I have ties to many countries in Latin America, and one of the best things about exploring the region is sampling the “comida tipica,” or what I call “comfort food.” It’s the traditional cuisine that the locals might only consume on Sunday or special occasions, yet most of the ingredients are part of the daily diet.
In Colombia, it could be a tamale filled with chicken or pork and wrapped in a banana leaf. Just don’t forget the green onions, tomatoes and other veggies steamed to perfection. Costa Rica has a similar version of the tamale, but Olla de Carne is an awesome, filling soup that features large chunks of beef, papas y camote, corn, yucca, chayote and maybe some plantains. La Pura Vida!
The thing is that I always think Mexican by habit, and get a bit frustrated when “gringos” classify our food as nothing more than tacos and burritos. Take the famed “California burrito” as a case in point. It’s stuffed with plenty of carne, cheese and wait for it… french fries! Yummy? Yeah, I guess so. But it’s not Mexican food, folks!
My favorite Mexican comfort foods consist of two classic dishes: chilaquiles and sopa de albondigas. Believe me, that’s about as good as it gets!
This is an entree more for breakfast or brunch, but I could eat it all day long. Here’s the best and most simple recipe I can offer, and it works every single time:
1. Cut up about a dozen corn tortillas into squares. Pour some vegetable oil in a large saute pan. When hot, place the squares into pan and reduce heat to medium. Cook until tender (not crisp) and transfer to paper towels to soak up excess oil.
2. In a separate pan, pour approximately three cups of tomatillo salsa (El Pato preferred) and heat. Place tortilla squares over salsa, lower to simmer and cover. When salsa starts to firm up, add plenty of queso fresco (at least a full cup) and cover again to a perfect melt. Garnish with a bit of fresh cilantro end enjoy!
Some necessary sides to this dish would definitely be beans and avocado slices. Mexican restaurants offer several different versions of chilaquiles, including red salsa instead of green, and will probably mix in eggs unless you wave them off when ordering. And I must give a shout out to Playa Baja in Montebello, California. A few months ago, I was very pleased with my plate of chilaquiles. In fact, it was the best since I dined at Sanborns in Mexico City 35 years ago!
Sopa de Albondigas
I’d be kidding myself if I said Mexicans invented the meatball. It’s not even certain that the Italians did. As for albondigas soup, I’ve tried several different variations in the Americas alone. In Colombia, the meatball itself is a mixture of both ground beef and pork mixed with rice (very tasty) In Nicaragua, chicken claims the main event (thumbs down). Guatemala’s version is closest to Mexican-style, but a generous amount of mint leaves are added to the beef broth and pasta shells are used instead of papas (thumbs up).
Of course, my daughter Maria Randel has put together a recipe that meets my ultimate approval. She tweaks it once in a while, but the Mexican basics are always the same.
1. Meatball ingredients: A few splashes of virgin olive oil, half a cup of cooked white rice, tbsp of fresh cilantro, a bit of chopped fresh oregano, a pinch of parsley, one raw egg and at least one pound of ground beef. Mix everything together and form the meatballs into half inch shapes.
2. Broth ingredients: Three quarts of beef stock, two medium raw pealed and cut potatoes, three large raw and cut unpeeled carrots, raw and cut zucchini and fresh tomato as desired, one large chopped onion and two cloves of minced garlic. Start the veggies and bring to boil while preparing the meatballs. Once ready, add everything together, cover and let simmer for about half an hour until fully cooked.
As we move into the crisp fall and cold winter season, there’s nothing like the warmth of comfort food to satisfy your family. And it’s a great way for friends and neighbors to celebrate the seasons and bond. That’s what this website is all about…bringing everyone together.