Pulled Pork Sliders with Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing

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Ok, brace yourselves. This recipe has multiple components, but with a little patience and the help of a slow cooker, you will get through. I love Mexican flavors and spices, and will oftentimes use them in recipes that are my own versions of some traditional dishes that I’ve tasted growing up in a Chicano community. I do not pretend to be an expert in Latin cooking, but I definitely have a fond appreciation of it and try my best to emulate some of the flavors that I’ve tasted.

I had a house warming party for my husband’s cousins about a month ago. I took requests for what they wanted to eat and my nephew Miles requested something with slow cooked pork using Latin spices. Which is how I came up with this Latin-inspired pulled pork slider. The pulled pork is actually quite simple to make because I use pre-made salsa as the sauce/marinade for the pulled pork.

Because the pulled pork brings spice and savory meatiness, I wanted to have a contrast of flavors and textures. I wanted some sweetness, which was why I chose to serve the pulled pork on Hawaiian rolls. I also wanted an acidic sharp brightness to lighten the heaviness of the pulled pork, which was why I added some pickled red onion. Lastly, the cilantro lime cotija dressing brings everything together with a nice creaminess that adds a zing and cools the tongue after it’s been tantalized with those wonderful spices in the pulled pork. So there you go: every component serves a purpose and helps to make this a complete dish.

Cooking tips:

Usually slow cooking results in lots of liquid left in the pot. I decided to pour out this liquid, remove most of the fat, and then boil it on high heat to let it reduce to about half its volume. I then added this reduced sauce back into the pulled pork to soak in. The result? Amazing depth of flavor. I highly recommend doing this to any slow cooked meat dish you make in the future. Do not waste those yummy juices! They just need a little tweaking and help from heat to concentrate their deliciousness.

To dilute the harsh spiciness of raw onion, soak it in cold water for at least an hour before using. I did this for the pickled onion prior to marinating it in its pickling brine and it worked really nicely.

For better depth of flavor and richness, use full fat Greek Yogurt rather than reduced or non-fat. You will not be sorry.

Cotija can be substituted with feta cheese, but the cotija gives this dish the Latin flair that I was aiming for.

A leaner cut of meat would not do well with this recipe because slow cooking can really dry out the meat, resulting in a tough product at the end. For example, a pork loin center cut would not be recommended.

Since this is a crockpot recipe, it can be done ahead of time and would even be more delicious the day after making the pulled pork. Meat dishes that are slow cooked tend to taste better 1-2 days after the initial cooking time.

Serving suggestions for leftovers (as you all know that I do not like to waste food): the pickled onion is great in salads and on other sandwiches if you have any leftover; the cilantro lime dressing is something that I make for dipping veggie sticks or as a kind of green goddess dressing for my salads and/or pita wraps; the pulled pork can be frozen and later used as a filling for quesadillas and enchiladas, even tamales if you are up to the task.

Recipe
Serves 20
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Passive Cooking Time: 6 hours

1 dozen Hawaiian rolls

Pulled Pork
10 lb pork butt
4 tbsp BBQ rub (salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper)
½ tub of Del Real red salsa (or your favorite red salsa)
4 whole tomatoes, diced

Rub pork with BBQ rub, then place into a large crockpot.

Pour salsa and tomatoes into the crockpot surrounding the pork.

Add 1 cup of water.

Turn crockpot onto high heat and slow cook for approximately 6 hours, or until pork is tender and can be easily pulled apart with a fork.

When pork is ready, remove from the crockpot and allow to cool before starting to pull pork apart.

Remove fat from the liquid left in crockpot and place the liquid in a saucepan. Boil over high heat for 10-15 minutes or until liquid reduces in volume by half.

When pork is cooled, use fingers to pull pork into small 1-inch pieces. Remove any excess large pieces of fat remaining on the pork. When pork is completely pulled, add in reduced cooking liquid. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Pickled onion
1 red onion
2 cups water (for soaking)
2 cups water
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp salt

Thinly slice onion and submerge into a cold water bath for at least an hour.

Then mix water with vinegar, sugar, and salt until sugar and salt crystals dissolve. The mixture should be somewhat salty and sweet, with a sour bite from the vinegar. Taste for seasoning. Then place soaked onions into this pickling liquid.

Pickle onions at least 2 hours. For better results, pickle overnight.

Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing
1 handful fresh cilantro
juice and zest of 2 limes
1 cup full fat Greek yogurt
½ cup cotija cheese, crumbled (can be substituted with feta)
1 tsp black pepper
pinch of salt to taste
1 tsp sugar

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until it becomes a smooth green mixture.

Taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste.

