Friday, May 10, 2013

"Gourmet Gringo" (to celebrate Cinco de Mayo) - Mexican Gumbo

Date I made this recipe:   May 8th (for a belated Cinco de Mayo dinner)

Gourmet Gringo – Traditional Mexican Cooking for the American Kitchen by Mari Meyers
Published by:  Golden West Publishers
ISBN:  1-885590-16-4; © 1996
Recipe:  Mexican Gumbo – p. 70

Well Happy…let’s see, what are we up to here…Diez de Mayo everyone!  Yes, I realize that Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) has come and gone but I was just a little busy.  My husband was coming back from a trip to Salt Lake City on a late flight, the sixth and seventh were also busy and so that brings us to the 8th day of May to make the recipe and today, the 10th to post it. Besides, although the calendar may designate one day only for a country’s independence, you can’t tell me the celebrations don’t continue longer and if they don’t they should!  So I continued the celebration just a tad longer and the world didn’t stop spinning and that’s a good thing.  I would like to point out that “ocho” (eight) rhymes with “cinco” (five) and that just works so much better than the sixth (seis) and seventh (siete), am I right on this?

As to this cookbook, I purchased this book a mere week before the big event from Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores in Richfield, MN and just hooted at the title and so of course it went in my basket.  And wouldn’t you know, the cookbook’s author is originally from “Scandinavian Minnesota” so when she says this cookbook is for gringos (Caucasians), she means it!

This brings me to the running joke about Minnesota spice a/k/a ketchup and how Minnesotans don’t have much of a flavor palate.  Recent studies have shown that although yes, certain ethnic groups shy away from spice more than others, an individual’s taste buds help determine whether or not spice (and by that I mean hot chiles) is a good thing or a bad thing.  My palate tends to shy away from heat and so color me surprised when I told my husband that I thought this gumbo could have been kicked up a notch or two.  He thought the flavor was fine.  I think we must have switched bodies overnight or something.

This recipe calls for you to roast and then chop a long green chili (also known as Anaheim) and I have to say that I think a bit of Serrano pepper, in addition to the Anaheim, would have made this dish more flavorful.  I could also see adding chipotle in adobo sauce as it would have added the zip I was looking for.  Let me just say that the fact that I was looking for a bit more heat shows you how far my palate has come.

But as the cookbook’s title says, the recipes in this book are intended for gringos and in 1996 when the book was written, it is likely that we weren’t as exposed to true Mexican flavors as we are now.  And so sad to say, the recipes were what they promised to be – something Caucasians could eat without fear of needing a fire extinguisher – but they were boring.  Sure, there were your classic enchilada recipes and your taco recipes (although, really - tacos?), and even a tossed fajita salad but in reading through them, they all seemed to be the same and that meant “meh.” Then there were the interesting ones – mole sauce served over fried chicken (that just seems wrong on so many levels) and a Mexican Hot Dish (you can tell the writer is from Minnesota from the use of “hot dish” alone) involving your standard MN casserole cream of “X” soups and water chestnuts.  I have never figured out what exactly the purpose of water chestnuts is but I don’t think I’m alone here in thinking that this ingredient is NOT Mexican!  And then we had that really popular old-standard Mexican favorite – pizza.  Ugh.  Gringa or not, I was not going to go there.

And so out of all the recipes, this one for “gumbo” seemed the most interesting but, call me picky, I still had issues.  First, has anyone else noticed that chicken has turned into just about the most boring meat available? Once upon a time, you could guarantee you got a farm fresh chicken, loaded with flavor, but today it has been engineered into nothingness.  I poached the chicken breasts as directed but they could have used some salt just to add something to that bland meat.  We need to fix this, stat!  And of course, since the chicken didn’t have any flavor, it follows that the poaching broth you are to use has no flavor, either.  I am not a person who salts food but I reached for the shaker when dining on this finished product.

Then there was the corn component.  Corn (maize) is king in Mexico and yet once again, the flavor has all but been engineered out of it.  Granted, I used frozen corn instead of fresh (seeing as how it snowed the week before, we are not yet even close to corn season) but it really serves no purpose and adds nothing to the dish.  And I’ve already told you how I felt about the chili.

So you might be right in thinking that I hated this dish except I didn’t.  But maybe after cooking and eating so many recipes for so many years, my palate has changed and my expectations are higher. Or maybe, because I’ve had really authentic Mexican food, I’m not willing to accept gringo substitutes anymore – quien sabe? (Who knows?)  I’d make this again but with tweaks here and there to see if I can’t improve things just a little.  And if not, oh well – the gringos in this household observed Cinco de Mayo even if it was a few days late!

By the way, the week before last, Andy and I ate at Homi (Mexican) Restaurant on University Ave and Victoria in St. Paul and it was very good.  We also recommend another authentic Mexican restaurant/grocery store – El Burrito Mercado – on St. Paul’s West Side for the real deal.

Mexican Gumbo – serves 4 to 6
1 to 1 ½ pounds chicken breasts
4 to 5 cups water
2 bacon strips, diced
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups diced zucchini
¾ cup tomato paste (6 oz)
2 cups (about 4 ears) fresh corn off the cob or 2 cups frozen
1 fresh long green chile (Anaheim), roasted, peeled, seeded and diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup (about 2 ounces) cream cheese or cream
2 ripe but firm avocados, diced

Poach chicken breasts in water (to cover) until tender, about 45 minutes.  Remove chicken and set aside to cool before dicing (you should have two cups).  Reserve broth.

Saute bacon in an extra large (12-inch) skillet or a Dutch oven, then sauté onion and zucchini in same pan just until soft.  Add tomato paste, corn, diced chile, chicken brother, salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer 15 minutes.*

Just before removing from heat, add cream cheese or cream.  Serve immediately with diced avocado on top.

*Ann’s Note:  anybody notice the missing ingredient in these instructions?  If you said to yourself “But what about the diced chicken” you win the prize.  So I added it along with the other ingredients – tomato paste, corn, etc. – above. 

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