This time of year, traditional Mexican cooking works well with our stocks of dried peppers, canned tomatoes, fresh & frozen meats, dried corn, dried beans, and more. Our diet is largely dependent on what we grow & preserve rather than what little we buy, so we tend to heavily adapt recipes or just make things from scratch using what we have on hand, fresh and/or preserved. It’s rare for us to cook straight from recipes, but we’ve found that certain cuisines fit our unusual approach to sourcing & preparing food especially well.
For Joanna’s recent birthday dinner, I prepared several interesting recipes from Fiesta at Rick’s, a cookbook which was her birthday present to me. Several Rick Bayless cookbooks like Mexican Kitchen have been instrumental in teaching us many new and worthwhile ways to use the meso-American ingredients we already produce; a library copy of Fiesta inspired us to try the whole-goat pit roast we did a few years ago. In this case I tackled several recipes I hadn’t made before, pleasantly surprised that despite the diverse ingredient list, from pig’s feet to peas, we had virtually every ingredient on-hand and sourced from our own farm. This made the cooking a breeze, and it took only a few hours’ work to prepare a multi-course meal with several days of leftovers, manageable for anyone with part of a weekend afternoon to spare. Joanna contributed to several components to the meal that are her normal specialty anyway.
This is an easy one, as we grow our own human-food corn and have learned to nixtamalize it for all sorts of interesting uses (appropriate corn can also be ordered online). In this case, once Joanna had done the initial lime treatment the day before, I set 1.5 lb of corn to simmer for the afternoon with two heads of chopped garlic. On the next burner over, four pig’s feet (frozen from 2013) and a 2014 goat kid neck/shoulder simmered in their own stock. After a while, I started swapping stock back and forth to combine the flavors. The resulting meat/corn/garlic aroma was enough to make the house smell like the right kind of Mexican restaurant. Total cooking time about three hours, but almost no actual work involved.
In the meantime, I got started assembling ingredients for a Mexican paella, Bayless-style. This was a party-scale recipe that I reduced by 1/2 to 2/3, but otherwise could meet almost ingredient-for-ingredient with our own preserves. Below, I’ve laid out some chicken legs, homemade sausage (our own goat, pork, garlic, & dried peppers), brown rice (the only off-farm ingredient other than salt), home-canned tomatoes, dried Ancho peppers, onions & garlic, frozen shelled peas from this spring, and home-rendered chicken fat for the sautéing. Along with the meat stock, this is all I’d need. As we don’t produce seafood, we left out the shrimp and mussels, though they certainly would have been tasty. Someday maybe we’ll use crawfish from the stream.
Knowing the chicken legs were from old, tough hens, I started them simmering at the same time as the pozole (several hours earlier than the rest of the paella), which also produced some chicken stock for use in the paella. Otherwise I followed the recipe pretty closely, sautéing the sausage, onions, and garlic in chicken fat before adding hot stock, dried peppers, tomatoes, chicken legs, and rice. This simmered for close to an hour until the rice was cooked, at which point I added the peas and turned down the heat until serving time. About an hour of actual work: quite straightforward and compatible with preparing other things.
While waiting for all this to simmer, I threw together an easy appetizer, sautéing minced garlic and dried Ancho peppers with olive oil & salt in a cast-iron skillet before adding a few cups of Missouri pecans. The resulting toasted nuts have a wonderful flavor and make great finger food.
FINISHING THE POZOLE & SERVING
Once the meat & corn had simmered for about 3 hours, I removed the chunks and stripped the meat from the bones, producing a bowl piled with tender shredded goat & pork. Draining some of the pozole corn, I laid it out with the meat and bowls of chopped cabbage, radish, onion, and dried pepper, all of which we could layer onto Joanna’s homemade wheat tortillas. Corn tortillas are a great use of nixtamalized corn, but we haven’t mastered them yet. Served with bowls of hearty paella and pepper nuts, the final meal looked like this (not counting the days’ worth of leftovers). Not shown here is one more on-farm touch, a strawberry margarita made with our own frozen strawberries, plus tequila and Triple Sec.
Joanna likes to make her own birthday cake as the main baker around here, and did her usual masterful job on this carrot cake, featuring frosting made from our own goats’ milk chevre.
All of this took one afternoon, during which I was still free to work on other things for several hours while the pots simmered, with a few minor tasks completed previously (like preparing the nixtamalized corn). That, plus, all the work that went into growing, processing, and preserving the vegetables, fruit, and meat that went into the meal. But we had to buy almost nothing to make this spread, and it’s been feeding us for days afterward. It’s a payoff we’re happy to continue working for ourselves to produce, and such a meal is well within reach of anyone with access to good ingredients and a free afternoon.