Namesake: Dad’s Chile Verde

February 22, 2012

Dad's dhile verde

Dad’s chile verde — even better the next day for breakfast.

Despite being descendents of mostly Eastern European stock, my parents introduced my sister and me to Mexican food at a fairly early age, which likely had to do with my dad’s early adult years. After leaving Wyoming, Dad lived in San Diego where he went to school. Later, when he got a job with Levi Strauss, and he and my mother bought a little bungalow in San Jose, next to a Mexican-American couple, John and Sarah Duarte. Or, as I knew them: Nina and Nino. I was born around that time, and Nina and Nino were designated my honorary godparents. Though I don’t remember living in that little bungalow, I do remember the many trips that Nina and Nino made to Salt Lake City over the years to visit us. I remember those times for the warmth and joy they brought with them, but also for the food. At an early age, I was introduced to traditional dishes like posole, nopales and menudo, none of which really appealed to my young palate. Of course with all of that also came the delicious thick homemade flour tortillas, hot off the griddle. I ate mountains of them as a kid.

When my parents moved to Utah, I can only imagine they each sought something familiar to make it feel like home. For my dad, that search seemed to be rooted in food, and he always was looking to discover the little dives for the most authentic Mexican flavors he could find.

I asked Dad about his chile verde recipe, and he told a story about working downtown and going to a cafe called La Paloma around the corner from his office on Exchange Place. He’d go in every morning around 7am to sip coffee, and talk to “Grandpa Joe” who was busy making the menu’s standards. While Grandpa Joe closely guarded his recipe for chile verde, Dad studied and made mental notes of the ingredients and proportions. In fact, this is the way my dad has always cooked, and always will. I don’t think he’s ever followed a recipe in his life: For him it’s all about interpretation, experimentation and knowing what flavors work well together.

During our annual President’s Day trip to Borrego Springs, I asked Dad to make his version of chile verde, the one I remember from my childhood, the one served for so many years at La Paloma. It tastes the way I’ve always remembered it: simple enough that the flavors of the basic ingredients stand out. It’s also got a lovely glossy texture thanks to a generous helping of roux. Of course, it’s good over a bean burrito, but even better the next morning just in a bowl. And with a homemade tortilla, hot off the griddle, it’s a taste of heaven.

Dad’s (Grandpa Joe’s) Chile Verde

1 1/2 pounds pork butt, cut into one-inch pieces

Cooking oil (Grandpa Joe used lard)

3 cups water

4 7-ounce cans diced green chiles

Granulated garlic (If you must measure, it’s, perhaps two tablespoons or so)

1/2 teaspoon-ish chile flakes

6 tablespoons flour for roux

1/2 large onion, diced

Pour a couple tablespoons of cooking oil into a Dutch oven or braising pan, add the pork pieces and season with salt. Place the pot over a medium flame and lightly brown the pork. (Don’t go overboard with the browning. Dad says it should remain “slightly rubbery looking.” Code for not-too-well browned.) Add the water, the canned chiles and the granulated garlic. Stir to mix and cover. Let simmer for about an hour.

Put about 4 tablespoons of cooking oil, lard or butter into a heavy-bottomed skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the flour to the pan all at once and stir until it’s well mixed. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until the roux becomes a rich golden brown, maybe 7 minutes or so. Stir the the roux into the simmering chile verde and let it all melt together. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Add the chile flakes and the diced onion. Cook only for another 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat and serve over burritos or in a bowl with flour tortillas. (Preferably homemade.)

Advertisements

When J and I lived in Venice, we made a tradition of meeting my dad (Levi Mike) and his girlfriend Christie (collectively known as D&C) in Borrego Springs over President’s Day weekend. They make the trek each January to escape the frigid winter temperatures of Boise for two or three months. A 3-hour drive from Venice, Borrego Springs was an easy place to meet them, and a welcome respite from the workaday stress of Southern California life.

Last weekend, J and I resumed the tradition. We drove down from Santa Monica on Friday afternoon, made good time, and commenced with the desert relaxation involving golf, wine, home-cooked dinners and lunch on the town. Saturday’s lunch took us to the most unlikely spot: a quaint French bistro called The French Corner.

For years, Christie raved about this little spot, and everything was she described: a cozy, well-spaced dining room/gift shop with tables topped with Provence-style linens, walls lined with decorative signs (for sale) and shelves filled with antique enameled French coffee pots. The owners, two Belgian fellows who spend summers in Provence (what a life!), charm with their dry wit and wry sense of humor.

The food? Delicious. D&C had crab quiche, with flaky, buttery crust and generous crab filling. J opted for a steaming bucket of plump Basque mussels with a sop-up-able tomato and olive sauce. (When J commented on the deliciousness of the mussels, owner Yves quipped, “From the Salton Sea!”). I am always tempted by croque monsieur, but I prefer the ham-and-cheese sandwich topped with a sunny-side-up egg. When I asked if I could make mine a croque madame, Yves, with a half smile, ribbed me about the request, but complied. The result was melty, yolk-y perfection.

French Corner: What an unexpected surprise in a tiny desert town. Tres bien. Que romantique!