July 25, 2014

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Lorain cooks share tips for Cinco de Mayo feast

For those who readily dig into holiday foods, today is a day full of sugar and spice (and perhaps a mouthful of antacids).

Just as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Irish food and beers, it wouldn’t be Cinco de Mayo without a plethora of Mexican fare and margaritas. Cue the tacos, tostadas, tamales, burritos, enchiladas, hot sauce, rice and beans, and more hot sauce.

The official meaning behind this holiday is one of patriotism, celebrating Mexican heritage and the Mexican army’s unlikely win over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

What better way to embrace culture and tradition than to enjoy — and maybe even cook — flavorful, authentic Mexican meals?

According to the three experienced home cooks — all who live in Lorain and are active with the Mexican Mutual Society in the city — you already have the best Mexican tool in the kitchen: your palate.

“I always taste what I’m doing because if it is right for me, then I think it’s right for everybody else,” said Jorge Flores, who regularly cooks for the society and is preparing food this week for Saturday’s Cinco de Mayo parade and Little Queen coronation in Lorain.

“You always taste your food to bring out the flavor that you want — what you want to present to your family, what you want to present to your friends. It’s sort of like you want to please them, so you work at it to get the best flavor you can and use the best ingredients you can.”

Flores, 59, who shared his sought-after enchilada recipe he only makes on special occasions, said his mother taught him how to prepare Mexican cuisine when he was a young boy. As one of 11 children, Flores said his mother was an excellent cook and made stacks of tortillas for the family every day.

His best cooking tips? Always make sure to cook meat thoroughly, and be selective about your ingredients.
“If I am cooking with onions and peppers, I use the freshest ingredients I can get and good quality,” he said. “I like to use good sweet onions like Texas or Vidalia.”

Susan Dominguez, who is coordinating Mexican Mutual Society’s Cinco de Mayo buffet this evening, is known for her homemade super-hot sauce. She  said every Mexican cook has his or her own way of taming and cultivating flavors in the kitchen.

It’s a skill cultivated by watching and doing, not by reading a recipe.

“That’s how I learned — I watched my mother-in-law and my mom,” said Dominguez, 68, who grew up in Lorain. “They never, never have the recipe because they go by taste. If it needs more garlic, throw in more garlic. You have to constantly keep tasting it until you like what you are going to serve. If you don’t like what you serve, no one else is going to like it. That’s the way I feel, anyway.”

Start with good, fresh key ingredients, Dominguez said. Think rice, tomato sauce, cuminos, garlic and onions.
“Those are the basic things that can go into anything we make — enchiladas, tacos and anything and everything,” she said.

And to serve? Homemade hot sauce, of which she makes weekly batches. Dominguez and her sister, Marie Leibas, enjoy it on everything from rice and beans to pizza.

For her milder hot sauce, Dominguez uses canned, whole-peeled tomatoes and about 10 jalapenos, which she boils with onion and garlic before throwing in the blender with the tomatoes.

For her super-hot version, she uses a habanero chile pepper.

Leibas, who is director of the Little Queen coronation, said she remembers as a child watching her grandmother roast a hearty poblano pepper on a flat tortilla grill and over an open fire to make an excellent chile relleno.

“Roasting the pepper made it so flavorful,” said Leibus, who doesn’t cook as much as she used to, but often prepares simple meals such as tacos, tostadas and burritos at the club. “My specialty is a terrific shredded beef burrito that is prepared in a way that’s very similar to shredded beef barbecue or shredded pork. I cut up the meat, boil it until it’s nice and tender, always with onions and garlic — we do a lot of onions and garlic. And I shred it and fry it, putting in some more garlic, onions and cuminos — we don’t make anything without garlic and cuminos — and frying it up some more, putting in some water and tomato sauce and letting it simmer before putting it in a tortilla.”

Leibas said it’s critical to start with a good brand tortilla from a Mexican store.

