Southern Snacks

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Smoky Beef Tacos

For most of my life, a taco was ground meat, a package of seasoning and hard shells from the box, with lots of cheese and maybe a little lettuce on top.  And I will tell you, I have nothing against that version.  But in the last few years, there has been a proliferation of Mexican restaurants in Memphis that serve what is considered more authentic Mexican food.  And I haven’t looked at a taco the same way again.  Real tacos, with homemade tortillas, complexly seasoned shredded meat, and a variety of fresh and unique toppings are a real revelation.

I said above that these restaurants serve what we are told is more authentic Mexican food, and I had no reason to doubt that, but no real proof either.  I visited Mexico with my family as a teenager and it was an amazing trip – Mexico City, Taxco and Cuernavaca.  I remember the food, particularly some very subtle and unique dishes, but I was not as adventurous then.  We ate mostly at restaurants – I wouldn’t have considered a taco at a roadside stand.  As far as I remember, I never tasted a real Mexican taco on that trip. 

But last year, I had the great good fortune to attend Food Blogger Camp in Ixtapa, Mexico.  And clearly, in the company of all those food bloggers, eating was our primary activity.  The resort offered a generous buffet at every meal, and I invariably made my way to the Mexican section and sampled some amazing food.  Tacos were a feature, with a lovely woman hand rolling and cooking tortillas, and a variety of meat fillings simmering away – from beef to pork to tongue to seafood – and an array of toppings to make your head spin.  One day, we ventured into the town of Zihautenjo for a market tour, and just to be sure, I sampled several tacos at market stalls.  I can hardly call myself an expert now, but I do know that the new breed of restaurants in Memphis do offer authentic Mexican tacos, and boy am I glad of it.

When I got home from camp, I set out to replicate a taco filling worthy of what I’d sampled in Mexico.  I started with some relatively complex procedures – roasting a variety of peppers, rehydrating dried ones, charring tomatoes, marinating meats, layering complex sauces with a multitude of ingredients, many of which required a trip to specialty Latin markets.  I had some great results, but in the end, realized these dishes where not something I’d put in regular rotation because of the time and effort.  And though I am glad I figured it out, what I was really after was an amazing dish for a casual, anytime taco night. So this is where I ended up.  Good meet, simmered in a smoky sauce quickly made from ingredients readily available. Saucy and smoky with warmth, not heat, this taco filling is a canvas for creativity in toppings.  I’ve made a list of suggestions, but it is up to you and your imagination.   I do make a special stop for fresh tortillas, and heat them quickly over the open burner on the stove.

Smoky Beef Tacos

4 pounds eye of round roast, excess fat removed (this may be 2 pieces of roast)

2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 (3.5-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo, including the sauce

Juice of two limes

1 ½  teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican

Handful of cilantro leaves

5 cloves garlic

Fresh corn tortillas

Suggested toppings:

Crumbled cotija or queso fresco cheese

Finely chopped cilantro

Sour cream or Mexican crema

Diced avocado

Diced fresh pineapple

Diced red onion

Chopped green onion

Fresh salsa

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place all the sauce ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.  Pour enough sauce in the bottom of a 5 quart Dutch oven to cover the bottom.  Place the roast in the pan and season with salt and pepper.  Pour over the remaining sauce.  Cover and place in the oven and cook for 3 hours, until the meat will shred easily with fork. 

Remove the meat to a bowl and shred using two forks.  Return the meat to the sauce in the pot and stir to coat.  Keep warm.

Heat the tortillas.  I think the best way to do this is to hold them over the open flame on the burner for a few seconds until they puff and go golden in spot, but you can also wrap them in a damp towel and heat them in a low oven.

 Serve the meat with the tortillas and a variety of toppings.

Will serve 8 hungry folks, with some extra meat leftover

Green Chile Cheese Puffs

I love these little puffs.  They are tender and cheesy with a nice bite from the green chiles and couldn’t be easier to make.  They are a great nibble to start a family taco night but are also elegant enough for the swankiest party. 

Green Chile Cheese Puffs

I love the extra little hit of smoked paprika on top, but use sweet paprika if that’s what you have.

