Tomatillo Salsa

Cinco de Mayo Aboard

Bridget Charters Cooking Aboard

I recently chased the sun to Baja California Sur for a weeklong trip to a friends’ home on the East Cape. The sun, light, and warm temperatures were a soothing salve. My skin had turned a sallow grey and no amount of skiing and time in the mountains could resolve the need for full sun and heat. If you can’t skip town to recharge, a meal of warm tortillas, tacos, sopitos, salsa, and margaritas will help resolve some of the sadness. This is an easy menu and can be brought to the boat for a fun meal with friends. The margaritas can be batched and taken down in a tub with a bag of ice. A bit of fresh fish, tomatoes, and limes are enough to help you imagine the sun and warm temperatures to come!

Corn masa is a versatile ingredient. It is the larger flint corn that has been sloughed off the hard skin with the addition of lye. The corn is then rinsed, and the softened kernels are ground to make fresh masa. Dry masa can be found in the grocery store in the baking section, or in the ethnic section, along with some great Mexican ingredients. Grocery stores now carry a fair selection of fresh salsas such as pico de gallo and salsa verde, and the cheese section will usually have a few types of Mexican cheeses such as queso fresco, ranchero, or cotija. The produce section has tomatillos. Choose firm, bright green tomatillos for salsa verde and Roma tomatoes for your pico de gallo, but if the Roma color is not a deep red, then spend the extra money and choose a vine-ripened tomato.

The masa harina (corn flour) can be blended in advance and held in a plastic bag to use for multiple meals. The tortillas and quesadillas can be made at the last minute to cook and eat fresh and warm, helping conjure images of the warm Mexican coastline. The tomatillo salsa will hold for days in an airtight tub. The pico de gallo can hold a day, as can the guacamole, though both are delicious when fresh on the day of the party. If your time is limited, purchase the pico de gallo and make the guacamole fresh. Cabbage can be shaved in advance and the ingredients for slaw can be easily added at the last minute to prevent the slaw from becoming soggy.

Call your friends, build a large pitcher of margaritas, put on some festive Mexican music, change into shorts and flip flops, and start cooking. The delicious lime and tequila of the margarita is a great substitute for the lack of sun. If all else fails, temperatures are starting to warm up even more in Baja and flight prices are starting to drop, so make a run to Baja and seek out the sun and a warm beach!

Corn Tortillas

Corn Tortillas

  • 2 cups corn masa
  • 1 ½ cups warm water, approximately
  • 2 plastic bags (quart size) for pressing tortillas (grocery bags work)
  • Flat griddle, comal (a flat griddle typically used in Mexico), or cast iron pan
  • Tortilla press, or flat sauce pot

Mix the masa with the water and work well so the water is evenly distributed through the corn flour and it forms a cohesive mass when pressed together. The dough should be of medium/soft consistency, neither too firm nor sticky. The dough is supposed to feel wet when you squeeze it but not stick to your hand.

Divide the dough into 15 equal parts (each one should weigh just over 1 ounce) and roll into smooth balls about 1½” in diameter. Place all but one of the balls under plastic wrap so that they do not dry out.Heat an ungreased comal or griddle over a medium flame. Allow to warm completely.

Open the tortilla press and place a small plastic bag on the bottom plate. Place a ball of the dough on the bottom bag, a little off center toward the hinge rather than the pressing lever (it presses too thin on that side), and press it out with your fingers to flatten a little. Cover with the second bag and press down firmly, but not too hard. Open the press, remove the top bag, lift the bottom bag up in one hand, place the dough onto the fingers of your other hand, and very carefully peel the bag off the flattened dough.

Keeping your hand as horizontal as possible, lay the tortilla flat onto the comal. There should be a slight sizzle as the dough touches the surface of the comal. Leave for about 15 seconds; the underside will have opaque patches and be slightly speckled with brown. Do not leave too long or the dough will dry out.
Flip the tortilla over onto the second side and cook for a further 30 seconds; the underside should now be opaque and speckled. Pat the dough to get the dough to puff. Flip back onto the first side again and cook for 15 seconds more. Hold in a foil envelope lined with parchment to steam.

