vanilli, I’ll blame it on the rain, but that doesn’t make the prospect of cooking any more exciting. So what’s a girl to do when her hair is permanently frizzy, she hasn’t seen the sun in days and can’t be bothered to update her cooking blog? Declare a Redo Weekend!

The day started with an update to the cornmeal blueberry pancakes I first tried last summer. With so many gorgeous berries at the market right now, it seemed a shame to limit the pancakes to blueberries, so I halved the batch and did a strawberry version as well. Couldn’t decide which I liked more, so I just alternated them on the plate and doused the stack with maple syrup.

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Cut to two hours later.

After waking from my sugar coma, I got to work on another old favorite: tongue tacos and refried beans. Mmmmm-hmmmm. I’d picked up a three-pound behemoth at the Snoep Winkle Farm booth a week earlier and it had been weighing heavily on my mind. I tweaked the old recipe pretty heavily, doubling the beer in the braising liquid and adding hefty amounts of toasted cumin and coriander seeds.

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After braising, I set the tongue aside to cool. Then came the peeling, which didn’t skeeve me out nearly as much this time around.

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It still wasn’t pleasant, mind you, but my toes didn’t curl at all. PROGRESS!

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While my hands were still covered in tongue juices (am I not the most enchanting creature ever?), I shredded the meat before cooking it down a second time with onions, additional spices and even more beer.

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The tongue tasted heavily of beef as you’d expect, but turned silky and tender in a way no other cut can. We had the tacos with and without salsa because, again, it was too hard to decide which way was better.

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No picture of the refried beans because I’m just not that good of a photographer, but they were creamy and delicious. I used borlotti beans (an odd choice, I’ll admit) from Rancho Gordo cooked in the usual way — onions, garlic, cumin, beer, beef broth, salt & pepper — until they were soft, then fried them with some bacon fat and onion, mashing them down as they simmered. It might be too soon for another Redo Weekend, but I’m really tempted to do this again for the 4th.

Inspiration has been peeking around the corners for me this week, so I hope to have something new for you soon. But in the meantime, enjoy the weekend and try a redo if you need to.

Anything I call this post will sound gross

I don’t think I’m being especially controversial by saying our food preferences are largely culturally-influenced. My dad traveled to China on business quite a bit during his career, and came back with stories of food that often sounded delicious, but also occasionally made my toes curl. Being raised on alligator (usually dry, stringy and flavorless), frog legs (pretty darned good, if a little tough), and boudin (head cheese and rice stuffed into a sausage casing, and slap-yo-mama-good), I’ve had my share of strange looks when talking about meals that aren’t so popular outside of Louisiana. Yet the very same people who introduced me to those foods somehow make the poo-face at tongue, a meat popular at both hole-in-the-wall taquerias and Jewish delis in this part of the country.

Boggles the mind.


OK, maybe not so mind-boggling when I put it that way. Check out the underside.

But the gross-out factor aside, tongue is damned good eating — rich, moist, tender, and so, so flavorful. I realize I tend to wax rhapsodic about certain things, but I fell in love with this cut of meat probably 20 years ago and that’s a long time to go without shouting it from the mountaintop. Those were the years before Food Network, so I was still in my PBS cooking show phase; one of the many programs in the rotation was The Frugal Gourmet. Not my favorite by a long shot, I watched mostly to see how badly Jeff Smith would treat his poor assistant, Craig; I found it fascinating that someone so prickly could’ve been both a minister and a successful TV host. And it was on one of his shows that I was introduced to the wonders of the tongue taco. If you remember his enthusiastic proclamations at all, you’ll understand why I sought it out at the earliest opportunity — at Taqueria Corona in New Orleans. Those tacos never disappointed, and I even managed to turn on a few of my more adventurously-paletted friends to their charms.

But oddly enough, I’ve had trouble finding an equally good version here in New York (in Chelsea, specifically, since I don’t have much time for lunch). Sure, there’s a decent place across 6th Avenue, but the meat is too gamey for my taste. So when I saw tongue for sale at the Snoep Winkel Farm booth at the farmers’ market, I picked some up to try my hand at recreating the experience.

After exhaustively researching the topic, I decided on a simple approach — braising the tongue for four hours on the stove, cooling it overnight in its cooking liquid, then baking it in the oven for another hour the next day. That protracted cooking time is magical, so just step back and get ready for an experience you won’t forget.

To serve, I heated some corn tortillas in a cast iron skillet until they were lightly charred, then topped the tongue with a mixture of onion, cilantro, and lime juice, a sliver of avocado, shredded lettuce, and copious amounts of Cholula hot sauce. We had it for lunch and dinner yesterday, which should tell you how good it was.

And Santa Maria Pinquito beans were the perfect accompaniment, though I didn’t do anything special to them. After an overnight soak, I cooked them for a couple of hours with the usual cast of characters — beer, bay leaf, jalapenos, onions, garlic, and a smoked pork hock. At that point, I added cumin, paprika, chile powder, and salt and let everything simmer for another hour.

So if you’ve never tried tongue and don’t feel comfortable doing so, please give it a shot. For me? Pretty please? You won’t regret it.

recipe after the jump

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