4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “Mexico”

Al Pastor in Puebla (by Carmen)

View down the street in Puebla

View down the street in Puebla

There is really only one reason we went to Puebla: tacos al pastor. Given that we already sampled many, many tacos al pastor in DF, it may seem crazy to come 2 hours south to Puebla just to eat more. But this is the supposed home of al pastor. And let’s face it, we’re fanatics.

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral facing the zócalo

So it was with great anticipation and hunger in our bellies that we found ourselves in the zócolo (main square) of Puebla. A city of 1.5 million seems positively tiny after DF (which holds about 21 million). The zócolo had a relaxed atmosphere with families and friends collecting in clusters and balloon sellers meandering around. The centuries old cathedral towers over the south side of the square flanked by arcades full of cafes to watch the world go by.

Las Ranas' version of al pastor

Las Ranas’ version of al pastor

Just a few blocks away was our al pastor mecca, Las Ranas. Al pastor (literally shepard’s style) was brought to the country by Lebanese immigrants. Like donner, thin sliced marinated meat (in this case pork) rotates on a spigot slowly becoming carmelized and juicy. The meat slicers at Las Ranas were pros and we watched them cut the meat into ever so thin slices to be placed on tortillas, queso fundido (melted cheese), bolillos (bread rolls) or pan árabe (literally arab bread; pita). The pita is what really brought home the origins of this specialty – it was soft and a little chewy, perfect with the seasoned meat and spicy salsas. Las Ranas will forever stay in my memory as a place that 1) has some of the best al pastor in the world and 2) made me fuller than I’ve ever been in my life.

Capilla del Rosario

Capilla del Rosario

One of Puebla's many churches

One of Puebla’s many churches

The next morning we discovered more of Puebla beyond its culinary treasures. An important colonial town, the city is full of lavishly decorated churches and religious sites. My favorite was the Capilla del Rosario. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful chapels I’ve seen anywhere in the world. The bright white stucco was shaped into intricate, weaved geometric patterns and then strategically covered in gold to accentuate the design. It was over the top baroque but instead of being tacky it felt fun, as if it were a puzzle to try and decipher the underlying geometries.



Near the church, a group of girls cornered us to ask us questions about America for a school project. They were adorable and very enthusiastic to practice English. One of the cutest moments was when the best English-speaker asked us if we really called calabacitas “zucchinis.” She thought it was such a strange word that she had doubted her teacher’s translation. We asked the schoolgirls what their favorite comida poblana (Pueblan food) was and they responded “chalupas!” We specifically sought these out and discovered that these are comprised of fresh tortillas dragged through rich tomato or tomatillo based sauces and then fried on a griddle. Thanks for the tip, chicas.

Bar in Puebla (I love the dancing woman painted above)

Bar in Puebla (I love the dancing woman painted above)

Pork cemita from Cemitas América

Pork cemita from Cemitas América

Another Pueblan specialty is cemita. What makes these small sandwiches special is the buttery, flakey, spiral shaped bread it sits on. We chose the most hopping cemita joint we could find and ordered two. This place only did one type of cemita – pig face. I like it when an eatery is bold enough to just do one thing well and, in this case, it paid off. Pig face is not for everyone but if you can learn to enjoy the jiggly factor, you’re in for a treat.

At the train museum

At the train museum

Inside a vintage Mexican train

Inside a vintage Mexican train

Puebla continued to charm me with a museum dedicated to Mexico’s basically extinct passenger rail system. El Museo del Ferrocarril (Train Museum) had a collection of old rail cars, some of which you can climb inside. The information signs provide details on the origins of the various cars, how and when they were used and background on the lives of the people who worked them. Inside Puebla’s former rail station, a photography exhibit displayed photos of the many migrants who boarded these trains in the mid-1900s to work in the US. My grandfather was one of these men, traveling from Guadalajara to Chicago, which made the exhibit particularly personal for me. I searched the faces in each photograph to get a sense of both the fear and the bittersweet excitement the men must have felt as they boarded the trains to a such a foreign place and culture.

Quesadilla close up with squash flowers and mushrooms

Quesadilla close up with squash flowers and mushrooms

Heading back to the town center, we couldn’t resist the sizzle of quesadillas on the grill. Ours contained squash blossoms, mushrooms and fresh gooey cheese on a purple corn tortilla.


Living my librarian dreams at the biblioteca

Directly in the center, we were once again surrounded by colonial splendor. An elegant example of this splendor was the 17th century biblioteca (library). I love libraries. I’ve always been intrigued by becoming a librarian. I think it was the scenes from Beauty and the Beast in which Belle waltzes through the castle library stacked high with leather bound books that influenced me as a child. In short, I was very happy here.

Artsy mole at El Mural

Artsy mole at El Mural

Our final meal in Puebla diverged from all the previous ones we had had in Mexico. Thus far, we had focused on street food and hole-in-the wall eateries to get the most authentic food we could. In general, Nathan and I are weary of white tablecloth restaurants that only the local elite and tourists can afford. But we heard good things about El Mural and we decided to give it a try for breakfast on our last morning in town. They totally had me with their homemade miniature pan dulce. And their café de olla (coffee with spices). And their fresh juices. And pretty much everything else.

Street vendor in Puebla

Street vendor in Puebla

I’m so glad we stopped in Puebla on our trip. It was a charming and calm counterpoint to the frenetic energy of DF yet still had an urban feel. Next up was through the gorgeous four-hour drive through the mountains to Oaxaca.