½ pound sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

2 (4-ounce) cans diced green chiles, well-drained

Paprika or smoked paprika for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Grate the cheese with the grating disc of a food processor.  You should end up with 2 cups.  Switch to the metal blade and add the flour, salt and butter.  Pulse several times until the butter is cut into the flour.  Add the green chiles and process until the dough comes together in a ball.

Roll pieces of the dough into balls about the size of a golf ball and place on the baking sheet, about an inch apart.  These will spread when cooking, so leave some room. Sprinkle a little paprika over the tops of the puffs.  Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until the puffs are firm and golden brown.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 2 dozen puffs

Fresh Citrus Margaritas

 

Ah, the classic margarita.  Cool and refreshing and perfect for a late spring fiesta.  If you’re used to the neon green bottled mix, or the frozen slushee style margarita, you are really missing out on something.  This version, made with fresh lemon and lime juices, adds the welcome twist of orange juice.  Sure, a freshly made margarita takes a little juice-squeezing elbow grease, though an electric juicer would certainly speed things up.  If you microwave the lemons and limes for about 15 seconds before juicing, you’ll get more juice and it will be a little easier to extract.  Use good tequila – I prefer blue agave or reposado and a good Triple Sec or Cointreau.  I am not a rimmed glass fan, but feel free to use salt or sugar to add a little flair.  And serve these over lots of ice!

Citrus Margaritas

1 ½ cups water

1 ½ cups sugar

¾ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice

½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 ¼ cup tequila

4 Tablespoons Triple Sec or Cointreau

Stir the water and the sugar together in a medium saucepan and bring to a low boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Set aside to cool.

In a pitcher, stir together the juices, then add the cooled simple syrup.  Stir to combine. (This base can be refrigerated for several days).

When ready to serve, add the tequila and the Triple Sec to the margarita base in the pitcher and stir to combine. Serve over ice.

Makes 6 margaritas

Green Chicken Chilaquiles

There are some recipes or food ideas you come across that stick with you, who knows why.  Chilaquiles is one of those ideas for me.  Over the years, I have come across recipes or food travel articles about Mexico or the Southwest that talk about this dish – one that uses leftover tortillas, sauce and meat.  My impression of chilaquiles came to be of a dish that Mexican housewives throw together in the days following a big cooking occasion, to use up the homemade tortillas that had gone stale, the intricately layered sauces and the remaining bits of perfectly roasted meat.  This idea appealed to me, and stuck in my mind as something I hoped to try someday.  Then it happened.  I came across chilaquiles on the menu of a local Mexican restaurant.  This particular place specialized in seafood, and offered shrimp as a chilaquiles option, with red sauce or green sauce.  I ordered green shrimp chilaquiles and absolutely devoured the dish, glad to finally have an understanding of what it was all about.  I ordered green chicken chilaquiles in New Mexico some time later, and that convinced me to try to re-create the dish at home.  First I considered frying freshly bought tortillas, carefully constructing a sauce with fresh tomatillos, roasted peppers and a raft of ingredients.  But it occurred to me that the whole point of chilaquiles is a great dish to throw together when you are not in the mood to spend hours in the kitchen.  So I went the other direction, using ingredients where most of the work had been done for me.  I find all these ingredients readily in the Hispanic food aisle of my local chain grocery. Chilaquiles are often served for a late breakfast, but I prefer them as a quick-to-throw-together dinner.

Green Chicken Chilaquiles

If you can’t find the canned tomatillos, use an equal weight of fresh, husked and cleaned.

For the sauce:

1 (12-ounce) can tomatillos, rinsed and drained

1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles

3 cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon mild chili powder

½ teaspoon Mexican oregano (optional)

A big handful of cilantro leaves

Assembly:

3 cups shredded cooked chicken

9 – 10 tostadas

12 ounces queso fresco, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place all the ingredients for the sauce in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth.  Pour about 1 cup of sauce over the bottom of a 9” by 13” casserole, spreading to cover the bottom of the dish.  Crush the tostadas in a ziptop bag to rough shards and place about a third over the sauce.  Add the chicken and half the queso fresco, then another third of the tostadas.  Pour over the remaining sauce, and then layer on the last of the tostadas and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake the chilaquiles for 15 – 20 minutes until warmed through, bubbling around the edges and the cheese is golden in places.  Serve immediately, with extra crushed tostada if desired.

Serves 6

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