A bicultural chef introduces us to the Mexican cuisine of his childhood, reinterpreted through his own Californian lens
Words and Photos by ESTEBAN CASTILLO
I initially created my blog, Chicano Eats, as a way to document recipes, share some of my favorite stories, and showcase a perspective and a heritage that were glaringly missing on the Internet. I wanted to offer an alternative point of view, that of an artistic queer brown boy who grew up in California, who enjoys playing with colors and food, who can’t stop eating and feeding others, and who wants to bring in as many people as possible to experience his culture through some of his favorite dishes. The Chicano experience through my Chicano experience.
ESTEBAN CASTILLO. Michelada Ribs, as seen in Chicano Eats, Castillo’s new cookbook celebrating the foods he highlights on his blog by the same name.
From the beginning, it was important to me to showcase Chicano cuisine, Mexican cuisine reimagined through a Mexican-American point of view and pantry. Being Chicano inspired me to look at food through a less critical lens. I thought to myself, Does the food I make always have to be “traditional”? And for me, the answer was: No.
Botanas, or appetizers, like the Mac and Queso Fundido below, are dishes you can share con tus tíos y tías, los primos, la vecina, and all of your best friends. As someone who loves to host for the holidays, I like to have an arsenal of small bites up my sleeve to keep everyone’s pancitas (bellies) happy while the main course is finishing up.
The recipes in Chicano Eats are meant to be a reflection of my bicultural upbringing, weaving in and out of borders, just like I did
Tacos and tortas have always been an integral part of my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had corn tortillas with every meal, making taquitos out of just about everything, and at times having to double up on them when there wasn’t much to eat. Below you will find my recipe for Roasted Sambal Shrimp Tacos. We’ll finish up with a michelada, a refreshing concoction perfect for a hot summer day.
The recipes in Chicano Eats are meant to be a reflection of my bicultural upbringing, weaving in and out of borders, just like I did. They’re a reflection of a community, que es ni de aqui, ni de alla, who’s neither from here nor there, whose “authentic” is true to the neighborhoods and surroundings they grew up in but comes together in shared experiences.
I hope this book inspires you to learn how to make traditional Mexican dishes that you might not be familiar with and cook with friends or family. I also hope it sparks old memories as well as helps make new ones, but, most important, I hope you enjoy cooking your way through my Chicano eats.
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MAC AND QUESO FUNDIDO (serves 4 or 5)
I have a soft spot in my heart for boxed mac and cheese because it’s the only kind I ever got to enjoy as a kid. There were a few times where I’d sneak into the kitchen and try to make it myself, only to fail miserably (and I mean miserably). The noodles wouldn’t be cooked properly because I didn’t know how to boil water, the cheese sauce would often be too runny and clumpy, resulting in a crunchy and soupy concoction . So you might be wondering, what is my mac and cheese like now that I know my way around the kitchen? Well, I’d say it’s delicious, it’s complex, but it’s incredibly easy to make .
This recipe combines two of my favorite comfort foods — mac and cheese and queso fundido — to make a dish with so many layers of flavor: The creamy cheese sauce is infused with garlic, onion and paprika, then layered with spicy chorizo and savory mushrooms.
Mac and Queso Fundido.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 5 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 ounces fresh chorizo, casings removed
- 8 ounces cavatappi (corkscrew) pasta
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 3⁄4 cup whole milk
- 1⁄4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1-1⁄2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup shredded Colby Jack
- 1⁄2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 green onion, sliced, for serving
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat for the pasta.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the cremini and cook until crispy and golden brown all over, about 5 minutes on each side. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate.
Line a plate with paper towels. Add the chorizo to the same skillet and cook, crumbling the meat with a spatula, until the fat has rendered and the chorizo is crispy, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and set aside on the paper towels to drain.
Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook according to the package directions. Drain and set the pasta aside.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, stir to combine and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in the flour then slowly whisk in the chicken stock. Once the chicken stock is incorporated, whisk in the milk and heavy cream and continue whisking until smooth. Whisk in the onion powder and smoked paprika, then return to a simmer, and cook until it begins to thicken, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the mozzarella, Colby Jack, and Parmesan until they are completely melted. Adjust the salt to taste (if your chicken stock and Parmesan aren’t salty enough, your cheese sauce will need a pinch or two of salt here).
Add the pasta back into the large pot, then add the cheese sauce to the pasta and stir to evenly coat the pasta in the sauce. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the mushrooms and chorizo. Garnish with green onions and serve immediately.
