TEX-MEX IS A GASTRONOMIC EXPERIENCE as commonplace as a friendly “hidy y’all” to the native Texan. Homesick transplants in the North have been known to wire home for cans of green chiles—” Airmail, Special Delivery” to Grand Central Station. Green chiles are the magical secret ingredient which can transform even the lowly egg into an Event. Uncle Bob Kleberg of the King Ranch carries a silver snuff box of the little devils at all times and can Tex-Mex any meal with a flip of the lid.
Mexican food, served up Texas style, would surprise a native of Monterrey almost as much as it would a visitor from Nebraska. Tex-Mex is the regional food of Texas, found in restaurants and cafes allover the state. The variation from Panhandle to Valley is broad, but Tex-Mex has a common mix of chile peppers and corn products no matter where you find it, and is unique to the Texas terrain. As a part of his initiation into our culture, that unwary visitor from Nebraska or New York may be innocently offered a tostado dipped in fiery hot sauce by his Texas host. Yankees generally respond by going pale and grabbing for a glass of water. That same Texan sees nothing irregular in Masa Harina flour next to the Gold Medal at the supermarket. A Savannah gourmet transferred to Houston would probably be as stymied in using this basic as a Texan would be faced with a wok.
Although many natives content themselves with frequent trips to their local Mexican restaurant for this Texas fare, it can be prepared at home easily with ingredients carried in most grocery stores in Texas. It is probably the least expensive dinner party fare you could find once you eliminate spaghetti and chicken casserole.
When at all possible, barring famine, flood, or an onslaught of after the game football fans, start with the raw materials indigenous to Tex-Mex cooking. Fresh green chiles which are found in the produce market of even the lowly 7-11, Masa Harina (which makes lumpy, funny looking tortillas with your untrained hands—but a delicate flavor you won’t believe), dried pinto beans, vine ripened tomatoes, and the best cheddar cheese you can find (never, never, never a processed Velveeta type). Allow yourself plenty of time and elbow room. Remember those Mexican mamas sit all day in the sun grinding the corn…so who are you to complain?
FRESH CHILE PEPPERS, PEQUIN OR largo, roasted at home produce a flavor you’ll never get by cranking the can opener. First, open each pepper with a prick of a fork, place on a cookie sheet and place in a 350-degree oven. Leave chile peppers until skins blister (20-30 minutes). Remove from oven. Wrap in a towel. After 5 minutes, the peppers can be easily peeled with the fingers. For cowards and Yankees, discard seeds and veins with a knife as these are the hottest part of the chile. Never substitute boiling for roasting chiles to remove skins; the flavor will be different. Be sure to wash your hands before rubbing your eyes.
Homemade tortillas can be made easily by following the directions on the side of the flour sack. Masa Harina makes corn tortillas, Masa Trigo makes flour tortillas.
In all recipes calling for fresh tomatoes—skinned—this is easily accomplished by dipping the raw tomatoes in boiling water for a couple of minutes. The skins slip off readily after the tomato is cool enough to handle.
One of my mother’s daily chores as a girl growing up on a Panhandle cattle ranch was to pick the beans. She makes quite a production to this day of removing even the half beans in the search for rocks, varmints, or other foreign matter. I’ve never understood what was wrong with the halves but do recommend that you poke through the beans for rocks, et al., before you start.
Frijoles (Pinto Beans)
1 Ib. Pinto Beans
1 12 quarts water
Salt to taste
12 c. bacon drippings
Soak beans overnight in water. Add more water to cover, salt and cook slowly until very tender. Mash with a potato masher, add very hot bacon drippings and continue cooking until all the fat is absorbed by the beans. Serves 6 to 8. Or see “The Truth About Beans,” by Ronnie Dugger [TM,August, 1973].
Frijoles Retritos (Retried Beans)
Heat fat in frying pan (recommend an iron skillet), add mashed and fried beans and cook, stirring until beans are completely dry.
Chile gravy keeps well in the refrigerator and can be made up well ahead. If your breakfasts are a little ho-hum throw some leftover gravy on your eggs. This gravy is the basis for enchiladas, can be poured over tamales and can be used as a basis for Chile Con Carne.
2 T. salad oil
2 T. flour
12 to 1 c. water
14 tsp. salt
2 12 T. Chile powder
Melt oil in skillet. Add flour and seasonings and combine thoroughly. Add the water and stir until thickened.
Sopa De Arroz (Mexican Rice)
2 T. bacon drippings
1 c. raw rice
1 c. peeled tomatoes
3 c. water
Few grains salt
Green chiles to taste
Heat bacon drippings in heavy black skillet. Brown rice, stirring constantly. Add water and cook covered ’til rice absorbs all the water. Add tomatoes and heat. Serve with chopped, roasted green chiles.
Hot sauce, made right, will warm the cockles of your heart, and your nose, and your eyes and even your toes. For this you need a Mexican Mixmaster—otherwise known as a mocajete. You’ve seen them at Pier I—the grey rock mortar and pestle—hecho en Mexico. Buy yourself one.
Mash together in mocajete these finely chopped items:
1 Chile pequin (small green chile-roasted as directed)
1 pod garlic
1 medium white onion
1 large peeled tomato
Salt to taste.
Chill before serving.
While you’re chopping the items, save all the juice and add to mocajete. Taste as you go along and feel free to alter proportions to suit you.
La Noche Fiesta
To get your guests in the spirit, serve them margaritas beforehand. Just don’t drink too many of them yourself or you may feed the enchiladas to the dog in wild abandon.
