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By 2g1c2 girls 1 cup

March 18th, 2008:

The Latin Rap


Tamale Heaven

Tamale Heaven

In the land of strip malls and chain stores, when a big store like Staples folds and goes away, you have to wonder what that means.

Route 1 is just a few miles away and yet I hardly go up there – it’s just miles and miles of the same old thing – There are even two Target stores on Route 1 within miles of each other – What gives?

But there are times I venture up to the stoplight-ridden Route 1 – And Krispy Kreme is one of them. About a block North of my favorite donut was a Staples. And I mean “was” because it was in one of these strip malls where you really can’t see everything in it driving by and the first time I actually noticed it I saw a “Store Closed” sign.

The next time I drove by, I happened to catch a glimpse of a “coming soon” sign. What did that say? “Supermarket”? Thats JUST what we need!

But I was wrong – Not too far of base though. When I next drove by, I got a better look – “Mercado”. Not just ANY market, but a Mexican Market! I love ethnic food stores, so I couldn’t wait for this to open.

A few weeks later, I made my first foray into this hidden-away food gem. Upon entering, it looked pretty much like any small mom-and-pop-owned market: 4 or 5 Aisles of food, and small vegetable, dairy, and meat departments.

The first thing I noticed in produce were 6’ green stalks lashed to the side of a cabinet. The only other time I’ve ever seen sugar cane up close was in Havana, where a road-side vendor would feed it through a grinding machine with gears and wheels that ground together like something not seen since the Middle Ages, extracting the liquid, and mixing it with juice (and of course rum!) into a delicious, refreshing drink. I passed on the sugar cane, not because I didn’t want it, but because I had absolutely no idea of what to do with it other than crush the living heck out of it. I made a mental note to Google a recipe for it, and at the same time, wondered if I could extract the liquid with a Kitchenaid meat grinder…

Also of note in this area were the peppers – Beautiful shades of green, yellow, and red, a much better selection than in any other supermarket. In fact, it mostly resembled my local farmer’s market, with the exception of the fact that I did not recognize most of the varieties. I could not fail to notice the Poblanos, however – the biggest ones I’ve seen. Most were 9-10 inches long and thick, more like long green pepper but a much darker shade of green.

There was cactus, of course (not that I knew there would be, but looking back – why wouldn’t there be?) There were also so many things I couldn’t identify that I’d have to bring an expert back to walk me through.

In dairy I hit pay-dirt. I remember the first time I had “Queso Fresco” – that yummy, crumbly white cheese that you sometimes find scattered over authentic enchiladas or black bean soup: On our first trip to Mexico together, Leslie and I found a place on the water for breakfast, where we sat listening to the waves and eating chilaquilas, a bowl full of chicken, eggs, tortilla strips, and of course, queso fresco. In the much colder setting of the dairy section, I was looking at not 2 or 3 different varieties, but at least ten! I bought so much that day that we couldn’t finish it and ended up throwing some out.

(QUICK RECIPE: Thanks to Lisa and Mike – Caramelize some onions until they are very dark and sweet. Roast fresh poblanos until blackened, place in plastic bag to steam for half an hour, then peel the skins off and get rid of ribs and seeds. Heat onions and peppers with queso fresco until it starts to melt, scoop into fresh warm tortillas, and enjoy! Leftover filling? Use it in an omelet.)

Off to the meat section, my favorite part! The grocery case held all the usual suspects, and some not so usual – Tripe, which even I’m not a fan of. In the corner of my eye are what looked like 2 grey balls the size of my fist wrapped in cellophane. Not sure what they were I took a closer look, and my first reaction was right – balls! The label just said “Testicles,” not indicating from what poor beast they were from. But judging from the size, I’d have to go with Bovine for 500, Alex – Unless there are some mighty big pigs out there! Now I’ve eaten Lamb Fries before, but they are not at the top of my list – And when I return to “Cattleman’s” in Oklahoma City, I may just have to blog about it. But for now, I move to the Meat counter.

The first thing I notice are the fresh Chorizo sausage – 5 or 6 varieties, including Mexican, Salvadorian, and others. They ranged in color from a deep, deep red, almost brown – to almost pink. At some other time I’ll have to get 2 of each and do a taste-off. The other interesting thing about the meat counter were the heaps of what were labeled “fajitas”: Pounds and pounds of what looked like thinly-sliced flank steak. Another thing for the future list, and I’m thinking we should throw them on the grill at the next July Fourth Margarita party.

There were bakery and seafood counters – neither of which interested me, especially considering some of the seafood I’ve seen at Japanese and Korean markets.

I spent about a half-hour walking up and down the grocery aisles, then going back, and doing it again. I picked up some ingredients for the next part of this section: Corn husks and Masa Harina (corn) flour. The spices were extensive, and I bought some mexican oregano. The onle thing I didn’t find was dried Posole – All I saw was the canned posole, even those huge cans the size of which you remember some hairnet-wearing woman from your school cafeteria using that usually contained beans or canned corn or such. I can usually find the dried stuff at Whole Foods, so I wasn’t too worried.

I didn’t buy much – If you saw our kitchen cabinets and fridge you’d know why. But I did get a few things, and you will benefit from those purchases in the next installment.