Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mexican Brunch or How To Get Hammered in 150 Easy Steps

Saturday mornings are usually big days for me to sleep in. I generally stay in bed until around noon, sometimes later. I don't get much sleep during the week, or at all, really (just like the rest of us) and the weekends are for recharging the our physical and spiritual batteries. 

One of the greatest gifts to come with any weekend is the possibility of a decadent brunch. While living in Las Vegas offers a multitude of brunch options, the prices tend to be a little ridiculous at times, even when it's actually worth it (Simon and DW Bistro come to mind). 

This past Saturday (my Sunday), I opted to create brunch myself and I turned to the old mexican stand-by, Huevos Rancheros. 

Except I didn't intend on half-assing them. There would be no store-bought salsas cradling my eggs. As a complete control freak, I decided I would have to make everything from scratch so I would know exactly what I'd be eating. 

I am what is classified as an ova-lacto-vegetarian and have been so for half my life. This means I do not eat any dead animals (or live ones, for that matter). I will, however, eat eggs and dairy products. I tried to go vegan about five years ago and nearly died of starvation. I love cheese way too much to go vegan. 


The trick to great Huevos Rancheros is wonderful and fresh ingredients. I like things that appear simple and good, to reveal great textures and flavor notes. To achieve this, it is imperative that you make your own salsa for this dish. Before you go running for the hills at the thought of cooking from scratch, let me tell you, you won't believe how easy it all is.

First things first, the salsas. 

I adapted this recipe from Marcella Villadolid's cookbook, Mexican Made Easy.

Salsa Roja

  • 4 plum tomatoes, cored
  • 1 large shallot, peeled (Feel free to substitute the mild shallot for a quarter of a large onion if you want a more bold flavor.)
  • 2-3 serrano chiles (You can decide whether or not to seed or stem them. If you want a little less heat, you can definitely use jalapeƱos. Or if spicy isn't your thing, feel free to omit them altogether.)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. 

  • Add the tomatoes, shallot and serranos to the dry skillet and char on all sides, while turning occasionally, 7 to 10 minutes. Make sure the charring is nice and even, this will give you a nice, smoky flavor and make the salsa taste like it's been cooking all day. 

  • Transfer the charred ingredients to a blender, add the broth and blend until smooth. Return the salsa to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat until the salsa turns a bright red color, up to ten minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    • Salsa Verde
      • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
      • 5 tomatillos, husked and rinsed (These are the green Mexican fruit that kind of look like green tomatoes with a cape on.)
        • 2-3 serrano chiles (See note above.)
      • 1/2 small white onion (We want to use onions here instead of shallots, being that the tomatillos already have a pretty mild, tangy flavor.)
      • 1 garlic clove, unpeeled
      • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, tomatillos, chiles, onion and garlic to the dry skillet and char on all sides, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. 

    • Peel the garlic. Transfer the charred ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    • Once your salsas are complete, set them to the side in serving bowls and cover them to retain their heat.

    • What Huevos Rancheros plate worth its salt would be complete without a side of delicious refried beans? The problem with traditional refried beans and vegetarians is the fact that most Mexican families use pork fat to achieve their rich flavor. Well, I am here to show you the way around that! 

    • Refried Beans
      • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
      • 1 tablespoon olive oil
      • 3 whole serrano chiles
      • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained (Let's be honest, we don't all have time to sit around soaking beans and waiting for them to cook. At least, I don't. Just be sure to rinse them off, even if they're organic, it doesn't mean they aren't packed with salt.)
      • 1/4 cup vegetable broth (Again, this will help make your beans taste like they've been cooking all day.)
      • Salt and black pepper to taste

      Cook over medium heat, frequently mashing only the beans (not the chile), until the beans are a thick paste, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the chile and serve.

      Melt the butter with the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the serrano chiles and cook until the chiles have browned. 

      Add the beans and the vegetable broth.

      I like to add salt, pepper and garlic powder here. 

      At this point, I prefer to mash the beans once they are nice and hot. Let the beans, broth, chiles and spices come to a quick simmer...

      ...and begin mashing. A potato masher will work just fine. Come to think of it, until I was older, I always believed these were called bean mashers since this is what my family predominantly used them for. That's right, we are true beaners.

      Once you have achieved a nice consistency (personally, I like just a few whole beans left in the mixture for texture), set the beans aside and let them thicken. If you want to be really naughty, stir in 1/4 cup of half and half or shredded cheese here. You won't be sorry, just make sure you don't have to wear your skinny jeans that week. 

      One of my favorite parts of brunch (or any meal, for that matter) is potatoes. I am a man, after all. Once people find out I've been vegetarian for such a long time, one of the most inevitable questions is, "Don't you miss meat at all?" 

      In all honesty, I don't - except for a few things. 

