Molé Making Brilliance from Megan Heberlein

A couple of things, for the record – I know Megan Heberlein through social media, and this post is written with her blessing – albeit she wanted to make sure that I did not refer to her as ‘any kind of expert,’ so I ain’t.

I connected with her through the Rancho Gordo Bean Club Members group, a gang of folks who share recipes, questions, techniques and all things bean-loving over on FB. Unlike a lot of social media in broad strokes and FB in particular, this group is fun, friendly, supportive, and ridiculously wholesome – I love it to pieces.

What drew my attention to her was a well thought out piece of advice on making and storing molé – one of those why didn’t I think of that cooking moments that you instantly want to adopt and turn others on to.

Her molé strategy is nothing short of brilliant, far as I’m concerned. As she notes below, this sauce is ubiquitous in Mexican regional cookery, and every family really does have their own fave – just like pasta sauce in Italy or bourguignon in France. I couldn’t say it any better than she does when she exhorts us to try a bunch and make a fave or three ours. So without further ado, here’s Megan’s stellar advice.

1. Make a big batch – a really big batch – as big of a batch as you are willing to deal with. It doesn’t take much longer, and mole freezes really well.

2. Use gloves for the chili handling. If you’re not already, it really does help keep the burn down!

3. Once everything is together and run through the blender to smooth it out, don’t pour it back into the pan. Set the oven for 250, and pour the mole into a roasting pan, or something similar that is size appropriate. It will take longer to cook down, but you don’t have to hover over it. Just walk away from it, give it a stir every couple hours – or even set your oven lower, and go to bed! The other great thing about this method is that you don’t have to worry about cleaning mole splatters off your walls and ceilings for months. 🙄

4. Cook it down. Cook it way down, and turn it into a paste. This will take up less space in your freezer, and is easy to turn into a sauce with the addition of stock.

5. Glass jars are your friends for storage. I usually pack mine into pint jars, and 1 pint jar plus stock is plenty to use on a family size package of chicken thighs. Come time to use, you can either thaw on the counter (if you’re one of those people who actually plan ahead), or stick in the microwave without the lid (if you’re me).  I haven’t tried it, but if you’re good with liquids in vacuum seal bags,  that would probably store really well, and just throw it into warm water to defrost.

6. Freeze, don’t can! I’ve got it on very good authority that canning mole at home is right out, even with a pressure canner – Apparently it’s too dense to be safe.

7. Every region of Mexico has it’s own style of mole, and every family has their own recipe.  Try various recipes, and find the style(s) you like! One of the most fun things about mole is that, because they are so varied, you can change up recipes as you’d like. Change up the peppers, the amounts of onion/garlic/tomato/tomatillo, the fruits, the nuts/seeds, whatever.

8. Know that every pepper has it’s own flavor profile, and playing with the peppers can change up the flavor. Ancho is fruity, chipotle is smoky, etc.

There you have it, with big thanks to Megan. What I love about her strategy is how demonstrative it is of the innovative capability of us home cooks – and it’s a great reminder to always be on the lookout for better ways to do stuff in your busy home kitchen – now y’all go have some fun!

Mike’s Choco-Chile & Poor Man’s Mole

My friend Mike is a retired dentist, who spent most of his working life in New England. Born and raised in California, this is likely why he and his wife beat feet for Oaxaca every winter. He is a wonderful  observer, lover, and sharer of that vibrant corner of the world, and his super simple Choco-Chile blend is one of the favorite things he’s shared with me. For anything that you think would be great with a black molé on board, this is a fantastic option that can be made and deployed in no time – something you definitely cannot do with most dark molés.

The only thing I’ve changed from the recipe Mike sent me is specifying chocolate de mesa, Mexican table chocolate. This stuff is prepared in a manner much closer to the old indigenous ways than bar chocolate is – it’s often stone ground – you may find it labeled chocolate de metate or chocolate tradicional. The best stuff comes from small fincas (farms) around Oaxaca, Chiapas, and the Yucatán. Look for the darker varieties.

Since there are so few ingredients in this blend, the quality matters greatly – that doesn’t mean expensive, it means tasty and to your liking. Something as simple as changing the chile you use, or the chocolate, will yield a whole new profile – it’s pretty wondrous. Give it a try and you’ll be hooked as I am.

Choco-Chile base

Mike’s Choco-Chile

Makes about 1 cup (enough to sauce four entrées) 

2 Ounces dried Pasilla or Ancho Chilies 

1 clove Garlic

1 to 2 Ounces Mexican Table Chocolate, (or any least 70% cacao chocolate you like)

1 teaspoon Honey 

Zest and juice of 1⁄2 Lime 

1⁄2 teaspoon Salt 

Choco-Chile fixins

Stem and seed the chilies. 

Place chiles in a small, non-reactive bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let sit for at least 15 minutes. 

Peel, end trim and mince garlic.

Finely chop chocolate.

Zest and juice the 1/2 lime.

Drain the chilies, reserving the soaking liquid.

In a food processor, purée all ingredients, adding a teaspoon or so of chile soaking liquid as needed to achieve a paste that blends smoothly.

Adjust lime and/or salt as desired.

Mike notes, ‘The sauce will keep for at least a week (possibly forever; I’ve never tested its longevity) and its flavor will actually improve after a day or so.’

