A Perfect Mexican Tortilla... in New Brunswick

REMEMBER my Christmas wish? Thanks to my brother's generosity, I have been able to satisfy my craving for the occasional Mexican tortilla or two, or three, to go with some of my Mexican specialties.

Listen, I won't pretend that tortillas made with this dried flour are comparable in quality with the home-made tortillas that every Mexican prefers to eat at home, even though nowadays they're more likely to buy inferior tortillas from the neighborhood tortillería (tortilla factory) because, like us, they just don't have the time. In Mexico, if you can afford it, you can always buy still-warm home-made tortillas at the local market, where many women go to earn a few extra pesos by selling the tortillas that they make at home from scratch.

So, I've been practicing my tortilla-making art, aiming for the perfect tortilla (perfect within these limitations, I mean), which is the result of the ideal combination of just the right amount of moisture in the dough, the right kind of comal or frying pan at just the right temperature, the right thickness, the right timing, and so on. If all those conditions are met, you get a tortilla that puffs up like this:


The other day, spurred by my success at the tortilla press, I made another of my favorite Mexican things: pickled jalapeño peppers. I always use Diana Kennedy's recipe straight out of The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, it's so perfect.

Need I warn you, dear reader, that those peppers are hot? (And so are the carrots, by the way.)

It goes like this:

Chiles Serranos o Jalapeños en Escabeche
(Pickled Serrano or Jalapeño Chiles)

Makes 6 half pints (1.5 litres) -- (I made half the recipe)

1 1/2 lbs (675 g) serrano or jalapeño chiles, left whole or cut into quarters lengthwise
3/4 cup (185 ml) vegetable oil (I used virgin olive oil)
2 medium white or yellow onions, thickly sliced
3 medium carrots, scraped and thinly sliced
1 head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
3 cups (750 ml) mild vinegar (plain old white vinegar)
2 TB salt
2 bay leaves (Mexican if possible)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (Mexican if possible)
6 sprigs fresh marjoram or 1/2 tsp dried
6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
1 TB sugar

1. WASH the chiles, leaving the stems intact. Cut a cross in the tip end of each chile so the vinegar can penetrate.

2. HEAT the oil in a large, deep skillet, then add the chiles, onions, carrots and garlic, and fry over medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning from time to time.

3. ADD the vinegar, salt, herbs and sugar, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes for serranos and 10 minutes for jalapeños.

6. PACK 6 sterilized half-pint jars with the chiles, vegetables, and herbs; top with the vinegar and seal.

These should keep for about one month in the refrigerator.

Important Note: Partially cooked chiles allow the growth of bacteria, so it's important to make sure that the chiles have been cooked thoroughly if they are to be kept for any length of time. (I prefer to make them more often.)

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