Monday, July 9, 2012

A Word On Freshness: Tortillas and Quesadillas

A conversation over dinner some nights ago hit upon the age old question of how food can taste so good in certain parts of the world. Countless meals eaten in the most random places can be so revelatory. The topic was Italy, a country for which I have no experience, but my addition to the conversation was a simply about the issue of freshness. Is it that simple?

All too often living in a cosmopolitan city we get cocky and begin thinking that simply because we have the immigrants, the available import markets and produce, and in the Bay Area the climate, we can produce anything our hearts desire. This might be so in some circumstances, but by and large it is always incredibly difficult o reproduce here what is so commonplace elsewhere. Which brings me to tortillas.

Last summer while making Mole Negro with my Zapotec consultant, a part of the process involved going to the molinero to grind up our ingredients into the curry paste we had spent a smoke filled morning making. While our mole went through the large grinding machine, a small old woman came in with her treated hominy, the raw ingredient for masa which produces tortillas. She carried only a small bucket which she must have only have been processing for home use. After paying the owner for use of the machines, she fed her ingredients through. She was soon on her way and I wish I could have followed her.
Likely the masa seen above went straight into fresh tortillas. The best tortillas you will ever (not) have.

At the place where I ate my meals during the week, they sometimes did things the old fashioned way, using a stone metate. 
This time consuming process was once more commonplace, but after spending considerable time in Mexico over the years, this is not a method I have often had the pleasure to observe.

This masa was used to make "simple" quesadillas filled with epazote and quesillo, the stringy cheese briefly mentioned here.
Simple ingredients lead to simple pleasures.
Just about the perfect cena. Quesadillas with a spoonful or two of beans on the side, as well as some fresh salsa and guacamole.
This fresh made and "simple" meal is so simple I've yet to find anything that touches it north of the border.

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