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Relax with Raspa de Sandia y Campari (Watermelon and Campari Sorbet)


A grown-up dessert. How refreshing. That’s what Adán Medrano offers in this frosty raspa or sorbet, which mingles sweet watermelon with pleasantly bitter Campari. The San Antonio native includes the recipe in his “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes” (Texas Tech University Press, $29.95). Here’s the story of this treat:

This refreshing dessert is … an example of cooks constantly remaining current by carefully observing and relating to their local context. It has only (a few) ingredients and correct ratio/blending is the feat.

Watermelon Campari Sorbet

Watermelon Campari Sorbet

Although not native to the region, the sandia has become a Texas Mexican staple, as any Mexican American family will tell you. Watermelon (sandia) and Mexican lime are a natural blend in agua fresca, of course, but the addition of Italian Campari may give you pause. Fear not, for it harmonizes beautifully. How did I get the idea? By looking at our Texas cactus.

Italy’s Campari was already connected to Mexico and our Texas Mexican region because when it was first invented, and until 2006, its color used to come from the crushed cochineal beetle that lives in the nopal cactus of Texas and Mexico. The little insects are in those white powdery specks that you see on cactus paddles.

Our ancestors, the Texas Native Americans, had discovered and widely used the beautiful radiant red color. Until recently Starbucks used it to produce the hue in its strawberry frappucino.

The right proportions and blending make this a truly complex bitter-tart-sweet, grown-up dessert. Glazed spearmint adds contrast both in texture and color.

Raspa de Sandia y Campari (Watermelon and Campari Sorbet)

4 cups watermelon cubes
2 1/2 tablespoons Mexican lime juice
1 1/2 fluid ounces simple syrup (Make simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water and heating until fully dissolved. Cool to room temperature.)
3 ounces Campari
12 spearmint leaves

Mint Glaze:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup

In a blender, blend the watermelon, lime juice, syrup and Campari until totally smooth.

Pour the watermelon puree into a 9-inch or larger baking dish and place it in the freezer. After 45 minutes, scrape the sides of the dish and push the frozen crystals to the center of the dish. Thereafter do that every 30 minutes, making sure that fine crystals form evenly with no big chunks. Total time will be about 3 hours.

To glaze the spearmint leaves, heat the sugar, water and corn syrup in a small pan. Heat gradually to the point where if you drop the syrup into a cup of cold water it forms a firm ball. The syrup temperature at this stage is 245 degrees. Remove from heat. After the syrup cools down, dip the mint leaves, shake off excess, and place them on a platter until you are ready to garnish. (I learned this candying technique from my mother because she was always making red candied apples on Sundays to help raise money for our Catholic parish church. The candy glaze was beautifully red, glass-like and delicious. Keep this glaze recipe for other uses.)

When ready to serve, scoop into sorbet dishes and garnish with the glazed spearmint. The spearmint adds a wonderful finishing taste to the sorbet. In Spanish we call it yerba buena, the good herb.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes” by Adán Medrano

 

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Adan Medrano’s Chile Ancho Albondigas (Meatballs)


Adan Medrano, CIA culinary grad and chef, was at San Antonio’s Nao on Thursday night. The meal was good from start to finish, and best of all, we got copies of his book, full of recipes such as the one below as well as others that we’ll share here on SavorSA soon.

Adan Medrano Chile Ancho MeatballsMedrano started San Antonio’s Chicano Film Festival back in the 1970s,  and wrote  “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes” (Texas Tech University Press, $29.95), to get the recipes of his people on paper. The dinner at Nao served recipes made from his book, under the kitchen guidance of chef Geronimo Lopez. The book is a combination of social history and cookbook. These meatballs were served as appetizers on skewers, but we’d suggest them as a dish, with freshly made gorditas and some of the velvety frijoles that Nao served inside squash blossoms, another appetizer from this book.

See SavorSA’s article on Medrano, by John Griffin here.

Chile Ancho Meatballs (Albondigas)

For the adobo:
4 chiles anchos, seeded and deveined
1 white onion
3 garlic cloves
2 teaspoon fresh Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups tomatoes, diced
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 tablespoon white vinegar

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground pork
1 pound 96 percent fat-free ground beef
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
3 ounces large bread strips or pieces (to make about 1 ½ cups)
1/2 cup milk
To make the meatballs:  In a saucepan, add water to cover the chiles and bring to a boil.  Turn off the heat, let the chiles cook for 15 minutes and then drain.

Place the chiles, onion, garlic, Mexican oregano and salt in a blender and purée until completely smooth.  If there are any flecks or small bits in the purée, strain through a fine mesh sieve.  The chile purée should be velvety smooth.

Heat the canola oil in a dutch oven, add the chile purée and fry it for 10 minutes.  It will splatter a bit. The color will deepen and the purée will thicken. Set aside.

In a bowl, pour the milk, add the bread and set aside. Mix together the pork and beef.  Squeeze excess milk from the bread and add it to the meat, along with the beaten egg.

Add 8 tablespoons of the chile ancho purée to the meat, add the salt and mix thoroughly.