In the living room serve margaritas and Eckhardt’s Red and Green Chile in a big black pot with lots of hot, quartered tortillas to dip. Remember that Tex-Mex is not only food but an institution in Texas and demands a certain amount of ceremony. Demonstrate to your guests how to make a little dipping cup with the quartered tortilla by holding the tortilla by its pointed end as you would hold a pencil. Please leave the Fritos in the kitchen for the kids. Chile served as a dip can be made as hot as you can stand it, so feel free to doctor the recipe if it seems too bland.
Eckhardt’s Red and Green Chile
2 lbs. chile meat (beef or venison)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves pressed garlic
12 tsp. ground oregano
12 tsp. cumin seed
4 tsp. chile powder (more to taste)
3 ripe, peeled and chopped tomatoes
2 peeled and roasted chopped green chiles
Salt to taste
1 c. hot water
Roast and peel chiles. Slip skins off tomatoes. Put chile meat, onion, and garlic in big black pot. Sear until light colored. Add oregano, cumin, chile powder, tomatoes, and hot water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer about an hour. Remove fat by skimming as it cooks out.
While your guests are stilI mobile, steer them to the table for:
Rio Grande Pie
Sopa de Arroz
Fresh Butter Carta Blanca Beer
And for dessert back in the living room try
Strong, black coffee
Rio Grande Pie
6 corn tortillas
6 roasted, seeded, and peeled green chiles
12 tsp. salt
2, 3-oz. packs of cream cheese
2/3 cup whipping cream
Brown tortillas in hot fat in skillet. In a deep I qt. baking dish, place alternate layers of tortillas, chilled cheese sliced thin, and strips of long green chile peppers. Repeat until all are used. Add salt to cream; pour over mixture. Place two tortillas on top of the layers to keep the pie from drying out in the oven. Remove before serving. Bake 25 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Serve immediately. Serves six.
6 large white onions
1 T. Masa Harina
12 lb. ground beef
14 lb. ground pork
20 seedless golden raisins
2 T. chopped almonds
4 T. cooking oil
1 green chile
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
12 tsp. peppermill ground black pepper
4 eggs (separated)
3 T. flour
Peel onions. Place whole onions in boiling salted water. Boil 20 minutes, remove from water and cool. Mix Masa with water making a thin paste and set aside. Combine ground beef, pork. raisins, almonds, and cook in oil until brown. When almost done, add finely chopped green chile, paprika, masa paste, salt, and pepper. When well seasoned and done (taste it here), remove from fire and cool.
Remove the center of the cooked onions and stuff with meat mixture. Place on wax paper. Beat egg whites until stiff with mixer. Beat egg yolks separately with fork until light yellow in color. Gradually add the egg yolks to the egg whites. Beat continually all the time the yolks are being added.
Gently dip onions first in flour, then in egg mixture. Fry in a deep fat fryer at 370 degrees until golden brown all over, which will be approximately 10 minutes. Place on paper towels and keep in slow oven until time to serve.
If you wish, you can make Chile Rellenos this same method by simply substituting jalapeno or banana peppers for the onions. Roast peppers as instructed, peel skin, cut off stem and clean out veins, seeds, then stuff.
You may find that you have some egg mixture left over. If so you’re in luck. You can concoct a dessert fit for the gods with the leftovers. Serves six.
Peel and quarter 3 bananas (as in a banana split). Dip in flour, then egg mixture and deep fat fry at 370 degrees until golden brown all over Blot on absorbent paper, roll in powdered sugar, then stand back, the herd may trample you to get at them.
There are as many recipes for Guacamole as there are counties in Texas. You will find every ingredient from mayonnaise to french dressing suggested as a binder. Do not be deceived. The real McCoy depends on a very ripe avocado to mush itself together and has no cheaters.
2 very ripe avocados
2 medium tomatoes—slip skins and chop
1 medium white onion—chopped fine
1 green peeled chile pequin, ground fine
Juice of 12 lemon
Salt to taste
Mash avocados with a fork, not too smooth, and add the other ingredients. Mash with a potato masher. If you can’t serve it at once, put the seed back in and cover tightly to prevent darkening. Remove seed before serving. Makes three cups.
Mexicans like really sweet desserts. These cookies make a nice compromise. They’re traditionally served at fiestas but make a dessert which can be passed on a tray and taken only by those who aren’t on diets or aren’t chock-full. Hide these from the children or they’ll never make it to the dinner party. Store in air-tight tin.
4 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
34 c. milk
2 T. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
14 cup butter
Vegetable oil for frying
Sift flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder onto wax paper. Beat eggs slightly in a medium sized bowl; add melted butter; stir in flour mixture and milk alternately, until well combined. Turn out onto lightly floured pastry board and knead until very smooth. Divide into 24 pieces and shape into balls. Cover with a clean towel; let stand 20 minutes. Roll each ball on a lightly floured board into a large circle, as thin as possible. Fill a big black pot 2/3 full of oil. Heat to 370 degrees on a deep-fat thermometer. Drop cookies, one at a time, into hot oil. Fry, turning once, 3-4 minutes or until golden-brown. Drain on paper towel. Sprinkle cookies with cinnamon sugar, or drizzle with honey before serving.
Your reputation as a Tex-Mex cook will be made now—and your friends will expect even greater things from you next time.
And don’t forget your college roommate from Texas who moved to Minneapolis. This year for the Holidays, send a can of green chiles. Your old roommate may have to shovel a path through the snow to the mailbox to retrieve your package, but it will be worth it. Bon Apetit—er—Salúd!