I moved to the Napa Valley in 1979 and was fortunate to start working with people who had come from all over Mexico. My first experience with Mexican food had been in Minneapolis, circa 1963, when my brother's then-wife invited me for lunch and together we made bastardized chilaquiles from canned tortillas, Velveeta cheese, and "mild" jar sauce. I've come a long way!
The Yucatán region has always held great interest for me. I like the Mayan history and architecture, the hot habanero chile and flavorful black beans, the white-sand beaches and warm Caribbean waters. I think I bought my first Diana Kennedy book in 1970. Since then, my collection of Mexican cookbooks and recipes from staff and friends has grown tremendously.
When I travel to Mexico, I always visit as many food markets as possible and you should, too. If you like Mexican hot chocolate as much as I do, look in the market for a molino (mill) that grinds chocolate and ask the staff to grind a kilogram of chocolate and flavor it to your taste. I always request the traditional Mexican additions of cinnamon and almonds but only half the usual amount of sugar. Look for freshly made mole pastes, too. They make great gifts.
I can never say no to this kind of food, so this menu is quite large. I have often just served the egg dish for Sunday brunch, the tacos and the fish make a great Cinco de Mayo menu, and the lamb and the salad are a good weeknight supper if you marinate the meat in advance and then quickly grill it when you get home from work. The tiramisu is best when made a day in advance, and then finished with the whipped cream just before serving.
(Eggs in the Style of Motul)
This dish, which originated in the small Yucatecan town of Motul, not far from Mérida, is perfect for Sunday brunch or Sunday-night supper. If you are pressed for time, feel free to use canned beans rather than freshly cooked, either black or pinto. When I traveled to Oaxaca, I visited local cheese makers and became spoiled by their delicious handcrafted cheeses. As a result, for this recipe I often use a locally made ricotta instead of a processed Mexican cheese from the supermarket.
If you don't want to use your favorite cast-iron pan to char the tomatoes for the sauce, you can roast them on a griddle or on a rimmed baking sheet (the sides ensure you won't lose any of the delicious juices) under the broiler. Don't peel them before you puree them in the blender. The tiny bits of blackened skin add taste and texture to the final sauce. I also like to fry or bake my tortillas until they are a little crispy, though not as crunchy as for tostadas. This step is not traditional, but I like the texture it contributes to the finished dish.
3 tomatoes, cored and halved through the equator
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 habanero or 2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded if desired, and finely chopped
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups pot beans (page 22)
6 tablespoons fresh ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons sour cream or Mexican crema
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
6 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Unsalted butter or mild vegetable oil, for frying eggs
6 organic eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make the sauce, heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Place the tomato halves, cut side down, in the dry pan and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes, until charred. Turn the tomato halves, scraping up as many of the charred bits from the pan bottom as possible, and char the second side the same way, flattening the tomatoes slightly with a spatula so that the rounded sides touch the pan bottom. Transfer the tomatoes to a blender and process to a puree.
Pour the oil into the same skillet and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the pureed tomatoes and fry for a minute or two, scraping up all the flavorful bits stuck to the pan bottom. Remove from the heat, stir in the chile and onion, and season with salt and pepper.
When you are ready to serve, heat the beans and have the ricotta, sour cream, and cilantro ready. Heat a skillet over high heat. Add the tortillas, one at a time, and fry, turning once, for 11/2 to 2 minutes on each side, until slightly crispy. (Or, arrange the tortillas on a baking sheet and put in a preheated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes, until slightly crispy.) At the same time, melt some butter in a skillet; when it is foaming a lot, crack the eggs into the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and fry to your liking.
To serve, put a tortilla on each plate and spoon the beans over. Set an egg on the beans, and cover with the sauce. Top each with an equal amount of the cheese, drizzle with the sour cream, and garnish with the cilantro. Serve immediately.
Tips and Tricks
How to Fry a Perfect Egg
Heat a little butter or oil in a skillet over low heat. Crack the egg into the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover. Cook for 11/2 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is still runny-the way I like eggs. For a more firmly set yolk, re-cover and cook to your liking.