My grandmother was an amazing cook. She made people happy with her food, be it something as simple as rice or as involved as a full banquet. My earliest memories include making tamales in her kitchen, the smell of masa fresca and chicken stewed in an unequaled red sauce. She would let me make tiny little tamales that were all masa, and it filled me with pride to unwrap and eat them, the product of my own five year old hands, at the dinner table that night. I remember the embroidered dresses she would wear when she cooked, the practiced movements she used to fold the tamales…just the smell of steamed corn husks and fresh masa will always remind me of those moments.
And I assure you, tamales were far from the only thing in which she was without rival. Today, in remembering her, I made a salpicon de pollo for dinner. The whole family helped, and the salpicon itself turned out rather good, if I may. Salpicon is a salad type dish made with shredded beef or chicken, fresh peas, carrots, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, green onions and cilantro…plus whatever else you might feel like adding. The mixture is dressed with olive oil, white vinegar, salt and pepper, is wonderfully light and refreshing, and is healthy to boot. Traditionally, it is served on tostadas (crisp fried corn tortillas) with a thin layer of refried beans, guacamole and queso fresco. And salsa, of course. I planned to make fresh corn tortillas to accompany my efforts, plus pico de gallo, guacamole, and the cheese.
My friends were set up to help me, we mixed up the masa as per my Abuelita’s instructions, and were ready to start putting the tortillas on the comal when I realized something potentially (ok, totally) disastrous. As I hadn’t been the one mixing the masa, I hadn’t been paying much attention. But I finally noticed the texture was all wrong, the tortillas weren’t holding together despite doing everything right…so I tasted the masa. It turns out the lovely woman at the market sold me mixed wheat and “” flour instead of corn flour. We’re talking nutty, rich, almost sweet whole wheat flour. Completely distinct and not even a little interchangeable with ground dried corn.
My helpful friends and I could only laugh. No wonder the tortillas weren’t working. Wheat flour takes a whole different approach and never in my right mind would I make tortillas out of it, especially not for a dish as light as salpicon. Needless to say, we needed a culinary rescue.
One was provided…we ended up eating salpicon with crepes. My savior added egg, butter, milk, more water…the result was something like buckwheat pancakes. They will be utterly delicious with honey and banana tomorrow morning, and nutella and strawberries would be amazing…even a good Swiss and some ham would be delectable. To tell the truth, they weren’t half bad with the salpicon, just rather odd.
Still, everyone seemed to enjoy the food and I think the salpicon was delicious. I know the salsa and the guacamole were top notch, and the caldo de pollo that resulted from the chicken has already been substantially depleted. I count the whole thing as a success. After all, cooking is not without its trials and tribulations and from those come the most entertaining and occasionally innovative and delicious moments.