I love Mexican food: spicy, fresh, and exotic yet with easy to find ingredients. It can be fancy fine dining or as down to earth as the delicious tacos you can find in carts along the street.
So how can you mess up a simple tostada?! Shan and I went out this week on a rare date and when looking for somewhere to eat chose a Mexican restaurant. We weren’t expecting anything amazing, just somewhere decent to get a bite after our movie. We don’t go out to eat very often, so if we do and it’s not good I feel so cheated! Like I wasted my restaurant experience. It was terrible – cold, grey meat with no seasoning, just a sad, sad plate. Thank God for my Corona and the lovely company or it would have been a total loss.
Whenever this happens, I end up craving the food I was slighted. All week I’d find myself dreaming about enchiladas, posole, and tamales, so this weekend I decided to try out the Beer-Braised Turkey Taco recipe in this month’s Food and Wine.
This is very easy to make, and like soups and stews gives you the satisfaction of simmering something away on the stove while you tidy up the kitchen and throw together a salad. It uses turkey legs, which is cool, because I don’t think I’ve ever actually cooked non-Thanksgiving turkey. I pulled the legs out of the package feeling like a queen at the Renaissance Festival.
Here’s what you do, with my rebellions and inabilities to follow directions in parentheses: You just brown the legs, bone in, and remove from the pot, then sauté a diced onion, several garlic cloves, and an oregano sprig (I used dried…shh. I also forewent the jalapeño that’s supposed to be added at this point so that Zoeya could eat it). After the onions are softened, add a diced tomato (I used a handful of cherry tomatoes since tomatoes are not in season) with a cinnamon stick and an ancho chili. Anchos are dried poblanos, so they aren’t very spicy, but give a nice smoky flavor. Then, add a cup of water and a bottle of Mexican dark beer (they did not have Modelo Negro at the store so I settled for Dos Equis which is amber) and simmer away for about an hour. Observe my smoky caldron:
After an hour, remove the turkey from the pot and shred with two forks. This is a great answer to pulled pork for people who don’t eat pork! Much lighter too. Reduce the liquid in the pot, puree it, and throw everything back in the pot to heat through.
In the meantime while the turkey was braising, I made a roasted tomato salsa by roasting the rest of the cherry tomatoes with some garlic cloves and a red chile, then pulsing them in the food processor – I rescued the chile from the roasting pan and chopped it a little finer so nobody would get a surprise bite. This turned out very nice, but it probably could have used another chile, especially since there was no jalapeño in the turkey sauce and we needed something to spice it up. Shan turned to sriracha. He puts that stuff on everything.
Finally, I just heated up some white corn tortillas, and made a quick salad from romaine, an avocado, and a can of octopus. This is my dear friend Denise’s salad, and I love it because it’s so easy to make (you just dress it with the oil from the can of octopus, a little salt and pepper and a spritz of lime) but it still feels special.
I don’t cook like a chef. I cook like a working mom. I can walk into the kitchen, see what we’ve got, and whip up a nice meal. I am queen of substitution and leftover transformation, as I hate to waste food and I also hate to eat the same thing every night. It helps that I am never without some basics (olive oil, onions, garlic) and that I have a lot of dishes up my sleeve (pastas, rice dishes, soups) that will use all our leftover vegetables and herbs gracefully with delightful results. I am adventurous, flexible and can adapt. I am the mother of invention.
Last night I set about thawing what I thought was stew beef and then assessed the situation. Onions, garlic, potatoes, and canned tomatoes I always have, and carrots I usually have. Half a container of mushrooms, half a bunch of spinach, and a few sprigs of thyme needed to get used up. Ingredients that on a cold day lend themselves to beef stew.
My aunt called me while I was chopping vegetables. We chatted awhile and she asked me what I was making for dinner. “Beef stew”, I told her. “What’s special about it? You’re not going to puree anything?” She’s been talking since they came over for dinner last week about the split pea soup I served, which was delicious, and pureed. I assured her everything was chunky and rustic, just regular American week-night beef stew.
But when I opened the bag of thawed meat and saw a hoof…I realized this might not be true.
We buy goat meat by the leg at the halal shop. They butcher it for you into one to two inch pieces, bone and all, and divide it into three or four 1 1/2 pound bags. Usually we make Achar Gosht, literally “Pickled meat,” which we make with the meat, some vegetables, chilies, and spices to eat with naan. It has a nice flavor, less gamey than lamb, and although it can be a little chewy, if you cook it right it falls right off the bone. There’s nice marrow in the bones too! (Ok now I’m probably grossing out not only vegetarians but a lot of people). It’s also leaner than beef with more protein. Goat is good.
I was actually happy about the unexpected goat meat and decided to continue with the original plan. I figured the meat itself would be a nice change, and the bones would make the sauce more flavorful, so I was excited to see how it turned out.
I lightly floured the chunks of meat, as this, plus the starchy potatoes, would help thicken the stew later. I browned them in two batches with a little olive oil, and removed them from the pot. I always brown my meat first, rather than throwing everything in the pot to boil away like Shan (an otherwise good cook) does, because this creates a Maillard reaction and enriches the flavor of the dish.
I added a little more olive oil (the flour had soaked it all up) and sauteed my rustically chopped onions and several roughly sliced cloves of garlic, then deglazed the pot with about 1/2 cup of red wine – even though our meat was halal, this recipe is not! Then I returned my meat to the pot with 3 thickly chopped carrots, 3 chopped potatoes, my half container of mushrooms, 3 sprigs of thyme, 2 bay leaves, maybe 1/2 can of leftover crushed tomatoes, a tbsp of tomato paste, sea salt, black pepper, 1tsp paprika, a spoon of dijon mustard, and chicken broth and water to cover. Whew, that sounds like a lot, but really it’s not. I gave it a stir, and simmered it, covered, low and slow for a good half an hour until the veggies were softened and the meat cooked through, and then another 10 minutes or so uncovered until it thickened up. I like to throw in something fresh and green at the end, so I tossed in a couple of handfuls of chopped spinach and 3 sliced scallions.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say not a lot of people have made this. Not a lot of people have goat meat in their freezer, and the ones that do are probably not making this type of stew. Maybe Irish farmers or something. We really loved it, it had a velvety gravy, and vegetables that were tender yet kept their integrity rather than becoming mushy and indistinguishable. The flavor was wonderfully balanced, lighter than you would get with beef, richer than you would get with chicken. Goat ftw.