Holiday weekend, friends in town, Mexican food on the table

I come from Arizona, so I’m fairly serious about my Mexican food. Don’t mess with my mole, hombre. And we used to have tamale peddlers come door to door, so don’t even try to pass off some fusion Japanese tamale on me. New York’s not a great place for Mexican food, especially if you bring southwest standards to the table. I think I’ve had two Mexican meals in five years in New York that measured up. One of them was on 5th Ave. in Brooklyn — somewhere in the twenties — and the other was either in Spanish Harlem (where my brother lived briefly when he first arrived in NY) or The Little (Bigger) Place in Tribeca, of all whitebread neighborhoods, which has food Stephanie and I and our kids can actually agree on, and within walking distance to boot. I especially like their breakfast/brunch menu, but good Mexican seems to happen more often at home for us — summer afternoons with a couple skirt steaks on the grill for fajitas, nothing but carne and Gary’s pico de gallo: chopped tomatoes, onions, cabbage, cilantro, jalapeños in juice, generous cilantro, and lots of limes.

It’s a holiday weekend, friends in town, and we somehow found time for two impromptu “Mexican” dinner parties, the second one built on leftovers from the first. Since all I could do Sunday was salivate waiting to eat dinner again, and since the weekend left me with little time to write, I’m taking a page from Rebecca and Adriana and getting some recipe action up on your screen.

Night one we hooked up with Mikelle and Wendy, in town for the weekend from Ann Arbor and L.A., respectively. Nicole and Jason brought over fixins for Nicole’s pinto and chicken enchiladas — a simple but satisfying filling of beans, lightly sautéed chicken, peppers, and a wee bit of sour cream, if I remember right. Her sauce was simple too (when I say “simple” I mean in a good way, of course: no fuss, tastes good): diced tomatoes, cilantro, and a bit of habañero sauce, though not so much that Anna and Molly wouldn’t eat them. I made Gary’s pico and my easiest Mexican side: diced onion, zucchini, red bell pepper, and fresh corn, topped with lots of ground black pepper. While we were getting this ready, and Stephanie was finishing off the death-by-chocolate cake that would settle us into pleasant comas at meal’s end, Mikelle sailed in with a bag of goodies and whipped up this salad, which made the night. And the next night too, since we decided, prior to heading over for drinks for Dave’s birthday last night, that we wanted nothing more than to eat the leftovers. Karen and Ian came over and we refried a couple bottles of black beans for tostadas, using leftover salad as topping. This was more Santa Barbara chi-chi than street vendor taco stand, but it hit me just right — and beat anything I’ve had in so-called Mexican restaurants here. So:

Mikelle Fisher’s Chipotle Cole Slaw

1/2 small cabbage, shredded
1/2 small purple cabbage, likewise shredded
A couple large carrots and a red bell pepper, julienned
A ripe but still firm avocado, sliced thin
About 1/2 c queso fresco, crumbled — more on the table for garnish

Dressing (adjusted to taste)

3 T chipotle tomato sauce
1 cup light sour cream
3 minced anchovies
half a lime, squeezed

The secret (shh!) was in the sauce. Why have I never noticed chipotle tomato sauce in the Mexican aisle before? It gave just the right caliente kick. But the anchovies were what nailed it: mashed more than minced, they left a subtle hint of sea without taking over the salad. Even after two nights of this, I’m wishing we had more in the fridge. Best part, it’s simple too. Even without Mikelle’s knife skills I’m pretty sure I can replicate.

Drinks for Dave? A good time was had by all, as they say in the small-town society pages. If you weren’t there you were missed.

One response to “Holiday weekend, friends in town, Mexican food on the table”

  1. Mikelle F says:

    Isn’t that just how it goes sometimes… Great things come of nothing.

    Stephanie had invited Wendy and me to share Nicole’s enchiladas and the evening with them. I, also from out west, love Mexican food and wanted to bring a salad that would nicely compliment the dish of the night. The problem being that I was only in town for three days trying to fit in visits to my favorite spots into a weekend already filled with lots of socializing. So the salad had to be simple. My inspiration for the cole slaw (I almost typed cole’s law which would have made Jeremy smile, see Nutshelves and escape goats: The art of appreciating student writing) was the cabbage and fish sauce served over the best fish tacos I’ve tasted. They’re served at Lone Star Taqueria, a great little taco shack in Salt Lake City. The Lone Star fish sauce is a pale green sour cream-based sauce. Mine is a chipotle sauce, so I didn’t really mimick it much. What I did take was the slight fish taste by adding the anchovies.

    I’m often surprised by how much better a dish is when I let my intuition, sense of complementary flavors and fresh food make the dish. I add some things together, then adjust and taste until its just right. I’m glad to hear the dish was a success and that Bryan got some good Mexican food cravings satisfied.

    One note: I knew when I wrote down the recipe for Bryan that I had missed something. I forgot to mention that I put a small minced jalapeno in with the vegetables.