Passover done Passed Over: A recipe for Migas Brei (Tex-Mex Matzo Brie)

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This is not my matzo, but I did buy this stock photo.

I may have mentioned once or a doze times on this blog that I am a Jewtina (Jewish Latina.)  It’s kind of a fun mix to be. So much color and spice and the opportunity to confuse the hell out of regular ol’ people who think all Latinx folk are Catholic. Newsflash: we’re not. Oh! But I understand the assumption.  I wasn’t always Jewish…well I wasn’t always a practicing Jew. And in my little part of the world, I, too thought most Latinx folks were Catholic. Honestly, I thought everyone was Catholic. I grew up in a place where most of my friends were Catholic — German Catholic and Irish Catholic and Mexican Catholic.  I was the oddball out with no particular religious upbringing.  But just in growing up in a heavily Catholic community, I go to know a lot of about Christmas. And Easter. But Passover? Not so much.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and here we are! I’m Jewish. I’m Mexican American. I know a whole lot more about Passover and I really think we’d all be much happier if Passover was shortened to about two days.  So far I haven’t found any fellow members of the tribe to back me on this and it turns out we don’t have a central governing body who can undo millennia of tradition.

So for eight days during Passover we remember our escape from slavery under Pharaoh and into freedom. As we beat cheeks across the desert, the story goes, we didn’t have time for our bread to rise and instead we carried these bland, flat crackers we call matzo (matzah? matzoh? We can’t agree on that either.)  And forever more, during those eight days, the descendants of those Hebrews will only eat matzo and no other grains, specifically wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt. And the celiacs among us rejoice!

Now if you’re Ashkenazi, the prohibitions don’t stop there. A whole new class of no-no foods called kitniyot have been listed and given reasons as to why an observant Jew should not consume them. But I won’t go into that here. Why?

Because we’re Sephardi! And the Mexicans rejoice! Sephardi Jews are those of us who are descended from the Jews of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal.) What this means for us during Passover is that we have traditionally never followed the prohibitions regarding kitniyot. So bring on the corn! Bring on the rice! Give me a bowl of beans!

My husband, however, is Ashkenazi. *whomp, whomp* We celebrated our first Passover together in 2006 and I remember him telling me about what his mom would make for him and what he couldn’t eat. He told me he really loved matzo brei. Cue me all “Huh?” I had no idea what that was and he described this matzo-egg-fried deliciousness. It sounded similar enough to one of my favorite anytime breakfast dishes – migas, but during Passover, at least for him, they weren’t allowed.

Migas Brei was born! Congratulations for making it through all those words just to get to a recipe with no picture (sorry!)  Please give this recipe a try! You don’t have to be Jewish to make and love matzo brei. If you decide to forgo the matzo (and I honestly can’t blame you. That stuff’s like glue on the old digestive track), you can sub corn tortillas (skipping the soaking step and going right to the frying step) and make migas, instead.

Migas Brei (Tex Mex Matzo Brei)
serves 4-6

Ingredients:
4-6 matzo, broken into large chunks
6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno or Serrano, seeded and vein removed, finely diced (optional)
1 glove garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup tomato, finely diced
vegetable oil
salt and pepper
salsa and cheese for serving

Directions:
1. Break up matzo sheets into medium size chunks (bite-sized) and place in bowl. Pour warm water over the top and let them sit until softened.
2. Whisk eggs and milk until well incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.
3. In a large skillet, add 1-2 T of vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Add onion, jalapeno or Serrano. Saute until softened and the edges of the onion begin to brown.
4. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (usually about a minute.)
5. Drain the matzo very well and add to the pan, stirring to mix with the vegetables, and cook until edges of the matzo start to brown.  You may or may not need to add a little more oil. You be the judge.
6. Add the eggs, tomatoes, salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate matzo and vegetables and cook until set but not rubbery.
7. Top with salsa (and I recommend warming salsa before putting it on hot food. Cold salsa + hot food = what would you do that?) and cheese. Serve immediately.

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Beans, beans, the more you eat them, the more you…

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Stock photo – Dreamstime Images

Well, you know how the rest of that goes. But BEANS! Frijoles. Oh, the humble bean.

