Turnips & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen
Southern food meets Mexican food in Eddie Hernandez’s new book Turnips & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen. Hernandez, the James Beard nominated chef/co-owner of Taqueria del Sol, has written a fantastic cookbook that explores the commonalities of these two cuisines.
Never hesitating to improve upon tradition, Hernandez tweaks classic dishes to make food taste better in such ways as by adding sugar to creamy grits to balance the jalapeños or substituting tomatillos for fried green tomatoes to achieve a more delicate texture. Turnip Greens & Tortillas offers a collection of both recipes and “Eddie’s Ways”–sidebars showing how to make each dish even more special.
As an example, Hernandez says Mexicans view bread pudding as a special treat typically eaten only during Lent.
“It is not like any bread pudding you have had in the U.S., but the flavors should taste very familiar—a little like the inside of a cinnamon roll, with the gooeyness of pecan pie,” he writes in his description of Capirotada, a Mexican bread pudding recipe in his cookbook. “The exact ingredients vary with whatever’s in the cook’s kitchen cabinet that needs to be used up, but they usually include toasted and buttered bread, dried fruits, nuts, and mild cheese. My mother often added animal crackers, and I still find their crunchy texture works well in this mixture. Whereas my mother steamed her bread pudding on top of the stove, I bake mine. Instead of being held together by an eggy custard, the pudding is drenched in a warm syrup spiced with cinnamon and cloves that is made by melting piloncillos—unrefined sugar molded in cones and sold in Mexican markets or online—with water. Turbinador brown sugar works just as well. There is deep religious meaning behind the main ingredients: The bread symbolizes Christ’s body, the syrup is his blood, the cinnamon and cloves are the wood and the nails of the cross, and the melted cheese signifies the holy burial shroud. As serious as its message is, the dish is very festive and often served with ice cream and colored sprinkles. This bread pudding is even good for breakfast as coffee cake.”
Also good for Easter are Hernandez’s breakfast egg muffins topped with a tomato-habanero sauce.
Mexican Bread Pudding (Capirotada)
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 pound cane sugar, turbinado sugar, or brown sugar
3 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks, preferably Mexican (canela)
8 ounces French bread or 4 bolillo rolls, cut into ¼-inch-thick pieces
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1½ cups crushed animal crackers
1 cup crumbled queso fresco or grated Monterey Jack cheese
¾ cup shredded sweetened coconut Ice cream (optional)
Colored sprinkles (optional)
To make the syrup:
Combine the sugar, water, cinnamon sticks, and cloves in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.
Remove from the heat; cover and let steep while you prepare the remainder of the dish.
This step can be done a day ahead.
Heat the broiler to high, with one rack set in the middle of the oven and one 4 or 5 inches from the broiler source. Brush the bread with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the butter. Place the pieces in a single layer on a sheet pan and set under the broiler until lightly toasted, about 1 minute (watch carefully). Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use.
Set the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Brush a deep 8-inch square pan or 2-quart casserole dish with the remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons butter.
Place one-third of the bread in a single layer in the baking dish. Top with one-third of the raisins, pecans, animal crackers, cheese, and coconut. Remove the spices from the syrup and ladle one-third of the syrup over the mixture. Let the syrup soak into the bread for about 15 minutes, then repeat the layering with the remaining ingredients two more times, finishing with the syrup. Let the syrup soak into the bread for 15 minutes.
Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the top of the pudding is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream and garnished with sprinkles, if desired. The pudding will keep for several days, tightly covered, at room temperature.
My Breakfast Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
12 large eggs
4½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces andouille or other smoked sausage, cut into 24 slices; or left over roasted vegetables
¾ cup grated Monterey Jack or Colby cheese (goat cheese or other kinds of cheese can be substituted)
2 cups Tomato-Habanero Sauce (see below) or use your favorite salsa
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick vegetable spray and set aside.
Whisk the eggs, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl until smooth. Place 2 slices of smoked sausage and 1 tablespoon of the cheese into the bottom of each muffin cup. Divide the egg mixture evenly among the muffin cups. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned.
Meanwhile, heat the sauce. Ladle some of the sauce onto plates and top with the egg muffins.
Makes about 4 cups
5 to 6 medium tomatoes (about 1½ pounds)
1 habanero or other types of chiles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup finely diced onion
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
Place the tomatoes and habanero in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil just until the tomato skins start to crack. Drain in a colander. Remove the stem from the habanero.
Transfer the tomatoes and habanero to a blender and puree until smooth.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion, garlic, and salt and cook until the onion is translucent and soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree and the stock, increase the heat to high, and boil for 3 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. The sauce keeps for up to 3 days, covered and refrigerated.
The above recipes are from Turnip Greens and Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen by Eddie Hernandez. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Eddie Hernandez will be talking and signing copies of his book on June 3 at 1:30 p.m. at Read It & Eat, 2142 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL. For more information: (773) 661-6158; readitandeatstore.com