MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And as Hispanic Heritage Month begins, today we're looking at the vibrant Latino community that calls the Washington region home. Up next on our Latino D.C. show, we'll visit a Columbia Heights institution that spent nearly four decades presenting theater with a different accent, so to speak. But, before we take the stage, we'll grab a bite.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
It's the newest installment in our series, "Eating In the Embassy," where we team up with local food blog Eater DC and chew the fat, sometimes quite literally, with chefs at Washington's many international embassies. This time around, we visit a chef who's intimately familiar with the cuisine of Mexico and the many misconceptions, she feels, surround it.
MS. PATI JINICH
Our food is not always spicy. Our food doesn't always have a chili in it, and when it does, it's not necessarily a spicy chili. The ancho chili is sweet, the guajillo chili is happy.
This is Mexico City native Pati Jinich. You might know her from the PBS show, "Pati's Mexican Table."
And surprisingly for people, Mexican food is usually very healthy and wholesome, and uses ingredients from scratch. We love salads. We just don't call them that. You know, we'll call them nopalitos, challatitos. We call them by the name of the ingredient.
Here in the bright white kitchen of the Mexian Cultural Institute, which is kind of like the Mexican Embassy's cultural arm.
It's dedicated to promoting arts, food, history, music.
We're about to cook up a very healthy and wholesome dish from scratch, a traditional Mexican breakfast, actually.
Juevos ahogados. Sunken eggs. And eggs, says Pati, are huge in Mexico. Mexico is a powerhouse of salsas and eggs are incredibly cheap and accessible and affordable and they're full of protein, so when you match the gazillion-million salsas with this one magical ingredient, you get like a thousand different ways of eating eggs. We love eggs.
But, it takes more than just eggs and salsa to whip up this version of sunken eggs. As Pati explains, you need one more very special, traditional ingredient. The fleshy, hand-sized pad of the prickly pear cactus.
So, here I have cactus paddles, nopalitos, which are an icon for Mexicans. You see nopales not only in every kitchen instead of meat. I'm convinced that these will be the rage of vegetarians one day when they sell them without the thorns, because they're very persnickety. But they're super meaty and crunchy and tart and tasty, but anyway, you see them in the kitchens, but you also see them in some of the most famous paintings and sculptures. The Mexican flag has an eagle standing on a cactus paddle eating a snake.
That's how strongly we feel about nopales, so I am so happy you're gonna get to eat them today. So, this is my favorite way of cooking them. You remove the thorns.
How do you remove the thorns without, I don't know, hurting yourself?
Yes, so highly recommended to wear gloves. I don't wear gloves because I'm very macho, but highly recommend wearing gloves. And then, with a knife, or with a vegetable peeler, then you go around and remove the edge and bottom, and then you slice them, dice them. So, you can saute them, as I am doing here. I cooked them for 20 minutes before you guys got here with a lead, and now, as you see, they're browning beautifully.
Now, what I'm gonna here is I'm gonna pour salsa on top. In Mexico, we love love love salsas. They run through our veins. We have them from breakfast to dinner.
That's the most beautiful color green. What's in that salsa?
Right. Okay, so tomatillos, jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, and onion. Then this is your basic salsa verde. Now I'm gonna pour it on top of the nopales. So, you see you have the tart from the nopal, which will be crunchy on the outside and chewy. And then you'll have the super tart and punchy, but very homey taste of the salsa verde. So, it's gonna make a sound.
Oh, I've gotta record that. Okay.
And that's what you want. I always say, in my classes, if you go into a Mexican kitchen, no matter where it is in the world, and you don't see smoke and you don't hear sizzle and you don't see bubbles, don't eat the food. It's not gonna be good. Okay, so now this is gonna cook and sizzle now. The tomatoes, jalapenos and garlic were already cooked, but this is like a double step to enhance the flavor and concentrate it.
Now, the great thing is if you make this salsa verde, you can use it to drown some eggs, which is what we're gonna do here.
That sounds a little violent.
On my way here, I was thinking I'm so glad we're making drowned eggs, and I kept thinking drunk eggs. Not drunk. Drowned. If you added a splash of tequila, they would be drunk too. But, we love drowning eggs in any kind of salsa. So, you know how, in other countries, they have the elegant poached eggs, and then, sometimes, they'll add salsas on top? Well, we directly cook the eggs in the salsa. And so, there is no way that you can end up with a dish where you taste the egg and it's sort of bland, and then you taste the sauce.
Here, they cook together. So, now I have the sauce boiling and ready. I'm gonna lower the heat, so that when I add my eggs to drown them, or poach them in there, they won't break or crumble. So, that's a secret for good poached eggs. You want simmering sauce, but at a super gentle heat. I do one by one, and you do it in a cup so that it goes in the sauce together at the same time.
Because the moment it touches the hot, hot sauce, the eggs starts cooking. And you want it to look sort of pretty.
I love it, the way you're putting them around the edge, sort of circular like that. It makes a lovely little pattern.
Exactly, and then when you bring it at the table, you saw how easy that was. When you bring it at the table, people are like, whoa, how did the eggs come out like that?
You must have spent hours slaving over a hot stove.
Pati Jinich is the chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute and host of the public television show, "Pati's Mexican Table." Season three premieres this January. Her cookbook, "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking," is out now.
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