Friday, August 6, 2010

mexican penicillin

In Napa last weekend celebrating my birthday. Stopped by and visited Brian and Claudia at Fleury for a fantastic tasting of their new SB and '07 BDX. By the time we were done, we were so hungry. Where to go? And then I remembered that Joe Yonan told me about LaLuna Market & Taqueria for what he said were "the best tacos."

“How long has it been there?” I asked him.

“Years, I think! You don’t know about it?” he asked. It was kind of surprising. After all, Joe lives in Washington, DC and this is my neck of the woods.

It was now 2:00 PM Saturday afternoon. I was well past hungry, and the taco lover that I am, I was definitely up for a spicy pork taco. There on a side street in “downtown” Rutherford was this non-distinct Mexican grocery store, La Luna. I’d probably driven past this place a thousand times.

As we walked inside, I was transported to Guadalajara. Mexican music was serenading the cute girls behind the counter who were talking Spanish, laughing and chewing gum. It didn’t look like a taco joint at all but I followed my nose past the Arbor Mist, Red Bull and bars of Palmolive to the back of the store. There I found the counter filled with crispy hot tortilla chips, a menu on the wall and a couple guys cranking out tacos and burritos.

We had a few minutes from the time we placed our order so I wandered the aisles. I came across spices that were so aromatic; I couldn’t help but picking up a few, -- California chili, New Mexico chili, pasilla chili and ancho chili. A few minutes later, we found ourselves eating al pastor and carnitas tacos out on a picnic table. What the surroundings lacked in atmosphere, the tacos made up for in deliciousness!

For the next couple days I obsessed about those spices I’d gotten. They were on my kitchen counter and every time I walked past them, they called my name.

By Tuesday, I felt a little under the weather. Kind of a scratchy throat and my head felt like it weighed about a thousand pounds. I needed some penicillin, Mexican penicillin, so I made a huge pot of chicken tortilla soup. And guess what spices gave the best flavor to the broth….


1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 whole chicken, 3 ½ pounds, cut into 6 pieces
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon California chili
1/2 teaspoon pasilla chili
1/2 teaspoon ancho chili
1/4 teaspoon New Mexico chili
¼ teaspoon pimenton or smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
½ jalapeno, halved and seeded
Corn oil for frying the tortillas
8 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4" strips
½ pound green beans, ends removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 ears of corn, husked and kernels removed
3 zucchini, about ½ pound, cut into ½-inch dice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces sharp cheddar, coarsely grated
1 large avocado, diced

Place the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomatoes, chicken, 6 whole sprigs cilantro, cumin, chili, pimenton, oregano, bay leaves, jalapeno and 10 to 12 cups water in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to low and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is very tender, 1 to 1 ¼ hours.

Heat ½" corn oil in a deep heavy pan to 375F. Add the tortilla strips and cook until crispy, 1 minute. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.

Remove the chicken and let cool. Strain the remaining liquid and discard the solids. Place the stock back in the soup pot. Add the green beans and carrots and cook until almost tender, 5 minutes.

Remove the meat from the bones and discard the bones. Tear the chicken into 1-inch pieces and return the chicken to the pot along with the corn and zucchini. Simmer for 5 minutes.

To serve the soup, heat the soup until hot. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cheddar and avocado. Top with tortillas strips and cilantro leaves.

Serves 6

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