April 5, 2010

    Las Americas Supermercado and Roasted Poblano and Chicken Quesadillas

    I am an ethnic food junkie. I especially have a deep soft spot for Latin American cooking, and my few trips mere feet across the Texas border while stuck on a layover while driving a tractor trailer rig were always to partake of the local cuisine in the small cantinas along main roads in Juarez and Nuevo Laredo.

    Yesterday I finally decided it was time to explore one of the largest Mexican ethnic markets we have here in Tulsa, the Las Americas Supermercado on 3rd and Lewis. It was not quite what I expected at all! Most ethnic supermarkets we have here in town are small affairs with crowded shelves and laden with odd and dusty products often far past their "best by" dates. Las Americas was large - think the size of a typical American grocery store, and had the layout of any large bulk retailer (think Costco, Sam's Club or BJ's Wholesale) down many of the aisles. Produce was scant and expensive, with the exception of the wide array of chile peppers, fresh cactus, and plantains. Dry goods didn't fair much better - I saw the majority of the brands were ones that I could find in other local chain stores here, often at a better discount. The gems that will keep me shopping at Las Americas? Spices. An entire wall of prepackaged spices, dried chillies, and other oddball herbs. I also scored a lovely little cast iron tortilla press so I can make my own tortillas from scratch. Even more than the spices, however, Las Americas offered a wide fresh meat counter with oddities you generally can't find at the local grocer. Want goat? Check. Bistec (a very thin cut of beef used in numerous dishes)? They have that too. Lots of chicken, pork and beef cuts that are not typical can be had for a good deal. Including offal, if you're so inclined. I did not partake of the meat counter, as there was a line seemingly a mile long (and the store itself is not terribly bilingual...bring your best Spanish to communicate! - signs and products are generally labeled in both English and Spanish)

    The only thing I didn't get, which was sadly my entire reason for going to the store, was a bottle of Mexican vanilla. Ah well, guess I'll have to check back in a few days once they restock after the Easter holiday.

    What's for Dinner?

    Quesadillas with Fire Roasted Poblano Chicken and Mushroom Filling

    This recipe I adapted from parts of some recipes I found from Rick Bayless.  Marinade is based off of his "Roadside Chicken" with some changes to adapt to what I had on hand.


    • 4 large poblano peppers
    • 1 lb chicken cut into thin strips (I used boneless, skinless thighs to keep the meat juicy and full flavored)
    • small handful of shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
    • 1 large white onion, sliced in 1/4" pieces
    • 1.5 tbs hot Mexican chile powder
    • 1 tsp oregano (Mexican preferred, but I use what I have)
    • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
    • 3 tbs apple cider vinegar
    • 1/4 c. lemon juice
    • 1 tsp salt (to taste before adding chicken)
    • big pinch of ground cloves
    • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 block of Queso Quesadilla or other Mexican melting cheese, grated (sometimes found with the sausages, sometimes with cheese, sometimes in the specialty cheese. Look hard. In the US, the most common brand is Cacique)


    • 1 3/4c. "masa harina" mix (I found this quite cheap at Las Americas, but I've also seen it in local grocers and even the local Walmart in the Latin American aisle)
    • 1 c plus 2 tbs warm water
    • 1/2 tsp salt (I forgot this, however, and we did not miss it at all)

    Looks like this will take forever, right? It doesn't, I promise. And it only takes one pan! The only special equipment you'll need is a tortilla press. I picked mine up at the local ethinic market for $14 and it's solid cast iron that will last forever.

    Mix the marinade up (chile powder, oregano, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, cloves, and cinnamon) and coat the chicken strips throughly. Cover and set aside.

    Roast your chiles (open flame is best, but I have to use the broiler on my electric oven. It does work, but it takes MUCH longer and it's somewhat of a pain. If you have a handheld propane torch, those work great for peppers! Blacken the skin all over, then toss in a paper bag and close it up. When cooled, slide the skin off, and remove the stem and seeds.) I like to do large amounts if I'm going to be cooking with roasted poblanos for the next few days and just keep them in the fridge. Puree the peppers once de-seeded. (This is optional, but it helped the flavor get around the filling evenly)

    Fire up a large skillet over medium to medium high heat. (I go lower as my skillets on an electric stove are a killer because they hold heat too well). Once hot, add a drizzle of canola oil, and toss your mushrooms in. Cook until all the liquid is gone, stirring frequently so they don't burn. Remove from pan. Add a touch more oil, and add the onions. Cook until wonderfully carmelized, but still with a bit of crunch to them. Remove from pan.

    Add a touch more oil to the pan, and dump in the chicken and marinade. Cook, stirring frequently until most of the marinade reduces out and the chicken is cooked through. Add the mushrooms and onions and cook for just a minute or two to let the flavors combine. Pull off of the heat and set aside. Mix in the poblano puree.

    Mix the masa harina and water together until the dough comes together.  It'll have a cookie dough like structure to it, so add water as needed to achieve that if too dry.  Divide into 8 pieces, roll into balls and cover with a lightly damp towel to keep them from drying out.

    The following are directions directly from Rick Bayless:

    One by one, make the quesadillas:  Line a tortilla press with two pieces of plastic cut to fit the plates.  Gently press out a flattened ball of dough between the sheets of plastic into a 5-inch circle.  Peel off the top sheet of plastic, flip the tortilla—uncovered side down—onto the fingers of one hand and gently peel off the second piece of plastic.  In one flowing movement, roll the tortilla off your hand and onto the preheated griddle or skillet.  
    After about 30 or 45 seconds, when the tortilla has released itself from the cooking surface, flip it.  Immediately spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling into the center
    (top with about a tbs or so of the cheese, you'll get the hang of how much it can accommodate quickly!).  Fold the quesadilla in half over the filling after another 30 or 45 seconds.  Continue to cook, flipping the quesadilla ever 30 seconds or so, until it is richly browned in places and crispy-crunchy, 4 to 5 minutes—a little longer than you might expect.  As you fold each tortilla over the filling, move on to making the next quesadilla.  As they’re done, keep them warm on a baking sheet in the low oven. 
    As soon as you finish making the last quesadilla, serve them with guacamole or salsa.

    My 15 month old inhaled these, along with my husband and myself.  This recipe has made it into my permanent dinner rotation.  Who thought quesadillas could be so hearty?  The homemade tortillas take this to a whole new level - and this is from someone who never cared much for corn tortillas.  Make some fresh, you won't be disappointed and they are so easy!  The Mexican melting cheese has a very different texture (much creamier) than if you just used Monterey Jack or other American cheese...while you could substitute, it is worth using the real thing.


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