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Gorditas el Comal de Doña Meche

Dona Meche in the window of her restaurant in San Miguel de Allende. Photo by Jane Simon Ammeson.


On Calle Margarita Ledezma, not far from El Jardin Principal, the town square of San Miguel de Allende where jacaranda trees bloom, vendors come to sell their wares and even the occasional burro makes its way down the cobblestone street, Dona Meche stands at the open window of her restaurant. In front of her are colorful ceramic bowls brimming with a rich array of fillings she makes every day. What’s in each bowl varies depending upon what’s in season and available at the large open-air market not far away. Today it’s chicken with cactus and potatoes, grilled poblano peppers with mushrooms and cheese, shredded beef in a rich red adobe sauce and picadillo mixed with green beans, carrots and pureed tomatoes.

For ten pesos (approximately a dollar), Meche takes a ball of masa harina and, patting it into a thick circle, drops it into a comal of bubbling hot oil. When it’s just a little golden, she removes it from the oil and cuts a hole in the middle and adds the filling. If you want another, the process starts all over again. Order a glass of aqua de Jamaica (hibiscus flower water), horchata (rice water) or guava juice for another seven pesos.
There’s your meal, simple and pleasurable–the flavors of the fillings are intense, the softness of the gordita melding the taste into a one of a kind treat.

San Miguel Street Scene by Jane Simon Ammeson.

To make gorditas at home, follow this recipe from “One Plate at Time” by Rick Bayless, cookbook author, restaurateur and TV host.

San Miguel de Allende. Photo Jane Simon Ammeson.

Gorditas con Carne Deshebrada
1 1/4 pounds boneless beef chuck steak, cut into 4 pieces
3 small white onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus oil to a depth of 1/2-inch for frying
1 (28-ounce) can good-quality whole tomatoes in juice, drained and chopped or 2 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
2 to 3 serranos or 1 to 2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and very finely chopped
Salt
1 pound (2 cups) fresh, premixed masa
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 scant teaspoon baking power
About 1/3 cup grated Mexican queso anejo or other dry grating cheese, such as Romano or Parmesan
About 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

San Miguel Cathedral. Photo Jane Simon Ammeson.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, combine the meat with 2 quarts salted water, about 1/3 of the onions, and half of the garlic and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Strain, reserving the broth for another use.

When the meat is cool enough to handle, shred it into coarse strands with your
fingers or 2 forks–don’t worry that there are bits of onion and garlic mixed with
the meat.

Wash and dry the saucepan, set it over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of
the oil. When the oil is hot, add half of the remaining onions and cook until
golden, about 6 minutes, then stir in the remaining garlic and cook for another
minute. Add the tomatoes and chiles and cook until most of the juice has
evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shredded meat and simmer for a few
more minutes, then taste and season with about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove
from the heat and set aside.

Heat a well-seasoned or nonstick griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat.
Divide the masa dough into 10 portions and roll into balls; cover with plastic to
keep from drying out. Line a tortilla press with 2 pieces of plastic cut to fit the
plates. Gently press out a ball of dough between the sheets of plastic to about 4
inches in diameter (it’ll be about 1/4 inch thick).

Peel off the top sheet of plastic, flip the gordita, uncovered side down, onto the
fingers of 1 hand, and gently peel off the second piece of plastic. Place onto
the heated griddle or skillet. Bake for about 1 1/2 minutes, then flip and bake for
another 1 1/2 minutes on the other side. The gordita will be lightly browned and
crusty on the top and bottom, but still a little uncooked on the sides. Remove to
a plate. Continue pressing and griddle-baking the remaining gorditas in the
same manner.

When you’re ready to serve, warm the shredded beef. Rinse the remaining
onions in a small strainer under cold water and shake to remove the excess
moisture. Have the cheese and cilantro at the ready.

In a deep heavy medium skillet or saucepan, heat 1/2-inch of oil over medium
to medium-high until the oil is hot enough to make the edge of a gordita sizzle
sharply, about 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. One by one, fry the
gorditas, turning them after they’ve been in the oil for about 15 seconds, until
they’re nicely crisp but not hard, about 45 seconds total. When they’re ready,
most will have puffed up a little, like pita bread. Drain on paper towels.

Use a small knife to cut a slit in the thin edge of each one about halfway around
its circumference, opening a pocket. As you cut them, fill each gordita with
about 1/4-cup shredded meat and a sprinkling of the onions, grated cheese,
and cilantro.

Line up the filled gorditas on a serving platter and pass them around (with plenty
of napkins) for your guest to enjoy.

Photo Jane Simon Ammeson.

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