Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Mercado" Adventures

As I wrote in my very first column for The Aztec newsletter (and in my blog post titled "Vegetables!"), one of the many things I love about living in Mexico City is the plentiful and inexpensive produce, particularly that found at the open-air markets, or "mercados". They are all over the place, and you can find one any day of the week. I live in Santa Fe (a "suburb" of Mexico City for those of you who don't live in the area) and the mercado I go to on a weekly basis is open all day on Saturday. It's always filled with great looking (and tasting!) fruits and vegetables, huge bunches of beautiful herbs, dried goods like nuts and grains, mole, taco stands, cute stands with things like hair bows and jewelry, pottery, and even meat and fish, among much much more. Now, I haven't ventured so far as to buy fresh meat or fish at the mercado yet (although I have bought some of their cured meats, which were great!), but I've tried pretty much everything else.
Mole Stand at Santa Fe Mercado

Three of my recent purchases were especially exciting as I bought a couple of things with which I wasn’t familiar, being new to Mexico.  I have always been intrigued by mole.  I have, of course, had it in restaurants here and I am looking forward in the near future to making it from scratch.  I know there are a million opinions on it and just as many recipes, so I thought I would start out buying the pre-made, concentrated mole at the market.  There are so many to choose from, but I chose one that looked familiar: dark brown with sesame seeds.  The lady at the stand told me it was made from dried poblanos, anchos, mulatos, and pasillos, and she instructed me to dilute it with chicken stock over the stove until it looked about right.  Fortunately for you all, I did some measuring as I cooked to give you a bit more detailed instruction:
            For about 4 servings, purchase 250g of concentrated mole (which is a little over half a pound).  Place this in a small sauce pot over medium-low heat and add 1¼ to 1½ Cups of chicken broth, depending on how thin you like your sauce.  Using 1½ Cups of broth, you will yield about 2 Cups of sauce.  If your sauce thickens up before you serve it, just add a little more chicken stock.  Serve over anything you like, but I thought it was delicious over chicken (both white and dark meat) that I baked in a 350°F/176°C oven (on a rack) until it registered 165°F/74°C internal temperature.
My Aqua de Jamaica
with the jamaica "flowers" I bought

My second “adventurous” purchase was of some beautiful jamaica “flowers” that I’ve seen everywhere.  A friend recently told me she makes them into an iced drink for her daughter, so I thought that would be fun to try.  After a little research, I found out that, not only is jamaica used in Mexico to make “aqua de jamaica”, the “flowers” are actually hibiscus calyxes (the covering of the buds before they blossom) and the drinks and other products made from it are popular all over the world for their various health benefits and delicious taste.  Here’s how to make it on your own (adapted from 101cookbooks.com):
For every ¼ Cup of jamaica flowers, boil about 2 Cups of water.  Steep the flowers in the hot water for about 8-10 minutes.  Strain out the flowers and immediately sweeten with about ½ Cup of sugar, or to your liking. (Some folks like it with no sugar at all.)  Dilute as desired with cold water (up to 1½  more Cups) and serve over ice with lime wedges.

Close-up of what was left of my
Roasted Salsa Verde after a dinner party!
Finally, I decided it was finally time for me to make my own salsa verde, considering I enjoy eating it in restaurants so much.  I bought a bunch of tomates (or, as we call them in the States “tomatillos”), as well as some serrano chiles (the ones that look like smaller jalapeños, about the thickness of your pinky), cilantro, onion and garlic.  At home it struck me that I would probably like the taste of a roasted salsa verde, so that’s what I decided to do.  Here are the instructions (adapted from RickBayless.com):

¾ lb tomates, halved
6 cloves garlic
2 serrano chiles, stemmed and halved with seeds removed (don’t remove seeds or use more chiles for a spicier salsa)
¼ Cup cilantro, roughly chopped
½ white onion, small diced
kosher salt
 Roast tomates, garlic and chiles in a 350°F/176°C oven until you see dark, toasted spots and the aroma is irresistible.  Put roasted vegetables and cilantro in a food processor or blender with about ½ Tablespoon of kosher salt.  Pulse until desired consistency is achieved.  Add onion and more salt, if desired.  Serve immediately if possible as it’s delicious warm!