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Three Mexico City-Style Recipes To Hold You Over Until the Next Time You Can Travel There

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]f your wanderlust for Mexico City is at an all-time high, you’re not alone. In the neverending list of things that many of us took for granted before the pandemic, taking a trip to your favorite eating destination in Mexico is up there. 

To hold you over until the next trip there, in which we are optimistic you will make up for all the tacos not eaten in 2020, L.A. Taco has exclusively sourced three delicious and straightforward CDMX-style recipes: Habanero Guacamole, Milanesa-Style Burgers, and a Nopal and Mint salad. 

These recipes come to us from World Food: Mexico City, the first volume of the new encyclopedic book series written by James Oseland, the pioneering author who innovated the people-first approach to recipe-based travel food writing in the U.S. during his tenure at Saveur magazine in 2006. This new travelogue published by Penguin Books features over 60 alluring recipes that unlock the sazón secrets behind homestyle Mexico City-style antojitos, guisados, mariscos, platos fuertes, dulces, and micheladas. Everything from a chicken and verdolaga (purslane) stew to Arroz Borracho to mastering the basics like pickled red onions, World Food: Mexico City’s approach to cooking is inviting rather than overwhelming, regardless of a cook’s skill level. 

Besides the recipes and storytelling, the vivid photography captures all the colors, people, and textures of Mexico’s capital, making it an international travel destination for the taco-obsessed. During a pandemic that is ravishing both countries, flipping through the glossy pages is almost as good as smelling, seeing, and tasting everything yourself. We’ll take it. 

L.A. Taco caught up with Oseland from his home in Mexico City’s historic Centro neighborhood to discuss why is it important to practice cooking at home in relation to enjoying tacos in the street, the differences between Los Angeles and Mexico’s taco scenes, and why we should embrace eating chile seeds instead of removing them.     

L.A. Taco: In your book, you write about how Mexico City is inarguably famous for its street food, but that home cooking “holds the essence of [Mexican cuisine].” Why is it important to cook if you love tacos and Mexican food?  

James Oseland: Learning even just the basics of Mexican cooking—its most important ingredients, techniques, tools, and dishes—is an incredible and fun eye-opener that leads to a greater appreciation of all Mexican food, including tacos. The more you know about making a pot of beans the Mexican way, for example, the deeper your understanding of the whole cuisine becomes. That doesn’t mean you need to become an expert. By simply preparing a basic tomato salsa with chiles and onion that you char in your own hot pan, you begin to understand what makes Mexican food taste Mexican. The process will expand your consciousness.  

Are there any similarities or differences between Los Angeles-style taco culture and Mexico City-style taco culture?  

Los Angeles and Mexico City vie for the title of Taco Capital of the World—they share in common a landscape in which tacos are ubiquitous. In many parts of greater L.A., you’ll pass by three or more taquerias in a single block. In Mexico City, ditto. There are more taco-culture similarities than differences between the two places. As for which is my favorite taco city, well, let’s just say downtown L.A. was my home throughout the 1980s, and I still consider it part of me, but now my official home is downtown Mexico City. I could never choose a favorite! 

Do you have any insider tips for these three recipes?  

These three dishes—the Milanesa burgers, the guacamole, and the cactus salad—go really, really well together as a taco meal. I learned the burger recipe from Brenda Nieto—she runs the World Food test kitchen and was born and raised in Mexico City. They’re a weeknight favorite in her kitchen. If you have any burgers leftover (which you probably won’t), heat them and serve slathered with Dijon mustard or fresh-made salsa. It is absolutely to die for.  

As for the guac, the recipe calls for habaneros, but you could easily use any kind of fresh chiles you had on hand—jalapeños, serranos, for example. I personally don’t de-seed the chiles. I mean, really, what would be the point? And as for the nopal salad: Nopales are a controversial topic because of their okra-like viscosity. Rinsing them thoroughly under cold, running water helps mitigate that circumstance. But when you eat nopales as prepared in this salad, you are truly eating Mexico. Now that's a real reward.

