Friday, May 21, 2010

Tortilla Soup in Dublin

Two weeks ago, we went to Ireland, again, this time for the wedding of our friends Stephen and Paul. As per my tradition, I cooked up a Mexican dinner for the happy couple and our most gracious host, Mannix. The core piece of this was Tortilla Soup.

Cooking Mexican food in Dublin has always been tricky. From the start, I've had to smuggle in ingredients (Hello, Irish Customs officials who will now actually stop and search my luggage...). Thanks to the wave of immigration from their economic boom, the Celtic Tiger, I've been able to cut back on the contraband.

With a little digging and improvisation, you can now find many of the raw materials in the city. Channing and I made a morning out of scouring the City Centre, hunting things down. If you don't have a time crunch, having a goal like that is a great way to explore an area.

This time, I came over completely empty handed, but was able to find everything I needed for the soup.

Epazote: Well, forget it. Never going to happen. But to be fair, that's the case in the States a lot, too. Fortunately, cilantro is a fine and explicitly approved substitute and somewhat more available. However, in Ireland (and I presume the UK), it’s called “Chinese Coriander.” You can find it in the Asian grocery on Georges St. I know for sure, probably at others.

Corn Tortillas: The folks at Acapulco, also on Georges St., claim that tortillas are too expensive to import as it is, so they won’t sell theirs. However, the fine people at Alamo (by Temple Bar) were much more accommodating. I got at least 4 dozen for 4.5 Euro.

Cumin: Though a staple of Indian cooking, I never saw it on the shelves of Tesco and the other mainstream grocery stores I looked in. But again, it's in the Asian store.

Pureed Tomatoes: Be warned on this one. Tomato Puree here is Tomato Paste in the States, i.e. way too condensed for this and there was nothing equivalent on the shelves to our puree here in the States. I had no interest in making my own from scratch with raw tomatoes. A perfectly good substitute is to take the canned chopped tomatoes you can find at Tesco and puree those. These came packed in tomato juice, which would make the result too runny (since you're supposed to be starting from tomatoes only without added liquid). I poured off about a cup of liquid from the large can and was fine.

One last thing - for some reason, the onions came up very dry in their puree this time. Don't know why this is, because there didn't seem to be any difference. But they usually are more of a slurry texture. I added some water to it, just to make myself more comfortable.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Treebeards' Red Beans and Rice

This core staple of Treebeards' menu has given me fits for years. From the early, early days when they would sell the spice packets and then the publication of the first cookbook, I’ve never had great luck with this recipe. The results have been consistently mushy, though the flavor was spot-on.

I’d been especially careful about the stirring instructions to avoid that, but no dice. I’ve given the recipe to others and it worked (or, rather, didn’t work) the same way.

So, I decided to give it another shot with the assumption that the recipe is somehow flawed (no offense, Dan). The obvious suspect was the cooking time of the beans. I reduced the cooking time for the initial simmer down to 1 hr, rather than 1.5. Right off the bat, this gave me the bean tenderness and flavor I was looking for. The “sauce” was a little bit thin, so I think that reducing the amount of water down at least a cup, from 2 qts down to 1.75 would do the trick.

I also used chicken and turkey smoked sausage to cut down on the fat and they taste just fine. So, success.

I've searched around the web to see if there was an update to the recipe (my version is from the 1st edition of their fantastic cookbook, but they're up to the 9th now), but they all seem to have the same times. Maybe it's just me. But I'm happy now.