You can enjoy the sauce a bunch of ways – I have three favorites.

One is to sauté whatever protein or veggies you’re wanting, then deglaze the pan with good, homemade chicken, or veggie stock, scraping the fond from the pan bottom. Add choco-chile, whisk to thoroughly incorporate, then add back the protein or veggies and heat everything through before serving.

Second is to thin choco-chile with straight stock and use it as enchilada sauce.

But the best, hands down, is Mike’s fantastic Poor Man’s Molé. 

Mike’s Poor Man’s Molé

4 Cups shredded or cubed Meat (chicken, Turkey, or Pork), or veggies.

1 medium Yellow Onion

1 14 ounce can diced Tomato

1 Cup toasted Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)

1 Cup Choco-Chile sauce 

1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil

1/2 to 1 Cup Stock (Chicken, Veggie)

Salt to taste

In a large skillet over medium heat, add oil and heat until shimmering.

Add onion and cook, stirring steadily, until softened, about 4 minutes, then remove from heat.

In a blender or food processor, add tomatoes, pepitas, choco-chile, and onions. Process until fairly smooth as you like and a little texture is fine. Thin with stock as needed to make this happen.

Return skillet to heat over medium low and add the sauce.

Cook sauce until it begins to simmer, about 5 minutes, whisking constantly to keep the sauce from sticking.

Add meat or veggies and stir to thoroughly coat and incorporate. 

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more until everything is heated through. Sauce thickens as it cooks, so add stock as needed to end up at a consistency you like.

Taste and add sale as needed.

Serve hot with cilantro and fresh tortillas.

Mojo, the marinade that made carne asada famous

It’s a sure bet that, if you eat enough Mexican, Tex Mex, Caribbean, or South American food, you’ve enjoyed some form of carne asada. Certainly then, you’ve swooned over the rich and pungent blends of flavors presented by something that looks so simple, but tastes so complex. The answer lies in Mojo, the marinade that made carne asada famous.

The literal translation of the South American name for the dish is roasted meat, which tells us right away that the cooking side of things isn’t complex. All that magic comes from the mojo, and fortunately for us, it’s not only easy to make, it’s downright a gas.

Carne asada de UrbanMonique
Carne asada de UrbanMonique

Before we dive fully into Mojo, let’s spend a few looking at the history of carne asada – It’s as old as fire and cooking vessels, really. No one can lay claim to originating the dish, (although that hasn’t stopped many from trying). In addition to straight asada, there are popular variants that have much to do with how the meat is handled for service – Shredded or ground, as opposed to cooked whole and sliced, for instance.

Shredded or pulled beef is found in American barbecue, ropa vieja in the Caribbean, and carne deshebrada in Mexico. The versions most Americans are accustomed to stem from northern Mexican cuisines, although there are popular southern variants as well.

Mojo de UrbanMonique, a great all purpose marinade
Mojo de UrbanMonique, a great all purpose marinade

Specific cuts of beef are commonly associated with carne asada, and they’re not exactly the rock stars. These include skirt, flank, and flap steak, the stuff the folks doing the boogie up on the hill certainly did not buy for themselves. That stuff was considered refuse, and the genesis of great meals formed around such marginal cuts is another example of the disenfranchised making due. Yet here in the 21st century, popularity has turned all that on its head – Some of these lesser cuts have reached the big time cost-wise.

The moral of the story is to be flexible – When we spied eye of the round cut thin as steaks for $5 a pound, it was game over, and ‘authenticity’ be hanged – It’ll all eat just fine – Boneless chuck, the bargain basement of beef cuts, makes perfectly wonderful carne asada.

Mojo de UrbanMonique - Leave it rustic, or blend, as you prefer

Now, on to that mojo. If you have a carniceria nearby, you can bet they offer carne asada, either in whole steaks, sliced, or chopped. You’ll likely find it either preperada, (marinated) or not, and if you get their marinade, what you’ll get can run the gamut from simple salt and oil, to quite complex mixes that rival a mole – The marinade is where the real poetic license lives with carne asada. What you create is up to you, (and we’ll provide plenty of options herein to get ya started.)

As common and as diverse as spaghetti sauce, there are dozens of popular, commercial mojo variants, let alone the tens of thousands rendered by home cooks everywhere. The Spanish word Mojo derives from the Portuguese, Molho, which simply means sauce – a clear indicator of its ubiquity.

There is general agreement that mojo originated in the Canary Islands, the archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. Canarian cuisine is a fascinating amalgamation of the native islanders, (sadly, now largely extinct), Spanish, Portuguese, and African roots. Their cooking emphasizes freshness, simplicity, and powerful flavors, many of which derive from various mojos. Literally every Canarian family has at least two signature mojos, passed down from generation to generation.

The signature island dish, Papas Arrugadas, (wrinkly potatoes), is demonstrative of all that. Whole potatoes boiled in salt water, and served with red and green mojo – And in an interesting twist of serendipity, the potato isn’t native to the Canaries – They came from South America, of course.

Canarian Mojo with Papas Arrugadas
Canarian Mojo with Papas Arrugadas

In its simplest form, mojo contains olive oil, chiles (pimienta in the Canaries), garlic, paprika, coriander (either fresh or seed), and cumin. As mentioned, there are two primary branches of Canarian mojo, red and green. The red, fueled by dried or fresh chiles and paprika, is most often paired with meat, while the green, made with green peppers, cilantro, or parsley, compliments fish courses.

