Rajas. Poblanos (por supuesto)

Poblano chiles are not commonly found in my part of Australia and I was lucky enough to find some in a large chain supermarket. Previously the only way I could access them is through the canned product. The San Miguel brand (see cover picture) was the only I had seen and it wasn’t until I visited México that I actually ate a fresh chile (chiles en nogada at Cafe Tacuba in the CDMX). Later, when I joined FOMEX (the Friends of Mexico Society) I was given a dish of poblano rajas con crema by one of the talented cooks during a taquiza (taco party) and it is this dish I wish to emulate here.

FOMEX Taquiza 2010 (rajas on the right)

Some of the other options available that day. This is the food I love. To me this is the food of a country. This food more accurately represents what the people eat more than the food found in restaurants does. I do understand however that this is party food and is not likely to be the food found on the dinner table every night (check the chopped hot dog dish in the top photo).

The poblano is a mild and relatively thick fleshed chile. They have a mild heat (although every now and then you’ll come across an angry one). They are similar in size to a capsicum (what an American might call a “bell” pepper) although they are longer and have a tapered/pointed base. They are similar in flesh thickness although I find the capsicum to be somewhat thicker and juicier. The capsicum has a zero heat level and can be eaten out of hand like an apple (as I did as a kid). The capsicum is an excellent salad vegetable although it can be stuffed and baked like a poblano. I have however never roasted and skinned/peeled a capsicum as I do when processing a poblano.

The green chiles/peppers that you see above are the unripe fruit of these plants. When these peppers ripen they change colour to (generally) red although capsicums can be a multitude of colours from yellow to orange, red, purple and even (almost) black.

Both are completely edible at all stages of ripening.

The dried poblano chile is called an “ancho”.

In Oaxaca rajas are often made with chile de agua and elsewhere the jalapeno is commonly used

The recipes.

The three following recipes all start with the same base which we then tweak a little to produce 3 different dishes. Another element to this recipe is the process of “tatemar”. This cooking/preparation process is a skill vital to Mexican cookery and it is one that will need to be learned if you seek to emulate the flavour profiles of cocina mexicana. I have a Post on this coming up.

The core recipe.

Rajas Poblanos.

  • 6 poblano chiles (roasted, peeled and deseeded. At this stage I’m expecting that you already know how to do this)
  • 1 medium onion (thinly sliced)
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) oil

OPTIONAL

  • 2 – 3 cloves of garlic (more or less according to your preference) (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup fresh epazote leaves. Epazote is a strong flavoured herb particular to Mexican cookery. It has a unique and distinctive flavour that lingers long after its eating. This herb is not for everyone and may not be easy to come by in its fresh form. It many places it is considered to be a weed. It is typically cooked with beans and when simmered in the pot over a long period it adds a vital flavour element (one that might be missing if, for instance, you are not quite able to get your beans to taste like the ones in México did). The flavour of the fresh herb is very different (See Post : Epazote). It is strong (in a way I cannot describe) and it lingers. One day I ate a quesadilla with flor de calabaza, quesillo (1) and epazote – 2 large and very fresh leaves – cooked in fresh blue masa and, that whole day, every time I burped, I was reminded of the fact that I had eaten epazote at breakfast. I was up way too early and I was that vendors very first customer of the day.
  1. quesillo or queso Oaxaca is a white cheese made in México. Its production process is similar to that of mozzarella and mozzarella is often cited as an acceptable substitution in recipes
Epazote

Back to the rajas

Method

  1. slice the (already roasted, peeled and deseeded) poblanos into strips (these are your rajas).
  2. place the oil in a pan and over medium heat fry the onions until fragrant
  3. add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes. Try not to colour the onions and garlic too much.
  4. add the rajas to the pan and cook to the desired consistency. The roasting/peeling process cooks the chiles a little and now you are just finishing them off in the pan. I like mine to be a little al dente but you can cook them as soft as you like (not into a mush though. Eeeew)

This is it. Your basic raja. It can now be used as a side dish, taco filling, tamal filling, whatever.

Option 2 – en escabeche (sort of)

Rajas con Limón

This recipe is a riff on the above. Use the same ingredients MINUS the oil (and the optional garlic/epazote). It is also NOT COOKED.

Ingredients

  • as above plus
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime (limón) juice
  • pinch of dried Mexican oregano

Method

  1. slice your (roasted, peeled and deseeded) poblanos into rajas. You can slice them a little thinner than the ones in the recipe above as they will not be cooked.
  2. place the thinly sliced onions and your rajas into a non-reactive bowl (glass or stainless steel) and pour in your lime juice.
  3. sprinkle in your oregano and mix to combine.
  4. Allow to sit for a couple of hours to the flavours settle.

When you do your rajas this way it is similar in nature to the cebollas encurtidas (pickled onions) made for the Yucatan dish Cochinita pibil. At the bottom of this Post I have recipes for this.

