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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Spice is the Spice of Life

I miss you, old friend.

Lo Que Pica, Sana

Every once in a while I get an urge for Mexican food. I tell people here for a laugh that what I miss most about the United States is Mexican food. People here aren’t too partial to spicy food and I have learned to leave out the hot stuff when I cook, unless I am certain that I am the only one who is destined to eat the spicy stuff. The bag of wonderfully hot red pepper flakes I bought at an Indian grocery store here has gone almost unused.

I also miss my almost thrice-weekly visits to one of several Vietnamese restaurants in Seattle that specialize in phô, a beef broth with noodles, fresh basil, bean sprouts, and lots of hot sauce. I would put in so much sriracha sauce and hot pepper oil in my bowl that it looked like tomato soup by the time I was finished. When the soup came to the table I would add the shredded basil and a squeeze of lime. Then I would thoroughly mix the noodles in the broth. Only then would I add the prodigious amounts of hot sauce. The noodle-mixing part can be a bit messy and if you have already added the hot sauce you are more likely to stain your clothes with the bright red mixture (If I thought of it beforehand I would also wear a dark, phô-friendly shirt on Vietnamese restaurant days).

Then comes the hot sauce. First I would take the squirt bottle of sriracha sauce and paint a little scene on the surface of the bowl: perhaps a couple of palm trees and a bright sun, or maybe a sailing ship. After this I would add a couple spoonfuls of hot pepper oil for some real heat. By the time I had finished eating I would be crying like a 13 year old girl at the end of Titanic. Part of my phô-eating ritual is going into the restroom at the end of the meal to blow my nose.

I haven’t found any Vietnamese restaurants here for phô and the Mexican food I have found is nowhere near as hot as I require. I am afraid that I will start to lose my legendary tolerance for hot food. I will no longer be able to indulge my artistic whims with bottles of spray-on hot sauce. I will have to raise my hand along with the other chumps when the waiter asks who wants the mild sauce on our burritos. I don’t want to be a hot food weenie. I like being the Homer Simpson of scorching cuisine. I like to out-jalapeño pepper my Mexican friends. It has taken many years to turn my stomach and intestinal track into something resembling cast iron and I’m afraid it is going to turn back into regular human flesh if I don’t keep in practice of trying to destroy it once in a while with habañeros and Asian chiles.

I am going to make sopa de tortillas, this being the Mexican variety of tortillas made from corn. This would be a perfect time to spice up a dish to help me with my feared immune deficiency with spices except that my Spanish friends really like this dish so I have to tone it way the hell down as far as the hot seasoning goes.

Sopa de Tortillas

for the stock
Chicken carcasses (They sell these at the supermarkets here for 1€)
2-3 onions (with skin)
2 garlic gloves (with skin)
5-6 whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
A few drops of olive oil

Just throw all of these in a large stew pot with water, simmer for 1-2 hours, and strain.

for the soup
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 onion
10-15 corn tortillas
1 can of sweet corn (optional)

Cut the chicken into small pieces. Chop the vegetables and sauté them with the chicken until browned. You can also grill the chicken first and then cut it up. Chop up the tortillas and add to the simmering stock. Liquefy the tortillas with a hand mixer. The mixture shouldn’t be too thick as it will get even thicker as it cooks. You don’t want to turn it into a paste. When the liquefied mixture is simmering you can add the chicken and vegetables and cilantro. Garnish the soup with diced avocado and a couple of corn tortilla chips.

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