A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of volunteering at a demo dinner put on by a new restaurant owner here in the city. It was a Mexican class, one I had put a request in to be a part of and was so honored to be granted the opportunity. Mexican food really wasn’t something I was very familiar with. I have been to Mexico – once – when I was in grade 5 or 6 so with no real Mexican experience beyond what the hotel could offer (which wasn’t much). At the time of the class, I had only ever been to a Mexican restaurant two times, one was nothing to write home about and although the other was significantly better it just didn’t leave me with a desire to hurry back. My hope with volunteering at this particular class was to learn about Mexican food and fall in love with it like so many people I know. I was blown away at the freshness and the flavor present in the chef’s dishes! The class did not disappoint!
We learned some of the fundamentals including the ease in which tortillas are made, basic temperature on peppers, when to add queso. That kind of thing. The tortillas blew me away, how simple they were – just make the dough and press it in a tortilla press. Nothing to it! Amazing, of course I made notes on exactly where to buy said tortilla press… especially once I learned that the more you knead tortilla dough the better it gets. How great it would be to have a taco party where guests/kids are making their own fool proof tortilla dough!
I also made note of where to buy certain ingredients I had never heard/thought of before. The star of the show – avocado leaves! Whhhhaaaa… yeah. Seriously. They smell like a very mild tea version of licorice. Slightly floral, very interesting. You can buy them dried in the herb section apparently in every Mexican market. I needed to investigate, so as my days off approached I promptly made a list of all the things I might find or at least must look for and off I went. Avocado leaves were something that did absolutely make it home with me.
Two of my favorite salsa ingredients also made it into my shopping bag – tomatillos and poblano peppers. Tomatillos look just like hard green tomatoes but have a lantern type coating or skin that protects the fruit. It’s paper thin, easy to peel off and often very sticky underneath. Poblano peppers are mild and excellent when charred – for reals, they are ah-ma-zing! I have only seen them in the grocery store a handful of times, unlike tomatillos which can be found quite frequently.
Salsa is of course something that comes to mind when people think Mexican. Salsa, guacamole, quesadilla, taco – the usual, right? Well, I wanted to switch it up and make something different for two reasons. One, the Mexican market I hit up was fresh out of tortilla presses (bummer!), and two I am moving. As fun as it is to pack and unpack, cart stuff around here and there … wait who am I kidding? That’s not actually very fun at all. Especially if a rainy spring is upon us – thus I am trying to use up absolutely all of the odds and ends in my pantry to save me from having to move them from old house to new house. This includes rice. I am notorious for having half a cup of almost any type of rice or grain you can imagine. It’s okay for me now because I live alone, and it’s simple to mix half a cup of red rice and half a cup of brown. However, moving in with le boyfriend, well I’m trying to tone down the pantry chaos. Jars and jars and jars (all different sizes of course) full of grains and beans, legumes, spices, you name it – lets just say I come with my very own type of baggage. So, in celebration of using up the whole remaining jar of red rice!
Stuffed Peppers with Salsa Verde
1 Cup of Rice (Brown/red/black)
2.5 Cups of Water
2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
1/4 Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Smoked Paprika
1 Tsp Chipotle Powder
Pinch of Cinnamon
2-3 Bell Peppers
In a small-medium pot, add the rice and the water and bring to a simmer. Once the water is starting to have a bit of movement in it, add the coconut oil and wait for it to boil. Once it’s boiling, turn it down and follow the rice instructions – typically let it cook on low for about 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 and melt a bit of coconut oil into a cast iron pan, or other oven proof dish. Slice the top off of the pepper (reserve it) and carefully remove the seeds from the inside keeping the body of the pepper intact, repeat. Chop the tomatoes to a medium dice, seed and dice the jalapeno. Once the rice is tender remove it from the heat, stir in the tomato and the jalapeno. Allow the tomato to warm for a minute or two, then add the spices and season with salt to your taste. Spoon the rice into the peppers and bake for 30-45 minutes. Make the Salsa Verde while the peppers cook.
1 Polano Pepper
3 Cloves of Garlic
Splash of Oil
Pinch of Salt
*For a smokier salsa, char the poblano by either broiling it or dry roasting it in a cast iron pan on high heat on the stove. Char until the skin has browned and pulled away from the pepper. Peel once it’s cool enough to handle. If a smoky salsa isn’t desired, skip that step.* Peel and wash the tomatillos, peel the garlic and chop the pepper. Add all ingredients except the salt to a blender or food processor and whiz away until smooth. Taste & season as needed. This salsa is quick, easy and very fresh tasting. The flavor profile will build the longer it sits.
The pepper should be tender when squeezed with tongs. Turn the oven up to broil and pop the pepper top on to cover the rice. Broil until the skin has browned and wrinkled, but watch it – you don’t want it to burn! Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Serve with a side of the Salsa Verde that can be spooned either on top, or taken with each bite!0