After all pulled pork, pickled onions, and cilantro lime cotija dressing are prepared, assemble sandwiches using Hawaiian rolls. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Serve to your guests and enjoy!

Albondigas Soup

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Soup soup soup! I love you so! Let me count the ways! Soup is such a yummy, nourishing, and healthy staple in almost every culture. It makes the most of bones and helps to tenderize cheaper cuts of tougher meats. Lately I’ve been making a lot of Asian soups, which prompted a need for change. I haven’t experimented with too many kinds of soups outside of my Asian comfort zone, but I do remember that I enjoyed some delicious Mexican stews when I was growing up in a little city called El Monte. With a predominantly Chicano population, El Monte boasts some tasty Mexican food. I fell in love with Mexican food when I was a kid, craving tacos constantly only to be told by my family “It will make you fat! Eat rice instead!” Oh the irony….

As I no longer live in an area that is blessed with plentiful options for authentic Mexican food beyond tacos, I’ve been playing with recipes to create one of my favorite Mexican stews. I tried it both with and without tomato, and I found that it was much tastier with the acidic brightness that tomato adds. I have also played around with different types of broth bases. But essentially, I think any fresh meat and/or bones that you have lying around are going to make the best possible broth rather than just relying on store-bought chicken broth. I am trying to eat healthier to propel me toward my personal fitness goals, so this recipe fits the bill. It has loads of veggies, some nice lean(ish) protein, and fills you up with a delicious yet light broth. But a friendly disclaimer: I have no idea if this recipe is authentic or not. I am just trying to recreate the albondigas I had from delicious Mexican restaurants when I was younger. I will not claim that this is an authentic version of albondigas, but it is tasty, filling, and healthy. Hope you give it a try and that it helps you toward your health goals!

 

Cooking notes/tips:

When making any bone/meat based broth, always scoop out the brownish foam from the top. That is a result of the blood and any impurities from the meat being released. They have a grimy texture and unpleasant flavor, so always discard. I watch Maangchi, a super popular YouTube food blogger who specializes in Korean cooking. She taught me to soak your meat in cold water for a while before using in broth. Another method is the parboiling method, which is often used in Chinese and Vietnamese soups. To parboil, simply bring a big pot of water to boil, place your bones in, and allow to cook on medium high heat for 5-10 minutes until you see most of the impurities (i.e. foam) form at the top. Then remove pot from heat and discard all the water from your pot, rinse your bones clean, and then start again with a fresh pot of water. This time, once it reaches a boil, lower your heat to a simmer. This will ensure pure and clean broth almost every time.

For my dog owners out there, soups and stews are a great way to make use of the water that is used to boil your dog’s meats for the week. Another reason why I love soup is because I have a dog who loves chicken, pork, and beef meats. Since dogs need to have their meats boiled, I usually use the water from boiling my dog’s meats as a broth base for soup or stew dishes I am working on for the week.

Recipe
Serves: 8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Broth
1 lb chicken thighs
½ gallon water
3 Mexican squash, diced 1-inch cubes
4 stalks celery, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
½ can crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp garlic salt
1 tbsp seasoned salt, to taste
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Albondigas
1 lb ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 minced shallot
1 tsp garlic salt, to taste
1 tsp seasoned salt (e.g., Trader Joe’s), to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 pinch red pepper flake
1 pinch of black pepper
1/2 bunch green onion, finely chopped
1 egg
Optional: 1 tsp smoked chipotle powder
Optional: serve with lime juice

 

Directions

Heat a large pot with water. Place chicken thighs inside water and boil until you see a brownish foam ~7-10 minutes. Discard foam from the top. Add in carrots once water begins to boil and turn fire to medium low.

While waiting for water to boil, prepare meatballs. Place ground beef, shallots, garlic, garlic salt, seasoned salt, cumin, red pepper flake, pepper, green onion, and egg into a large mixing bowl. Use hands to mix together all ingredients for meatballs. Knead meatballs for 5 minutes, lifting the mixture and using force to toss it back into the mixing bowl. Repeat at least 5 times until mixture begins to stick together. Set aside.

Check broth. Remove chicken thighs from stew and set aside for later use. Once carrots have softened, add in celery, onion, Mexican squash, and crushed tomatoes. Add in seasonings as well: bay leaves, garlic salt, seasoned salt, and oregano.

Begin forming meat mixture into meatballs 1-2 inches in diameter. After all meatballs have been formed, drop meatballs into the soup and allow to cook until their color turns from pink to light brown ~10-15 minutes.

Once meatballs are cooked through and vegetables are tender, taste for seasoning and add salt, seasoned salt, pepper, and/or garlic salt to taste.

Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice if desired.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Shrimp Ceviche/Black Bean Salsa

IMG_7754Growing up in a primarily Mexican-American neighborhood, I had easy access to authentic Mexican food-moist tamales, mouthwatering sopes, satisfying but simple tacos, and oh my goodness, the ceviche! I realize that authentic ceviche involves cooking raw seafood in citrus (usually lemon or lime juice) for many hours. However, I had to cater my ceviche to an Asian audience-namely, my family members. The Chinese palate leaves little room for raw anything, much less raw meat. Coming from a time and place when cleanliness concerns and food-borne infections could mean life or death, I understand my parents’ and grandparents’ concern when I told them how I had made my first batch of ceviche. So, I have modified my shrimp ceviche recipe to minimize the possibility of GI issues from having consumed undercooked meat. I realize that pre-boiling shrimp is not the authentic approach to making ceviche, but it is what gives my loved ones and me peace of mind when we plunge our tostadas into the juicy satisfying coolness of a fresh batch of ceviche.

For those who do not eat seafood, I have also made a black bean version of this dish, which has also been a crowd pleaser. In fact, that is one of the reasons that I created this food blog. After bringing the black bean salsa, I had several people ask me for the recipe, which prompted the thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if I actually had recipes in print that I can refer people to when they want to know how I made something? Now here we are. I finally have a place to direct people to for my recipes. I’m not trying to get instafamous or youtube famous (although that would be so lovely). I just want to share my food, cooking, and thoughts about food with others.

Anyway, coming back from that personal aside, shrimp can get expensive, so substituting black bean for the seafood makes this a great dish for potlucks, entertaining, or good healthy plant-based eating. The base of both these dishes is the same- a solid pico de gallo, comprised of tomato, onion, cilantro, chili pepper, and lemon/lime juice. So once you master the perfect umami balance that characterizes pico de gallo, you can use this as a base with a wide range of ingredients to create equally tantalizing concoctions.

Cooking tips:

Always keep in mind the chip you are serving with any salsa. If you have a very salty chip, go easy on the salt with your salsa. Mexican food is all about that perfect umami balance of salt, sour and spicy.

I made my own tostadas because they are healthier than the deep-fried kind. With tostadas, I’ve learned one thing: they are extremists when it comes to oil. Either use a lot of oil to fry them or don’t use any at all. Anything in between these extremes and you’ll get a soggy chewy mess. I opt for the no oil option for health reasons. And honestly, I don’t even really notice the difference between fried and baked tostada when you’ve got a delicious nest of ceviche or black bean salsa resting on it.

For any chunky salsa recipe, including pico de gallo, that I make, I always squeeze the chopped up ingredients with my hands. In my not-so-scientific opinion, it releases the juices from the respective veggies, allows them to swim with the juices of others, and then absorb the flavors of all the other kids in the pool. Try it out and see if you notice a difference!

Recipe
Serves 6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Marinade time: 3 hours-overnight

Ceviche/Black Bean Salsa
1 lb shrimp or 1 can black beans
2 ears fresh corn or 2 cups of frozen corn (only add if making black bean salsa)
5 large roma or any juicy ripe tomato
1 bunch of cilantro
1/2 onion, chopped
6 small avocados
3-5 pickled Serrano chiles
optional: 1-2 fresh jalapenos or Serrano chiles
a few generous pinches of salt, to taste
juice of 1 lemon and 2 limes

Tostadas
Corn tortillas

Directions
Peel and devein shrimp. Drop into boiling water and allow to boil for 3-5 minutes until just cooked through. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and chop into bite sized pieces. (or Rinse black beans and allow to drain for 1-2 minutes.)

Finely dice tomatoes, onion, chiles, and cilantro and mix together. Add lemon juice and salt. When juicing lemon try to get some of the oils from the skin out-it intensifies the lemon flavor.

(Add in corn if you are making the black bean salsa.)

Wear plastic cooking gloves. Using your hands, squeeze the juices of the mixed chopped vegetables and continue to mix for approximately 2-3 minutes. This allows the flavors of the salsa ingredients to combine. Add in shrimp and continue squeezing and combining. (If you are making the black bean salsa, simply incorporate black beans to the salsa and let sit. Do not squeeze into the pico de gallo mix as that will smash the beans.)

Let it sit for at least 3 hours. For best results, let sit overnight.

For tostadas, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place tortillas in a single layer onto a baking sheet. Allow to bake 15-20 minutes, rotating at least once to prevent burning. Take tostadas out when they are golden brown.

Serve with fresh avocado. Do not pre-mix avocado into the salsa as it will brown.