May 05, 2006

Cinco de Mayo (Red Adobo of Pork and also Black Bean Soup)

Last year, I had a Cinco de Mayo party; this year, I am not so organized. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the drastically outnumbered Mexicans over the Napoleonic army at The Battle Of Puebla in 1862. Although it is primarily a regional holiday in the state of Puebla, it has some recognition throughout Mexico, and in many American cities, too. It is not Mexico's Independence Day (September 16), but it is a celebration in a similar spirit.

While it may not be Mexico's Independence Day, it holds great significance in the establishment of a national identity for many Mexicans, and as such is perfectly in keeping with my interest in the food of cultural celebrations.

While I may not have managed any particular arrangments for this year, I have been cooking a lot of Mexican food lately, including Mayan-style black bean soup (note: expired link removed - instead, please see recipe in the comments, below) and these adorable little tostadas made of Mexican adobo of pork shoulder, some awesome spinach tortillas made by a local factory (you can actually taste the spinach!), a some feisty green salsa using Brandon's recipe (of Orangette-fame). The pork shoulder took an impressive three hours of simmering in first water and then a brick-coloured adobo sauce made with pureed ancho chiles, onions, garlic, and surprisingly minimal dried spices, such as cumin and oregano. This is all about the chiles, but it is not a particularly hot dish. Anchos are, as Bobby Flay likes to say, "like spicy raisins." There's an underlying sweetness that sets off the mild heat of the pepper, and contrasts beautifully in this recipe against the vinegar-edge of the adobo.

I'm already on the record as saying that miniature = cute, and these are no exception. The first night I served them, we left the tortillas soft (but warm) and adorned them with sliced peppers and a smear of refried beans, and the second night, I crisped the tortillas in a cast iron frying pan until blistered with gold and served them with just the salsa and a little cilantro. The tortillas are about a finger's-length in diameter, making these just a few quick bites each. You could make even tinier ones, just one bite each, and I probably would if I were serving them as party snacks. In fact, I might just have to have a party so that I can do so!

Red Adobo of Pork
(Adobo Rojo de Cerdo)
adapted from the excellent New Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz

7 ancho chilies, toasted, de-stemmed and de-seeded, torn into pieces and covered with warm water
3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, cut into one-inch cubes
1 onion, peeled, halved, and stuck with 2 cloves
1 onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
398 ml./14 0z. canned, diced tomatoes
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lard, bacon drippings or corn oil
Black pepper

Start with the pork. In a heavy dutch oven, place the pork and the clove-stuck onion with enough lightly salted water to just cover. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to a very gentle heat, and cook (covered) for 2 hours. The meat will be very tender. In the final hour of the meat simmering, start the prep for the sauce.

Let the peppers rest in their warm bath for 20 - 30 minutes, until thoroughly soft. Remove the peppers from their water and place them in a food processor, along with the chopped onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, sugar and tomatoes. Process until you have a fairly smooth, heavy puree. In a heavy skillet, heat the lard, and add the puree. Saute the mixture over a lowheat, stirring constantly, for about five minutes.

When the pork has finished simmering, remove the pork pieces from the liquid, which has become a lovely pork-stock. Strain the stock, and reserve one cup. Freeze the rest for the next time you want to make black bean soup.

Thin the ancho mixture with the reserved pork stock, and transfer the mixture to your now-empty dutch oven. Add the pork back to the pot, add the vinegar, and stir well. Simmer uncovered over low to medium-low heat. The sauce will finish cooking and become quite thick. Taste the sauce, and add salt and black pepper as needed.

Serves 6. Leftovers make awesome burritos with beans, grated cheese, and salsa.


Sara said...

Dawna, what a beautful picture. The recipe sounds great too. You should submit this to our Weekend Cookbook Challenge - the theme this month is Cinco De Mayo.

Dawna said...

Thanks, Sara - I've sent in the link to Alicat!

Ivonne said...


I just found your blog through the Weekend Cookbook Challenge roundup.

Great recipe and post!

Dawna said...

Thanks, Ivonne!

Dawna said...


Black Bean Soup

This is based on a Mayan recipe for a very simple black bean soup with big, striking flavours. It is easy to cook the beans the day before, and start from there. It is quite filling.

Serves 4
Total prep and cooking time: 2 hours

1 cup dried black beans
water to cover beans
5 cups water or chicken stock
2 tablespoons canola or corn oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried pequin chilis, crushed
1 tomato, seeded & diced
1/2 teaspoon dried epazote
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup dry sherry
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup ham, diced small - optional

Rinse the beans well - you don't want grit or dust in your finished dish. Also give them a quick look-over to make sure there aren't any cunningly black little rocks in there - depends where you get your beans, but sometimes you find little tiny stones in dried beans.

Cover rinsed beans with fresh water, up to about two inches above the beans. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. This can take as little as an hour or as long as two or two and a half hours, depending on how old your beans are. Play it by ear, but don't let the beans boil hard, or they will split and turn quite mushy. Most of the time, I find that dried black beans are ready in just one hour. Once the beans are tender, you can add a little salt - if you are using stock, make sure you don't over-salt at this stage.

Note that if you have hard water (or beans of dubious age), a scant pinch of baking soda added to the water when you begin to cook the beans will help soften them more quickly. You can make the beans a day ahead, and then proceed from this point when you want to serve them.

Remove two thirds of the beans to a blender or food processor and puree.*

In a medium frying pan, heat the oil and saute the onion, garlic, and pequin chiles until the onion is soft. Add the tomato, epazote and cumin and stir until well blended. Add the onion mixture to the black bean puree along with the extra water (or stock) and simmer for a few minutes so that the flavours mingle. Puree the mixture again until as smooth as possible. Stir back into the cooked beans and continue to stir until the mixture thickens and becomes smooth.

Add the diced ham and simmer gently to heat through, stirring frequently. Remove any stems from the epazote that might have escaped the food processor. Add the sherry and stir through. Serve with baked tortilla-crackers.

*If you have an immersion blender, you can leave all of the pureeing until just before you add the ham.