Things have been crazy busy around here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. October-November is my least favorite stretch of the year. It’s slow, it’s hard and it seems to never end but once it’s over, the school year gets significantly easier and I am able to do normal people things like…
This past Saturday, I was driving home when all of a sudden the craving for a torta drove me to Whole Foods instead. I found myself pulling into the parking lot almost unwillfully.
I am normally not a sandwich person, but tortas de milanesa aren’t your typical sandwiches either. Tortas are typically made with different types of bread like pan francés, teleras, or bolillo. They are generally massive and often come with pickled jalapeños. Tortas can contain lots of different fillings including ham or eggs, but my favorite torta is made with pork milanesa, a thin, breaded, and fried meat similar to an Austrian Schnitzel or an Italian Milanese.
I walked into the store and hopefully searched for some bolillo bread to no avail. Not exactly surprised by Whole Foods’ lack of Mexican bread, but sad nonetheless, I went home with ciabatta instead. (Thankfully, when I made the tortas for this blog, I was able to find some actual bolillo at a Brazilian cornerstore near by.) I did, however, find all of my other ingredients- tomatoes, onion, lettuce, avocado, pinto beans, and super thin pork loin steak.
My husband was not home, so with free reign over our kitchen, I quickly got to work. After pounding away at the pork loins, I loaded up the skillet with oil and began frying the milanesas. The smell of the milanesas frying surprised me with a wave of nostalgia. I was taken back to my childhood home in East Houston where I shared a bedroom with my little sister for eight years and where our local public library was a short walk away. In our tiny two bedroom house, the smell of whatever was cooking in the kitchen would always flood the rest of our house. Whenever my mother was frying up some milanesas, we knew from that savory smell that some special guests were on their way. I was particularly excited when she would pair the milanesas with a side of espaghetti verde. Usually the leftover milanesas would make their way into tortas. And if I was really lucky, I would get to take a torta de milanesa to school for lunch.
After a whole afternoon of frying, our apartment was filled with the aroma of delicious milanesas. I literally felt like I was in that tiny, two bedroom house again. When my husband came home later that night, he remarked, “it smells really good in here.” I laughed to myself- he had no idea how good it smelled to me.
A note about chiles en vinagre: Chiles en vinagre are pickled jalapeños. They can be found in the “Mexican” aisle of most grocery stores next to enchilada sauces and salsas. I made a batch of chiles en vinagre this past week, and I will never go back to the canned variety. These are much crunchier and spicier than canned chiles, and you get to control what spices you use! The real Mexican way to eat chiles en vinagre with a torta is by taking a whole chile and biting it in between torta bites. Alternatively, you can cut it into strips like I did in the pictures and put them inside your sandwich. This tangy and spicy ingredient will make your tortas all the better.
Tortas de Milanesa
Yields 4 Tortas
Prep Time: 25 Minutes
- 4 bolillo loaves
- ½ cup refried beans
- 1 tomato (sliced)
- 1 onion (sliced)
- 1 avocado (sliced)
- Plenty of sliced cheese! (queso fresco, mozzarella)
- Chiles en vinagre (optional)
- 4 pork loin steaks
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup italian style breadcrumbs
- 1 cup milk
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Place pork loin steaks one by one inside gallon sized zip lock bag. Flatten by pressing down with palm of hand or rolling pin. The resulting steaks should be almost doubled in size.
- Combine milk, salt, pepper and garlic powder in bowl. Place flattened steaks in bowl to marinate for 20 minutes to 1 hour. Place in fridge.
- Take soaked milanesas out and coat thoroughly with breadcrumbs.
- Heat skillet with oil to medium-high heat and fry milanesas until brown, about three minutes per side.
- While milanesas are cooking, cut open bolillo breads and hollow out the bolillo carefully. (This is where you will put the refried beans.) Coat one side of the bolillo with mayo and the other with refried beans. Layer the vegetables on top.
- When your milanesas are cooked, add them to your sandwiches and enjoy!