There are many other iterations, some using local cheese, (mojo con queso), garlic, almonds, and fresh herbs – Check out that almond Mojo recipe and you’ll see what I mean about rivaling moles. One could easily spent a happy year working through all these lovely things, and one of these days, I just might.

The flow of humanity in the 16th through 19th centuries, both forced and chosen, brought mojo to Europe, then South America, the Caribbean, and eventually, North America. Mojo not only thrived, it grew in leaps and bounds. Were I forced to define a generic, accurate version that we here in the Estados Unidos are familiar with, it would certainly include chiles, citrus, garlic, oil, and vinegar – A Mexican vinaigrette, in essence.

Established Mexican, Caribbean, and South American variants also run the gamut from super simple to dizzyingly complex. What this means to the home cook is that in all honestly, you can’t go wrong – Combine stuff you love and that plays well together, and you’re in like Flynn. I’m going to offer several variants, including fairly faithful renderings of styles you’ve probably tried and liked – As I always note, use these as a springboard for personal creativity, and know that you’ll likely never do the exact same thing twice.

The real beauty of Mojo is as a last minute inspirational meal – You’ve got this, that, and the other thing in your stores, so what do you do with them? You do this.

The basics for a Mexican style mojo
The basics for a Mexican style mojo

NOTE ON WHAT TO MAKE: Tacos, burritos, chimis, or taco salads, with fresh pick de gallo and warm tortillas, are almost a must for your first meal if you’re marinating proteins, but keep in mind, this stuff has North African and Iberian roots, so get bold and go that direction if you feel so inspired. And you can always sauté the meat with something new, change the spicing, and make something totally different.

Carne Asada Hash, the perfect next morning leftover
Carne Asada Hash, the perfect next morning leftover

NOTE ON MARINATING: Any marinade containing citrus, other acids like Vinegar, or other fruits like papaya, kiwi, pineapple, fig, or mango will break down the connective tissues in proteins as they marinate – There’s an enzyme called protease, (papain in papaya), that does the trick. That’s great for tenderizing tougher cuts, and it’s the secret as to why marginal stuff like skirt stake or flank steak can come out so tender. That said, be careful with the duration – There are a lot of recipes out there that advise marinating overnight, and that’s taking things too far – Going over 6 hours risks mushy meat, and nobody likes that texture. Marinate proteins for at least an hour, and as long as 4 or 5, and you’ll get great flavor infusion and a proper degree of tenderization.

Tacos Carne Asada
Tacos Carne Asada

NOTE ON GRILLING: Anything you marinate in Mojo will taste best grilled. And if you can, do so with wood or charcoal, although gas works just fine too. With the thinner cuts or proteins commonly used for carne asada, you’ve got to keep an eye on things – We’re talking a 2 minute punk rock song per side, as opposed to the common, classic rock 3-4 minutes a side measure. A lot of restaurants grill carne asada to well done, but you do not need to do that. Grill to medium rare, then allow a good 5 to 10 minute rest before you carve. If you use the more rustic cuts of beef, like skirt, flank, or flap steaks, carve 90° to the grain, at a 45° angle for each slice.

NOTE ON OIL: You’ll see I call for Avocado Oil on several Mojo recipes. I like it for it’s rich, buttery feel and neutral taste, as well as its exceptional smoke point. You can certainly use Extra Virgin Olive Oil in any of these recipes, but you really owe it to yourself to try avocado oil in the near future.

First, the classic Mojo roots.

Canarian Green Mojo

1 Bundle fresh Cilantro
3/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 fresh Lime
3 cloves Garlic
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

Rinse and dry all produce.

Remove long stems from Cilantro, discard and mince the leaves.

Peel and stem garlic, and mince.

Juice lime, and set aside.

If you’re using whole spices, add salt, pepper, and cumin to a spice grinder and pulse to an even consistency, (3 or 4 pulses should do it.)

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. You can leave the sauce rustic, or process it with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.

Allow sauce to marry for 30 minutes prior to use. Serve with fresh crusty bread, potatoes, fish, or veggies.

Canarian Red Mojo

1 large Red Sweet Pepper
2-4 fresh hot chiles, (chef’s choice, they don’t have to be red – Jalapeño, Habanero, Serrano, and Cayenne all work)
3 cloves fresh Garlic
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin

Rinse all produce and pat dry.

Stem, seed, and devein the Pepper and chiles, (leave veins in chiles if you want more heat.)

Fine dice Pepper and chiles.

Mince Garlic.

Process Cumin to a powder if you’re using whole.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. You can leave the sauce rustic, or process it with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.

Allow sauce to marry for 30 minutes prior to use. Serve with fresh crusty bread, chicken, pork, or beef.

UrbanMonique Signature Mojo – This is a great all purpose Mojo, with a couple of our signature twists.

Prep for making mojo is simple and quick
Prep for making mojo is simple and quick

2 small Limes
1 navel Orange
1-3 Jalapeño Chiles
1/2 bunch fresh Cilantro
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Live Cider Vinegar
Pinch of Sea Salt
3-4 twists fresh ground Pepper

Rinse and pat dry all produce.

Zest and juice the citrus, and reserve both.

Peel, stem, and mince the garlic.

