Ups and Downs of Where I Come From


Our Cook the Books Club selection for February/March is Where I Come From, Life Lessons from a Latino Chef, by Aaron Sanchez.  This round hosted by myself, and it has to be said, I was inspired right from the start.  On the first page of his Introduction, Sanchez states: "There is nothing about the food of Mexico that is dull or muted  - Cinnamon. Chocolate. Chile  Earth.."  

I had plans for some left-over roast chicken, Chicken Enchiladas, which I usually top with a decent brand of canned green chili enchilada sauce.  Horrors!  But slightly doctored up, when I'm not in a hurry.  In this instance I thought, yes, I have the chocolate, which we actually grow and process, I have the cinnamon, ditto, and the chilies are in the sauce. Viola!  We'll go with that thought.  I first pounded some roasted, ground cacao in my big, trusty mortar, with a bit of cinnamon, added some cumin and sautéed the spices for a few minutes in earth.  No, ha ha, bacon fat.  Stirred in minced onion and then garlic, after that I added it all to the sauce, which was now taking on the color of muted chocolate.  But, nothing dull or muted about the taste!! Transformed by those iconic spices of Mexico.

On to the book.  After a somewhat gnarly early life and teen years, in the memoir's first quarter, he moves along to various work experiences, going up the career ladder in some very exciting restaurant venues.  I would love to have eaten at all of them.  Sad to think most have now closed.  Even Paul Prudhomme's famous K-Paul's in New Orleans, as well as many well known New York restaurants and others all across the country, due to the unnecessary pandemic shutdowns. His book covered a lot more than I had expected, on TV shows, featuring celebrity chefs, probably because I hadn't been aware of Sanchez's presence in that whole scene.  I don't watch much TV.  At all.  Definitely a book person.  So, why do they do it?  As Chef Aaron says of the TV shows and endorsements, for which he has taken some flack for "selling out.": 


Pico de Gallo

"Those deals were very valuable ones, and my work with brands  (I felt aligned with my own values) continues to be a major part of my income, allowing me to keep doing what I do. Making money from a restaurant isn't just a challenge -- in many cases, it's nearly impossible.  A lot of chefs doing ultra-high fine dining today will tell you that despite the appearance of a packed house or the price tag of their tasting menu, their businesses benefit significantly from the revenue other avenues provide: personal appearances, endorsements, cookbooks, speaking engagements and television all help supplement their income and allow them to keep the lights on and the paychecks going....Now there was earning potential outside the kitchen, and it changed everything for me as an owner.  I could prioritize the restaurant, and not necessarily have to draw a paycheck from my place." p. 165  He continues with more on this subject, and it makes a lot of sense.

I enjoyed his book,  got some great food inspiration, and learned quite a bit, though the Urban dictionary appdid come in handy occasionally :) Sanchez had a lot to contribute on the ups and downs of the restaurant business, with experience as a behind the scenes worker, line cook, chef, and finally as an owner of one, then two restaurants.  An extremely demanding business for sure. .No holds barred as to behind the scenes goings on, ala Tony Bourdain. A life very hard on personal relationships, as Sanchez relates in his very honest memoir..

A recipe for the dish I'm featuring was nearer to the end of the book, a hearty stew of hominy, topped with Pico de Gallo. I wanted to do something with that humongous can of hominy which had been sitting in my pantry for too long.  As well, it called for bacon. So serendipitous, as we had a batch, just finished curing.  A nifty experience in itself, easier than you'd think, and quite yummy results.   We got a nice bit of pork belly from a local farmer, so it was humanely and organically produced, which is important to me. However, this recipe easily becomes vegetarian by omitting the bacon,

  Sautéed Hominy with Pico de Gallo and Oregano

 Ingredients - Serves 4-6

  • 4 heaping cups drained hominy (from about three 15-ounce cans) - Note: I used one 29 oz. can, and adjusted the remaining ingredients down to suit, though I'm giving the original amounts here.
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (I used culantro, a perennial tropical version)
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano (I used the fresh which we have in our garden)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 strips bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped (I again used the Mexican oregano we have)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Rinse the hominy well, spread it in a single layer on a sheet pan, and blot dry.

Make the Pico de Gallo:  In a mixing bowl, combine half of the onion with the tomatoes, green onions, pepper, cilantro, lime juice, 1 teaspoon of the oregano, and the salt.

Make the hominy: In a large skillet (preferably cast iron), heat the oil and butter over medium heat.  Meanwhile, line a plate with paper towels.  When the butter stops bubbling, add the bacon and let it render its fat, stirring only occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes.  When it gets crispy, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to the lined plate, leaving the fat behind.

Add the remaining half of the onion and remaining oregano to the pan.  Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion is golden and soft.  Stir in the fresh oregano and garlic and cook for another minute or two, until the hominy browns lightly along the edges, then add the bacon.

With a slotted spoon, scoop all but 1/2 cup of the Pico de Gallo into the pan, allowing excess juice to drain back into the bowl.  Adjust the heat to medium high for a minute or two, until the juice reduces.  Serve warm, garnished with the remaining sauce and sliced green onions.  I think this would also be excellent topped with some clumps of burrata or crumbled queso fresco. Coming up with the left-overs!

This can be a side dish, but for the two of us lately, less is becoming more.  Less time cooking, and eating a lot less as well.  If you're having folks over, that's different.  Pile on the extras.

There's still time to read our current bi-monthly book selection and join in.  The deadline is March 31st.  Check out all the details at Cook the Books Club.  I'll also be sharing this post over at Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marge, the Intrepid Reader, and with Heather for the March edition of her Foodies Read Challenge.  Lots of good food and books to catch your fancy, so be sure to stop by.


Debra Eliotseats said...

I want that hominy dish too. I made the Chile Con Carne and the Colorado-Style Burritos. It's a keeper of a recipe (with cinnamon, too). You don't know how impressed I am that you processed your own cacao. I but your "doctored up" sauce was divine!!!

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

That stew caught my attention as well. Thanks for hosting this month. I enjoyed the book very much

(Diane) bookchickdi said...

That hominy does look good.

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! said...

I love hominy! I will have to try this!

Laurie C said...

Yum! Your hominy dish looks and sounds delicious, and the book sounds good too! I have dried hominy (given as part of a gift basket of interesting foods at Christmas) that I have to figure out how to use, so this recipe might be just what I need. Cooking authentic Mexican food seems so time-consuming, but the flavor probably is worth it!

Marg said...

How amazing that you process your own cacao! And all your dishes sounds delicious!

Tina said...

I admit to never having tried hominy. This looks very good.

Simona Carini said...

Just the other day I realized I have a large can of hominy in the pantry. Reading your posts reminds me of your lovely garden and all its riches and also your skills at making great use of them :)

Claudia said...

Thanks Simona, it's an ongoing work. Just today we're planting a tamarind tree and a Rollinia. Preparing ground to plant burdock, here known as gobo.