A few years ago when our budget was stretched wafer thin and I was worried about how to feed the four of us without spending a lot, I made a decision.  I took about $30 and bought a whole bunch of beans. I mean a whole lot! We’re talking 25 to 30 pounds total of pintos, black beans, and garbanzos. Costco was running a special. *shrug*  I figured I could do a lot with these beans and I was right. I did a lot with them. Nearly every week, I cooked up a batch of beans in the slow cooker and then divided portions to make any number of delicious recipes: black bean soup, black bean burgers, hummus, chana masala, pintos for beans and rice. I mashed the beans. I made bean and rice fritters. Bean enchiladas. Chili! (And before you pearl-clutch, this Tejana likes beans in her chili. My kitchen. My recipes.)

If you are on a budget, find yourself going through a rough patch financially, transitioning to vegetarianism, or just like legumes, then knowing how to cook up delicious beans is something you owe to yourself.  

No cocina Tejana would be complete without a fool proof recipe for beans. You’re probably thinking that cooking beans is too labor intensive, takes too long, or is complex but you would be wrong.

This recipe needs only a few things: beans, a slow cooker (also a budget friendly tool. I routinely see these handy gadgets on sale for under $30. It is an investment if you are currently strapped for cash, so I understand that), spices and aromatic veggies*, water. That’s it.

The method I’m sharing requires no soaking. Not even a quick method soaking. Caveat, though, I am not the final word on cooking beans. I’m sharing with you what I do. I make a very large batch of beans every week, and the slow cooker method is my favorite way. As Ron Popeil said, you just set it and forget it!

Big Batch of Slow Cooker Pinto Beans (you can use just about any bean you want in this method. Some beans will require more or less liquid so be mindful of that.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of dried pinto
  • 8 cups of water
  • Variety of dried spices such as onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt, ground pepper.

*A word about using aromatic veggies: When I first started on the big batch of beans cooking routine, I preferred to use dried spices and still do. About 30 minutes before the end of cooking time, I add 1 tsp salt, 1.5 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp of garlic powder, 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cumin.  If you prefer to use fresh seasoning, you can make a sachet of cheese cloth but wrapping up one small peeled onion, 2-3 garlic cloves, some cumin seeds, peppercorns. DO NOT ADD SALT until your beans finish cooking. Add salt before then will cause your beans to stay hard and that’s just not going to taste good. My recipe below will include the dry spices method since that’s what I usually do.

Directions:

  1. Rinse beans in cold water and inspect for stones (for some reason pinto beans are rocky.) You do not need to soak beans to cook them. In fact, soaking many beans actually causes them to lose their distinct “beany” flavor.
  2. Put beans and water into slow cooker.
  3. Set slow cooker to low and cook for 8 – 10 hours (high for 5-6 hours.)
  4. When there are 30 minutes left in the cooking time, add the following dry seasonings:
    1 tsp of salt
    1 1/2 tsp of onion powder
    1 tsp of garlic powder
    1/4 to 1/2 cumin (or more if that’s your pleasure)
    ground pepper to taste
  5. Allow to simmer until finished cooking.
  6. Serve with anything you want – corn bread, tortillas, rice, just in a bowl. Cooked beans freeze very well, so if you want to have some on hand for those weeks you want beans but don’t want to cook, once cooled, divide your big batch into smaller portions and store in resealable freezer bags or other freezable container.

 

Shakshuka a la Tejana

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Stock image – Dreamstime Images

OH-EM-GEE! I love shakshuka! I don’t know how familiar you may be with this dish, but if it’s not a regular part of your budget-friendly-crowd-pleasing-eat-it-any-time menu, you need to add it, like yesterday!

So what is shakshuka (which iPhone likes to auto-correct to “Shark Hula.” We’ve started calling it that around the house because, you know, kids)?  Short story is that shakshuka is a tomato and eggs dish. Eggs are poached in a savory, spicy tomato sauce that is flavored with onions, peppers, and cumin. It’s a very popular dish in the Middle East that originated in areas of North Africa and you’ll find variations in just about every area of the region.

My sister suggested this dish to me when I was having a very uninspiring season when it came to feeding my family. She had just returned from her second trip to Israel and said I had to try this deliciousness.  Everything about the dish spoke to my Jewtina heart and I quickly adapted the recipe to my Tejana-Mexicana palette.

There are recipes for varieties all over the Internet and I certainly don’t claim to have The Only recipe for shakshuka, so feel free to add your spin on it. All the flavor profiles can be adjusted to taste or preference. Being Mexicana, I love a lot of heat in my food, so you’ll see that I use serrano peppers rather than mild green peppers, but certainly feel free to substitute peppers of you choice.

