Saturday, June 14, 2014

¿Xoconostle? ¿Qué?

Tostadas with beans, tomato, avocado 
Pico de gallo de xoconostle

On Friday, my last day of school, right before our end-of-the-year lunch, I was talking to Dolores, one of our amazing janitorial staff.   We often exchange words in Spanish (I don't know how she puts up with my shoddy language skills, but she does...), and most of the time the conversation turns toward food, the universal unifier.  The day before, she was telling me that she is from Guanajuato, a state in the middle of Mexico, which led to a discussion about the cuisine there.  Continuing this conversation Friday, I told her that I had been thinking about experimenting with the xoconostle, a smaller kind of tuna that I had seen at various food markets around my neighborhood.

This fruit is very sour and is used in soups, stews and salsas.  Dolores was very excited about a salsa recipe using this peach-colored cactus product and began to tell me all of the ingredients and how to make it. Of course, I didn't write it down; so, I looked up recipes online and found that it was hard to choose between the dozens and dozens of sites extolling the qualities of the xoconostle.  The one that I eventually prepared was the simplest in that the xoconostle does not need to be cooked, which also gives a more honest idea of the flavor of this little-known fruit.  It's really wonderfully tart and spicy, with a freshness that you don't find in conventional pico.
*If you don't like really spicy salsas, I would halve the amount of chiles de arbol.

I bought the xoconostles at El Rey Foods, but you could also go to Cermak on Miller Parkway.  You will need:
  • 6 xoconostles
  • a white onion
  • cilantro salt 
  • 1 lime
  • 3-6 chiles de arbol
  • a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder
Click for recipe.

Once the salsa is prepared, you can prepare the tostadas.  I have been making these tasty, simple flat tacos ever since I lived in Ukrainian Village in Chicago. Right across the road from my house was a bodega that sold latino foods.  They were filling, healthy and best of all.... cheap!  I was making aliving playing music and needed all of the help I could get saving my money.  This recipe serves one person, so you will need to double it for 2 people, triple it for 3, etc.  

  • 3 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 tomato chopped
  • 1/2 avocado cut in chunks
  • 1/4  can refried beans ( I like the ones with green chiles in them or the black beans)
  • Sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Xoconostle pico de gallo

- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Spread a thick layer of refried beans onto each tortilla ( I usually make 3 per person).
- Once oven is at temperature, put tortillas with beans spread on them directly on the oven rack placed in the middle of the oven.  Make sure that you check them as they are cooking because the tortillas bend from the heat and will fall through the rack if you don't position them right (each oven is different, but you will see what I mean).

-The tortillas should be ready when they are fairly hard (not too hard) and the beans look a bit crusty on the surface.
-Take them out of the oven and add the ingredients on top.
-Top with Xoconostle pico and sour cream or plain yogurt.  Serve.

As always, try new things, you won't be disappointed!