Category Archives: Latin American

Slow Cooker Cochinita Pibil (Mexican Slow-Roasted Pork)

Cochinita Pibil with Brown Rice

Cochinita Pibil with Brown Rice

Though my seven year stint as a vegetarian ended over a year ago now, I still feel inexperienced and unwise in the ways of cooking meat. So much of cooking is learned through experience (and a fair amount of trial and error), and I just haven’t had enough opportunities to  try different cooking methods for meat to really feel like I have any idea what I’m talking about. It’s a strange feeling, for someone who cooks as often as I do.

However, as I discovered when making this recipe, throwing a hunk of meat in the slow cooker is about as simple as it gets, and at the end, you are richly rewarded for your non-effort with the most tender, delicious stuff imaginable. It kind of feels like cheating. This recipe is extra-great as far as slow cooker recipes go (though my experience up until now has been limited to veg dishes) because the long cooking time gives the dish’s many spices and flavorings a chance to fuse into one seamless, incredible taste. Plus, it will make your house smell amazing! The first time I cooked this, I left it in the slow cooker while I went out to run some errands, and when I came home, I could smell the stuff from my apartment building’s front lobby.

This recipe is adapted from this crazy old Mexican cookbook from 1989 that a friend gave me – Mexican Cookery by Barbara Hansen. The book is full of hilarious, 80s-style, grandiosely-staged photos of Mexican dishes set on a table alongside elaborate candle holders bigger than a human head, and things like that, but everything I’ve cooked from it has been FANTASTIC. It’s out of print, but I highly recommend picking up a used copy on Amazon, if you’re into Mexican food.

This slow-cooker version of cochinita pibil yields a falling-apart tender meat that’s ideal for shredded pork tacos, though you can also serve it over rice, as shown in the photo. Either way, it’s ridiculously delicious, especially considering how little effort goes into making it!

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Slow-Cooker Cochinita Pibil (adapted from Mexican Cookery by Barbara Hansen)

  • 2 lbs. pork shoulder or leg (pork shoulder is also known, for some bizarre reason, as “Boston Butt”)
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced into thin strips
  • 2  cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 good-sized, juicy orange, juiced, or 1/2 c. OJ from a carton (look for an orange that’s pliable when you squeeze it – it will likely be juicier and have less skin)
  • 1 lime, juiced, or 2 Tbsp. bottled lime juice (same)
  • 2 tsp. ground annatto (also known as “achiote” – look for this spice in Mexican grocery stores)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. white vinegar
  • 2 tsp. water
  • Tortillas, taco shells, or rice, plus taco garnishes, for serving

Remove any bones from the pork, along with any large pieces of fat. Plop it in the slow cooker, followed by the onion slices and garlic. Mix the OJ, lime juice, all spices, vinegar, and water, and pour this mixture over the pork.

Slow cook on high for about 4 hours, or low for 7-8 hours. I recommend checking on it after about 3 hours (6 on low) to make sure that the liquid hasn’t all burned off, but if you’re not going to be home, add 1/4 c. water so that the pork doesn’t dry out.

It’s done when you poke the pork with a spoon and it falls apart. Lightly mash the pork to break it up into small pieces, and serve with tortillas or over rice, along with whatever typical taco garnishes you feel like.

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Cost of core ingredients: Naturally-raised pork is quite a bit cheaper at my co-op than grass-fed beef and the pricier chicken parts, so this does not make for an especially expensive meat dish.

  • 2 lbs. pork shoulder @ $3.49/lb.: $6.98
  • 1 onion: ~$1
  • 1 large orange: $1.72 (for a single orange, seriously? Yeow)
  • 1 lime: $0.40
  • ~1 lb. brown basmati rice, for serving, @ $2.59/lb.: ~$2.59

Total cost for four servings: $12.69, plus the cost of all spices, vinegar, and garnishes, if you have them. Not too shabby.

Bon Appétit!

