Monday, April 30, 2012


Cinco de Mayo is  Saturday and it's a great excuse for an impromptu party!  Mexican food is one of Grandma's favorite things to cook.  Here's a little inspiration for you, from Tortilla Soup one of Grandma's favorite movies:

If you plan to serve Guacamole, though, head on out to the store in the next day or two to pick up your avocados. They are not often available at the perfect degree of ripeness to serve the same day that you buy them.

 The nice folks over at  Hass Avocados have a page that shows just how to tell when your avocados are perfect and how to choose the ones that will be ready when you want them to be!  They have lots of recipes too, but nothing beats Grandma's Perfect Guacamole (recipe developed by her daughter, not ever quite so good when Grandma makes it but scrumptious nonetheless!)

When Grandma and her girls lived in the Southwest, avocados were cheap almost all year round and so were lemons the size of a baseball.  Guacamole was a favorite then and it still is.  Grandma has been known to have nothing but Guacamole and tortilla chips for dinner and call it good!  Not to worry, avocados are loaded with good vitamins, minerals and monounsaturated fat, the kind of fat that is good for you.  One batch of Grandma's Guacamole has less than 600 calories.  Serve it by itself with tortilla chips as a dip, or as a topping for tacos or fajitas.

Perfect Guacamole

Finely dice 1 medium or 2 small tomatoes, discarding the seeds, and place them into a non-metal bowl.  Add about 1/2 (or a bit less) red onion, very finely diced. Cut two or three perfectly ripe avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pit.  Use a small knife to score the avocado flesh into cubes about 1/3-1/2 inch across, then use a spoon to scrape the avocado into the bowl.  Immediately squeeze the juice of 2 limes over the avocado.  Add a large handful of chopped cilantro (with stems - the flavor is in the stems!) and salt to taste. (About 1/4-1/2 teaspoon should be about right.)  Gently mix everything together, then cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap down over the guacamole.  This is best served shortly after you make it, but it will hold for a couple of hours in the refrigerator.

No Fiesta is complete without salsa.  This is the easiest one Grandma knows:

Grandma's Salsa Fresca 

Choose 2 or 3 tomatoes  (multicolored heirlooms are gorgeous!), cut them in half, gently squeeze them to remove the seeds, then dice them small and put into a bowl.  Add 1/2 of a medium red onion, finely diced (Grandma usually uses the other half of the onion she puts into the Guacamole!); 1 clove of fresh garlic, smashed and very finely diced, (if you don't have anything except the stuff in the jar leave the garlic out!); another big handful of chopped cilantro, stems and all; 1-3 jalapeños, very finely diced (see below); salt to taste and the juice of 1 or 2 limes.  Mix all together, put into a container with a tight lid and refrigerate.  This is great served the minute it gets cold, but it will keep for several days.

To most people in the US, used to eating Mexican food at chain restaurants, there is no such thing as Mexican food without Refried Beans.  Whether they are very good or very bad depends.  There are a couple of canned supermarket varieties that might do in a pinch, but it is easy as pie to make your own. Note, this is a recipe I've developed over many years.  The very first recipe I saw for Refried Beans called for an entire cup of lard!

Lard is the traditional fat used in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking for beans, tortillas and tamales.  I've long since substituted olive oil in the Refried Beans recipe.  Please don't buy expensive extra-virgin to cook with.  It is far more expensive than a good general olive oil, has a lower smoke point and a much stronger taste.  Several reliable brands are available in most supermarkets at a reasonable price.  Buy a 3-liter can for big savings over the smaller bottles.

Grandma's Mexican Beans, Two Ways

Before you can make Refried Beans you need to cook the beans, though you may, if you wish or in a pinch, substitute 2 or 3 cans of pinto beans, dark red kidney beans or black beans.  (Save the liquid from one can, discard the rest of the liquid.)

First, cook the beans.  Remember, it doesn't take any more energy to cook a big batch of beans and freeze part for later than it does to cook a smaller amount.  Plan ahead.

Method I:  Put  1 pound of pinto beans (these cook the fastest) into a 3 or 4 quart pot.  Cover with cold water that comes at least an inch higher than the beans.  Bring the beans to a boil, put the cover on the pot and turn the burner off.  Go do something else for an hour.  At the end of the hour,  remove the lid, add 1 teaspoon salt.  Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until they are very tender.  How long that takes will depend on how old your beans are.  