I’ve even made a version with roasted hatch chilies when hatch season is upon us (if you’re from the Austin area, for some reason this is a huge deal, but I know it’s an even bigger deal in New Mexico. Shout out to my New Mexican readers!) I’m less about the cumin and more about adding paprika. You may love that smoky, pungent cumin flavor. You do you!

Because the sauce is so soppable, shakshuka is generally served with some kind of bread item – challah, pita, tortillas even (dude! We’re in Texas!)  I’ve made this dish during Passover and ladled it over big pieces of matzo.  Of course, cheese is life and so I’m pretty generous with feta or queso cotija sprinkled on top of my shakshuka. Many people also like a smattering of flat leaf parsley or mint to dress it up. I’ve even seen it get even more Tej-Mex by adding cilantro (pero, not me. Cilantro me sabe a jabon.)

Without further delay, I give you my recipe for Shakshuka Tejana

Ingredients:

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Notice that there are no peppers in this picture. I’d already chopped them up when I thought “Hey! I should take a picture.”

  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 to 1 large onion, diced (small or large dice, it’s up to you)
  • 1-2 serrano chilies, diced (you can keep the seeds for more heat or remove the seeds and veins for a less spicy dish)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 T of tomato paste (this is optional, but I do find that it deepens the tomato flavor)
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cumin (again, this is to your individual taste buds’ delight)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil, lots
  • 6 eggs
  • pita or other bread for serving
  • feta or queso cotija for serving
  • parsley, mint, or cilantro for serving

Directions

  1. In a hot large, heavy bottom pan (I’m using an enamel cast iron braising pan), drizzle a generous amount of olive oil.
  2. Once oil is just slightly shimmering, add onions, peppers, and garlic. Saute until onions are translucent, edges just barely begin to brown, and garlic is very fragrant. Keep heat at medium and be careful not to over brown the garlic.
  3. Add paprika and cumin. Stir to coat vegetables and allow spices to bloom.
  4. Add tomato paste and stir. Then add one can of petite diced tomatoes with the juice. Use this juice to deglaze the pan.
  5. Allow mixture to gently simmer for a few minutes.
  6. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir.
  7. At this point I let the dish simmer on low until I’m ready to drop the eggs in. You definitely want to make sure the tomato mixture is nice and bubbly hot before you add the eggs, but timing this step can be tricky timing if you want the eggs to have cooked whites but runny or soft yolks. My advice is to drop the eggs a little bit before you want to serve. They’ll take only a little time to set the whites and still maintain a runny yolk.

Dropping the eggs:

Using a wooden spoon, make 6 little “wells” in the tomato sauce, being careful to space them out. Gently crack an egg into each well. Reduce the heat, cover the skillet, and cook on low until the egg whites are set.

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I dish up one or two eggs in a bowl with lots of the tomato mixture, dress with a little olive oil and sprinkle on the herbs and cheese. Serve with pita or bread of your choice and dig in. Bete’avon!

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Passover has Passed Over!

Huevos haminados - photo credit http://www.thekitchn.com

Oops! It looks like I fell off the blagon (that’s blog-wagon. I tried to make a new word. Yeah, anyway…)  I’m kind of notorious for that, by the way. Dropping off the page for a bit and then trying to cram in updates later on.

March is over and we’re in to the middle of April already. Yowza!  The last week was occupied with Passover, or as I like to call it: my Annual Gluten Detox since I do my best to avoid as much matzo as I can.  This year we made a good faith effort to actually be more observant where our son was concerned. He’s four and starting to understand more of why some of the things we do as Jews are different than his classmates (who are pretty much not Jewish) in preschool do things.

This presents a particular challenge for school lunches. Snacks are provided by the preschool and we have a wonderful staff member who is very conscious of Passover and won’t serve chametz for snacks. It’s nothing we ever asked for, but it’s nice to be considered.  He’s pretty accustomed to one kind of lunch: PB&J, cheese cubes, fruit, and maybe some Pirate’s Booty.  Observing Passover makes it hard to have sandwiches and PB&J on matzo is pretty unappealing.

Luckily, in my opinion, we observe Sephardic food traditions during Passover which means we’ll eat certain foods during the week that are forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews (the predominant Jewish ethnic group in the U.S. and who most of the non-Jewish public thinks of when they think about being Jewish in America).  We’ll eat corn and rice and legumes. A bean and cheese quesadilla on corn tortillas is usually a winner in Ben’s lunchbox. However, these foods are in a class called kitnyot and Ashkenazi Jews are forbidden to consume them during the week.  I have to say that being a Sephardic Jew lends itself well to enjoying a wider range of culinary variety during Passover. My Ashkenazi husband has been all too happy to take on the ethnic observances of his wife!

