Saturday morning, I went to the Fresno Farmer's Market and was inspired by the many fresh and unusual ingredients I found there. My inspiration led me to finally try a couple of recipes from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. I loved his restaurant Frontera Grill in Chicago when I ate there a few years ago--and I thought I would end up preparing something from his cookbook right away. Alas, it took learning to love nopal and buying nopal at the Farmer's Market this past weekend for me to finally try a few recipes out.
I should have done this sooner as the food I prepared was so delicious and healthy. I actually made two kinds of salsa, a taco filling made of lamb's quarters (a kind of green I found at the market), and the nopal salad. The verdict? Yum. Yum. and Yum.
This taco was perfect. I loved the interplay of the citrusy tomatillo-chipotle salsa with the sweetness of the greens and the nuttiness of the cotija cheese. I loved the tangy flavor of the nopal, even though I ended up cooking it way too long. The tomato-onion-serrano chile mixture was good, just not very subtle . . . so it's the only recipe that I would play with a bit to try to improve. And I have to say that eating the leftovers today was just as satisfying as the original meal.
Make these recipes as soon as you can find some nopal and lamb's quarters.
Roasted Cactus Salad (Ensalada de Nopales Asados), adapted from Rick Bayless
1 bag nopal cut into small pieces (Bayless gives directions on how to prepare the cactus paddle which I was able to skip)
2 T. olive oil
Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon
For the Tomato-Serrano Salsa
1 large, very ripe, round tomato finely diced
Fresh serrano chiles to taste, roughly 2-3 (I only used one and I would clean out the seeds next time, even though the recipe didn't specify that one should)
1 garlic clove, minced
3 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 c. finely diced white onion
1 t. fresh lime jiuce
The recipe also calls for romaine lettuce, Mexican queso anejo, and radish slices or roses to use as garnish.
Toss the cactus with 1 T. olive oil and salt on a baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender and all liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Cool (I totally overcooked the nopal, but it still tasted great).
Salsa: in a large bowl, mix the tomato, chiles, garlic, and cilantro. Add onion and lime juice.
Don't mix the cactus and the salsa until right before serving.
Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa (Salsa de Chile Chipotle y Tomate Verde), again from Rick Bayless
3 to 6 canned chiles chipotles en adobo (I used 3)
3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
5-6 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Salt, about 1/2 t.
Sugar, about 1/4 t.
Heat an ungreased skillet to medium heat and roast the garlic cloves. Turn occasionally until the garlic is black in spots, about 15 minutes. Cool, slip off the skins, then roughly chop.
Lay the tomatillos on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot broiler. When the tomatillos blister, blacken, and soften on one side, about 5 minutes, turn them over and roast the other side. Cool completely on the baking sheet.
Scrape the tomatillos and any juices they have secreted into a blender and add the garlic. Pulse the machine until everything reaches your desired thickness. Add the chiles and pulse again. Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in 3 to 4 T. water (if desired), and salt and sugar to taste.
Tacos of Garlicky Mexican Greens with Seared Onion and Fresh Cheese (Tacos de Quelites), from Rick Bayless
9 c. loosely packed, stemmed lamb's quarters (I ended up buying a bunch and just roughly chopping them)--chard would work here, too
1 T. olive oil
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt, about 1/2 t.
Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the greens and cook until barely tender, about 2-3 minutes for the lamb's quarters, 1-2 minutes for the chard. Pour into a colander, then spread out on a large plate or baking sheet to cool. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add the greens, and stir for a minute or so longer, just enough to heat them through. Taste and season with salt.
Place some greens in a heated corn tortilla, sprinkle with the cheese and add a dollop of salsa.