Method II:  Put the beans into a slow cooker.  Add not quite twice as much water as you put in beans.  Add any optional ingredients you are using.  Cover and cook on low about 6-8 hours until the beans are very tender. 

Whether you use Method I or Method II, you want your beans to be very tender if you intend to turn them into refried beans.  

Nice additions if you have them:  a sprig or two of epazote*,  a couple of tablespoons of bacon grease or a bit of ham fat from a country ham, or a smoked pork hock, a bay leaf if you would like.

If you want to, you can serve these up right now - maybe stir in a bit of sauteed onion or some crisp bacon crumbles.  They should be saucy, not dry, and you'll need bowls.  If you're going to freeze part of your beans, now is the time.

Refried Beans

Heat  3-4 tablespoons of olive oil (not EVOO) or bacon grease or lard into the bottom of a large frying pan.  Take about half the batch of beans that you just cooked and mash them with a potato masher.  (You can also run them a few seconds in a food processor but leave them just a little bit chunky here and there.)  Add 1/2 teaspoon of Adobo Seasoning , a dash or two of soy sauce (or tamari) and 1/2 to 1 cup of diced green chiles or salsa (optional).

Cook over medium high heat, stirring and scrapping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula until most of the liquid has evaporated and the spoon leaves a trail as you stir where you can see the bottom of the pan.  This usually takes about 5-10 minutes, depending on how much liquid there was in your beans to start with.  Serve hot or warm.  Some even like them cold.
Speaking of  Tortilla Soup, this is the recipe Grandma uses.  Boy is it ever good!

Tortilla SoupThere is nothing worse than bad tortilla soup – and nothing better than a good one. This version is delightful and nowhere near as much work as it looks. 
  • 4 white, yellow or blue corn tortillas 
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil 
  • 1⁄2 cup finely minced yellow onions 
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 tsp. finely minced jalapeno 
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin 
  • 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 5 cups homemade or canned chicken broth 
  • 1 corn tortilla, cut into 1⁄4 inch wide strips 
  • 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 cup chicken breast, grilled or poached and cut on the bias into 1⁄2 inch dice
  • 1⁄2 cup Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 1⁄2 medium ripe Hass avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into 1⁄2” dice
  • 2 tbsp. finely minced cilantro
Cut the tortillas into strips 1/8” wide with a very sharp knife or a pair of scissors. Pour enough vegetable oil into the bottom of a large skillet to coat generously. Heat over medium heat. Fry half of the tortilla strips, turning once, until they are crisp and golden, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a large plate lined with paper towels and fry the remainder. 
Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the minced onions, garlic, jalapeno and cumin until the onions are lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken broth and the 1 tortilla cut into strips and bring the broth to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. 
Transfer the broth to a food processor, add the lime juice and process until smooth. Return to the pot and reheat over medium heat. Pour the broth into 4 bowls. Place 1⁄4 of the chicken, cheese and avocado, in that order, in the center of each bowl. Garnish with the tortilla strips and cilantro and serve at once. Serves 4.

Visit Amazons Cinco de Mayo Page

Here is a video showing a couple of different ways to cut jalapeños.  Some people advise wearing gloves.  Grandma doesn't bother - she just washes her hands very well afterwards.  Do NOT touch your eyes!

More tomorrow . . . 


  1. Great blog Grandma - thanks for posting the link on the FREE book thread...

    have you really watched Tortilla Soup recently? I only ask because my husband and I saw that movie in the theatre and loved it - talked about it, rented it to watch with our kids.... um.... well, we were quite embarrassed, it was a bit risque! or maybe I'm remembering THAT wrong too!! lol

    I did enjoy the premise of the movie, sitting around, good food, good conversation... and family.

  2. HI! Yes, I did watch Tortilla Soup - just last night as a matter of fact. It probably isn't a movie I would watch if small children were awake, but it is exactly the kind of thing my grown daughters and I enjoy on "movie night." No nudity, no swearing, not even any of those very off-color jokes or double entendre. Maybe you should watch it again :)


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