Option 3

Rajas con Crema

Follow ingredients and instructions for recipe #1.

When frying, after the rajas have been added to the pan, lower the heat to low-medium and add 1/3 cup of crema, heavy cream or sour cream and cook until the liquid/sauce reaches a coating consistency. Do not boil as this might cause the sauce to split. This is no major problem in this case as a “split” sauce would not affect the flavour or the eating of the dish, it is more of a cosmetic issue.

The whole Post came about because I came across some poblano chiles at my local chain supermarket. They were not of the greatest quality. I think they may have been stored for too long. They filled a hole though as poblanos are not easy to find here and I have had only marginal successes when trying to grow them.

Just in case you didn’t already know how to do this.

My chile roasting rack. We are going to roast the poblanos straight over a naked flame. You could do each chile individually by holding them with a pair of tongs and holding them in the flame or you could, as I did, place the rack over the flames and place the chiles on them. I have a dedicated rack for roasting my chiles. The high flame damages the rack somewhat (as you can see in the pic above mine is slightly munted) so set aside one rack for this job. Pick one up for probably 2 bucks from your local Good Sammies thrift shop.

Turn the heat up to high and char your chiles.

You are essentially burning the skin until it blisters. This will also cook the chile somewhat so don’t go too crazy. You just want the skin black and blistered as in the pic above.

Use your tongs to hold the chile and roast the bits that weren’t reached while they were on the rack.

Place your roasted chiles in a bowl and cover with cling wrap (you could also use a slightly damp tea towel to cover the bowl)

Leave covered for 10 – 15 minutes. This will steam the chiles a little and loosen their skins. This will make peeling them infinitely easier.

Slice your chiles into strips (rajas)

Instead of slicing your roasted chiles into strips you can cut them open carefully down one side and remove the seeds and veins. The chile is now ready to be stuffed.

I mentioned the dish chiles en nogada earlier.

Back to the rajas

Mise en place complete (ignore the corn. Bloody photobombers). Time to cook

Over a medium-high heat. Onions first. Fry till fragrant. Garlic next. Then the rajas. You could stop the dish here and it would be complete.

Not us though.

Lower heat to medium and add your crema. In this case I’m using sour cream. This step wont take long. All I’m really doing is heating the sour cream. if using something more liquid (i.e. cream) you may need to cook a little longer. Again, DO NOT BOIL. Boiling will not make the dish inedible at all and if the sauce splits it is purely a cosmetic issue and wont change the flavour in any real way.

Season with salt and pepper. Eat.

This was the menu. Tacos de barbacoa de borrego and the broth, tacos de rajas poblanos, salsa bandera and grilled sweet corn (with more rajas)

Cebollas Encurtidas (Two ways)

  • 2 large red onions sliced about 3-4 mm (1/8 inch) thick
  • 2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 1 cup cider vinegar (substitute with white vinegar)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 extra cup boiling water (to soak your onions)
  • 1 clove
  • 5 allspice berries whole
  • 1/4 tsp black peppercorns whole
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

Method

  1. Place the sliced onions in a bowl and cover with boiled water for 1 or 2 minutes. Drain well. This will take out some of the onions bite. You can avoid this step altogether if you like.
  2. Place all ingredients (except the onions) in a non-reactive pan and bring to a boil.
  3. Add the onions and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  5. Store in a sealed jar in the fridge.
  6. Let the onions stand for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving

Version Dos

This version doesn’t involve any cooking. At its heart it is a type of “escabeche” (1)

  1. Escabeche is the name for a number of dishes in Spanish, Portuguese, Filipino and Latin American cuisines, consisting of marinated fish, meat or vegetables. It can be cooked (or not) in an acidic sauce usually consisting of vinegar or citrus juices. It can be spiced and often contains bay leaf, black peppercorns, pimienta gordo (allspice), cloves or oregano. A similar technique is that of ceviche. Ceviche is the method of “cooking” seafood in an acidic liquid (citrus juice). Escabeche differs in that the food (in this case fish) may be par cooked before the liquid is added and the liquid is often added hot to the dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup bitter orange juice (substitute with a mixture of 1/4 cup each grapefruit juice, orange juice, lime juice and white distilled vinegar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice or pimienta gorda (or use 4 whole allspice berries)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large red onion thinly sliced
  • 2 bay leaves

Method

  1. Place the bitter orange (or its substitute or plain vinegar) in a mixing bowl along with the black pepper, allspice and salt. Mix well. Incorporate the red onions and bay leaves.
  2. Toss well and allow to sit at room temperature anywhere for about 2 hours before using, cover and refrigerate. It will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or even longer.

Commercially canned varieties of “en escabeche” products.

Seafood is the most often recipient of the en escabeche treatment although chicken and vegetable recipes are easy to find.

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