Friday, February 17, 2017

Cubano Ropa Vieja

     Cuban Style Shredded Clothes!    
     It may be difficult to get excited about an entrée that translates as "shredded clothes or shredded rope."  All it takes is one taste to see why Ropa Vieja really is something to get excited about.  Ropa Vieja is an interesting traditional Cuban recipe that is a popular restaurant offering in the Southwest and Florida.  Ropa Vieja is slow cooked stew of tender, hand shredded beef.  
     Flank Steak is the easiest cut of beef to work with when making Ropa Vieja, because this section of beef is very lean and the long grain of the meat is easily shredded after it becomes tender.  Lean long grain cuts from the chuck section are also a good choice, but any excess fat must be trimmed off. 
    In Cuba, both pork and beef are used for this recipe, but beef is the top choice.  There are Mexican recipe variations of Ropa Vieja that require more chile peppers, so the flavor can be a bit more spicy.  Cuban cuisine tends to be savory and not spicy, so a traditional Cuban Ropa Vieja will please guests that prefer mild rich flavors.  
     Ropa Vieja:  
     This recipe yields 1 hearty entrée.  (About 2 1/3 cups.)
     The beef must be slow cooked till it is tender enough to shred.  This process takes plenty of time!
     Step 1:  Heat a wide sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of blended olive oil.
     Add an 8 ounce piece of flank steak. 
     Sauté the flank steak till it is lightly browned on both sides. 
     Step 2:  Add three whole garlic cloves.  
     Continue cooking the steak, till the garlic turns a golden brown color.  (Flip the steak occasionally.)  
     Step 3:  Add enough beef broth to cover the steak with 1" of extra liquid.  
     Add 1 pinch of crushed dried red pepper.  (optional)
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of Spanish Paprika.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander.
     Add 1 teaspoon of cumin.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt and black pepper. 
     Bring the broth to a gentle boil.  
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Cover the pot with a lid.  
     Gently simmer till the meat is very tender and it is able to shred.  (About 2 to 3 hours.  Add water as necessary to keep the flank steak covered.)
     Step 5:   Remove the tender flank steak from the pot and place it in a mixing bowl.  (Leave the pot of broth on low heat.)
     Let the flank steak cool to room temperature.
     Shred the tender flank steak into thin strands that resemble shredded rope.  
     Step 6:  Return the shredded beef to the pot of broth over low heat. 
     Add 1/4 cup of thin julienne sliced onion.
     Add 1/4 cup of 1/4" thick green bell pepper strips.
     Add 1/4 cup of 1/4" thick red bell pepper strips.  
     Add 1 green onion that is cut into 1" long pieces.
     Step 7:  *Check the level of broth.  If necessary, add enough water to cover the ingredients with 1/2" of extra liquid.     
     Gently simmer till the vegetables are tender and till the stewing broth reduces to just below the level of solid ingredients.  The finished volume should be about 2 1/3 cups.  
     *The amount of stewing broth should be just enough to keep the finished Ropa Vieja wet.
     Keep the Ropa Vieja warm over very low heat. 

     Use a slotted spoon to mound the Ropa Vieja meat and vegetables in a shallow individual portion casserole dish. 
     Add enough of the stewing broth to fill the casserole dish. 
     Place the casserole dish on a doily lined serving platter. 
     Serve with plain white long grain rice on the side.
     Serve with thick sliced Cuban Bread on the side.   
     The flavor of Cuban style Ropa Vieja is savory and comfortable!  Cuban Bread is great for soaking up the stewing broth.  Ropa Vieja can be served any season and it adds warmth to a chilly day! 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Queso Enmoladas Verde