Form the seasoned meat into 40 1-½- inch meatballs and place them on a large cookie sheet.

Roast the meatballs in a 400-degree oven for 12-15 minutes until browned and crispy on the outside. Remove from the oven and allow the meatballs to rest for 10 minutes.  They are ready to serve with the adobo.

To make the adobo:  To the remaining purée add the tomatoes and the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes until the adobo begins to thicken.  Taste and correct the salt.

The meatballs can be served as in the picture, or the adobo can be served on the side for dipping.   They are moist and delicious the second day and will keep in the fridge for five days.

Ay, Dios mío, these food pathways are full of deliciousness!

Makes 40 1-½ inch albóndigas

From Adan Medrano

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Capturing the Flavor of Texas Mexicans on the Page and on the Plate


When Adán Medrano was growing up in San Antonio, the food in his home was not really the type of food that was being served at Tex-Mex restaurants catering to tourists along the River Walk.

Adan Medrano

Adan Medrano

For one thing, “you’d never find cumin in our food,” he said.

Let that sink in a little, especially if you grew up with one of the many American cookbooks that told you a dash of cumin would add a Mexican touch to your cooking. Even the original “Joy of Cooking” suggested you add it to your “beans, rice dishes and enchiladas.”

So, Medrano, who started the city’s Chicano Film Festival back in the 1970s, felt the need to capture the story of his people’s food on paper. The end result is “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes” (Texas Tech University Press, $29.95), which is a savory combination of social history and cookbook.

This Thursday, San Antonio can get a taste of what Medrano is talking about when Nao, the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant at the Pearl Brewery, showcases his dishes in a special meal that includes a meet-and-greet with the author as well as an autographed copy of the book.

It’s a homecoming in a number of ways for Medrano, who left San Antonio in 1985. After living in a number of other places, he settled down in Houston, where he works in the communications business. In 2010, he returned to his home city in order to get his certificate from the CIA. As part of his school work, he studied the cuisines of Argentina, Peru and other countries of Central and South America. He also took Iliana de la Vega’s course on the foods of the various regions of Mexico. He learned a great deal, he said, praising the CIA for being “a very strong program.”

It wasn’t always easy. Going through any of the institute’s various programs requires “rigor,” he said, “not just in the kitchen with ingredients but intellectual rigor.”

Still, for as much as he learned, he noticed that something was missing. “I didn’t see anything written about my people and what my people ate,” he said in a recent telephone interview.

So he decided to fill in the gap himself. He used the determination he cultivated at the school during the three years it took to research and write “Truly Texas Mexican.” To help him, he started Adán’s Blog, in which he writes about food, people and culture as well as providing a series of mouthwatering recipes, such as a vegan posole that calls up the days before Europeans brought pigs to the New World.

Medrano reaches back thousands of years to examine what the indigenous people of the area ate and how they prepared it. Their use of roasting, grilling, boiling and curing as well as their hunting and gardening techniques tell of who they were and how they lived in the region, which he sees as running largely from Eagle Pass to San Antonio and Victoria and on down to Brownsville.

Truly Texas MexicanThe foods evolved when the Spaniards and other Europeans brought ingredients such as onions, garlic and cows to the table, and they were eventually incorporated into the dishes made with duck, turkey, rabbits and deer, not to mention corn, that were already in abundance here, Medrano said.

Somehow that food remained in the homes of Texas Mexicans, while Tex-Mex food, with its processed cheese and heavy accent on frying, grew popular in restaurants. Today, you’ll find a mix of both styles of cooking in places, such as Mi Tierra, which have longstanding family ties as well as roots in the community, he said. If Medrano has a soft spot for the landmark restaurant, owned and operated by the Cortez family, it is because he can remember eating there after selling produce at the market when he was just 6 years old.

Tex-Mex has had its story told in the works of writers such as Robb Walsh. Now it is time for the Texas Mexicans to have their foods and their heritage acknowledged, which is what Medrano’s book provides. The 100 recipes are laid out in easy-to-follow instructions that could very well challenge your notion of what an enchilada is all about (hint: it’s not the melted Velveeta or ground beef at the center).

Medrano knows that many people who pick up his book will likely think it’s about Tex-Mex. He hopes that when they start trying the recipes or reading the stories behind the dishes that they’ll learn about the differences and why preserving that heritage is so important. He’s received a great deal of praise from chefs who love the distinction the Texas Mexican name brings; the list includes local favorites Diana Barrios Treviño and Johnny Hernandez.

At this point, however, Medrano is largely a one-man ambassador of his cause. He seems to enjoy the mission, whether he’s addressing an academic gathering or talking with people at a dinner like the one planned for Thursday, because he gets to share ideas, stories and even recipes with anyone interested.

“I’ll have an opportunity to talk with the guests,” he said in anticipation of the Nao feast. “That will be really nice.”

The Adán Medrano dinner at Nao, 312 Pearl Parkway, begins Thursday at 5:30 p.m. with a reception with the author, followed by dinner at 6:45 p.m. The evening includes the meal, the chance to meet the author and an autographed copy of his book for $80. Call 210-554-6484 for reservations.

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