Stem, de-seed, and devein the jalapeños, (leave the veins if you like more heat).

Remove long stems from Cilantro and mince the remainder.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. You can leave the sauce rustic, or process it with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.

Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Also does great with tofu, veggies, or fish.
And finally, here are a few Mexican and South American variants.

Quick Cervesa Mojo – Great for folks that don’t like heat.

1 bottle Negra Modelo Beer
1 small lime
1 bunch Green Onions
3 cloves fresh Garlic
Pinch of Sea Salt
A few twists fresh ground Pepper

Open beer and pour into a bowl, allowing it to loose its fizz and flatten somewhat, (About 5-10 minutes)

Zest and juice lime, set both aside.

Peel, stem and mince garlic

Trim and peel green onions, then leave them whole, as trimmed.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. Leave the sauce rustic, do not process it.

Allow sauce to marry for 30 minutes prior to use. Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Marinate proteins for an hour, then remove the steaks and the onions and grill both as desired. Goes great with the rest of the Negra Modelo six pack.

Taco Truck Mojo – There is no standard recipe, but this will put you in the running…

2 small Limes
2-4 hot Chiles of your choice
3 cloves fresh Garlic
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil
1 Tablespoon dark Soy Sauce
2 teaspoons Smoked Sweet Paprika
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon White Pepper

Rinse and pat dry produce.

Zest and juice Limes, set both aside.

Stem, seed, and devein chiles, (leave veins in if you want the heat). Fine dice chiles.

Peel and stem Garlic, then mince.

Process spices to a consistent rough powder if you’re using whole.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Process with a stick blender to a smooth, even consistency.

Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Marinate proteins for at least an hour, and as many as 5 hours. Grill proteins as desired, and baste with the marinate as you’re grilling.

Garlic Papaya Mojo

1 fresh Papaya
1 small Green Bell Pepper
3-4 Green Onions
1 small fresh Lime
3 cloves Fresh Garlic
1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil
1 Tablespoon live Cider Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
Pinch of Sea Salt
A couple twists fresh ground Pepper

Peel, seed and rough chop papaya.

Zest and juice Limes.

Stem, seed and devein green pepper, then dice.

Peel, stem green onions, then cut into 1/4″ thick rounds.

Peel, stem, and mince garlic.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Process with a stick blender to a smooth, even consistency.

Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Marinate proteins for at least an hour, and as many as 3 hours – don’t exceed that too much, as the papain enzyme in papaya is formidable stuff. Grill proteins as desired, and baste with the marinate as you’re grilling.

This is Real Deal Queso Fundido

Well, it’s fall, the garden is cranking out the last of the year’s bounty, there’s playoff baseball on the boob tube, and sticking tortilla chips into gooey cheese is never a bad thing.

It’s a safe bet that, for as long as humans have been eating cheese, they’ve been doing so by melting the stuff and scooping up the results with something else that’s tasty. That’s done in some form or another all over the world, but for my mind, the most sublime and delicioso dish in this regard comes from Mexico – Esto es Queso Fundido.

Queso Fundido de Urban

It’s always appropriate to highlight the wealth of all great things cheesy that comes from Mexico. This is also a good time to discuss what’s a genuine Mexican dish and what’s purely Tex Mex.

So, let’s swing for the fence right off the bat – Anything made with some version of American cheese, (Velveeta, Super Melt, Extra Melt, whatever), is not Mexican food in any way, shape, or form. Yes, a lot of restaurants use this stuff, (even ones that say they make Mexican food – Keep in mind who they’re feeding…) Yes, in Texas queso really is widely made with it. Yes, after a beer or three, queso made of nothing but Velveeta and a can of Rotel diced tomatoes and chopped green chiles tastes pretty damn good – But it’s not Mexican food, and that’s that.

consider as well that it is not just cheese variety that speaks to authenticity – it’s the volume, or proportion, per dish. Generally speaking, Mexican cooking uses cheese as a balanced part of a dish or meal – It’s not something buried under half a pound of molten goo – That’s a purely American affectation.

What is the Real Deal, then? Queso fundido, or sometimes queso flameado, would be it. Fundido means melted, flameado means flambé. Both are genuinely served down south in taquerias and restaurants. Fundido is pretty common, often in play at home for using up this and that from fridge or pantry, while flameado is done more for show or special occasions, (and it is spectacular – Go to Benito’s in Fort Worth and you’ll see what I mean.) Fundido in restaurants is probably more popular up in the northern part of Mexico. 

Mise en place for queso fundido

Typically, you’ll see a blend of cheeses mixed with chorizo, chiles, tomato, onion, maybe cilantro and garlic, depending on what’s good or needs to get used. Traditional preparation calls for the cheese and the adjuncts to be cooked separately and mixed just prior to serving. Chorizo and veggies are most often sautéed, while the cheese might be prepared via stove top, oven, or broiler. Fundido or flameado are most often served with fresh tortillas as an appetizer, or as a condiment for primary dishes.

There’s somewhere around 40 unique varieties of Mexican queso down there, and they’re every bit as nuanced and delicious as cheese from anywhere else. Sure, cheese came to Mexico because of invading Spaniards and their cows, sheep, and goats, but hey – the locals made the best of it, and they still are – much to our benefit.