I’ve also found that the Easter/Passover crossover is harder to explain than the Christmas/Hannukah dilemma. In an effort to help my son understand the similarities and differences between being a Jew during Passover and his friends celebrating Easter, I decided to focus on the similarities. The thing he notices most are Easter eggs. We did participate in some egg hunts this year but they got me thinking about lesser known Jewish traditions and how eggs my feature in those customs. It seems we have a Ladino custom of something called huevos haminados (pictured above).

I didn’t discover these until late in the week when a rabbi friend of mine had mentioned them, but I think they’ll be a great, fun activity (and delicious treat) for next year!

Huevos Haminados – Recipe and photo from www.thekitchn.com

Clever food: Picadillo Empanadas

I am a huge fan of fun food. I love things that can be carried and snacked on. Empanadas are a perfect example of clever food. A pastry hand pie (for lack of a better descriptions) that is filled with all kinds of delicious sweet treats like pineapple, pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, nuts and raisins.  My favorite flavors for empanadas, however, are savory combinations.

Picadillo, a savory-sweet meat dish, is a perfect filling for empanadas.  There are many traditions of picadillo all through Latin America and Spain. Each region has its own favorite meat, spices, and complimentary ingredients.  My dad first introduced me to picadillo when I was a kid. He is the family chef and from whom I’ve learned most of my cooking skills. He would use ground beef, add chili powder, cumin, garlic, onions, tiny diced potatoes, and other good stuff. This is the picadillo that I know best.

Surprisingly, it is not my favorite. I actually enjoy the savory-sweet combination of a more Caribbean picadillo from Cuba or Puerto Rico. The recipe below is my version on that.  I use spices like cumin, coriander, and oregano as well as sweeter tastes like cinnamon and golden raisins.  Keep in mind that in the recipe below, I have purposefully made this filling drier than a picadillo that you might serve as a main dish. To make it as a main dish, increase your liquid by not draining the diced tomatoes before crushing them in the food processor or blender. Serve with rice.

Now let’s get started on picadillo empanadas!

Picadillo filling

Ingredients:
1lb ground beef, about 93% lean (too lean and the meat is less flavorful. Too fatty and you lose a lot of the bulk.)
1 small onion, diced small
2 gloves of garlic, minced
1 can of diced tomatoes, drained and pulsed smooth in a food processor or blender
1/4 to 1/3 cup of sofrito*
3/4 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed fine
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed fine
1 tsp of sugar
1 cup of golden raisins
1/2 cup of chopped green olives
salt & pepper
Olive oil

*A word about sofrito. Sofrito is a wonderful mixture of various aromatics such as tomatoes, onion, garlic, sweet peppers, and other flavors. It adds a richness to any Latin dish.  In this recipe I did not plan on making my own sofrito and used a store bought product by Goya.

1. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium-high and add onions. Saute on medium heat until translucent but not brown. Add garlic and saute about 1 minute more. You want the garlic to release its flavor and aroma but not brown or burn.
2. Add beef and cook until browned.
3. Once beef is browned, add tomatoes, sofrito, spices, sugar, raisins, and olives. Allow to simmer slowly on low until flavors begin to meld; about 20 minutes. You want to stir it frequently so that it doesn’t scorch. Be sure to taste the mixture for any needed seasoning. I find that with the olives, very little additional salt is needed.
4. Allow mixture to cool completely and then refrigerate until ready to fill the empanadas.

Empanada dough

Ingredients:
3 cups of flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold unsalted butter, cut in to several pieces
1 egg
6-8 tablespoons of cold water

1. In a food processor, pulse mix the flour and the salt for a few seconds then add the butter.
2. Process the butter and flour until you have pea sized pieces. Add egg.
3. While mixing the flour and butter and egg, slowly add the cold water until the dough forms a ball.
4. Remove the ball from the processor, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Assembling your empanadas

