Friday, July 20, 2007

Un Platillo de Plátanos

I think I should get at least one post a month on this thing, so here goes.

I haven't cooked or baked very much since getting back to Illinois. I vaguely remember doing something with the oven, but I haven't got a clue what it was (I just remembered, I made my excellent scones, although the batter was too wet). I made tortillas a few times, but without a press, they were thick, though still good. ANd that's about it.

This last week, I finally got the things I've been wanting since leaving St. Peter: a Turkish coffee grinder (with birthday money) and a tortilladora. Good stuff. My coffee finally tastes good and the tortillas are thing again.

Anyway, the reason I write is that I find I'm suddenly intrigued to use ingredients I've never used, never even had before. Last week, I made mustard greens, which were good, although underseasoned. It was simple: simmer some water, add some bacon and softened onion, then put in the greens, washed and torn into small pieces. Simmer for twenty minutes or so and then serve. Good, but, like I said, missing something (I used too much water, for one, and they were undersalted).

Another thing I've been excited about are plantains, the starchy bananas. I sliced up a plantain, then fried the discs in bacon grease, serving them slightly salted with the bacon. Excellent! They're really quite different from anything I've ever had before. The peel is incredibly thick, and the texture is more like a stiff potato than a banana. The flavor is somewhere between the potato and the banana, but very starchy (at least for the very green one I used). I have another one ripening in the kitchen so that I can see what they are like when ripe.

One last thing and then I'm done with this post. About a month ago (it was the weekend before the Gold Cup final, if that helps), a friend and I went to a taquería in Waukegan on a Friday afternoon. Now, for those of you not from Lake County, Waukegan has the largest Hispanic population north of Chicago. It's a great place.* But, it is a little intimidating, given the lack of English (all the billboards are in Spanish, and most of the shops obviously cater to an Hispanic majority). Still, after working there for a summer, I knew that there had to be some great restaurants and I was just waiting for the opportunity to go there with another person.

Thus, we went to a place that I'd never been before and it was, simply stated, one of the best meals I've ever had. For those of you who got my Top Meals list two years ago, I'd say it would displace at least number four. I got a bowl of menudo, the slow-cooked tripe soup served on the weekends, and a tamal con frijoles topped with molé. Amazingly good. So good, in fact, that I have vowed never to bring anyone there from this area. Orgasmically good. Without a doubt, the best tripe I've ever had (it was no repeat of that pho meal in the Cities). Everything was homemade: the tortillas, the salsas, the molé, the delicious agua fresca (I got tamarind, of course). So good.


*On a side note, I'm always amazed by the rampant racism of my friends from this area. There was one shooting in Waukegan in 1999 and they all think of it as some ghetto, simply because of the race of people who live there. In truth, Waukegan is a nicer place than Fox Lake, where I grew up, and everyone overlooks the fact that there was a murder in Fox Lake as recently as 2004. There are no places in Fox Lake that I would say are a nice neighborhood. However, Waukegan is replete with beautiful brick houses, parks, great restaurants, and it's a mixed place. Truly, I can think of few places I'd rather live. It's a shame we whites are so rabidly racist, because the town seems to be dying. Despite efforts to attract businesses to the county's largest city (and seat of government), the downtown feels empty. Fortunately, there are strides being made, but they aren't easy: the Genesee theater is open and seems to be running well, the places around the county government complex seem to have business, and the holes-in-the-wall in the poorer neighborhoods have a booming business (and for good reason: the best barbecue in the county can be had in a black neighborhood, and there are two excellent taquerías besides the one I went to). But that doesn't change the fact that even my most liberal of friends has openly scoffed at the idea of moving to Waukegan. It just goes to show you that as much as things have changed since 1964, they've stayed frustratingly the same.