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Chaya—a plant that tastes like spinach with a little kick—was a part of the ancient Mayan diet. Chaya isn’t readily available in the States, so I played around with the idea, using a mix of spinach and arugula. The intense flavor that is coaxed out of the mushrooms and greens with just a few minutes of cooking time is really pretty remarkable. Fairly high heat is the trick.
MAKES 4 SERVINGS • PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES • COOK TIME: 5 MINUTES PER OMELET (20 MINUTES TOTAL, OR 10 MINUTES WITH 2 PANS; SEE TIP)
1 packed cup baby spinach leaves
1 packed cup baby arugula leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
One 10-ounce package cremini mushrooms, cut into ½-inch slices
8 extra-large eggs
Kosher or fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Toss the spinach and arugula together in a bowl. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large (about 10-inch) nonstick pan over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, just until they begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, scoop out all but one-fourth of the mushrooms, and set them aside.
2. Beat 2 of the eggs in a bowl. Put the mushrooms remaining in the pan over medium-high heat and wait until they’re sizzling. Add one-fourth of the greens and a small dab of the remaining butter and cook just until the greens are wilted. Pour in the beaten eggs and tilt the pan until the eggs coat the bottom. With a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, lift the edges of the omelet so any uncooked egg from the top runs underneath the omelet, and cook just until the eggs are set, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Roll out onto a plate by tilting the pan and freeing the edge of the omelet closest to you, then nudging it into a roll and onto the plate. Repeat with the remaining mushrooms, greens, and eggs, adding a little of the remaining butter and heating the mushrooms until sizzling before cooking each omelet.
TIP: Once you get the hang of omelet making, you may want to work two pans at once, cutting your time at the stove to a mere 10 minutes for 4 omelets.
Think of this as the Latino version of the classic American diner breakfast—two sunny-side-up eggs with home fries and bacon. Here chorizo stands in for the bacon, and ripe, sweet plantain takes the place of home fries. It is a very simple breakfast, and a very satisfying one, too.
MAKES 2 SERVINGS • PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES • COOK TIME: 10 MINUTES
1 ripe plantain (the skin should be mostly black with a few streaks of yellow; see photo, page 315)
2 links Spanish chorizo
4 extra-large eggs
1. Peel the plantain and cut it on a sharp diagonal into ½-inch slices. Slice the chorizo links the same way.
2. Pour just enough olive oil into a large skillet (nonstick is nice) to coat the bottom of the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the plantain and chorizo slices and cook, turning once, until they are well browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Check the plantain slices often— depending on how much sugar the plantain contains, they may brown and/or stick fairly quickly. Drain both on paper towels.
3. Cook the eggs: Return the pan to medium-low heat and add a little more oil if necessary to coat the bottom. Crack the eggs into the pan and cook just until the tops of the whites are set, about 4 minutes; the yolks should still be runny.
4. To serve, lay 3 or 4 plantain slices side by side on one side of each plate. Top each with a slice of chorizo. If there are extra slices of chorizo, tuck them between the slices of plantain, nibble on them while you cook the eggs, or set them aside for another use. Set the eggs on the other side of the plate. To enjoy, make sure you get a little bit of chorizo, plantain, and egg (especially the runny yolk!) in each bite.
Although this sounds like a breakfast dish with dual citizenship, it is really Spain’s take on what we commonly think of as French toast. Of course, every country where there is leftover bread has some version of it. Torrejas is not a delicate dish—it should be made with thick slices of dense-textured country bread that is slightly stale. You will probably be surprised by how much of the orange-scented egg-and-milk bath a single slice will soak up. But that, along with slow, even cooking, is what gives torrejas its custardy texture. The other thing to note is that this isn’t really a sweet dish, though a little sugar sprinkled over the warm toast right before digging in is nice.
MAKES 4 SERVINGS • PREP TIME: 10 MINUTES (PLUS 30 MINUTES OR UP TO OVERNIGHT UNATTENDED SOAKING TIME) • COOK TIME: 10 MINUTES
1 cup milk
Four 1-inch-wide strips orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler
8 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of salt
Four 1½-inch slices crusty country-style bread
Unsalted butter or vegetable oil cooking spray
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
1. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat just until steaming. Drop in the orange zest, remove from the heat, and let stand for at least 15 minutes, or up to 2 hours, at room temperature. (The milk and zest can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.)
2. Strain the milk and discard the zest. Beat the milk, eggs, sugar, almond extract, and salt together in a baking dish large enough to hold the bread slices in a single layer. Lay the bread in the dish and let it soak until it is saturated and has absorbed nearly all the egg mixture. This will take at least 30 minutes. Turn the bread several times so it soaks evenly. (The bread can be soaked overnight in the refrigerator—handle it carefully in the morning.)
