The amount of Mexican food I ingest has increased exponentially ever since I relocated to the west coast. I’ll take a burrito over a sandwich any day, and I’ll take carnitas over anything else to stuff into a warm tortilla. When I make a mexi-feast at home, I’ll go for the typical plate of rice, beans, guacamole salad, and meat served with tortillas on the side. I’ll take you through my average mexi-feast preparations that curb that craving for more bang to the buck.
West coast living has spoiled me with the availability of avocados. I remember ordering guacamole at a non-chain Mexican restaurant in Ohio for the first time since I had moved west. It was truly one of the most disgusting things I had tasted called guacamole. For this travesty, I didn’t blame the maker/restaurant too much, but mostly on the fact that it was December. In Ohio. Avocados aren’t as widely available as the sunnier states, and it definitely showed. Word to the wise: only order guacamole in the Midwest if you see tons of avocados in your local grocery.
For this extremely simple guacamole you’ll need:
- two or three ripe avocados
- a clove or two of garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- lime juice (1-2 limes)
- salt, to taste
Scrap out the flesh of the avocado into a bowl, and start mashing it with a fork. When it looks mostly broken down, mix in everything else. Adjust lime juice and add salt to taste.
To my final product, I actually added 1/4 cup of plain yogurt to stretch it out a little bit and to also experiment with the tangy taste. It ended up being creamier and the yogurt tang added to the sourness of the lime, which was an OK move in my mind.
Budgeting has made me a dried bean believer! Canned beans are small compact tins of highway robbery, so I try to keep a stock of dried pinto beans, chickpeas, and lentils in my cupboard at all times, ESPECIALLY lentils. (Lentils can be a cheap, healthy, and quick meal fix, like my Lentil Soup.)
With a little planning (one day before you plan to eat them) you can have homemade low sodium legumes to go in a soup, stew, or on their own. Essentially, before you go to bed, soak your beans in the fridge. When you get up the next morning, put them in a slow cooker and cook on low all day while you’re out and about.
For soaking, you’ll need:
- water (enough to cover your amount of beans by 3 inches)
First, rinse your beans. You don’t really want to cook them with the dirt or dust that follows them wherever they go prior to your purchase. Pick out any that look irregular. Or just leave them. I do.
Put then in a bowl and cover with enough water to put them under about 3 inches of water. Set the beans in the fridge overnight.
The next day, take your beans out and drain. You don’t want to cook the beans in their soaking liquid. Soaking actually helps remove the gassy properties of the beans. True story.
The actual cooking of beans, you’ll need:
- your soaked beans
- water or broth
- yellow onion
- a couple of garlic cloves
- a few bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin (optional)
- bacon, salt pork, ham hock, something porky (optional, but highly recommended)
Slice your onion thinly, crush your garlic, chop your bacon, and toss them into the crock pot. Add your bay leaves and dump in your beans. Add your cumin, salt, whatever other seasonings. Pour in enough liquid (water or broth) to cover your beans by about an inch or two. Plug in your slow cooker and set it to low. After about 8-10 hours, your beans will be cooked!
I added too much water when I cooked this batch, so I transferred them to a saucepan to reduce the liquid.
Mexican rice is ridiculously easy. Years ago, the fluffy loose texture was a tough nut to crack. I always ended up with something along the lines of tomato steamed rice. Then I discovered if I treated it like a rice pilaf, then my ideal would be much more attainable, and it was!
- 1 1/2 cups long grain white rice (I use jasmine for everything because I buy it 25 pounds at a time.)
- olive oil
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup water + 3-4 tablespoons tomato paste*
- oregano (optional)
- cilantro (optional)
*Can be substituted with one cup of tomato sauce.
Heat about 2 (chef’s) tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet (with a tight fitting lid) on medium-high heat. While that is heating up, thin your tomato paste in the cup of water and set aside. When the oil is hot, pour in the rice and give it a stir to coat the grains with oil.
Every minute or so, give it a stir. I personally like to do the shake, dip, and flip, because it makes me feel like a pro. Sauté the rice until it looks opaque.
Pour in the chicken broth and thinned tomato paste. Pour it over the rice, and NOT directly on the pan. This will most likely immediately boil and steam and be loud, so it may or may not scare you. Stir it around.
If you’re using dried herbs, toss them in now, if not, ignore. Bring the rice to a boil, cover, then set to low to simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until the rice is cooked through. After it’s finished, I normally let it keep going until some rice sticks to the bottom and I have to scrape up some lightly crisped rice. Then I know that all of the liquid has been absorbed.
If you’re using fresh herbs, chop them finely, and stir them in as soon as the rice is finished.
The main event: carnitas!
Carnitas are like a gift from heaven. A once mystifying delicacy that is, well, I guess, still mystifying, but in a different way. Instead of “how do they?” it’s more like “how does it?” Pork + salt + water + citrus + low and slow braise + unknown supernatural occurrence (which is probably frying in fat) = Carnitas!
- 3-4 pound boneless pork shoulder, fat NOT trimmed
- lime juice
Feel free to salt and marinade the shoulder overnight in lime juice. Feel free to not. If you don’t, DO rub the shoulder with a generous amount of salt and fresh squeezed lime juice.
The method of cooking is braising, the means is up to you. If you want to do it in a slow cooker, put the meat in the pot and add enough liquid to just come up the side of the meat by an inch. Use water, more lime juice, or orange juice. Cook it on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-6. When it’s done (falling apart at the slightest touch of a fork), transfer to a deep skillet. If you want to do it in a dutch oven, put the meat in the pot and add enough liquid to just come up the side of the meat by an inch. Preheat your oven to 300. On the stove, heat is up until you have an almost boiling, put the lid on, then turn the heat down so it simmers. As soon as your oven is preheated, VERY CAREFULLY pick up the heavy pot and transfer it to the middle rack of the oven (or whatever rack so that it fits). Set a timer for 2 1/2-3 hours. When the meat is fall apart tender, take it out an put it back on the stove.
Depending on how much liquid is still there, you can either dump out most of it, or let it simmer, lid off, until it evaporates out. It’s up to you. I let it evaporate out until it looks like all that is left is melted fat.
Then let it keep cooking until all the liquid is fat. Then turn the heat up to medium and start the frying process.
Getting some crispiness and color!
I start to see more smoke than I’d like and decide to call it done.
After all of these things are prepared, it’s time to put them together and feast!