     Cheese Enchiladas en Green Mole Sauce!
     Enmoladas are enchiladas that are made with Mole Sauce instead of Chile Colorado Sauce.  Classic Mole Sauce has a deep reddish brown color.  Mole Verde has a green color and the word "Verde" should be used in a recipe title to signify the difference.  Guacamole is a paste made with avocado and it is not the same thing as Mole Verde.
     Classic Native Mexican Mole Sauces first start as a heavy dense paste.  Unfortunately the Spanish conquerors of Mexico went about erasing all native history and they claimed nearly everything as their own.  The same can be said about Mesoamerican recipes, like Mole.  Ground Mole Paste was a trade commodity long before the Spanish arrived and there was a wide variety of Mole Paste flavors made in different regions of Mexico.  Many items that were traded between native cultures ended up being incorporated into local Mole Paste recipes.  Modern historians refuse to admit that trade occurred between Mayan Cultures and they refuse to admit that cocoa was used for anything other than making a beverage.  Cocoa Beans were used to make dense Mole Pastes long before the Spanish arrived and so was a wide variety of seeds from medicinal plants.  Traditional native Mole Paste was more than just food and the flavor combinations were far more complex than modern commercial Mole Paste products.    
     It can take two days of continuous grinding to make a dense Mole Paste with a mortar and pestle.  Making Mole Paste with a food processor or blender would simply burn out the motor, because the Mole Paste is so dense.  Of course the ingredients can be made like a puree, but the flavor of the Mole Sauce would not be the same.
     Purchasing Mole Paste at a food market is a necessity.  Regular grocery stores only stock a few kinds of Mole Paste.  The selection is better at a Mexican food market and the lesser known brands are usually better quality.
     Modern Mole Verde Paste is a dense paste made with tomatillos, mild fresh poblano chile peppers, green herbs and sesame seeds.  Some of the herbs and the sesame seeds are not native Mexican ingredients, but that is what happens when ancient native recipes are vanquished from the history books.  Mole Verde Paste products are so dense, that it must be warmed before it can be scooped out of the jar.  The Mole Verde Paste is so concentrated, that only a spoonful or two is needed to make a generous portion of sauce.  A small jar of Mole Verde Paste goes a long way!
     Nearly any combination of Mexican cheese can be used to make Queso Enchiladas or Queso Enmoladas.  Cheese that becomes "oily" when baked is not a good choice.  Processed cheese is not a good choice from a health standpoint.  Cheese that has a very low fat content will not melt and it can be added to the cheese stuffing mixture to add texture and flavor.
     Queso Enchilada is a fresh low fat cheese that is dipped in red chile sauce before packaging.  The added chile flavor is nice for a cheese stuffing, but this cheese will not melt, so it must be mixed with a Mexican melting cheese, like Queso Oaxaca or Queso Chihuahua.

     Mole Verde Sauce:
     This recipe yields about 1 3/4 cups.  (1 generous portion)
     Step 1:  Select a jar of Mole Verde Paste at a market.
     Warm the jar in a double boiler set to low heat, so the dense paste becomes pliable.
     Step 2:  Place 2 tablespoons of the Mole Verde Paste in a sauce pot.
     Add 1 3/4 cups of water.
     Step 3:  Heat the sauce pot over very low heat.
     As liquid warms, whisk the sauce, till it is blended and the sauce thickens.
     Gently simmer till the thickness of the sauce is consistent and no more liquid can be absorbed.  The sauce should be a medium thin consistency that can coat a spoon.
     *Mole Verde Paste absorbs plenty of water.   Add more water if the sauce is too thick or add a little bit more green mole paste, if the sauce is too thin.
    Step 4:  Keep the mole verde sauce warm over very low heat.

     Queso Enmoladas Verde: 
     This recipe yields 1 entrée.  
     Step 1:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add enough vegetable oil, so the oil is about 1/4" deep.
     Adjust the temperature, so the oil is about 325ºF.
     Step 2:  Place a 6" corn tortilla in the hot oil.
     Briefly blanch both sides of the tortilla for a few seconds, so it is not crisp and so it is still soft enough to bend.
     Place the tortilla on a dry pastry towel and pat off any excess oil.
     Soft fry a total of 3 corn tortillas.
     Place the 3 soft fried tortillas side by side on a cutting board.
     Step 3:  Place 1 cup of grated Queso Enchilada in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 cup of grated Queso Oaxaca.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Step 4:  Place 1/2 cup of the cheese mixture on each oil blanched tortilla.
     Press the cheese mixture together, so it lines up as a mound across the middle of each tortilla.
     *By pressing the cheese together, so it sticks together, less cheese will fall out of the tortilla after it is rolled.
     Roll the tortilla around the cheese stuffing, so it becomes a cylinder shape.
     Step 5:  Place each rolled cheese filled tortilla in a single portion casserole dish that is about 8" wide.
     Pour about 3/4 cup of the Mole Verde Sauce over the stuffed tortillas.
     Step 6:  Place the casserole dish in a 325ºF oven.
     Bake till the cheese softens and melts inside the tortilla tubes.  (About 5-10 minutes.)
     Step 7:  Remove the casserole dish from the oven.
     *The small amount of Mole Verde Sauce on the Enmoladas will be nearly dried out and this next step will revive the sauce.
     Spoon a generous amount of the remaining warm Mole Verde Sauce over the baked Enmoladas.
     Step 8:  Set the casserole dish on a serving plate.
     Sprinkle a few coarsely chopped cilantro leaves on the Enmoladas.
     Place a dollop of sour cream on the center of the Enmoladas.  (About 1 ounce.)

     Queso Enmoladas Verde is a very easy meal to prepare after working all day!