Tortilla Tips: Fresh tortillas just formed but not cooked can have a bit of cheese added to one side and folded in half for traditional quesadillas (recipe follows), or that same fresh masa can be formed to make thick patties called mulitos (two are formed and cooked, meat or beans are added in between, and then it’s shallow fried in a bit of oil). Otherwise, small 3” disks can be formed into cups that are then cooked and filled with salad-like ingredients which are called sopes, or sopitos if they are mini-appetizer bites (recipe follows). Leftover tortillas can be cut into wedges and fried in canola or corn oil to make fresh tortilla chips.

Quesadillas (Mexican Style)

  • Grated Mexican cheeses – queso ranchero, Cotija, or Monterey Jack
  • Suggested flavors: squash flowers, sautéed button mushrooms, grated zucchini, and chorizo
  • Corn masa, prepared for tortillas
  • Lard or canola for frying
  • Comal or sauté pan
  • Paper towels (if frying)

Follow the procedures for building corn tortillas from previous recipe. Once the tortilla is formed, fill the center of the raw tortilla with a tablespoon of filling. Using the plastic, fold the quesadilla in half and seal by pressing the dough together. Place the finished quesadilla on an oiled comal or griddle cooking until the dough starts to bubble and brown, turn and finish the other side. Do not cook too long or the masa will dry out. Serve immediately.

To fry a quesadilla, put the finished quesadilla in a heated sauté pan filled with a ½” of lard or canola oil, fry to golden, turn, and finish the other side. Remove to paper towels and season with salt. Serve immediately.

Quesadillas (Mexican Style)

Sopes/Sopitas

Sopes/Sopitas

  • Corn masa dough prepared for tortillas
  • Suggested flavors: cooked carnitas, cooked Mexican chorizo, chicken in salsa verde, cooked shrimp, sautéed vegetables, etc.
  • Salsa (pico de gallo or salsa verde)
  • Cotija or ranchero cheese
  • Picked stems of cilantro
  • A drizzle of Mexican crema
  • Canola oil for cooking

Form the thick, small tortillas that will become the sopes. Gently press out a flattened ball of dough between the sheets of a plastic bag to about 3½” in diameter for a salad or 1½” for an appetizer sopito (it should be a little less than ¼” thick). Place the dough rounds onto the comal and cook like you would a tortilla.

While the first tortilla is cooking, continue pressing out others and adding them to the griddle or skillet; just be careful not to leave them on so long that they cook and dry out. The sopes should have brown spots just like a tortilla and be cooked on both sides. Place the sopes on a sheet pan covered with plastic to keep them from drying out. While the sopes are still warm, crimp the top edges of the thick tortilla to create a small edge, leave them covered until you are ready to fill.

To serve the sopes, heat a griddle or sauté pan and oil lightly, also brushing the sopes with oil as you add them to the pan. Once the sopes are heated through, season with salt and top with your choice of heated meat, cheese or vegetables, then top each with the remaining garnish and serve immediately.

Essentials: Pico De Gallo

  • 6 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced small
  • ½ cup finely diced onions
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Salt to taste

In a small bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and lime juice. Season to taste with salt.

Pico De Gallo

Tomatillo Salsa (Verde)

Essentials: Tomatillo Salsa (Verde)

  • 1 lb. tomatillos, husks removed
  • ½ white onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 jalapeno (optional), remove stem and seeds
  • 1 avocado
  • ½ cup cilantro chopped
  • Salt to taste

Rough chop the onion and tomatillos and add to a blender with the garlic, jalapeno, avocado and cilantro. Add half cup of water and the juice of limes, puree on high and add more water if necessary. Season to taste.

Essentials: Guacamole

  • 1 – 2 ripe Haas avocados
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno
  • 2 tablespoons fine chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Salt to taste

Add the juice of one lime to a bowl, then scoop the avocado flesh into the bowl. Add the onion, cilantro, and jalapeno, and blend with a fork or potato masher. Adjust the seasoning with more lime and the salt.

Guacamole

Bridget Charters

Written by

Bridget Charters is a longtime sailor and the Chef Director of the Hot Stove Society, a cooking school in downtown Seattle operated by Tom Douglas Restaurants. hotstovesociety.com

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