I like to think I was Mexican in another life. I love traveling through this warm and beautiful country, its food appeals most to my tastebuds (after Indian, of course), and I even look a little Mexican with my olive skin and dark hair. Ever so often someone speaking Spanish approaches me on the street to ask for directions, or a salesperson tries to make me feel comfortable by breaking into what they assume must be my native language. They even look a little incredulous when I explain to them that I don’t speak a word of Spanish.
Lately my kitchen has started looking a lot like a Mexican one too. I’ve packed my refrigerator and my kitchen cupboards with fresh and dry chillies of every kind, I’ve been confounding Desi with words like “piloncillo,” “jamaica,” and “achiote,” and I’ve been dropping hints several times each day about that tortilla press I don’t have to use up all the masa flour sitting in the pantry.
Part of the reason why I’ve become an even greater fan of Mexican food in recent weeks is this very addictive PBS show, Pati’s Mexican Table, where the chef, Pati Jinich, shares recipes from her childhood in Mexico. This relatively new show has edged out my other PBS favorite, Rick Bayless’s Mexico: One Plate at a Time, because while Bayless’s show is quite wonderful, his recipes appear rather sophisticated since they are adapted to suit American tastes. Pati– who grew up in Mexico and is now a fellow Washingtonian– creates what seem to be truly authentic, often rustic recipes that you can actually imagine folks in Mexico cooking up in their kitchens for dinner.
A lot of the recipes in Pati’s Mexican Table contain animal ingredients, but the sauces and bases also pack a lot of flavor that comes from the plant-based ingredients that go into these dishes (she does a great job describing these flavors with vivid imagery). Recently, I watched her cook up chicken with tamarind, chipotle peppers, and apricots. The sauce sounded so flavorful that the chicken only appeared an unnecessary intrusion.
So I went into my kitchen and got cooking.
I got a block of firm tofu, squeezed the water out of it, then baked it to chewy perfection.
I soaked some tamarind, then separated the incredibly tangy water and added some piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) to make the base of my sauce.
I chopped up some gorgeously orange dried apricots, and scooped out some smoky and fiery chipotle chili sauce.
Dinner was amazing. This sauce is perfect drizzled over some rice, and you could very well serve it some spicy Mexican rice.
Oh, I feel so Mexican right now. Enjoy!
Chewy Tofu in Apricot, Chipotle and Tamarind Sauce
(Makes 4 servings)
1 block firm or extra-firm tofu. Press out most of the water by swaddling the block of tofu, then placing in a colander. Place a weight on it, like a saucepan, and leave alone for an hour for most of the water to drain out. Spray a baking pan lightly with some oil, place the tofu on it, and spray the top lightly with some oil. Bake in a 400-degree oven 30 minutes, then flip over and bake another 20 minutes. Let the tofu cool, then cut it into 3/4-inch cubes.
1 tsp olive or other vegetable oil
4 cups mushrooms, preferably mixed for more texture. I used cremini and shiitake. Chop them into fairly large chunks.
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Salt to taste
3/4 cup dried apricots, sliced
1 recipe tamarind sauce (recipe below)
2 tsp sauce from a can of chipotle chilis in adobo sauce
2 tbsp apricot preserves
Heat a saucepan and add the oil. Add the mushrooms, pepper and salt and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms start to caramelize and turn golden, about 10 minutes.
Add all the remaining ingredients– the tofu, apricots, apricot preserve, tamarind sauce, and adobo sauce. Add 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes until the apricots are quite soft.
Add salt to taste. Serve hot.
1 large lemon-size ball of tamarind soaked in 2 cups of boiling water for about half an hour. Strain out the solids and reserve the liquid.
1/2 cup piloncillo, grated (this unrefined sugar is separated at birth from jaggery a popular sweetener in Indian cooking). Use brown sugar if you don’t have this.
1 tbsp lime juice
Salt to taste
Place the tamarind liquid, piloncillo, lime juice and salt in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until reduced by half. The liquid will be thick and syrupy.
Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 172, Total Fat 3.3 grams, Cholesterol 0 mg, Potassium 591.4 mg, Dietary Fiber 3.4 grams, Sugar 21.3 grams, Protein 6.4 grams