• • • • •
ROASTED SAMBAL SHRIMP TACOS (serves 4)
Sambal oelek is a really spicy chile sauce from Southeast Asia. It’s usually used as a condiment, and it pairs really well with seafood. For these tacos, I marinated shrimp in a mixture of sambal oelek, honey, soy sauce, a little bit of lime juice and topped the finished tacos with a bright and crunchy daikon radish slaw for a fresh bite. If you like spicy food, you’re going to love these tacos.
Roasted Sambal Shrimp Tacos.
For the marinated shrimp:
- 4 tablespoons sambal oelek chili paste
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2-1⁄2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 2-1⁄2 tablespoons sesame oil
- Juice of 1 lime
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 pound 31-40 medium-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
For the slaw:
- 1-1⁄2 cups julienned daikon radish
- 3⁄4 cup shredded peeled carrot
- 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (from 1⁄2 lime)
- 1⁄4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- Corn tortillas
- Lime wedges, warmed
- Avocado, sliced (optional)
Marinate the shrimp: In a large bowl, whisk together the sambal oelek, honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, green onions, cilantro, and garlic. Mix in the shrimp, making sure they are completely submerged and evenly coated in the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Arrange the shrimp on the baking sheet, add a spoonful of the marinade on top of each shrimp, and roast until cooked through, 8 to 9 minutes.
Make the slaw: In a medium bowl, toss together the daikon radish, carrot, cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt to taste.
To assemble: Place a few shrimp on a warm tortilla, top with the slaw, and serve with lime wedges and avocado.
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DULCE DE LECHE CHOCOFLAN (serves 10-12)
Chocoflan is one of my favorite desserts to make for a birthday party or a get-together because it takes no time to put together and you get to have two desserts in one. Often referred to as el pastel imposible, or the impossible cake, chocoflan is made of a creamy flan layer and a fudgy chocolate cake bottom layer. The real magic happens during the baking process: The chocolate cake goes into the pan first and then you ladle the custard mixture over it, and while it bakes, the chocolate cake trades places with the flan and floats to the top, and the flan sinks to the bottom.
Dulce de Leche Chocoflan.
For the flan:
- 1 (13.4 ounce/380 g) can
- La Lechera dulce de leche (1½ cups/355 ml)
- 1 (12 ounce/354 ml) can evaporated milk
- 4 ounces (113 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- Pinch of Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 5 large eggs
For the chocolate cake:
- 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
- ½ cup brewed coffee
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For serving (optional):
- Dulce de leche
- Chopped nuts
- Whipped cream
- Ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Make the flan: In a blender, combine the dulce de leche, evaporated milk, cream cheese, vanilla extract, and salt and blend until smooth, 20 to 30 seconds. Pour in the eggs and blend for another 10 seconds until smooth.
Make the chocolate cake: Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon directly into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on the lowest setting until just combined, then add the softened butter and continue mixing on low speed until the mixture resembles wet sand. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.
In a liquid measuring cup, combine the coffee, buttermilk, egg, and vanilla extract, then slowly pour it into the flour-butter mixture with the mixer running on low. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat the mixture on high for a full minute.
Liberally coat a 10-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray. Add the cake batter, smoothing out the top with an offset spatula or spoon. Carefully ladle in the flan so you disturb the cake batter as little as possible. Transfer the Bundt pan to a roasting pan or baking dish large enough to fit the Bundt pan. Grease a piece of foil and place it greased side down onto the Bundt pan, folding it over the edges to loosely seal it. Transfer to the oven, then pour water (from the tap is fine) into the roasting pan or baking dish to come up 2 to 3 inches.
Bake for 2 hours to 2 hours 15 minutes, checking for doneness after 1 hour 45 minutes, using a skewer inserted into the cake to make sure it’s baked through, with little to no crumbs sticking to the skewer when you pull it out.
Carefully remove the Bundt pan from the roasting pan and let it cool to room temperature before placing it in the fridge to cool completely, at least a couple of hours.
Once you’re ready to serve, carefully run a knife around any edges that are still sticking, then invert onto a serving platter, gently shaking it up and down if it’s being difficult (if it was greased properly, you shouldn’t have any major issues).
If desired, serve with dulce de leche and a sprinkle of chopped nuts or with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Feature image: Homemade tortillas, as seen in Chicano Eats.
June 25, 2020
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