There are varieties you can find almost anywhere in Mexico, like Queso Fresco, Panela, and Oaxaca, but there are far more that are truly regional, and home cheesemaking is still pretty widespread. Today there are at least a dozen major cheese producing states and regions. Most of the output comes from raw cows milk, (albeit the mass produced stuff is pasteurized), with a little bit here and there from sheep and goats – And there are efforts underway to increase the output and variety of non-cows milk cheeses.

Until quite recently, finding good quality, genuine Mexican cheese up here in los Estados Unidos was not all that easy, but that’s changing. In a lot of grocery chains, you’ll discover a few mainstays offered, and if your town is graced with a good Latin grocery or two, you’ll probably find a lot more – At the La Gloria market in Bellingham, Washington, I found a thriving, vibrant store packed with great cheese, (and a fantastic carniceria). The counter guy told me that most of the cheese they offer is imported from Mexico, but there are good queseros establishing themselves here in the states as well..

Alright, so – assuming that you can find decent Mexican cheese, what would you want for stellar fundido? There’s a wealth of great melting cheeses that will fit the bill. Here’s my short list, along with reasonable substitutions in parenthesis.

Asadero (Provolone) – This is a slightly chewy fresh cheese with a nice tang. It melts really well, so it’s great for fundido, (or for chiles relleños).

Chihuahua (Jack) – This is my personal fave. From the state of the same name, and sometimes called Menonita in honor of the Mennonite farmers who first introduced it, good Chihuahua is like Jack cheese used (and aught) to be. Fresh it’s like a tangy mild cheddar with a very light bite – aged it sports a deep and complex tang.

Enchilado (Parmesan) – tangy, aged cheese rolled in paprika, that gets crumblier as it gets older – It’s like cotija that’s tastier, less salty and better at melting. Adds a really nice depth to a blend.

Manchego (Jack or Asiago) – The Mexican swing on the famous Spanish variety, this is a semi-firm cheese with a nice nutty flavor that melts very well. It’s a cows milk cheese, as opposed to the sheep milk Spanish version – The fireworks between the two countries over this topic are truly something.

Oaxaca (Mozzarella) – produced in balls as Mozz is, it’s a mild tasty cheese and a great melter.

My thoughts now turn to what you want from this dish when you make it. If you’re intending to eat everything you make right away, then there’s no need to consider the longevity of the final product. If on the other hand, you want queso that you can keep in the fridge for a few days and pull out for quick use, an alternative recipe is in order – I’ve provided the kicker to make that happen as well. Finally, if you want to try a hand at flameado, there’s a recipe for that, too – Just be bloody careful, (and don’t be ripped when you prepare it). It is not necessary to do the table presentation flaming and mixing trick, and I’ll strongly urge you not to try that, it’s all to often a recipe for disaster – you’ll still get is a lovely, smoky note from the tequila. 

Fresh chorizo seco
Fresh chorizo seco

Final note – Chorizo is not necessary for great queso, but it is a delight. Mexican chorizo is a whole different animal than Spanish – There are a bunch of varieties, and every one I’ve tried is great. Unlike the Spanish stuff, which is a hard, cured sausage, Mexican chorizo is a fresh product, perfect for grilling solo, adding to queso, or for tacos, and anything else you like. If you’ve got a good carniceria near you, I’ll guarantee they make it, so snag some. 

Tacos de chorizo con queso

Queso Fundido de Urban

1 Cup Queso Chihuahua 

1/3 Cup Queso Asadero

1/3 Cup Queso Manchego

1/3 Cup Queso Enchilado 

2-4 fresh Jalapeño or Serrano Chiles (sub 1-2 mild Hatch, Anaheim, or even sweet bells, if you don’t want heat)

1 small Sweet or Yellow Onion

2 fresh Roma Tomatoes

2-3 cloves fresh Garlic

3-6 stems fresh Cilantro

1 Cup cold Chicken Stock

1 Tablespoon Arrowroot (Corn Starch is OK for a sub)

1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil

Salt and freshly ground Pepper

Optional: 1/2 Pound fresh Chorizo (Or Chorizo Seco if you can get it)

Grate and portion all cheeses.

Stem, trim, and if necessary, field strip chiles, then dice.

Peel, trim and mince garlic.

Peel, trim and dice 1/2 onion, (I like about a cup of diced – Your mileage may vary).

Dice tomatoes (leave them whole and dice – The liquid is a good thing).

Fine dice the cilantro, stems and all.

If including, cook the chorizo in a heavy skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat – Again, you can incorporate this into the queso, per the steps below, or leave it solo – It’s up to you.

Fresh chorizo seco

Combine arrowroot and cold Chicken stock in a mixing bowl and whisk to completely dissolve and incorporate.

Sautéing the veggie mix for queso fundido

Add avocado oil to the hot pan and heat through. Add chiles and onion and sauté until the onion starts to brown slightly, about 2-4 minutes.

Sautéing the veggie mix for queso fundido

Add the tomato and sauté until they start to break down slightly, about 2-3 minutes more.

Add the garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 1 minute.

Add the arrowroot slurry to the veggie mix and stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate thoroughly – Continue mixing until the sauce starts to thicken, about 1 minute.

Giving the condensed milk and arrowroot slurry a minute to thicken

Add the cheese in batches, (1/3 to 1/2 Cup at a time), and stir to incorporate thoroughly.

