Ever walk out of a good, traditional-style Mexican restaurant and think you wish you could do that at home? I’ve got the book for you, Mexican Dinner Parties!
The author’s mother’s from Mexico and his father’s from Hungary. He grew up in Canada. His mom taught him to cook the family dishes to preserve their family heritage and now the author created this book for his kids as a family heirloom. It’s a charming story for sure, but it makes the book very special in another way. My kids are in the kitchen with me a lot, and they learn so much that way. They get coached and always hear what they’re looking for. The author does that in this book. It shows up mostly in the opening techniques pages. He doesn’t just give you the recipe for tortillas, he shows you photos of what your dough should look like, and also what it shouldn’t look like and why. It has that personal coaching feel. You will absolutely be able to master everything in the book with a little practice.
Since it’s getting a little cooler outside, it’s perfect grilling weather. I picked a recipe from the grilling party, Grilled Flank Steak Tacos with Orange Chipotle Sauce. I chose this recipe because it’s delicious and easy peasy. Big bang for the buck. Thank you to Hendrik Varju for letting me share it with you. I’ll tell you all about the book after that recipe.
Tortillas: To Make or Not to Make?
In my humble opinion, a homemade tortilla does as much as the filling. If you know that’s not your thing and you’re going to buy tortillas, they’ll still be awesome. You do you. But if you want to make tortillas, the learning curve is super easy! If you just make homemade tortillas with an easy-peasy filling you know by heart the first time, you will be effortlessly rewarded!
What do you need? It depends on if you’re team flour or corn. We love both.
With flour, you just use a rolling pin and need no fancy equipment. You don’t use a press.
If you want to make corn, you really need a tortilla press. I have two. They both work beautifully and do the same job. The black iron one, I bought from Amazon, and it’s nice and cheap – $25. The wooden one is gorgeous, no? I picked that up from an amazing Mexican import store in Taos, NM for about $60. Sorry, no link, but if you’re headed to Taos, you should go. They have the best collection of gleefully painted metal sculptures I’ve even seen. A lot of them are in my kitchen now – lol!
I like to use a tortilla warmer ($9) to buy myself a little wiggle room and keep my tortillas warm while I get everything else together. You just pop them in as you finish making them. There’s microwave directions if you are buying them, but I haven’t tried that out. You pop it in the wash machine when you’re done.
Grilled Flank Steak Tacos with Orange Chipotle Sauce
Beef is expensive these days, but you can feed a crowd with flank steak tacos very reasonably because you only need a few thin slices per taco. The combination of beefy flank steak, cooked medium rare, orange chipotle sauce and sweet caramelized onions is just phenomenal. Your guests will love it.
A lot of people are surprised to see paprika in Mexican recipes, thinking paprika is either Spanish or Hungarian. While it is true that Spain and Hungary are the world leaders today in paprika use and production, where do you think paprika originated? In the same country where every chile pepper in the world first originated: Mexico!
It has now been proven by scientists that all peppers in the world originated in Mexico, meaning that peppers did not exist in any other country before 1519 when the Spaniards landed in Mexico. The ancient Mexicans invented paprika as a way to preserve peppers by drying them in the sun or over a fire and then grinding them into a powder. And the rest is history. You have no idea how many amazing food products originated in Mexico, from Avocados and tomatillos to chocolate and vanilla bean. And if it weren’t for Mexico, the tomato would have never made its debut in Europe. Can you imagine Italian food today without the tomato!?
1 whole flank steak, about 1 ¾ pounds
½ Tablespoon paprika
½ Tablespoon hot paprika
½ Tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cumin, ground
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 very large white onion cut into spears (julienne)
½ cup orange chipotle sauce (see ancillary recipe which follows)
16 100% corn tortillas (buy them, or make them yourself)
1 cup cilantro, leaves only, torn into smaller pieces
2 limes, each cut into 8 wedges
½ cup salsa of your choice
Place all three kinds of paprika, the garlic powder, cumin, salt, and black pepper in a bowl and combine with a whisk or fork. Coat the flank steak generously with the dry rub, massaging it right into the meat. Place in a glass casserole dish, covered, and refrigerate for an hour or two to allow the flavors to penetrate. Remove from the fridge a half hour before you are ready to grill.
Heat the grill on high and brush with some cooking oil so the meat doesn’t stick. Then sear the steak on one side for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and sear the second side for another 3 to 4 minutes. Lower the heat to low, and depending on the thickness of the flank steak, it may be cooked to medium rare within just a few more minutes. You can make an incision into the meat “along the grain” to check for doneness. Do not cut across the grain or the juices will run out and result in dry meat.
Flank steak is best served medium rare, as it will be tough if cooked for too long. When it reaches medium rare, or just under, cover loosely with foil on a cutting board and allow it to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
While you allow the meat to rest, heat up a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and as soon as a puff of white smoke appears, pour in all the onion spears. Turn the heat down to medium and fry the onions until slightly golden brown. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt to taste.
When ready to serve, pour the orange chipotle sauce into a large heat proof bowl. Cut the flank steak into thin slices across the grain and drop them into the same bowl. After all the steak slices are in the bowl, toss them around to coat them well with the sauce.
In the meantime, a helper can heat the tortillas on the hot grill (or in a hot skillet on a side burner), getting a few char marks on both sides. Stack the tortillas inside a tortilla warmer, or inside of a kitchen towel in a basket.