Smokey Red Enchiladas (by Nathan)

Plated red enchiladas

The food that comes from Carmen and my kitchen can only be described as internationally eclectic.  One week we are turning out spicy Thai, another week it is French desserts, but for me I always find balance and joy with Mexican food.  I originally tried this recipe from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday, but I have adapted it over time by not straining the sauce, and adding queso fresco and onions to the enchiladas.

This is my go to recipe for Sunday night when I know that there is a rough week ahead; and I need a stockpile of leftovers to get through it.  It is challenging to make it as a small batch so plan on a few meals of the same delicious thing or invite several friends for a feast.

The delicious roast chicken made by Jonathan and Julia

Typically I make this recipe with leftover roast chicken, but I have made it numerous times vegetarian (see * below).  I’ll use an organic chicken that was roasted by me or my grocer the day before.  We’ll consume some for the thighs and breasts on their own and use the rest of the meat for the enchiladas.  Get full use of the chicken by making a stock from the bones, cartilage and slimy parts of skin.  *In the vegetarian option I use strips of roasted yams and sweet potatoes that go wonderfully with the spicy sauce.

I have never had enchiladas better than these.  The flavors are smoky, and slightly sweet with a spice and heat that keeps the fork in constant motion from plate to mouth.

Inspired by Rick Bayless’ Red Chile Enchiladas with Chicken and Melted Cheese
Serves 8-10 (18-22 enchiladas)

For the sauce:
6-8 dried guajillo chiles – stems removed, split on one side and remove seeds
6 cloves garlic
1-28 oz can fire roasted tomatoes ( I like Muir Glen brand)
1/2 – 1 cup chicken broth*
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt and sugar to taste

For the enchiladas:
*1/2 leftover roast chicken– approximately 4-5 cups
24 high quality tortillas (I like La Tortilla Factory or a pliable pack that is still steamy and warm at the Mexican grocery store)
1/2 red onion – chopped fine
6 oz queso fresco (casero) – grated

For the garnish:
1/2 cup cilantro – chopped
2 oz queso fresco (casero) – grated
2-3 finely sliced red onion rounds

*Vegetarian substitutions:
Vegetable broth may be used in place of chicken broth
2-3 sweet potatoes and/or yams – Cut into 1/4″ fries and halved
2 garlic cloves – smashed and finely chopped
Olive oil, salt, black pepper, 2tsp chopped fresh rosemary
*One day ahead or two hours before dinner. Toss potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic.  Roast on a baking sheet at 450°F (230°C) for 20 minutes, stir and flip potatoes and return for another 20minutes.  Remove when slightly soft to bite, but not mushy. Let cool.

Guajillo chiles with seeds removed

1) One hour and fifteen minutes ahead.  Prepare the guajillo chiles, open up and wipe the outsides with a damp paper towel.  Heat a cast iron skillet (or normal frying pan) to medium heat and add a little olive oil to coat.  Add the garlic and half of the peppers.  Press the chiles into the pan for 10-15 seconds each, then flip and cook the inside of the chile.  The fumes usually become intoxicating so have the oven fan on and a plan to step away for a sneezing and coughing attack.  Return to the pan and put the slightly browned peppers on a plate.  Stir the garlic and cook the rest of the peppers.  Cook both sides and cool the peppers and roasted garlic on a plate.

Roasted chiles and garlic

2) One hour ahead.  Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).  Add the can of tomatoes, roasted chiles, garlic and cumin to a blender or food processor.  Puree for a minute to create a fine and smooth liquid.  Pour the sauce into a large skillet at medium-low heat.  Stir in 1 tsp salt and half of the broth.  Cover with a splash guard and simmer for at least fifteen minutes.

While the flavors meld together in the sauce it is time to prepare the filling.  Pick all the useable pieces of meat and skin from the chicken carcass.  The crispy chicken skin is essential to make these good, so don’t omit it. Pick through the meat one more time to remove any accidental bones or cartilage.  Chop the meat into 1/4 inch chunks and place into a large bowl.  Mix in the chopped onion and grated cheese.

Return to the sauce on the stove, stir and taste.  Add sugar and salt to taste.  The sugar will allow the sauce to better coat the tongue and bring the spice to all areas of the mouth.  1-2 tsp maximum, the sauce is not supposed to be sweet, just balanced.

The consistency of the sauce should be that of half-and-half; a liquid with an obvious depth to it.  Add more broth to thin or stir constantly over medium heat to thicken the sauce.  Scoop 1 cup of the sauce and mix into the chicken, onion and cheese mixture.  Spread another 1/2 cup into the bottom of a 9×13 glass Pyrex dish.

Blend ingredients to make sauce

Combine cheese, chicken (or potatoes) and a little sauce

Completed enchilada filling mixture

3) 45 minutes ahead.  Heat 4-5 tortillas on a comal or griddle, flip and when pliable add the tortillas to the enchilada sauce.  Coat the tortillas on both sides.  Place 2-3 of the wet tortillas on the pirex dish.  Spoon the filling mixture onto each tortilla.  Roll tightly and fit into a row.  Repeat by adding additional tortillas to the comal, dunking the hot tortillas and assembling the rest of the enchiladas.  Fill the entire pan and pour the remaining sauce over them.

Rolling of the first enchiladas

Filled pan of enchiladas

Pour over the remaining red sauce

4) Fifteen minutes ahead.  Top with the garnishing cheese and onion slices.  Bake for at least 10-15 minutes until heated through.

Smoky red enchiladas ready to serve

5) Serve.  Remove from oven, top with chopped cilantro.  Place 2-3 enchiladas on a plate; sprinkle with a pinch more cheese.  Mmmm.

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