Saturday, February 23, 2008

Comiendo in San Miguel: ¡Qué Rica!

Really, I couldn't not go. Delta was having a special promotional fare from Boston to Querétaro for $350 round-trip inclusive of fees and taxes, and I had a lovely little casita in which to stay, attached to my sister's house, for free. Another one of my sisters was going to be there, too. So really, I had to go. It had nothing to do with the fact that Mexican is both my favorite and, in my estimation, the greatest of the world's three or arguably four great, fully distinct cuisines (the others being French, Chinese, and--the arguable--Italian). Really, nothing at all.

But of course I ate. And ate. My sister had arranged a round of dinners and cocktails (tequila the drink of choice) at friends' houses, and we also had breakfasts (there's nothing so satisfying as chilaquiles in the morning) and lunches out. San Miguel de Allende is a Colonial city with cobbled streets and uneven sidewalks (where they exist), forcing one to stop frequently for a restorative bebida and a quick taco, sope, or pastel. Everywhere, the little doorway stands (an open door, a vestibule-sized space with a cook, a comal, and a single table for patrons) selling a single specialty item--gorditas, menudo, carnitas, tamales, chicharrones--beckon. At the vast Tuesday market, acres of stands run by families and individuals compete for the trade of demanding and equally hardworking locals. To avoid la turista, one must choose carefully, perhaps avoid. But they offer a visual feast even if caution wins out.

Among the many eating occasions was a sisters viewing party my sister-in-residence threw for us visitors, to which were invited some 60 of her closest friends (I marvel at this: I have about 3). She's an artist, as are many of the ex-patriots living in San Miguel de Allende, and thinks in terms of shows. Fortunately, she did not hang us; we were more like performance art, I guess. It was great fun, and I in particular enjoyed planning the menu and helping a bit to prepare the food with the incomparable Maria, my sister's housekeeper. Maria has ten (10) children--not a typo. She caters; she helps her daughter in her restaurant; she cleans; she shops and manages; she is muy amable. And she is increíble.

The food was a simple spread of antojitos, made from the finest ingredients--queso fundido with chorizo made in her son's carnicería; flautas de pollo (we had a serious and lengthy discussion about the proportions of oil and lard in which to fry them) with salsa verde and all the trimmings; little albóndigas (meatballs) in chipotle sauce; and jícama with chile, lime, and pickled ginger. There were also chicken tamales, a gift from a neighbor's housekeeper in honor of the visitors. Maria and her daughter handled everything--after catering for a dance and a film crew from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m. the previous night. Did I mention she is amazing?

The next morning I sat at my sister's flower-covered table eating a leftover chicken tamale with green sauce for breakfast. It was yet another brilliant, 80-degree day. I had absolutely nothing that I had to do. Qué rica, indeed.

Salsa Verde
This is a quick, versatile, tangy sauce of the “cooked” category of Mexican salsas. It is fabulous with scrambled eggs, tamales, and chicken tostadas, and is the ideal accompaniment to a true quesadilla made with fresh masa. If you cannot find fresh tomatillos, generally available in large markets, the canned tomatillos available online, if not in your neighborhood, are a very good product; they are already cooked, so you can skip that step. Makes about 2 cups.
1 ¼ lb fresh tomatillos
1 medium-large clove garlic, peeled
½ tea salt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 chile Serrano, chopped, seeds removed or not
Choose firm, medium-large fruit that are beginning to pop through their papery husks; their skins should be smooth and bright yellowy-green. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and wash them to remove the normal gumminess from their skin. Boil until their skins burst, and they are very soft and just begining to lose their shape, 10-15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a food processor, reserving the water. Add the garlic, cilantro, chile, and salt to the food processor and process until smooth. The sauce should be slightly fluid; add a few tablespoons of the reserved hot cooking water if needed and taste for salt. Serve at room temperature.
Salsa verde keeps well in the refrigerator for up to a week, and can be frozen. After refrigeration it will be somewhat jelled; thin it again with a little hot water if needed.

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