Stir the cheeses into the queso in small batches

If using, add the chorizo to the queso with a slotted spoon and stir to incorporate thoroughly.

Let the queso simmer for about 3-5 minutes so everything heats through and marries nicely.

Queso Fundido de Urban

Serve in a shallow bowl with fresh tortillas, or chips, with fresh pico de gallo, or as a side for tacos, enchiladas, chimis, what have you. If you can get (or make) fresh corn tortillas, that’s what you want. 

To make fresh corn chips, preheat oven to 375° F. Cut tortillas into even 6ths, and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet, and season lightly with salt. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until top side starts to brown, then flip the chips and bake for another 8-10 until golden brown and crispy. Serve hot.

For the Extended Dance Version of Queso –  Substitute 1 Cup of Evaporated Milk for the water, add the arrowroot to that, and whisk until arrowroot is fully dissolved. Proceed as per the recipe the rest of the way. The addition of the milk will create a queso that will stay more liquid instead of seizing up as the cheese cools – Will keep in an airtight refrigerated container for 3-5 days, and makes for easy reheating, or even room temp chowing.

For the Flameado – Add 1/4 Cup Reposado or Anejo tequila to the finished queso while it’s still in the skillet. Flame with a match and allow the alcohol to burn off as it does its magic on the top surface of the queso. Always add booze from a separate cup – Never straight from the bottle! And okay, if you really must, you can flame on and then bring it to the table while she’s still lit, but be bloody careful, for Pete’s sake!

Carne de res con col – Chiapan Beef & Cabbage

Combining a cheap cut of beef with cabbage might seem like peasant food, and in many places, it is just that. Relegating it as such, however, absolutely diminishes the delightful flavors and textures such a dish provides. It is, in fact, worthy of many experiments. Carne de res con col, from the Mexican state of Chiapas, is a stellar example.

Estado de Chiapas 

I came across this recipe years ago, through Diana Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines of Mexico. Therein she describes eating this one morning in the market in Tapachula, Chiapas, a city way down in the southwest corner of the state. One might raise an eyebrow at eating carne de res con col for breakfast, but I wouldn’t – on a fresh tortilla, this is heaven at any time of day.

Such a dish makes perfect sense in a Chiapas market. More than half its people work in agriculture, with cacao and coffee the heavy hitters – Chiapas is the second largest cacao producer, and roughly 60% of Mexico’s coffee comes from there.

Chiapan cuisine focuses more on the indigenous than many Mexican states do, with chiles, cacao, beans, avocados and foraged plants, herbs, and mushrooms at the fore. While game makes up a solid part of a rural Chiapan diet, Spanish influence is felt in larger towns and cities. There, beef, pork, and chicken are found, with beef far and away the most popular.

Employing cabbage as a major note in a dish isn’t unique, or odd at all for that matter. Cabbage happens to be quite good for us – it’s rich in vitamins C, most of the important B’s, A, K, as well as several trace minerals and omega 3 fatty acids.

A cabbage by any other name…

It’s also delicious, and there’s a lovely variety to choose from. There’s the ubiquitous red and green, savoy, napa, bok choy, and of course, Brussels sprouts, just for starters. In Spanish, it’s called Col or Repollo, and it’s grown and eaten widely. Just like New England boiled dinner, bubble and squeak, lions head, or southern smothered cabbage, dishes combining cabbage and meat are savored worldwide.

In Mexican regional cooking, cabbage comes into play for everything from tacos to stew, and soup to cabbage rolls. I love carne de res con col because cabbage plays a major role, and it really delivers.

The name translates as beef with cabbage, giving away almost nothing while suggesting quite a bit. Make it once and you’ll get hooked. Change nothing but the cabbage and it’ll be a whole new thing. You can use any cut of beef you like, so it’s perfect for leftovers. I highly recommend ground meat – it integrates best.

Chiles de siete caldos

Chiapan cuisine does not use as heavy a hand with chiles as most other Mexican regions do – though that’s not to say that they don’t like heat – they do. Their signature chile is the chile de siete caldos, the seven broth chile, implying that one of those bad boys has the horsepower to ignite seven batches of whatever. 

Chiapan seasoning tends toward warmer, sweeter notes, like cinnamon, pineapple, raisins, pears, pumpkin seeds common in dishes and sauces. There’s German influence there too, in the beer and the coffee, and in some local cured meats – which opens another interesting avenue of recipe development.

This version is what I do, after Diana Kennedy’s introduction, and a subsequent take on the dish by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, wherein he introduced beans, (of course he did!) You can and should make a version to call your own.

This is a large batch, meant to produce ample leftovers. While the cabbage won’t be crisp the next day, it will still lend itself wonderfully to a sauced rice dish, soup, stew, or chimi’s. You can halve this without changing ratios if you prefer.

If you use something other than ground beef, dice it so it will cook evenly with the other ingredients.

I like white beans in mine for their ability to soak up flavors, but here again, a change will bring something new altogether – Blacks or pintos or anything from Rancho Gordo would be great.

A deep skillet is a great cooking vessel for this – Kennedy didn’t say what the version she had was cooked in, but if I had to guess, I’d give a clay comal over charcoal the nod. As you’ll see from my image, a wok works great as well. Just make sure whatever you use is large enough to allow you to stir freely, and that the ingredients aren’t crowded – the dish counts on the liquids being evenly distributed and absorbed.

