Sunday, April 13, 2008

Heuvos Rancheros

(Serves four, with some leftover beans.)

A specialty of the house, and a labor of love. This is our take on Heuvos Rancheros, based really, really loosely on the "Typical Honduran" offered occasionally by Michael And Sundia at Grass Roots Cafe in Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood. It's a recipe that requires a fair bit of labor, and some pretty precise timing. It has several sub-recipes, but that shouldn't stop you:

One: Masa Flour Tortillas. These guys are corn tortillas, but the resemblance to the plasticised nearly inedible soft taco shells at Safeway ends with the name. These are tender, tasty, and cheap. After you have one you won't want to go back to the supermarket for Corn Tortillas ever again.

The recipe is more of a ratio than an real recipe, It's really roughly 2 parts Masa Harina (a flour made from corn treated with lye,) and 1 part cool water, plus a pinch of salt. (One cup of masa and a half cup of water will make around four small tortillas.) Add the water to the masa a little at a time until the dough has the texture of play doh. You may end up using less water or more water than I've specified, but the important thing is the feel of the dough, so I recommend mixing the water into the dough with your hands. The dough shouldn't be dry and it shouldn't be sticking to your fingers. Once you have the consistency down, divide the dough into golf ball sized lumps.

If you have a tortilla press this next bit is easy. Take a thick plastic freezer bag, and cut through the sides. Open the bag out into one long bit of plastic with a fold in the middle. Put this open plastic in the tortilla press, putting the fold in the middle of the two halves of the press. Put a golf ball on the press, fold the plastic over, and press the ball into a tortilla. Open the press, pull out the plastic and peel the tortilla off the plastic and put it aside. If the masa mix is right, it should come off the plastic without sticking.

If you don't have a press, you can still sandwich it between a freezer bag and use a rolling pin to roll it out, or you can take something smooth and heavy like a pie plate, and smush it down on top of it, flattening it out.

Cook these guys for about 45 seconds per side in a blazing hot, unoiled iron skillet, until brown bits appear on each side. Cook two tortillas for each person. These can be kept in a 200 degree holding oven until ready to serve, or they can be reheated in the microwave.

Two: Frijoles Burrachos (Drunken Beans.) Take a small onion, slice it into thin, thin rounds, and cook in about a Tablespoon of oil on medium heat (we use peanut, but canola oil works just fine,) until the onions begin to brown. You can let them burn a bit if you'd like a little more bitterness, but I tend to shy away from this, burnt generally equals bad in my book. Add two cans of pinto beans, drained and rinsed, some salt, some fresh oregano (a sprig or two,), some chili powder (2 teaspoons,) and a minced jalepeno chili. Toss and cook for a few minutes. Then add a bottle of beer, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the beans fall apart a bit, and most of the liquid is gone.

Three: Guacamole. For a short time in he Air Force, I had a roommate from Guatamala. He taught me to make the best guacamole. The "trick" is really simple. Dice up an avocado, add the juice of a lime, and a pinch of salt. Mash it with a fork. That's it. No garlic cloves, no sour cream, no extra virgin olive oil, no yogurt, no peppers, no onion, no food processor. Just avocado, lime, salt, and a fork. It's killer.

Four: A fried egg, over easy. (Actually, two for each person.) Heat up a teaspoon of oil in a non-stick skillet. Place a single sage leaf in the oil and let it start to sizzle. After a second, smack your egg on a flat surface, take it over the skillet, and open it up, carefully dropping the egg over the sage leaf. Salt and pepper the egg. Let it cook for about two minutes and carefully turn the egg, taking care not to break the yolk. You will fail at this if you haven't fried eggs before, don't panic, just cook it a bit longer and serve the egg "over hard," it is good that way too. Practice and eventually you'll be able to get enough of the spatula under the egg, and you'll be turning the eggs and not losing the yolk. There may be a trick to it, but if there is, I don't know it. Cook the egg on the other side for another two or three minutes, until all of the white is done and some of the the yolk is still a bit runny.

Finally, assemble. First the tortilla, then two spoons of beans, then the egg, top with the guacamole, and finish with a spoon of your favorite salsa, and a bit of diced fresh scallions or fresh basil or fresh cilantro, or all three.

The trouble is the timing. It's tough to get this all to the table while it's all still hot. You might end up trying to mind the beans in the last five minutes of cooking, while simultaneously trying to cook an egg and wrap up the last of the tortillas. I don't need to tell you that having another set of hands to do the assembly while you mind the stove is probably a good idea. That, or don't be so macho and make the tortillas ahead and keep them in a holding oven until you are ready to assemble, that makes the most sense.

Anyhow, I hope this all isn't too daunting. It's really a first class meal, and well worth the labor.

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