I love Mexican food. Well, I should say I love Tex-Mex. I don't really know what true Mexican cuisine is like, but boy do I love the American version of it! One of our favorite fast food restaurants in the States is Qdoba. Their big soft tortillas, yummy seasoned meat, fresh fresh ingredients, and wonderful queso with those delightful salty-lime chips are just. . . mmmm, words fail me. I know, I know, if you're from Texas like my friend Amy, you scorn Qdoba, since you've got more authentic offerings. But hey, to this Iowa girl, Qdoba is pretty great!
So one of my challenges when moving to Asia (you know, right up there with learning the language, figuring out how to pay our electric bill and finding out how not to be cheated when buying things on the side of the road) was learning how to cook Mexican food here. There are no cans of Ro-tel, no blocks of Velveeta. (I once heard another American friend describe Velveeta as "gold"!) No salsa in a jar, no chips in a bag, for that matter! Bummer!
But, over the years I have figured out some recipes that work great here, and use mostly local ingredients. Yes, it takes more time, and is a bit of a hassle, but the end result is worth it. And, your husband will rise up and call you blessed when you set a Mexican feast before him!
Here's some recipes to get you started. First, Flour Tortillas for Chips. We use this recipe to make regular tortillas, but we also use the same dough to make chips by rolling very thinly, cooking in a dry frypan, then brushing with lime juice and sprinkling with salt and baking for 7-8 minutes or until crispy. They are wonderful! Give this recipe a try!
Flour Tortillas for Chips
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup warm milk
2 tsp oil
1 tsp salt
Mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl. After warming the milk, stir in salt and oil. Add wet mixture to the flour and mix well--the dough will be sticky. On a floured surface knead the dough for 2 minutes. Then return the dough to the bowl and allow to rest, covered with a damp cloth, for 15 minutes. Divide into 10 balls, cover again and rest another 20 minutes. Then roll out thinly (thin for tortillas, as thin as possible for chips) and cook in a dry frypan. If you want to make them into chips, brush cooked tortillas with lime juice, sprinkle with salt, and cut into wedges or chip-sized shapes. Bake in a single layer for 7-8 minutes at 350 or until they start to brown and are crispy. They're great!
For salsa, I usually use the Pioneer Woman's recipe; you can find it here. Since I don't have the canned goods she calls for, though, I substitute 4 fresh tomatoes and 2 long, green hot peppers that are common here. It works great. My only advice...don't overdo the onion. Once we got a bit generous with it and the finished salsa tasted spicier because of the onion's bite. Otherwise, it's perfect!
Then there's Red Rice. John really loves this dish, and other than the bacon, everything is easily available here. Love it!
9 slices bacon
1 small onion, chopped
1 12-oz can tomato paste (I can get this, I use 1 and a half of the small cans sold here)
3 1/2 cups chicken broth (3 1/2 cups water, 3 1/2 Tbsp jijing or chicken buillion)
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
Cook bacon in a large skillet (I use my wok) over med-high heat until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels, reserving 2 Tbsp drippings. Crumble bacon and set aside. Saute onion in bacon drippings over medium high heat 3 minutes or until tender. Add the tomato paste to the skillet, stirring until smooth. Gradually stir in chicken broth, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of the skillet. Stir in sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Stir the rice into the skillet and bring to a boil. Add bacon pieces. Pour mixture into a lightly-greased oven proof casserole dish, cover with foil and bake at 350 for one hour or until rice is tender.
Next on the list: Our most favorite southwest marinade for chicken. This recipe came from the Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur, and it's super yummy. It's a knock-off of Applebee's Santa Fe chicken salad, and so very delicious. I feel like it's a lot of liquid, though, so I usually halve it for four chicken breasts. And, it does require Liquid Smoke which has to come from out of this country. The recipe is just fine without it, too though! Here's how to make it:
Marinade: (this is the original, full size)
2 cups water
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp ground chipotle pepper or 1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp hickory smoke flavoring
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
4 chicken breasts
You can leave the chicken whole, cut into chunks, or as we did recently, cut into a fine dice. Marinate in a covered container in the frig for several hours. Then, either bake your whole chicken breasts or quickly stir-fry the diced pieces in a bit of oil. It works great!
Finally, the last Hurrah, our most favorite, addictive, delicious Mexican sauce recipe, also from Top Secret Recipes, the Applebee's Mexi-Ranch dressing. This is wonderful as a salad dressing, spooned onto a tortilla, even used as a dip for chips. Just watch out--we made this dressing three times last week and enjoyed it every time! (Ok, once was for company, and there is still some left in the frig. . . but, still. It's truly addictive!) Don't be put off by the long ingredient list--it comes together quickly and all the various flavors really combine to make a great, great dressing.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp minced fresh onion
2 Tbsp diced tomato
1 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp (or more) fresh cilantro
1 tsp canned chopped mild green chilis (we use a kind of xiancai which is a pickled hot pepper)
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
pinch dried dill
pinch dried cumin (a hearty shake--I love cumin)
pinch cayenne pepper
Mix all of the ingredients to form a smooth dressing. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving to let the flavors mingle. Enjoy!
I also love to add a grilled peppers/onions mix to our Mexican meals. This is simple--just cut a few bell peppers and a purple onion into strips and stir fry in a bit of olive oil. Season with salt and cumin, or as you like. Wonderful!
So, the possibilities are endless. Use the marinade on chicken, sprinkle the chicken and some corn and beans over a bed of lettuce, top with the dressing and you've got a Santa Fe salad. Or, cook up some ground beef, spread it in a soft taco with some grilled peppers, red rice, and use the dressing as a dip. if you really want to make my girls happy, break out the Velveeta you've been hoarding for the last year and melt it with some milk for a quick, yummy queso. Make the chips and salsa just for fun. Be creative! It'll be delicious.
There you have it--a super Tex-Mex meal. Hope you found a recipe or two worth trying! Enjoy!