Molcajete y tejolote

Finally, to really nail the dish, you want to make a paste of the garlic, salt, and peppercorns. The proper tools for this are a molcajete and tejolote, the traditional Mexican stone mortar and pestle – as with those who swear that proper guacamole requires these, I’d tell you this one does too.


Urban Carne de Res con Col

1 1/2 Pounds Beef

1 head Cabbage

2 Roma Tomatoes

1 small sweet Onion

2 Hatch or Anaheim Chiles

1 Cup cooked Beans

4-6 fat cloves fresh Garlic

3/4 Cup Stock (beef, chicken or veggie are all fine)

2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

1/2 Cup fresh Celery Leaf (original recipe uses cilantro, which is wonderful too)

8 Black Peppercorns

2 teaspoons Salt

Trim and peel garlic.

If you don’t have a molcajete, combine salt and peppercorns in a spice blender, and grind to a powder. Crush, then mince the garlic, and combine all three ingredients in a small bowl.

If you have the molcajete, add garlic, salt, and peppercorns and process into a paste.

Add the spice paste to your beef.

Swirl 2 tablespoons of stock around in your molcajete (or bowl) to loosen up anything left in there, then add that to the meat mixture.

Massage the mix well by hand to fully incorporate, then set aside to marry while you prep everything else.

End trim and dice tomatoes.

Trim, peel and dice onion – you want a packed 1/2 cup.

Trim and dice chiles.

Chiffonade celery leaf or cilantro.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, add the oil and allow to heat through.

Add onion and chiles, a pinch of salt and a couple twists of pepper. Sauté until the onion turns translucent, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, stir to incorporate, and continue sautéing until the tomato juice is largely absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Turn heat up to medium high, and add the beef. Stir well to incorporate and sauté until most of the raw red color is cooked out.

Add the cabbage, beans, and celery leaf or cilantro and stir to incorporate and heat through a bit, about 1-2 minutes.

Add the stock, stir to incorporate, and reduce heat to medium low.

Carne de res con col

Simmer until the mixture is fully combined and coated, moist but not wet, about 8-10 minutes.

Tacos de carne de res con col

Serve with fresh tortillas, and whatever else you like, but you won’t need much of anything else except cervesa frio.

Chile Relleno Casserole for Christy

Tribal Sister and avid follower Christy sent me this a while back –

Can you enlighten me about ratios/proportions in a dish I make? I frequently make a chile rellenos casserole because I have lots of poblanos and it’s an easy dish that can be spicey or mild. Every time I look at various recipes I can never decide what I should do about ratios in the egg-milk part. Basically, it’s a layer of poblano, topped with a protein, cheese and then covered with a mix of eggs, milk, and flour. Sometimes baking powder is added and usually additional cheese is added to the mixture before pouring over. I am looking for that sweet spot where it’s not too eggy–not a quiche or frittata–but not too watery. The poblanos need to shine through. Maybe you can explain the dynamics of this to me so I can fix some proportions in my mind – an inquiring mind wishes to know!

Chris further related that the ratios she’d found varied from 1/2 cups to 2 cup of milk, anywhere from 2 to 8 eggs, and 2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of flour – She happens to be a Phd Archeologist and a hell of a fine cook, so no wonder that wild a statistical swing rocked her boat a bit!

I gave her letter another read, and doing so revealed more problems with this potential recipe than just the egg/milk ratio. I’ve made plenty of rellenos in several regional styles, but had never tackled relleno casserole, so naturally, I was hooked. What followed was an interesting lesson in recipe development that I thought would be fun to share here.

The exercise begins with the problem Chris wants fixed – 1. what ratio of egg/milk/flour will yield a relleno casserole that most closely duplicates a solo relleno, and 2. One that’s not too watery, and 3. one that lets the chile be foremost in the taste profile.

Next comes the further issues I identified in her notes, namely – 1. Why are some cooks adding baking powder, and 2. Why is the egg/milk/flour mixture being added last? Those two things needed to be thought out and addressed as well.

A look at a bunch of recipes revealed exactly what frustrates Chris – All over the place, and generally very eggy – way more of a frittata/quiche-like thing than any relleno variant I’m aware of. Why that happens is anyone’s guess – either preference or an assumption that things need to be done that way to work out, is mine.

To decide what to do took some reflection on the parent dish, the noble chile relleno. While there are variations in filling and coating, one thing remains true – Virtually all variations honor the chile and make it forward in the overall taste profile of the dish. Fillings might be anything from just cheese, to meat, meat and cheese, veggies, and combinations thereof.

Rellenos are shallow fried, and coatings vary from none to fairly fluffy mixes reminiscent of tempura. In between, you might find just egg and cornmeal, egg and flour, and the well known three stage dredge of egg/milk/flour. The fluffy coating variants explain where the baking powder option in some casseroles comes from – it’s deployed to help produce a light and airy coating – as such, it really has no place in a casserole – it’s not going to do what it’s intended to in this dish.

Next question for me was, is some form of egg/milk/flour mix necessary? My immediate answer was yes, because there is a place for the flavor note, and maybe just a hint of crunch that a proper mix and volume would offer, if deployed properly – and pouring whatever coating mix is used on top of a casserole is not the right place to deploy it. What that leads to is permeating everything throughout the casserole with an eggy mix, yielding exactly what Chris and I don’t want.