3. Heat a large griddle over low heat. A few drops of water flicked onto it should dance for 2 to 3 seconds before they evaporate. If they evaporate any faster than that, turn down the heat and wait a few minutes. The griddle can’t be too hot, or the bread will overbrown before the egg mixture in the center of the slices has a chance to cook through. Grease the griddle lightly with butter or cooking spray.
4. Lay as many slices of soaked bread on the griddle as will fit comfortably. Cook until the undersides are deep golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. If the bread browns before that, remove the griddle from the heat, lower the heat, and wait a few minutes before returning the griddle to the heat. Flip the bread and cook until the second side is deep golden brown and the centers of the slices feel firm when gently poked, about 4 minutes. Serve hot, sprinkling some confectioners’ sugar over each slice.
TIP: If your bread is fresh, cut it into slices the night before to give it a chance to dry out a little.
This is my idea of the ultimate comfort food—perfect for a gray winter morning (or any morning you’re feeling a little gray). When Mami made this for us as kids, she used to pour a little bit of milk around the edges of the plate. We’d pull some of the milk into the hot polenta with our spoons to cool it off a little before we ate it.
MAKES 2 SERVINGS • COOK TIME: 10 MINUTES
2 cups milk, plus more for drizzling if desired
1 extra-large egg
1½ tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
Heaping ½ cup coarse yellow cornmeal (see Note)
1. Whisk 2 cups milk, the egg, sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg together in a small saucepan. Put over medium-low heat and stir in the cornmeal. Cook, stirring constantly, until the milk starts to bubble and the mixture is thickened, about 10 minutes.
2. Spoon the cereal onto the center of flat plates and let it run slowly out the edges. If you like, drizzle a little milk around the edges of the cereal.
NOTE: You can also make this with fine cornmeal. Fine cornmeal makes very creamy and smooth crema de maÍz, while coarse cornmeal gives you something with a little more texture. Try them both and see which one you prefer.
This sandwich, called a media luna in Argentina, sounds more like lunch than breakfast—and it does make a great lunch—but I first had something like it as part of a memorable breakfast at a cafÉ in Argentina. The recipe makes a lot of the red pepper spread, but that is no accident: its sweet-and-tangy flavor make it perfect for serving as a dip with cruditÉs or chips, tucking into an omelet, or using as a sauce for grilled fish.
MAKES 4 SERVINGS • PREP TIME: 10 MINUTES • COOK TIME: 5 TO 10 MINUTES
FOR THE SPREAD (MAKES 2 CUPS)
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
½ cup mayonnaise
1 red bell pepper, roasted, seeded, and peeled (see page 274) or 1 bottled roasted red pepper, well drained
FOR THE SANDWICHES
4 croissants, split
4 thin slices deli ham
4 thin slices turkey
4 thin slices cheddar cheese
1. Make the spread: Process the ricotta, mayonnaise, and bell pepper in the work bowl of a food processor until smooth. Scrape the spread into a bowl or storage container. (The spread can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
2. Brush one cut side of each croissant generously with the spread. Layer a slice of ham, turkey, and cheese over the spread, folding them as necessary to make a more or less even layer of each. Top off the sandwiches with the remaining croissant halves. (The sandwiches can be assembled the night before you plan to serve them. Wrap and refrigerate.)
3. Cook the sandwiches in a panini press until the centers are warmed through and the croissants are grill-marked, about 5 minutes. (See Tip on page 78 for grilling sandwiches without a press.) Serve warm.
VARIATION: For a heartier lunchtime sandwich, substitute firm crusty rolls for the croissants. (Portuguese rolls work well.) Double the amount of ham, turkey, and cheese, and proceed as above.
The Media Luna
Christmas morning 2007 found us starving after an evening of festivities with our friends, the Strada family. It was already about 11:30 by the time we’d woken up and ventured out from our apartment in Buenos Aires, hoping to find a restaurant that was serving breakfast. We didn’t have to venture far: on a nearby corner was the busy Santa Fe CafÉ. We found a table and settled in, ready to eat every single thing on the menu! I dove into a cup of coffee and the kids enjoyed a submarino—hot milk served with a little chocolate bar, the “submarine.” Sink the submarine, stir, and you’ve got hot chocolate!
Sitting outside at a sidewalk table is not what immediately comes to the mind of a native New Yorker thinking “Christmas breakfast.” But watching the locals greet each other with hugs and kisses and exclamations of ”¡Feliz Navidad!” put us right in the spirit. Families on their way to church services in their holiday best smiled as they passed. I could make out a faint tango coming from a radio somewhere close by.
