Mexican cooking night ideas
I have a friend coming into town this weekend, and when I was thinking of things to do, I thought a Mexican cooking night/dinner would be fun. My general idea would be to make carnitas with homemade pico de gallo, guacomole, and maybe another sauce, and maybe trying to make homemade tortillas. I want enough to do to make it interesting, so I don't need super easy ideas, but nothing too crazy either. I'm specifically looking for typical toppings for carnitas- I was in Mexico over Christmas last year, and the best food we had was at a restaurant where the toppers took up more food on the table than the meal (lots of spicy pickled food, as well as 3 or 4 salsas, onions etc). So my questions would be:
1) Any relatively simple tortilla recipes out there? Baking is not my strong suit
2) Any ideas or recipes for good toppings or salsas?
3) Any ideas for appetizers? I don't want to do chips and salsa.
I think that corn tortillas would be traditional with carnitas. I just buy a bag of hasa marina, follow the instructions on the bag, press and grill. They are not hard to make, but if the moisture level isn't correct, can be VERY frustrating. I would suggest making a half recipe to test this idea. Or do what I do, always have a package of made this morning commercial tortillas in the fridge just in case.
For an appetizer, how about pozole or tortilla soup? Rick Bayless has a lovely tortilla soup recipe. Since you don't have any beans in your main course, you could do something like a bean puree on tortillas, topped with some cheese and broiled quickly?
Where do you live? Is there a Mexican grocery nearby that can sell you pre-made masa? If you have that, tortillas are as easy as making patties (I put a ball of masa on my big cutting board, cover it with plastic, and whack it with a small cast-iron skillet. Then I fry then on a very hot, ungreased griddle for about a minute per side). If you live in an area with a substantial Mexican population, most large grocery stores carry tortillas, although finding corn ones is sometimes a challenge.
A local taqueria serves pickled carrots and onions as an accompaniment to their burritos: recipes for pickled vegetables - verduras en escabeche - can be found in Bayliss's and Kennedy's cookbooks. A crudite platter with calabacitas (zucchini) and jicama would be a good appetizer - and if you're feeling brave, you can get canned nopalitos (pickled cactus).
I like tortilla soup: it's a production to make, but doing it for a crowd isn't any harder than making smaller portions. I also like black bean soup, with a slice of lime floated on top of each bowl.
Refried beans are surprisingly easy to make, if you remember to start soaking the beans a day or two beforehand. I've used a variety of fats for frying, all the way from olive oil to bacon drippings to the reserved drippings from spicy spare ribs. Add finely minced onions, ground cumin, salsa, etc. to the hot oil, add the cooked beans and mash - I use a potato masher, which works well, although the beans are somewhat chunkier than commercial ones. Add reserved bean cooking liquid to thin as necessary, adjust seasoning, and enjoy.
I am in Canada (Calgary)...there is a Mexican store nearby I am going to check out, but I don't have high hopes. I can find chipotles and stuff like that, but I'm not sure exactly what else. If I can find pickled onions, or picked carrots, I'd use those.
My friends have voted for shrimp as well. I will probably venture a little further from traditional Mexican recipes, and add some lettuce to the carnitas, because although no one coming is a vegetarian, we all love our veggies and aren't big meat eaters.
Right now the menu is:
Tequila shrimp (possibly with some sort of spicy dipping sauce if the recipe is too bland)
Pico de gallo (I thought of roasted tomato salsa, but we've decided to bake Christmas cookies as well, so I don't want to spend too much time making salsa)
chipotle pork carnitas
Chipotle aioli (I know it usually goes with fish, but the recipe I found for chipotle carnitas calls for sour cream and a non-cream chipotle sauce, so this is very similar)
And toppings of onion, cilantro, lime, maybe lettuce.
And of course, Margaritas (I may have to make two batches though- one "real" and one with limeade, as much as it pains me to do it)
But I will keep checking here to see if anything jumps out! If we can find Masa, we'll make our own tortillas. Otherwise, I might see if we could buy pre-made fresh ones, just in case.
Second the suggestion upthread to try the tortillas ahead of time - they aren't hard, but can be frustrating if your moisture level and heat levels aren't right. (if the masa isn't happy, forget it!) I'd definitely have some pre-made on hand.
Sounds like a great party!! And as long as you have the oven hot for the cookies, why not roast off some salsa ingredients?