The coating mix should be on the bottom of the dish, where direct and latent heat will allow a thin layer to crisp up a bit, emulating the solo relleno. And the rest of the mix should go atop of the poblano layers, right where it should be for taste and effect, and about midway through the casserole. Finally, the volume of coating mix shouldn’t be excessive – it should be just enough to coat the poblanos.

As for watery casserole, the culprit there is going to be meat and veggies that don’t get properly prepared to work in the dish – the poblanos need to be thoroughly blistered, which does take appreciable moisture out of them without drying them out. Any other veggies need to be sautéed long enough to reduce their moisture content as well. I think milk of any kind will add too much water to the mix, so issued cream. Eggs needs to be fresh, or they too will add excess moisture. Finally, crappy chorizo and/or cheese will add water to the mix, so avoid those outright.

So, what else to put in there? To me, just meat, cheese and chiles is kinda pedestrian in a casserole – I want veggies, too. I settled on onion, garlic, some hot chiles, and tomato – all of those show up in various relleno recipes, so they’re spot on here, too.

Initially, I told Chris I was going to think of the proper ratio as a gravy, and as fate would have it, that was wrong. Working this recipe up to the point where everyone in the house said ‘damn,’ and the leftovers were better than the first night took three tries to get right.

The first swing suffered from too much batter, and lousy chorizo. The second one was OK, but watery – it suffered from old poblanos, and too much water in the veggie mix. All this was solved in v. 3.0 with fresh, local chorizo seco, proper pre-sautéing of most of the veggie mix, and physically squeezing excess juice out of the fresh tomatoes.

For chorizo seco, (the drier, often spicier cousin of the regular stuff), and good Mexican cheeses, (I used a 50%-50% blend of Oaxaca and Asadero cheeses for the dish), I’ll bet dimes to dollars there’s a good Latin grocery or two near you. If that’s not the case, I’ll recommend 90%-10% ground beef with homemade chorizo seasoning, (also provided herein) – that’ll give you the flavor without excess grease. For cheese, I’d go with 50%-50% Monterey Jack and Sharp Cheddar. Finally, your poblanos gotta be fat and sassy – a thick, juicy chile is an absolute must for this dish.

Urban’s Chile Relleno Casserole

5-6 large, fresh Poblano Chiles

1 Pound fresh Chorizo Seco (or alternative- see above)

1 Pound Melting Cheese Blend, (see above)

1 small yellow Onion

2-3 hot Chiles (Jalapeño, Fresno, or Serrano)

3 cloves fresh Garlic

1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

2 Roma Tomatoes

1/2 Cup 1/2 & 1/2

2 Eggs

2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour

1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil

Kosher Salt

Ground Black Pepper

Place poblanos on a baking pan under a broiler, 2 rack spots from top.

Blister poblanos, turning regularly to make sure they’re evenly seared.

Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.

Peel, end trim and dice 1 packed cup of onion and the hot chiles.

Peel, end trim and mince garlic.

Slice tomatoes in half, end trim, gut, and dice.

Uncase chorizo, or prep alt. beef (see below for seasoning)

Grate cheeses and combine.

Combine cream, eggs and flour in a small mixing bowl, and whisk vigorously to fully incorporate.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add a tablespoon of avocado oil and allow to heat through. Add onion, hot chiles, garlic, and oregano, a pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper.

Sauté until onions start to turn translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Remove veggie mix from heat and transfer to a small mixing bowl to cool.

Gently remove blistered skins from poblanos, then cut poblanos in half down the natural sides, leaving nice big slabs of chile.

In sauté pan over medium heat, add chorizo or beef and sauté, stirring steadily, until roughly 3/4 cooked through. If you’re using beef, add 2-4 tablespoons of chorizo seasoning to 1 pound of beef and cook. Transfer to a mixing bowl, discarding any excess liquid.

Set up your mise en place in prep for assembly.

Preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack with a baking sheet in the middle slot.

In a large casserole dish (9” x 11” or thereabouts), pour a thin layer of the coating mix, and swirl to evenly cover the bottom of the dish.

Lay down a solid layer of poblanos over the coating mix.

Add the chorizo or beef and spread in an even layer.

Add about half the cheese blend and spread evenly.

Add second layer of poblanos, covering completely.

Pour the rest of the coating mix onto the second poblano layer, to even;y cover the filling.

Add the sautéed veggies and spread evenly.

Hand squeeze any excess juice out of the diced tomatoes, and spread evenly.

Add the rest of the cheese blend and spread evenly.

Bake at 350° for 45 minutes, until topping cheese is bubbling and nicely browned.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Serve over a bed of cabbage and lettuce, and maybe a few other renegade veggies, with ice cold cerveza Mexicana, and maybe some fresh tortilla chips to chase the naughty bits with.

Urban’s Go To Mexican Chorizo Seasoning

2 Tablespoons Granulated Garlic

2 Tablespoons Red Hatch Chile Powder

1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika

2 teaspoons Sweet Paprika

2 teaspoons Mexican Oregano

2 teaspoons Smoked Salt

1 teaspoon Cumin Seed

1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Grind any and all whole spices to a smooth powder, then combine all ingredients.

Store in clean glass with a airtight lid, out of direct sunlight.