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Monday, June 18, 2012

Nopales con Costillas de Puerco y Chile Rojo (Cactus Paddles w/ Pork Ribs & Red Chile)

Nopales con Costillas de Puerco y Chile Rojo
Mi esposo?  He knows how to tell a story.  He's very animated by nature, so of course his tales include hands flying, motions acted out, sound effects to accentuate the actions in his story.  What's even better is that the stories are always true.  And he's got an arsenal!

I enjoy all of his stories, but of course, I always listen extra hard when he has a story about food or eating.  That is in my nature.

Over the past month, it seems that we've both been craving nopales quite often.  It's his fault.  He mentioned it first.  And I tagged along with the sympathy craving.  Mostly we've been cooking the paddles on the grill.  If it's already fired up, there's no better way.

I don't remember how it all began.  Perhaps we were at the mercado.  Or maybe somebody mentioned nopales.  No, wait...I remember.  I was looking through a Zarela Martinez cookbook.  I guess there must have been a picture  of a nopal turned up as hubby walked by.  Yes.  That's were the craving came from.

And the story that inspired this dish.
pork riblets
When mi esposo was a niño, growing up in Mexico, this dish was one of his family's favorites.   His mami made it almost every weekend.  Only the weekend, though.  That's because every Saturday his papi received his paycheck.  It wasn't much, but fortunately they were just able to walk out the door and harvest the nopales from around the house.

The whole family waiting expectantly to dig in when it was finished cooking.  Hubby said he would always eat the nopales first.  Because there were more of them.  The little money they had to buy meat didn't always go far, so he'd save the carne for last.  So he could end with meat and suck on the bones when everything was gone.

Now, I said that they ate it almost every weekend.  The reason I say almost is because he remembers a weekend when they didn't eat it.  When it didn't even get made, actually.  Apparently one Saturday, mi suegro handed mi suegra 50 pesos.  And then it was gone.  He blamed the kids.  He yelled and asked who took it.  But they all swore that nobody had it.  Apparently it went round and round this way for a while.

Until they heard the dog, Osso, smacking his lips.  Somebody reached in his mouth and pulled out a little corner of a piece of paper.  No.  A corner of that 50 pesos.  Apparently somebody must have had some grease or something sticky on their hands that smelled good to the dog when they were passing that money. And he must have licked it right up and into his mouth.  And then into his stomach.

Mi suegra was so upset.  At the loss of the money.  At the bickering and blaming.  At everything.  So that weekend, the Nopales con Costillas de Puerco y Chile Rojo did not get made.
Nopales con Costillas de Puerco y Chile Rojo
Hubby was feeling incredibly nostalgic for this dish...and I was dying to try after he told me his story, I asked him to tell me everything we needed to make it at home.  I made a list and hit the mercado.

His mami used either a metate or a molino to grind, and we used a blender.  Her tortillas were always made by hand, and one of us only does that 45% of the time.  Or less.  We eat a lot of tortillas.  He remembered amounts by eyeing them.  And then I weighed or measured them.  And took note of cooking times and temperatures.  I want to record these recipes that have been arond for generations for our kids.

Occasionally mi suegra would make this using arrachera (skirt steak) beause it is long and stretchy and she could cut it into a bunch of pieces...making it seem like more meat.  So feel free to use steak in place of the pork in this dish.  We also used the little costillas, the ones cut into small pieces.  Hubby loves those.  Surely uncut ribs would work just as well, if that's your preference.

I suppose the best part of his story is that it can now be remembered and carried on to the next generation.  Along with the flavor on their tongues, as well as in their minds and their hearts.  I don't think I'll be making it every weekend.  I know I won't.  But it will become a regular fixture around our house.  Much to hubby's delight.

Nopales con Costillas de Puerco y Chile Rojo (Cactus Paddles w/ Pork Ribs & Red Chile)
A traditional Mexican dish of cactus paddles with pork ribs and red chiles.
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Nopales con Costillas de Puerco y Chile Rojo
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Keywords: simmer entree chiles pork cactus Mexican

Ingredients (serves 4-6)
  • medium-large nopales (cactus paddles)
  • 2 Ancho chiles
  • 3 Pasilla chiles
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ~2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 1/2 pounds costillas de puerco (pork riblets)
  • 1 lime
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro (small handful), roughly chopped
Place a paper towel or kitchen towel in one hand (or use tongs) and grab cactus paddle by the bottom. Clean the cactus paddles by trimming off a border ~1/4" wide all the way around each paddle. Run a thin, flexible blade across both sides of the cactus paddle to remove all of the spikes. Rinse to make sure you've removed them all. Cut into 1/2" strips, then cut each strip into 2" chunks.
nopal - cactus paddle
Place in a pot and cover generously with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until they are just tender. Drain and shock them in ice water. Drain again and set aside. They will ooze a bit of "goo". This is normal.

In the meantime, place the ancho and pasilla chiles, tomatoes, and garlic cloves in a pot and cover with water by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 7-10 minutes, or until soft but not falling apart.

Scoop everything out of the water and transfer to the jar of a blender, leaving behind the seeds from the chiles (they should easily fall out or pull out). Add salt, cumin, and ~2 cups of the cooking water to the blender. Put on the lid and puree until very smooth. Set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, cut the peel from the lime in one long strip, leaving the white (pith) behind. Reserve lime for another use (juice). Place the peel in a wide, deep-sided pan along with the costillas (ribs). Add 2 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently until all the water has evaporated. The ribs will release their fat. Allow them to cook, stirring around from time to time until they are all golden brown. This whole process should take ~30-40 minutes.
layering flavor
If there is still a lot of fat left in the bottom of the pan, drain off all but a tablespoon or two. Add red onions to pot with pork and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add reserved cactus and cook for another minute or two, stirring everything around. Pour reserved salsa (in blender jar) over everything and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow everything to simmer gently for about 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Enjoy with a pile of steaming tortillas and a cold cerveza to wash it all down.
Nopales con Costillas de Puerco y Chile Rojo