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love cilantro and those who are missing out. I personally have been in both camps. As a kid, I did not like raw cilantro; I could tolerate it mixed into salsas and guacamole or cooked into my rice, but I never ate it raw. (Really, I probably just had a general distrust for anything green.) It was basically something to be discretely scooped off my plate when eating tacos while smiling/grimacing politely at the relative that had innocuously placed it in my food.
Since then, I have come to love cilantro. There’s nothing like fresh cilantro and cebolla on top of a piping hot taco al pastor with a green avocado salsa all wrapped inside a delicious homemade flour tortilla…. but I digress. Back to cilantro! We love it. We put it into all the “normal” foods like salsas, pico de gallo, tacos, guac, rice, soup (pho!) etc. but if I am not careful, my thrifty, cilantro-loving husband will also sneak the stuff into unexpected plates like Korean jjigaes and ssam (yup, he’s Korean- hence Daniela ‘Cho’).
One of our favorite ways to eat cilantro is in this creamy dressing. I use the word “dressing” loosely because it can be used as a salsa for tostadas or as a dip for empanadas. I’ve tasted many variations of this dressing, but my favorite is still the recipe below. Ok, I might be lying a little. My favorite version of this dressing is made with crema fresca, but that pretty much quadruples the calories so I try to stick to yogurt. 🙂
This recipe is super resilient, meaning that it can be tweaked in a bunch of different ways and that it’s difficult to mess up. Like I mentioned earlier, my favorite but fattier version of this dressing is made with Mexican sour cream and is a little milder than the recipe below. My mom’s super secret version of this recipe also includes almonds for a thicker and nuttier dressing. Pepitas (Mexican squash seeds) also work well. Some cotija cheese can also turn this into a cheesier and more indulgent dressing. Basically, the sky’s the limit with this one, but the recipe below is my trusted base for any variation.
One important consideration is that the spiciness of your jalapeño peppers will really dictate the spiciness of the dressing. This seems obvious enough, but if you end up getting lame peppers that taste more like cucumbers, you’re going to get a mild dressing, whereas if you get a particularly fiery batch, you must deseed and even devein the peppers.
This salad dressing will work with pretty much any leafy greens and vegetables. Whenever my mother uses this dressing, she puts radishes in the mix, but they are a bit too bitter for my liking- it’s really up to you to experiment! One caveat is that this dressing doesn’t pair well with sweet ingredients like apples or cranberries. Feel free to share/comment what you think works with this creamy cilantro goodness!
For this particular post, I paired the dressing with a simple spinach salad, making use of some veggies that I had around the house (tomatoes, bell pepper, avocado). I did buy some jícama just for this salad because I’m pretty much in love with jícama these days. The subtle sweetness and crunch that it adds when paired with this dressing is just so refreshing. Jícama is my favorite root vegetable and I will definitely have to gush more about it at some point because it’s just too awesome!
Spicy Cilantro Dressing
Yields 1 cup
Prep Time: 5 minutes
- 1 bunch of cilantro
- 1 clove of garlic
- ⅓ cup of olive oil
- ¼ cup of vinegar
- ⅓ cup of plain yogurt (or crema fresca/sour cream)
- 1 jalapeño (deseeded)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- Place all ingredients in a blender and puree. If you’re having trouble getting your blender to start, add water in small increments. Keep blending until you achieve a uniform, smooth consistency.
- Pour generously over your salad.
- Done! So easy!
Believe it or not, Pedro Fernández, a Mexican celebrity, singer, and actor, was the one who introduced me to these beauties. It was about six years ago when we were both catching a flight out of Mexico City and we happened to have lunch at the same restaurant.
I was catching a flight back to Boston after spending a week vacationing with my father and his girlfriend in Veracruz- talk about major third wheeling! The trip had been full of awesome quality time with my family. I’d gotten to meet an uncle in Veracruz that I’d only heard about until then. Of course, with great family comes great food. I ate the most delicious camarones a la diabla I’d ever had. That was the meal that single-handedly converted me to seafood.