She and her sister buy all their tortillas, as well as other ingredients, at Licha’s Inc., a Mexican grocery store on Clinton Avenue in Lorain.

“They buy their tortillas from Detroit and Chicago where the real tortilla factories are,” Leibas said of Licha’s. “My mom used to make them by hand every day, but I think the last tortilla I made by hand was 25 years ago. It’s very tedious.”

Flores said he is looking forward to feasting on his favorite Mexican foods tonight.

“In a way, it’s all about the food and the drink,” he said. “(Cooking) is one of the few things in life that you can say, I did this myself and this is for you.”

Beef Enchiladas in a salsa De Ancho chile

FILLING:

  • 1 pound ground chuck, browned thoroughly
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 pounds grated Colby-Jack cheese

SAUCE:

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons beef bouillon (powered)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons ancho chile powder
  • 3 tablespoons flour for thickening

TORTILLAS:

  • 24 good quality corn tortillas
  • Oil for frying

Filling prep: After ground chuck is browned, pour off the drippings and separate the fat from the rest of the liquid. Return the defatted liquid to the skillet and add the salt and chopped onion to the ground chuck. Stir, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Sauce prep: Boil water in a large skillet, add desired amount of bouillon and stir until dissolved. Blend ancho chile powder in slowly until evenly dispersed. Dissolve the flour thoroughly in ½ cup of cold water, and then slowly add to the boiling water mix until desired thickness.

For the tortillas: Heat ½ cup of cooking oil in a skillet until hot enough to fry tortillas. Dip a tortilla in the oil and fry for a few seconds, then dip into the warm ancho chile sauce; thoroughly coat the tortilla. Lay coated tortillas on a large tray until there are enough tortillas to fill with the filling.

Fill the coated tortillas with about 1½ to 2 tablespoons of the meat filling and about 1½ tablespoons of the grated Colby-Jack cheese. Roll the filled tortilla and place all the rolled tortillas in a single layer on a large cookie tray.

If there is any leftover sauce, dilute with a small amount of water, re-warm in the skillet and pour over the enchiladas. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 16 to 20 minutes.

Source: Jorge Flores of Lorain, Mexican Mutual Society member

FISH TACOS WITH CABBAGE AND LIME

Preparation time: 10 minutes / Total time: 25 minutes

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless tilapia fillets, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • ¼ cup regular or reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1 lime, half finely zested and juiced, half cut into wedges
  • Favorite hot sauce, such as Tabasco
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • ½ small head red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped

Heat broiler, with rack in highest position. Pat the fish dry with paper towels and gently coat with oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Broil until fish is browned on top and flesh is opaque throughout, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine sour cream, lime zest and juice, and a few dashes of hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Toast corn tortillas over a kitchen burner using tongs or wrap in parchment-lined foil and heat in oven 5 minutes. Divide fish evenly among tortillas and top with cabbage, cilantro and onion. Serve with lime sour cream and lime wedges. Serves 4.

Source: From Everyday Food May 2010 issue.

Per serving: 440 calories (31 percent from fat), 15 grams fat (4 grams sat. fat), 43 grams carbohydrates,
36 grams protein, 261 mg sodium, 63 mg cholesterol, 7 grams fiber.

CLASSIC MARGARITA

Preparation time: 5 minutes / Total time: 5 minutes

  • 1 lime, cut into wedges, divided
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 cup tequila
  • 2/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/3 cup orange-flavored liqueur
  • 2 teaspoons superfine sugar

Rub the rim of 4 rocks glasses with a wedge of lime; dip in coarse salt. Fill the glasses three-quarters of the way with ice. In a cocktail shaker combine the tequila, lime juice, orange-flavored liqueur and sugar. Shake well, then pour into the glasses. Garnish with lime. Serves 4.

Source: From Food Network magazines, May 2010 issue.

Contact Chrissy Kadleck at 329-7155 or ckadleck@chroniclet.com.