We did end up ordering practically everything on the menu: crisp empanadas filled with creamy corn and picadillo (24), of course, and also paper-thin golden brown milanesas (page 142) served with wedges of lime, fluffy omelets fat with prosciutto and mozzarella cheese, and what turned out to be the highlight, a media luna sandwich. When we ordered our media lunas (“half-moons”), we were asked if we’d like them crudo o cocido (crudo is cured, uncooked ham, like prosciutto or serrano, while cocido is more like deli ham) and plancha o sin plancha (plancha means “grilled”). Order a media luna plancha, and the sandwich is put in a press like a cubano. We opted for crudo con plancha, and what we were served was a little piece of heaven on a croissant (hence the “half-moon” moniker). The saltiness of the ham was balanced by the sweetness of the roll and the tang of the Argentinean Sardo cheese, which was melted to a gooey rapture on the crispy, buttery croissant. It was such a hit that we ordered another one, sharing and enjoying it as we watched the traffic go by on our balmy Navidad morning.
At home, I can re-create those little shivers of delight we shared on Christmas morning while breakfasting alfresco in Buenos Aires, because this quick but delicious breakfast sandwich fits in well with our crazy schedules here. I used to make them in a pan, but since my girlfriend Loni gave me a fancy Breville sandwich press as a gift, I can rock three or four of these babies in no time!
And if I close my eyes, I can almost make out a faint tango in the distance.
A distillery may seem like an odd place for a memorable meal, but Rancho Zapata restaurant, at the Mezcal Beneva distillery in Oaxaca, was the setting for one of the best meals we had in Mexico. The tour included a trip through the agave fields and the cellar of the distillery, where the hearts (or piÑas) of the agave plant are ground by mule power between two millstones before they are fermented and distilled into mezcal. Lunch at Rancho Zapata featured caldo de gato, or “cat soup,” which thankfully featured no cat, but rather ox spine (which looks similar to oxtail) that was roasted and made into a beautiful, rich broth finished with noodles and a squeeze of lime. There were tamales, as well, and cochinita pibil—the classic pit-roasted pork that is to the YucatÁn what barbecued brisket is to Texas. All we could manage after the meal was a light fruit dessert and this delicious, fragrant coffee, which we asked for everywhere we went in Mexico. The cinnamon provides a lovely top note of flavor, and the chocolate adds richness and depth.
MAKES 8 SERVINGS • PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES • COOK TIME: 10 MINUTES
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
1 tablespoon molasses
5 heaping tablespoons Latin-style coffee, such as Bustelo or El Pico, or ground espresso beans
2 cups milk
¼ cup finely chopped unsweetened chocolate (about 1½ ounces)
Dark brown and/or granulated sugar, for serving
1. Bring 6 cups water, the brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, and cloves to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the molasses and return to a boil, skimming any foam from the top.
2. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the coffee, and let steep for 6 to 7 minutes. Strain and set aside.
3. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until the edges begin to bubble. Discard any skin from the top of the milk and whisk in the chocolate until it is melted.
4. Divide the milk among 8 warm coffee cups. Fill the remainder of the cups with the hot coffee. Pass brown and/or white sugar at the table for people to adjust the sweetness as they like.
It may seem that I love my chiles so much that I’m even sneaking them into hot chocolate—but that’s only partly true. The pairing of chocolate and chiles goes back to pre-Columbian Mayan culture, so I am just the latest in a long line of chile-and-chocolate lovers. I wouldn’t call this rich, cinnamon-scented drink spicy; it just gets a little extra warmth from the tiny bit of chile in it—enough to warm up even the chilliest morning.
MAKES 2 SERVINGS • PREP TIME: 10 MINUTES • COOK TIME: 10 MINUTES
1 smallish dried chile de Árbol (see Note) or a pinch of cayenne pepper
1½ cups milk
2 cinnamon sticks
One 3-ounce round of Mexican chocolate (NestlÉ’s Abuelita, Ibarra, and CortÉs are all good choices), grated on the coarse side of a grater
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1. Heat a small saucepan (the one you’ll use to make the hot chocolate) over medium-low heat. Toast the chile, turning it once, just until it begins to change color and smell wonderful, less than a minute. Remove the chile and let cool, then grind it fine in a spice mill.
2. Warm the milk and cinnamon sticks in the saucepan over low heat until bubbles form around the edges. Let steep over low heat for at least 5 minutes, or up to 10 minutes for a stronger cinnamon flavor.
3. Remove the cinnamon sticks and set aside. Add the chocolate, sugar, and a large pinch of the ground chile to the milk. Whisk vigorously to melt the chocolate and foam the milk. Pour into warm mugs and slip a cinnamon stick into each one.
NOTE: Chiles de Árbol are long, very thin dried chiles with a brick-red color and fair amount of heat. Usually the seeds from dried chiles are discarded before the chiles are toasted, but that is not the case with chiles de Árbol. Toast and grind the chile, seeds and all. You will find chiles de Árbol in all Latin markets and some well-stocked supermarkets. Often they are found among the other spices and labeled simply “dried chiles.”
© 2010 Daisy Martinez