I’d just been dropped off at the airport by my father and I had about two hours to kill before my boarding time. Never one to waste a meal, especially in Mexico, I wanted to find a good lunch spot and was looking for a place to eat when I spotted this particular restaurant from afar. It was tucked away on the second floor of a corner. I almost didn’t walk up the stairs because I didn’t want to lug up my suitcase. I’m so glad I did!
When I got to the top of the stairs I quickly skimmed the menu and asked the hostess if they accepted credit cards since I had about 30 pesos in my wallet at that point. It was then that I spotted Pedro Fernández sitting towards the back of the restaurant. As soon as I saw him, I decided that any restaurant good enough for Pedro was good enough for me. I snagged a table close enough to see what he was eating.
Too embarrassed to ask the waitress to give me what Pedro Fernández was eating, I scrutinized his plate and perused the menu for a match. I saw a thick tomato sauce with something green…peas! and some sort of meat… maybe ham? The plate was flanked with fried plantain pieces and all of this was topped with a fried egg. After narrowing the category down to breakfast, I quickly found my match on the menu- huevos motuleños! I ordered them and eagerly awaited their arrival. One bite of this cheesy eggy tangy deliciousness later, I was sold. Since then huevos motuleños have become my favorite breakfast and top three favorite meal! Thank you, Pedro Fernández! Sincerely, Daniela.
I later learned that huevos motuleños come from Motul, a town in the state of Yucatán. Traditionally, huevos motuleños consist of a tostada covered in black beans topped with a fried egg and then submerged in a tangy-habanero-tomato sauce. The huevos motuleños I had at that restaurant had a black bean and cheese quesadilla instead of a tostada as a base. I’ve made them both ways now, and I have to say that both ways are equally delicious. I usually use a tostada as a base because of convenience (and crisp factor- yum), but if I’m feeling extra festive I’ll make a quesadilla instead.
A note about habanero peppers: Habanero Peppers are pretty freaking spicy. It is very important not to cut the habaneros or blend them into your sauce unless you’re looking for a tongue-on-fire experience. Cooking the habaneros whole will give a great tangy taste to the sauce without too much spice. If you prefer a little extra heat, cut an ‘x’ into the top of the peppers to open them up. And if you really LOVE the heat, blend half a pepper into the sauce (at your own risk).
Want a little more heat? Open up those habanero peppers!
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Eggs, Tostadas, Refried Beans
- 4 eggs
- 4 corn tortillas
- 1 cup refried black beans
- 1/2 cup oil
Sauce (Yields about two cups)
- 1 lb of tomaotes (for me about 3 large tomatoes)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 onion
- 2 habanero peppers
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1/3 cup frozen green peas
- 1/3 cup diced ham
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Queso Fresco
- Sour Cream
- Fried Plantains
- Sauce: Boil tomatoes in a small pot until cooked (8-10 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool. Then place in tomatoes in blender with 1/3 cup of water, salt and garlic. Puree until sauce has a uniform texture.
- Sauce (cont.): Slice onion into rings. Add oil and onions to pan at medium heat and cook onions until they start to become translucent. Add ham and sear. Then, carefully pour the tomato puree into the pan. Finally, add whole habanero peppers to the sauce. Cover the pan and reduce heat. Let the habaneros cook into the sauce on low heat for about 15 minutes.
- Tostadas: Heat oil on medium heat in skillet. Add tortillas one by one and fry until crispy on both sides. Set aside. You can bypass this step if you already have tostadas.
- Assembly: Fry eggs al gusto. Spread about 2 tablespoons of refried beans onto each tostada. (You can buy a can of refried beans from the store, or you can look at my molletes post for hints on how to make your own. I will make a more detailed post dedicated to refried beans soon!) Add fried eggs on top. Smother with salsa. Garnish with cheese and avocado slices.