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Filed under Cuisines, Gluten-free, Latin American, Meat, Paleo, Recipes

The Farmers Market Files: Salsa Fresca

ALL the tomatoes

ALL the tomatoes

August is a great month for food. All of the peak-of-summer veggies are at their absolute prime, and if you’re lucky enough to live in a place with a thriving farmers market scene, you’ll have access to the freshest, most delicious produce you’ll ever be able to get your hands on (unless you grow it yourself). Most supermarket vegetables, particularly the ones that are shipped in from hundreds or thousands of miles away, hit the shelves a minimum of several days after being harvested. This means that in order for them to reach your local produce section in anything resembling sellable condition, they need to be picked slightly before they’re entirely ripe, and finish ripening along the way. This isn’t such a big deal for some veggies (green peppers, for example, which aren’t actually ripe to begin with), but many are significantly less flavorful if they’re picked before they’ve ripened entirely.

Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of tomatoes. A fresh-picked, field-ripened tomato is miles – no, probably light years – away from the lackluster, reddish-orange tomatoes you’ll get in the supermarket. The taste difference is so remarkable that I don’t even bother with fresh supermarket/co-op tomatoes at all anymore – I usually just use canned, which are picked ripe and canned fresh. But for two wonderful, glorious months of the year, fresh, ripe, delicious, mouth-watering tomatoes are mine for the taking at my local farmers market – and I do my best to take full advantage of this fortunate fact by putting them in EVERYTHING. The more tomatoes a recipe calls for, the better.

And even more amazing (if you can believe it) is the fact that in my neck of the woods, said tomatoes are actually cheap to boot. “Fresh” supermarket tomatoes are something like $2 per pound on the low end, and fancy organic/heirloom varieties can cost $6/lb. or more. But not at a Twin Cities farmers market. Here, you can buy ’em by the bucket – and man, do I ever – and the more you buy, the cheaper they are per pound. I usually buy a smallish bucket of tomatoes per week (prompting me to designate a tomato drawer in my kitchen) – probably 10 lbs. or so, for around $6-8 – but people who are canning or making large batches of tomato sauce will often buy them by the box. Once my friend Jenny bought an entire garbage bag of roma tomatoes – seriously, a whole bag – for $20, and cooked them down into pasta sauce to freeze.

I LOVE that you can do this here, because this isn’t the case everywhere. In Denver, where I grew up, farmers market vendors tend to charge by the pound, just like the grocery store, and you definitely don’t get much of a discount for going straight to the source. It’s impossible to make any of the great end-of-summer dishes this way – a simple ratatouille would put you back $20, and a fresh tomato soup would be even more expensive. It’s not that I don’t think farmers are entitled to a fair price for their produce – they absolutely are – but buying (and selling) produce in bulk this way results in efficiencies for both sides. The buckets of tomatoes that I buy are not full of flawless, shiny, grocery-store-worthy tomatoes – those tomatoes probably actually get sold to the grocery store. Instead, I get a bucketful of tomatoes with flaws – a bruise here, some superficial spottiness there, which I am more than happy to trim out – and the vendor gets rid of a bunch of tomatoes that she wouldn’t have been able to sell otherwise. If this isn’t what’s supposed to happen at a farmers market, then I really don’t understand what they’re good for. (I’m looking at you, Denver.)

Salsa Fresca

Salsa Fresca

Anyhoo. I’ve been in tomato heaven, eating my weekly bucket of tomatoes. And this week I’ve been kind of obsessed with this salsa fresca recipe, so of course I had to share it. The recipe I’m giving below (based on a friend’s family recipe) is huge – it yields 10 cups of salsa, give or take depending on the size of your tomatoes – but it’s so good that you’ll want it all, I promise. Eat it with chips, put it on tacos or refried beans, take it to parties to impress your friends with your cooking (by which I mean blending) skills, or do what I did – devour it in two sittings with your significant other. But beware: this salsa is not for the faint of heart – people who want their garlic, their raw onions, or their cilantro in moderation. You may reek of garlic for several days afterwards. But hey, to many people, that’s just a sign of good taste.

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Salsa Fresca

  • 8 good-sized, fresh, picked-ripe farmers market or homegrown tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 head of garlic (Twin Cities folks – the Gardens of Eagan garlic that the Wedge is currently selling is the most phenomenal garlic I have ever tasted; well worth the trip)
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, leaves only
  • Green chilies – 1 jalapeño for mild, 2-3  jalapeños for a medium salsa, or multiple hotter chilies (such as serranos) if you want to go all out
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste

Roughly chop all vegetables. Combine in a blender or food processor. (You may have to do two batches if using a blender or a smaller food processor.) Blend, taste for salt and adjust if necessary, and devour!

