Food You Can Hang Your Hat On
For our second cooking review I did most of the cooking because it is one of my signature dishes. (FYI: Having a signature dish is how you know you are a real chef.) I went to college in New Mexico for three years and while I was there I learned to love New Mexican food. I didn’t cook much in college so this meant I liked to eat New Mexican food from restaurants, specifically one restaurant called, Frank and Lupe’s El Sombrero. Being clever Techie’s we simply called it The Hat. It was a college town so we had a pretty good selection for eating out, but we found ourselves at The Hat pretty often. Any reasonable person will tell you that the best thing on the menu at The Hat is Lupe’s Chili Rellenos. I would branch out on occasion because the green chili enchiladas were pretty good too, but the rellenos was my usual. It was served with the best refried black beans and Spanish rice I have ever tasted. All washed down by a couple of cold Dos Equis. When I was at The Hat I always drank beer and it was always Dos Equis.
Chili Rellenos actually aren’t too hard to make. They take a little bit of time because you have to roast, peel, deseed, and stuff the peppers with cheese, but then you just dip them in an egg batter and deep fry. Then you get a tasty fried chili with melted cheese inside. Poblano Chiles work best and I found some great ones for this time of year in Minnesota. There was a also a great selection of Anahiem chiles so I grabbed a couple of those as well. You can find the full recipe here.
While I was frying up the chiles we all snacked on the fresh salsa and chips that David brought over. He brought over a huge bowl of salsa and I figured there would be plenty left to garnish the chiles with. I was wrong. The four of us made quick work of the salsa, but David had the foresight to set some aside or we would have had to use store-bought salsa, probably made in New York City.
I’ve made Chili Rellenos several times, but this is the first time I’ve made them since I found my new Mexican rice recipe. I started with a recipe on Allreipces.com and altered it a little bit. (See my recipe here.) I believe I’ve tried all of the store-bought boxes, pouches and cans of Spanish rice trying to get close to what I remember at The Hat. I finally realized that I needed to make the rice myself and started with this recipe. After only a few changes it is the best Mexican rice I’ve had since living in New Mexico. The beauty is that it is a very simple recipe. I fried up some long grain rice and minced onion until the rice was golden and onions were tender. Then I sprinkled the rice with taco seasoning. Added some tomato sauce and chicken broth and simmered with the cover on until done. Rice is tricky so it sometimes comes out wetter than I would like, but this recipe has tasted great every time.
For the refried beans I started with Spicy Black Beans from Damn Good Food. I blended half of them and then fried the mashed beans with the whole ones in a little butter. I added a dash of cumin and chili pepper to the butter before I added the beans. I fried the beans on medium heat for about a half an hour, mixing them up whenever they started to crust over. These were not quite the same as the beans I remember from the Hat, but I didn’t care because they were amazing. The large winter peppers didn’t have a lot of heat, but the black beans lived up to their spicy name. Topping each bite with a little of the beans kicked everything up a notch.
Put all together it made for the perfect recreation of my college trips to The Hat. The only thing missing was the delicious sopapillas dripping with honey. If you’ve never had them before sopapillas are fried puffy dough with a little cinnamon. The ones we had at The Hat had a hollow in them that you could pour the honey into. I had never made them before, but it needed to be done. I found a recipe (again on allrecipes) that looked pretty easy. I made the batter after we had finished eating and let it rise while we waited to be hungry again after our Mexican feast. Rather than roll the dough out on the counter I took a shortcut and rolled the dough into balls. I stretched each of them into thin circles (and by circles I mean amorphous circle-square shapes). I dropped them into the hot oil and cooked for a few minutes. Mine didn’t turn out quite like I remembered them, but that didn’t prevent them from being delicious. To make them even better we added a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
To prepare this meal I spent more time in the kitchen than I have in a long time. It was worth every minute.