friday feast: julie larios spices things up!

#6 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2010.

 photo by ClixYou.

Hola! Como estas?

What a treat we have today! With her highly evocative poem, Julie Larios is taking us to the colorful, bustling Market in Tepoztlan, Mexico, truly a place to stimulate the senses and get those creative juices flowing.

Mexican cuisine is characterized by such a wide variety of flavors, colors and textures. And it all begins at the market. What fresh fruits and vegetables are in season? Will you be seduced by a papaya, or fall in love with a beautiful tomato? Don’t forget the spices — stock up on chili powder, cilantro, cumin, and cinnamon. Of course you will get some chocolate! Feast on the possibilities, take something home, then create something wonderful in your own kitchen.

photo by Hermann C.


Black avocados, yellow mangos,
bowls of menudo to start the day.
Tall, cold glass of fresh horchata,
green papayas, pink mamey,
pork pozole, pumpkin seeds,
chiltepines, round and red,
coconut juice and gold guayavas,
then the different names for bread:
little shell and little piglet,
little ear and little horn,
now a cup of spiced hot chocolate,
sweet tamal with cream and corn,
pineapple popsicles, sugar cane,
guava jelly, caramel flan,
herbal tisanes, magic powders:
Market Day in Tepoztlan.

© 2010 Julie Larios. All rights reserved.

photo by _flix.

Julie tells me she is working on a new poetry collection about street food. Naturally, she is partaking of some highly delectable “research” of the lip-smacking kind: “simple, traditional, inexpensive food-cart food” from all over the world. Are you in the mood for Mexican tortas (sandwiches made with chipotle sauce)?

Julie says the recipe is simple, but it looks long because there are so many ways to adapt/vary it. I like that she added tips and tidbits throughout.

(this recipe is for one torta — just repeat and make as many as you need!)

  © 2010 Julie Larios


Crusty French roll
Olive oil
Refried beans (if canned, add butter)
Thin-sliced ham or turkey breast
A slice of mild cheese (provolone, mozzarella, queso fresco) or crumbled queso cotija (for more tang)
Sliced or mashed avocado
Chipotle sauce
Lime juice (optional)
Cream agria or regular sour cream (optional)

Take a crusty French roll and cut it in half, spread the inside and outside of the top half with olive oil (only the inside of the bottom half) and brown in a frying pan until the roll is even crunchier and a little shiny. The traditional bread used in Mexico is called a birote (called a bolillo in southern Mexico), but I’ve never been able to find a real birote in the Pacific Northwest where I live. You can probably find them in Mexican panaderias/bakeries in California and the Southwest. Very soft sandwich rolls like the kind they sell in American supermarkets for subway sandwiches really don’t work very well — you need a roll with a nice crust, because the crunch is important!

While the roll is browning, heat up some refried beans. If you make your own, great, but if you don’t, you can use canned refried beans as long as you add butter — much, much nicer than regular canned refried beans, which tend to be flavorless. My theory is this: if you buy the non-fat canned beans, you can get away with adding butter without it blocking all your arteries. Add about 1/2 cube of butter to a regular 16-oz. can of beans, and make sure to stir it in well as you heat it. If you want to be completely decadent and authentic, add about 2 T. bacon drippings instead of butter — that’s what would be used in Mexico, where they traditionally still add lard to beans once they’re cooked.

In another frying pan, gently heat up the ham (which is the traditional choice) or turkey (Americanized) slices. Turn off the heat and place a slice of cheese on top of the meat in the pan until the cheese melts. Provolone is what I usually use — mozzarella might be nice. Queso fresco, if you can get it, is good. All of these are mild cheeses that can be sliced. If you want to punch up the flavor a bit, and if you have a market nearby that sells Mexican cheese, buy some queso cotija which is crumbly — and sprinkle about two tablespoons of crumbled cheese over the meat.

To assemble the torta, spread the browned roll with hot beans, thin sliced ham or turkey with melted cheese, avocados (if they are just right for slicing, great — if they’re a bit overripe, just mash them up and spread) and mayonnaise. I sometimes squeeze a little lime over the avocados, especially if they’re mashed — I love the flavor of lime. THEN, add the most important ingredient of all: chipotle sauce.

Chipotles are smoked jalapenos which have been turned a lovely red-brown color over a wood fire — you can find them canned in the section of the market that has all the regular canned red/green salsa, or you can buy them online if you live in an area where access to international ingredients is limited. The cans of chiles are full of sauce — you don’t actually have to use the chiles themselves. Chipotles can pack a punch, so spread a tablespoon over the sandwich roll and see how you do. If it’s too hot, lower the amount next time. If too mild, mash up one of the chiles into the spread and you’ll get a nice little burn on your lips as you eat.

My husband likes one last touch: he spreads crema agria (Mexican sour cream — a bit different than American sour cream) on top. Cream agria is like the French creme fraiche — a bit more bite to it. Though you can use regular sour cream, the crema agria/creme fraiche has a tangy taste that is wonderful. 

(Click here for a recipe for turning regular sour cream into creme fraiche by simply adding buttermilk to regular cream.)

Have these sandwiches with a tall glass of ice-cold, freshly-squeezed orange juice. As Julia Child would have said if she’d lived in Mexico instead of France: Buen provecho! One last tip: Diana Kennedy’s cookbooks are wonderful guides to authentic Mexican cooking, and I understand that Rick Bayless does a great job with the same.

*smacks lips* I am now starving for a torta! Sounds muy deliciosoMucho Gracias, Julie!


Julie Larios, who is on the Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty, writes poetry for both adults and children. Her poetry has appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares and The Threepenny Review, and she’s a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and the Academy of American Poets Prize. She’s published four children’s books; Yellow Elephant earned a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor (2006), and Imaginary Menagerie was a 2008 Cybil’s Award Finalist. She blogs at The Drift Record and Jacket Knack, and shares my love for Matisse, Paris, good food and vintage photographs. I really like that she included hot chocolate in her poem. ☺

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is being hosted by Marjorie at Paper Tigers. Check out the full menu of tasty poems!

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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