(Alternately, if you would like an attractive, delicate-looking salsa fresca, then you can carefully chop all vegetables into uniform pieces. But keep in mind that it’ll taste the same regardless. :))

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Cost of core ingredients: I’m not sure that I could really call this a “cheap” dish, considering it a) isn’t actually a meal, even though it’s been functioning as one in my house the past couple of days, and b) is so delicious that it gets devoured pretty much immediately. But my significant other and I did eat this for “dinner” two days in a row (hey, it’s only August once a year), so here we go:

  • 8 farmers market tomatoes: $2?
  • 1 farmers market onion: $0.50?
  • 1 head of UTTERLY AMAZING garlic: ~$1
  • 1 bunch cilantro: $1.79
  • 2 jalapeños: $0.68
  • 1 lime: $0.72
  • Corn chips for eating: $3.49

Total cost for….well, what should have been more than four servings: $6.69 (plus salt) for the salsa only, or  $10.18 total.

Bon Appétit!

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Filed under Dip, Gluten-free, Latin American, Raw, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggies

Moros y Cristianos with Brown Rice

Moros y Cristianos

Moros y Cristianos - Black beans with rice

If you’re looking for food that’s tasty, filling, and cheap, it’s hard to beat rice and beans. Rice and bean dishes come in all sorts of varieties and flavors. Moros y Cristianos is a Cuban recipe, and is one of the best-known rice and bean recipes. The name is Spanish for “Moors and Christians”, and refers to the black beans (Moors) and white rice (Christians) that comprise the bulk of the dish.

I prefer to make this dish with brown rice. In addition to the health benefits of whole grains, I’ve found that brown rice is more filling and satisfying than white, and I rarely go back for seconds when I eat brown rice dishes (even thought they’re tasty!), which is better for my budget as well as my health.

This dish is usually made by cooking the rice in with the other ingredients, but I’ve had trouble getting brown rice to come out well this way, so I prefer to cook the rice separately and then add it to the dish at the end. (I use my roommate’s rice cooker, but you can cook it on the stovetop if you don’t have a rice cooker.)

The recipe below was adapted from this recipe on About.com. I’ve changed/increased some of the quantities, as well as changed the cooking process in order to allow for the rice to be added at the end. If you’d prefer to use white rice, I’d recommend consulting the original recipe.

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Moros y Cristianos – Cuban Black Beans and White Brown Rice (adapted from About.com)

1 1/2 cups dried black beans (about 3/4 lb.) OR two large cans of black beans
1 1/2 cups brown rice
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
A few cloves garlic, chopped/minced
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 to 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar, more if you really like kick
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Cook the beans, if using dried: Sort and rinse the beans. Soak for at least five hours, or quick-soak for an hour. (Quick-soaking instructions: Place the beans in a saucepan and cover with 1 to 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, let boil for one minute, then shut off the heat, cover, and leave for an hour. The beans will absorb water faster this way.) Cook the soaked beans until they are soft. Relatively new beans should cook up in under an hour. (Older beans take longer to cook.)

While the beans are cooking, get the rice cooking as well: Rinse rice. Brown rice varieties vary in how much water they require, so add water as per package instructions. Bring rice and water to a simmer, cover tightly, and cook on a very low simmer for 45 minutes.

While the rice and beans are both cooking, get everything else going: Chop/prepare veggies, and then saute onion, bell pepper, garlic, cumin, thyme, crushed red pepper, and bay leaf in olive oil until the onion is tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, salt, and pepper. When you’re at this point, add the beans, even if they aren’t done, and simmer – they can finish cooking along with the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer the bean mixture for ten minutes or longer, until the beans are fully cooked and the rice is done cooking as well. Add the rice to the mixture, stir, and let sit for an additional ten minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Remove bay leaves and season with additional salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar to taste.

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Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

3/4 lb. black beans @ $1.99/lb. = $1.49
3/4 lb. brown rice @ $2.29/lb. = $1.72
1 green bell pepper = $1.28
1 onion = ~$1.20
1 28oz. can diced tomatoes = $2.49

Total for 6 servings (3 if you’re my roommate Jack): $8.18 + the cost of small amounts of olive oil, garlic, cumin, thyme, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper.

This dish gets better as it sits and the flavors meld, so it makes for great leftovers!

Bon Appétit!

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Filed under Beans, Gluten-free, Latin American, Recipes, Rice, Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian