Missing Texas or Homework #1 Recipes

I love Mexican cuisine and I was really excited that the first homework assignment in the course was salsa and guacamole.

All through my childhood and early teenage years I was a very picky eater. I don’t know where my Mom got all the patience to cook separate dishes for me — bland, colorless soups, plain side dishes, no sauces or herbs, Gods forbid. Everything had to be plated separately as I wouldn’t touch any mixed food, even if it was pasta and meatballs.

Then it all changed. When I was 15 I spent a year in the US as an exchange student. “Please try a dish before you say you don’t like it,” my Mom asked me before I left for US. Above everything else, she was worried I’d die of starvation in this strange faraway land. Mothers. Yeah. (c) 🙂

I spent the exchange year in San Antonio, TX, a vibrant city, home to many universities and a large international community. It also boasts a wide selection of great restaurants that cater to every taste and budget, especially when it comes to Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine, a cuisine I grew to love over the year that I lived in Texas. I was lucky to live with an amazing host family that welcomed me into their home like their own child. Among all other things the D. family was great at was food — delicious, honest southern food. The quiet evenings spent at home cooking together are one of the fondest memories of my year in the US. I kept the promise I gave my Mom — I tried any new food I came across before I said “I don’t like it.

These days I’m back living in my Y. city, lost in the mountains. The restaurant scene here has improved in the recent years, but one thing still missing is a real Mexican restaurant. I know many would argue with me and name at least one Mexican restaurant they like, but these are not nearly good enough to relieve my cravings. It’s been over a decade since my exchange year. Unfortunately, I haven’t been back since, and I miss Texas dearly — the amazing people I met there, the smell of freshly cut grass in the humid air, the colorful Riverwalk, the Majestic theater, the parks with wonderful hiking trails, even the heat. And, of course, I miss the food. Up to this date I haven’t been able to find a good Mexican or even Tex-Mex restaurant on this side of the pond.

The good thing is that I’m a better cook now, and can whip up my own Mexican-inspired dinner in no time! And this assignment was just another excuse to do so.

The main challenge in cooking these recipes, was finding the right ingredients in our neck of the woods. After my fruitless search for jalapeño and serrano peppers I had to replace them with regular chili peppers, which weren’t nearly hot enough. I left some of the placenta in to make sure it was hot, but it still didn’t have the sufficient bite to it.

The course suggested serving the guacamole and salsa with quesadillas, but I went for hard-shell tacos instead.

Below I’ve added the modified recipes for convenience. The internet is full of various recipes and techniques on making both guacamole and salsa that might be more to your taste.

You can find the original recipes used in the course on the MIT OCW website: Guacamole (PDF), Salsa (PDF).

Guacamole

Ingredients:

  • Avocados
  • Small onion, finely minced
  • Lemon juice from a lemon (start with half, and add more if necessary)
  • Salt to taste (about 1 tsp. to 1 tbsp.)

Method:

  1. Cut open the avocados, remove the pit, scoop out the flesh and mush them up.
  2. Add the lemon juice and mix well.
  3. Add the minced onions.
  4. Add salt to taste. Add 1 teaspoon at a time and taste after mixing well.
  5. Serve with tortilla chips.
Salsa
Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, diced very finely
  • 3 medium tomatoes, diced small
  • one bunch cilantro, chopped (and no, you can’t add parsley instead)
  • 2 tbsp. lime or lemon juice (I used lemon)
  • 1-2 jalapeño peppers
  • 1 –2 serrano peppers (I used 3 medium hot chili peppers instead)
  • salt to taste

Method:

  1. Chop and mix all ingredients. The chunkiness of the salsa depends on how big you cut the ingredients, so it is up to you to give it your individual preference. I like my salsa fine. 🙂
  2. When you are chopping the jalapeño peppers, use gloves and discard the gloves after you use them. DO NOT TOUCH YOUR EYES! If you don’t have gloves, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands after chopping the peppers. (Ask me how I know this…)
  3. Add salt one teaspoon at a time and taste after mixing well.
  4. Let salsa sit for 1 –2 hours before serving.

Notes:

  • Make sure the you cut the peppers small enough so that they won’t burn their mouths when they eat it.
  • You need to be aware of the hotness of the peppers you use. You can control the amount of hotness by leaving in or cutting out the “hot” parts of the pepper, i.e. the so-called placenta.

I hope this post will inspire you to cook your own Mexican cuisine-inspired dinner tonight! You can serve guacamole and salsa with tortilla chips, make a taco salad, or serve with cheese quesadillas.

Have fun, and bon appétit!

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