mexican monday

“m” is for monday, as well as for mad men, which i finally started watching last night, and for the delicious mexican food my husband and i cooked with the help of rick bayless’s cookbook authentic mexican. we are both huge fans of mexican food, especially tacos, and we had a nice free-range chicken from old athens farm tucked away in our freezer that we had defrosted earlier in the week.

we’ve only had this cookbook for about a year, so we haven’t made it through many of the recipes, but our favorite so far is the chicken tinga, traditionally made with pork. tinga is shredded chicken, or pork, in a spicy, smoky stew of onions, garlic, tomatoes, chipotles in adobo, and chorizo. it can be eaten straight out of a bowl or, with some of the liquid left behind, used for tacos. all the recipes in authentic mexican are easy to follow and the steps and ingredients are explained in detail, which is very helpful for those us of who didn’t grow up cooking mexican food.

this time around we decided to try an experiment with the chorizo the recipe calls for. chorizo has an incredible depth of flavor that is crucial to the taste of tinga, but we find turkey a little healthier than pork. so we made our own turkey chorizo, and it couldn’t have been easier or more rewarding! using ground dark turkey meat we added all the spices and vinegar recommended in bayless’s recipe for pork chorizo. then we let it sit for about 30 minutes in the fridge. because the sausage gets crumbled and browned in the tinga recipe, it’s not even necessary to mess with sausage casing, which can be a handful. the resulting sausage was leaner than a typically greasy chorizo, and the flavor was every bit as intense and satisfying as usual. the only adjustment required was the use of a bit more olive oil when browning the chorizo. if you don’t have the energy or the time to make your own chorizo, there are plenty of options for store-bought sausages. just look for one that contains as few preservatives as possible and you will be on your way to a delicious tinga!

the other key to tinga’s bold flavor is chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. you can find small cans of these peppers in mexican grocery stores or even many regular supermarkets. since chipotles are smoked jalapeños, they add an unmistakable smokiness to the stew. and even though we seed ours before plopping them in, they also add quite a bit of heat. the adobo sauce contributes a kick of vinegar and spices. you can of course adjust the amount of chipotles in adobo according to your preference, but a tinga can’t be a tinga without them!

the allure of mexican food is not just the main dish, but all the wonderful accessories that these dishes call for. and i would venture to say that tacos are in the top 5 list of my husband’s favorite foods. so a few birthdays ago i bought him a tortilla press at win restaurant supplies in astoria, queens. i happened to be in the area, but chances are there is a kitchen supply store near you wherever you live. and it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that this $15 gift has been one of the most successful presents i’ve given him in the nine years we’ve known each other. it is simple to use, and there is nothing that beats a freshly cooked tortilla to wrap your chicken tinga — or pretty much anything else! cooking the tortillas involves two dry frying pans at different heats and we think it’s easiest as a two-person assembly line, but so long as you follow bayless’s directions carefully, you’ll be a tortilla pro in no time. we never fail to turn out a warm, satisfying stack.

portioned tortilla dough

ready for pressing

headed for the frying pan

to balance out the heat of the tinga, we added a side of refried beans to our meal. my mom has been making these for my family for decades, and her recipe is so easy and delicious that i stick to that one, even with a mexican cookbook in hand. so here’s her straightforward method for making a successful plate of refried beans.

mom’s refried beans

serves 4 as a side dish

1 1/2 cup dried pinto beans

1 large onion

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

salt and pepper

1. rinse the beans several time, checking for any irregular beans or stray stones. put in a bowl and cover with water. cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a cool area overnight or for at least 8 hours. strain and rinse again several times.

2. place beans, 1/2 of the onion chopped into 2 pieces, and the bay leaf in a medium pot and cover with fresh water. bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until beans are fully cooked, about 40 minutes. when done, remove the large pieces of onion and the bay leaves and set the beans aside.

3. dice the remaining 1/2 onion. heat 1/8 cup olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat. add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. add the beans and cook over medium heat, adding stock and/or remaining olive oil to maintain moisture. use a large spoon or potato masher to partially crush most of the beans. fry until beans are cooked to your taste, about 30 minutes. then salt and pepper to taste.

tinga? check. tortillas? check. refried beans? check. all that remains is to let your inner mexican taste buds go crazy. i’m not a big fan of rules when it comes to toppings, so go for whatever you like! last night we had slices of avocado, crumbled cotija cheese, sour cream, and caviar limes (which i recently read about and couldn’t resist ordering). we’ve also been known to top our tacos with crema fresca (made from sour cream, lime juice, and hot sauce), queso fresco, guacamole, cilantro, and fresh squeezed limes. i suggest any and all of these for a highly enjoyable meal packed with sabor!

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