Serve each person two tacos with three to four slices of flank steak inside of each tortilla. Then top with some fried onions, cilantro, a splash of lime juice, and about a tablespoon of salsa.
Ancillary Recipe: Orange Chipotle Sauce
Makes ½ cup
You’ve never seen a recipe this simple for a sauce. There are just three ingredients: chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, orange juice, and some salt. Certain flavors go together beautifully, like oranges and chocolate or basil and tomatoes. Well, I also think oranges pair beautifully with deep, meaty flavors, so it’s a natural pairing with beef. I even like this sauce on charred pork shoulder, charred chicken wings, and other meats. The charred flavor is best because chipotles also have a deep, smoky flavor aside from the heat itself.
I have to say that chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are so delicious and complex that you can use them to improve almost any soup or stew recipe, Mexican or not. The next time you make a stew, goulash, or some type of tomato based stew, puree one canned chipotle pepper and throw it in. It adds depth of flavor and heat at the same time. Remove the seeds and veins first if you don’t want too much heat.
2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
½ cup orange juice (regular or pulp free is up to you)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Remove the seeds and veins if you prefer and drop the canned chipotle peppers into a measuring cup or tall beaker. Add the orange juice and salt, and puree with an immersion blender to make a super thin sauce. It can be used as is. However, sometimes I will double or triple the quantity of orange juice and then cook the sauce. <I tripled it, tossed it in the Vitamix, then simmered it to concentrate that orange flavor. ~Jen>
In that case, pour the sauce into a saucepan on the stove. Bring it to a boil over medium heat and then lower the heat to a simmer. Allow it to cook without a lid for 20 to 30 minutes. As the water from the orange juice evaporates and the natural juice concentrates, you’ll end up with a thicker sauce with a more complex flavor. Add the thicker consistency clings better to foods.
As I said, this sauce is amazing on grilled meats of all kinds. But you can also pour it over desserts, including ice cream. If you like spicy food like I do, you welcome peppers even on desserts like ice cream and cheesecake.
Continuing my review…
Mexican Dinner Parties
The book’s organized by party. There’s one chapter for each party from start to finish including time-table strategies to make planning easy for the cook. The parties are: 1-Traditional Mexican Menu, 2-A Mexican Grilling Party, 3-Pozole Party! A Cold Weather Menu, 4-A Gourmet Mexican Menu, and 5-Gourmet Menu with an Aztec/Mayan Twist.
I started with the grilling party. Here’s my thoughts and pics of the dishes we tried:
1-3) Corn Flour Tortillas – p 21. Okay, I have a few tortilla presses and have made them plenty of times before. I usually use a Ziploc bag that I cut open on the sides to line the tortilla press. He recommends the cheap sack your groceries come in. I tried it and laughed. It does come off more easily!
4) Mexican Sangria – p 85. Delicious. I used a $3 Shiraz from TJs and that was terrific. His is unusual because there’s no secondary alcohol in it. He uses sparkling water instead which is nice and light.
5) Quick Salsa Roja – p 86. Great salsa! I don’t usually heat mine and enjoyed it warm and thick.
6) The Best Guacamole You’ve Ever Had – p 89. We loved the coriander and radish additions. Lovely fresh taste.
7) Mexican Watermelon Salad – p 91. Love the watermelon and salami combination. It’s reminiscent of a prosciutto melon dish.
8) Mexican Corn on the Cob – p 93. Delicious. I went with the optional queso fresco because I had it in the fridge.
9) Grilled Flank Steak Tacos with Orange Chipotle Sauce – p 99 & 102. These were delicious! I let the rub sit on the meat all day to really let the flavor penetrate before grilling. The orange chipotle sauce has so much flavor for just two ingredients. I did add more liquid and simmered it for more concentrated flavor as he mentions. I added a little zest from the orange, too, since I was already juicing it.
10) Queso Frito with Charred Tomato & Poblano Pepper Broth – p 119. This blew my mind. It’s a queso dish for the low carb people out there. Killer flavor. You char poblanos over the open flame and toss the other vegetables under the broiler for deep flavor development. These were supposed to get garnished with cilantro at the end. Yeah, I saw that on the counter when I went to clean up. Nice excuse for a do-over, don’t you think? He has you pan fry the cheese. If you had the grill going, I think you could do it that way, too. I like to grill halloumi which he has listed as an alternate cheese choice.
11) Enchiladas Rojas de Pollo – p 69. These are outstanding. I usually sauce and bake off my enchiladas at the end. This is different. He has you quickly fry the tortillas, fill and roll them and top them with the sauce and other garnishes. They’re crispy. The sauce itself is close to a mole. It’s got a haunting flavor with some gorgeous bitterness to it. Total keeper. It’s one of those finish it off right at the last second as you hand it to your guests kind of recipe, but totally worth it. If you get a buddy to help, one can fry the tortillas as the other rolls.
12) Mexican Red Rice – p 75. Great rice. Nothing shocking, but just right.
Some others I have flagged to try: Huevos Rancheros with Quail Eggs, Salsa Verde & Chorizo – p 59 * Chicken Sopes – p 61 * Flan with Caramel Sauce – p 77 * Gelatina de Tres Leches with Kahlua – p 107 * Mexican Cinnamon Hot Chocolate – p 113 * Pozole Rojo – p 131 * Avocado Mango Pico de Gallo – p 151 * Flank Steak Salad with Potatoes and Avocado – p 187 * Agua de Jamaica – p 213
*I received a copy to explore and share my thoughts.
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