Veggies, fruits, and chiles in a Mexican market.
The second time I went to Mexico, it was for cooking school. But my first trip was just to tour, to visit a variety of regions and sample a variety of regional specialties. Mexico is a key location for culinary history research, because so many foods either arose or were further developed here.
Mexico and vicinity was home to turkey, maize (probably first developed in the area around Oaxaca), chocolate, vanilla, and squash/pumpkin. The region also acquired, through trade and travel, avocado, tomato, and chilies from South America—and chilies were not merely adopted, but also bred for variety, and Mexico still has more varieties than anywhere else. In addition, there are indigenous foods that have not spread so widely, such as tomatillo, chayote, nopales (cactus pads), and tunas (cactus pears).
Combine all those dandy foods with a few introduced items and techniques from Europe, and golly, the food in Mexico is good. And far more varied than most people realize (unless they’re fans of Rick Bayless).
That first visit, I traveled from Mexico City to Oaxaca and across to the Yucatan, enjoying a fascinating diversity of foods and cultures. The recipe below is for a dish I got addicted to in Mexico City. My first morning there, I was served rajas con crema with breakfast. That night, I found rajas con crema served with my steak tampiqueña. Rajas con crema is so popular in Mexico City that there are rajas con crema-flavored potato chips. Rajas means “strips,” but by general consensus in Mexico City, it virtually always means strips of green chilies.
Rajas con crema is quite easy to make. It is a fabulous dish, with big, rich flavor. It’s tasty at any meal, but is especially great as a side dish for a steak right off the grill. Enjoy.
Rajas con Crema
(Poblano Chiles in Cream)
3 Tbs. butter
1 onion, sliced
6 large poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded(instructions below), and cut into 1-inch wide strips
1/2 cup thick cream (see note)
1/2 tsp. salt
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and sauté until transparent. Reduce heat, add chiles, and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the salt and cream and stir to coat chiles and onion. When the cream begins to bubble, remove pan from the heat and stir. Serves 6 as a side dish, 4 as a light lunch with tortillas.
Note: The thick cream specified in Mexican recipes refers to a rich, cultured cream similar to crème fraîche. If you have access to a Hispanic grocer, try to get the Mexican thick cream. If this is not available, crème fraîche is a good substitute, and you could even use sour cream thinned with a little whipping cream. The consistency should be barely pourable.
Roasting, Peeling, and Seeding Chiles: The most traditional way of roasting chiles is to hold them one at a time over an open flame, slowly turning the chile until each side is blistered and blackened. My preferred method when I’m dealing with several chiles, as in this recipe, is to roast them under the broiler. Brush the poblano chiles lightly with vegetable oil and place them on a baking sheet. Put them in the preheated broiler as close to the heat as your oven permits. Turn the chiles as they blister until they are blistered and darkened on all sides. Place the chilies in a plastic bag for a few minutes (this helps loosen the skin). Alternatively, put them in a pot with a lid (if you worry about chemicals in plastic.) Then just rub off the charred skin under a gentle stream of cool water. (The water helps reduce the amount of capsaicin-laced steam you will be breathing.) Peel all the chiles before you move on to seeding (they continue to cook while they are in the plastic bag, so you don’t want to leave them there too long).
To seed the chiles and cut them for this recipe, cut off the stem, then cut the chile in half. Remove the clump of seeds in the center and scrape out any scattered seeds. If there are white veins (ridges along the inside of the chile), cut them off. Then slice the chile lengthwise into the 1-inch wide strips for this dish.
© 2008 Cynthia Clampitt