      I do miss bacon, tacos al pastor, and the ever-popular chorizo sausage (insert obvious joke here). When I used to visit my paternal grandparents for the summer as a child, I knew I'd be eating whatever I wanted for every single meal. 

      My beautiful grandmother, Ramona, would always ask, "Gilbertito, que quieres comer?" ("Little Gilbert, what would you like to eat?") My requests almost always included chorizo con papas, or chorizo sausage with potatoes. 

      For those of you unfamiliar with Mexican chorizo, it is un an uncooked sausage made with ground fatty pork (although beef is another popular alternative) and a multitude of spices. There are some soy chorizo alternatives that can be found at health food stores. I have tried them, and I'm sorry to say I'm not partial to any of them. Not only is the spice off, but the texture is all wrong. 

      In order to recreate the taste I so fondly remember from my grandma's kitchen, I have concocted the following recipe (this recipe, along with the beans, make great leftovers for fast and easy tacos or burritos).

      Chorizo-Spiced Breakfast Potatoes
      5 tablespoons unsalted butter
      1 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into uniform bite-size chunks
      One small onion, chopped (Yellow or white, whatever floats your boat.)
      1 teaspoon kosher salt
      1 teaspoon ground black pepper
      1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
      1/2 teaspoon cumin
      1 pinch of ground Mexican oregano or marjoram
      1 garlic clove, finely minced
      1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
      1/2 cup minced cilantro
      1/2 cup minced scallions

      Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the potatoes, onions, salt, and pepper and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally until the potatoes are golden browned and cooked through.

      • Add your spices and garlic into the hot pan now - this will give the spices a chance to bloom and help your potatoes active a nice char, without tasting burnt. Once you have gotten the potatoes cooked to your preference, place a lid on the pan for at least 10 minutes to make sure the potatoes cook all the way through. There is nothing worse than undercooked potatoes, especially when you're just starting your day! 

      Once the potatoes are finished cooking, add your cilantro and scallions and toss together. The fresh bite of the cilantro leaves and scallions will go very nicely with the smokiness of the bloomed spices and the heartiness of the potatoes.

      And finally, the stars of the show: the eggs. 

      Some vegetarians have a big issue with eggs. I am no different - most of the time. I went through a stage where I wouldn't touch them for years. Today, I still carry a love/hate relationship with them. 

      I try to always buy organic eggs (laid by chickens fed with organic feed). Usually, organic also means that the chickens in question have access to the outdoors and aren't raised in cages. I didn't become a vegetarian because I was an animal-rights activist, but I am concerned for their welfare. If their living conditions are comfortable, then I am happy to pay a little more for the product. 

      Despite the love/hate relationship with eggs, my mouth begins to water when they are swaddled between a crispy corn tortilla and a warm blanket of salsa. And when that hot, runny yolk blends with everything on your plate, you will definitely agree.

      Huevos Rancheros (One serving)
      2 tablespoons olive oil
      2 large organic eggs
      2 large corn tortillas (For dishes like this, I prefer purchasing yellow corn tortillas at the local Mexican market.)
      Salt and pepper to taste

      How much easier could this get? 

      Take your two tablespoons of olive oil and heat them in an omelette pan large enough to fit your tortillas one at a time. You want the pan nice and hot so it's waiting for you and not the other way around. Gently fry the tortillas until crispy and golden brown. Remove from heat and place them on paper towels to drain. Remove any excess oil by blotting your tortillas with a paper towel.

      In the same pan, cook each egg one at a time (I season with salt and pepper while still in the pan because that's how I like it. There is no wrong way to cook eggs if you know how you like them.) Traditionally, the eggs are served sunny-side up, but I prefer over-medium.

      Once all your components are ready, it is time to assemble your dish. (Finally!)

      Place two tortillas on one side of your plate and place one egg on each of them. Serve with sides of refried beans and your chorizo-spiced potatoes. Spoon as much of the Salsa Verde and Salsa Roja on each egg as your heart desires. Top with a little minced onion and chopped cilantro, crumbled queso fresco and Mexican crema (both available in most grocery stores). If you can't find either, any cheese you would put on your eggs would work fine here (parmesan is delicious on eggs) and sour cream works well as a substitute for the crema.

      Now, grab a bunch of napkins, a fork and knife and dig in. Had I made the salsas the night before like I had originally intended, I would have had time to make margaritas, but alas, it was not meant to be.

      ...So we had screwdrivers instead. 

      I knew the brunch was a hit when I looked over at David and Stephanie's plates and they were both spotless. 

      David then took a deep breath and proclaimed, "I'm a little hammered."

      Ah yes, alcohol...the most perfect part of brunch. Buen provecho!

      Dear Reader,

      Thank you for reading this blog. As you may now, blogging is very new to me so I would appreciate any feedback and constructive criticism you may have. Gracias!

      -El Gildo

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