What you will need:
Picadillo filling
Emapanada dough
1 egg, slightly beaten
A pastry brush
A small fork
Rolling pin
Round cookie cutter for cutting circles, abut 4″ to 6″ in diameter (I just use a small cookie tin lid.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. On a clean surface, liberally flour your rolling pin and counter. Begin rolling out the dough.
3. Roll to about 1/8″ thick and then begin cutting your circles. This dough is similar to biscuit dough and can become tough if over worked. You want to be careful not to over handle the dough.
4. When you have cut out your circles, place 3 to 4 Tbs (eyeball the dollops. You don’t have to be precise) of filling on one half of the dough and about 1/2″ from the edge of the circle. Using your finger or a pastry brush, dab a bit of cold water on the free edge, fold the remaining dough over and press firmly.  With your fork, press along the edge of the dough to seal it.
5. Repeat step 4 for the remaining empanadas.
6. Arrange empanadas on a large cookie sheet. With your pastry brush, brush a light coating of slightly beaten egg across the top and along the pressed edge. This will give your empanadas a beautiful golden color and help seal the edges.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

I hope you’ll try this recipe and even play around with the various ways one can make picadillo. If raisins aren’t your thing, try diced mango or currants. If you want a spicier, more savory dish, leave out the fruit and add chili powder or diced fresh chilies or even a couple of chipotle peppers.  Try your hand at making sweet fillings for your empanadas. Experiment with various fruits and even fruit and nut combinations.

Buen provecho!

*Conversations with Ben – 3.18.12

*Conversations with Ben was something that I had started doing on previous versions of my blog experience. The wit and wisdom of a preschooler just can’t be beat.

On our way home from breakfast with my family, celebrating my uncle’s birthday. We had eating at a local favorite Mexican food restaurant and I had deviated from my usual breakfast for something richer and much more delicious, but with less than great results.  Ben’s comment:

“You know mommy, when you eat karmic masalad it makes your tummy hurt. I think you need to go home and go to bed.”

My friends, karmic masalad is also known in Spanish as carne guisada. And lo, there was much chuckling in the car on the way home.

Six Degrees of SXSW

It’s over!  The annual onslaught from Hipster Nation has ended.  I’m saying that gleefully but if I’m being honest, I’m a little sad that it’s come to an end.  I didn’t even get to any shows or films or events. I never do, actually.  That’s not because I don’t like the festival. It’s usually because I also seem to have something else going on at the same time.  When I was working (thus having my older kiddo in day care), I would take off a few days during the music portion and work some industry events as an event manager, but those days are gone.

Now I live vicariously through the experiences of my friends thanks to the miracle-curse that is Facebook.  It was a blast to see people post their stories about who they ran in to, hung out with, gawked at from 50 feet. Here’s a little run down in my own SXSW version of the Kevin Bacon game (incidentally, no one saw him at the festival.)

  • 2 degrees — Anthony Bourdain!  Say what?!  He is by far my biggest celebrity crush. He was in town and a mom-friend of mine who has a record production company ran in to him while she was out with one of her bands. Group hug pic and everything!
  • 2-3 degrees — Matthew McConaughey and Gerard Butler — Honestly, it’s not hard to run in to Matthew around here. He is a local and loves to blend in with the other greasy hipsters. It’s also not hard to run in to the Wilson brothers (as in Owen and Luke) either, but I wouldn’t be upset if I did.  Now Gerard Butler? That’s definitely a fun brush with celebrity!
  • 1 degree (maybe 1.5) — Mumford & Sons — This one was the best SXSW story I read, by far.  A little background: my brother in law is a pedicab builder and rider. He has a business partner, K (also a friend) who is a very cool, likable guy. SXSW is a huge week for them and their riders, so they busted tail all week working hard and giving rides.  The reward (besides bringing home some serious dough)? Mumford and Sons!  Here’s how the story goes: The partner, K, was hanging at the main shop and M&S rolls up to the bay around 4:30 am looking for a ride. K was not aware at the time it was M&S and just had a laid back time with a few drinks, a nice chat, and a stroll through the city. At their final stop, M&S tipped him well and then invited K as their guest to their Saturday show!  I thought it was a pretty sweet story.

My other favorite part about SXSW is the trade show (I am a former event manager after all). I don’t attend as it’s for badge holders only. My husband’s best friend from college is on staff with SXSW and for the last few years as asked him to consult on some things involving the interactive portion of the festival. For his expertise, the hubs gets a badge for Interactive & Film.  He’ll generally hit up the trade show and bring me all kinds of fun swag. This year is looks like buttons are in as are magnets. Cards with links and promo codes to free downloads were also a big hit. I’m just a sucker for a nice tote bag!