Spicy Habanero Guacamole

Guacamole con Chile Habanero

Guacamole has near-universal appeal and is exceedingly easy to make. Any fresh, small chile can be substituted for the habanero (if extra heat is desired, leave in the seeds). Mash the ingredients with a fork, a potato masher, or with your hands. Serve with homemade totopos (tortilla chips).

Makes 1 1⁄2 cups

2 ripe medium avocados, halved, pitted, and peeled

1⁄4 medium white onion, minced

1 habanero chile, seeded and minced

1⁄2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, minced

1 to 11⁄2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, depending on desired tartness

Salt

Tortilla chips, for serving

In a bowl, combine the avocados, onion, chile, cilantro, 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Mix and mash the ingredients until you have a coarse, chunky smooth consistency. Taste and add more lime juice and salt if needed. Serve at once with the tortilla chips.

Cactus and Mint Salad

Ensalada de Nopales

Nopales, or cactus paddles, which grow in Mexico and in the southwestern United States, are usually available wherever there are Mexican grocers. Only the fresh ones will do for this recipe; nopales sold in jars do not have the same flavor or texture. This salad sparkles with clean, fresh flavors and works well in almost any context. It is equally good whether as a table condiment, a side dish, an appetizer, or eaten straight out of the bowl with warm tortillas. It makes for a tangy, zesty garnish for the fava bean-stuffed tlacoyos on page 68, and if you embellish it with a handful of crumbled aged Mexican cheese, sliced radishes, and a coarse-chopped avocado, it can even be a main course.

Serves 4

Salt

8 medium nopales (see page 202), thorns removed and cut into strips about 1

1⁄2 inches long

by 1⁄4 inch wide (about 4 cups)

1 cup finely chopped Roma tomatoes

1⁄2 small white onion, finely chopped

1⁄2 cup firmly packed fresh spearmint or peppermint

leaves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1.Bring a medium saucepan filled with water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Drop the nopales into the boiling water and cook until their bright green raw color turns a drab olive hue and they are tender about 5 minutes. Drain them in a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold running water, gently massaging them with your hands. The goal is to rid them of as much of their clear, slimy juice as possible, which may take a couple of minutes. Drain well.

2.Transfer the nopales to a serving bowl and add the tomatoes, onion, and mint. Stir gently to combine, then add the lime juice, oil, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Taste and add more salt if needed.

3. Let the salad sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving. It will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to a few days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Milanesa-Style Beef Burgers Milanesas de Carne Molida

A comida (lunchtime) favorite, this is a very thin beef patty that has been breaded and panfried until golden and a little crisp. It’s a secret weapon of busy cooks who want to provide something quick and substantial. Serve with warm tortillas and your favorite salsa.

Makes 8 patties

1 pound ground beef

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons coarsely

chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

3⁄4 cup fine dried bread crumbs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Canola oil, for frying

1. In a medium bowl, combine the beef, egg, parsley, 1⁄4 cup of the bread crumbs, 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper and mix until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Spread the remaining 1⁄2 cup bread crumbs on a plate, sprinkle with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and a couple of grinds of pepper, and mix together.

2. Scoop up 3 tablespoons at a time of the meat mixture and form into very thin, round patties about 3 inches in diameter and 1⁄4 inch thick. Press each side of the patties into the seasoned bread crumbs, creating a crust on both sides. Set the patties aside. You should have 8 patties total.

3. Line a platter with paper towels. Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add about 1 1⁄2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, working in batches and adding more oil to the pan as needed, add as many patties as will comfortably fit in the pan and fry, turning once, until a delicate golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes on each side. As they are ready, transfer them to the platter. Serve at once.

World Food: Mexico City is now available

“Reprinted with permission from World Food: Mexico City: Heritage Recipes for Classic Home Cooking by James Oseland, copyright©2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.”Photography copyright: James Roper © 2020 except Photos on pages 17, 46, and 65 are owned by Fototeca Nacional INAH

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