You do not have to read many entries in this enormous collection to know that Annalena is all about fresh stuff: at the market in the morning, in the pan that night, that kind of thing. But you know... it's winter. Actually, it's spring, but early spring is much overrated, at least as far as food goes.
I have been quoted, correctly as saying "When T.S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month, he clearly showed that he didn't cook." In April, we begin to get a few things. Not many but a few. March? PHEH. The storage apples are not so good anymore, there's just about nothing left. So, Annalena has to rely on what she can get from California, even as she tries to keep with a seasonal framework, and cooks mostly roots and dark leafy greens. And, sometimes... she turns to cans. As you will see in this recipe.
In musing about the recipe, some things came to mind. It was and is clearly a Latino recipe, but Annalena knows precious little about Latin food. Her friend Jeff commented on the dish being somewhat Cuban, and that made perfect sense. I shall elaborate.
Much is made of the tropical paradise that is the Carribbean (don't correct my spelling, please). Well, that doesn't always translate into VEGETABLES. To be sure, there is much to be said of the tropical fruits that grow almost wild, and at least in theory, there is much to be said for the fish (not all islands necessarily have cuisines based on fish. For example, Sardinia, a huge island, has no seafood based cuisine, because the island is surrounded by swamps, filled with malaria carrying mosquitoes. No one is going to fish there). Also, keep in mind that if you are speaking of a "fishing" culture, you are implying a certain amount of wealth: boats, equipment, tools for cooking the fish...
See what I mean? In fact, caribbean nations are the poorest countries in the world, and it is at least in part reflective of the terrain. These islands have poor soil for vegetable growing, and there just isn't much land for number of people. Other resources, like oil, wood, etc, are in short supply. So, at least in terms of food, we move to what is available and can be shipped in cans. Creative cooking - and there is creative cooking out of these islands, comes out of imaginative use of these foods. This picadillo sauce is one such example.
When Jeff said "Cuban," the combination of saltiness, sweetness, and "burned" flavors was familiar. So, let's call it a Cuban dish. I will explain to you how I modified the base recipe.
Let's start with the sauce, because the sauce can be used for purposes other than the one here. You will need a green pepper. Just one. Cut it into small bits. You are also going to need a can of those "Hatch chilis." They are small cans, and you've seen them. Also, you need a small bottle of stuffed green olives. My recipe called for pimiento stuffed olives which I did not have. I DID have sun dried tomato stuffed olives, and that's what I used. Cut them in half, and save the liquid they are in.
Incidentally, the chilis are a substitute for another ingredient, which was a an of diced tomatoes with green chilis. Rather than that, I used the hatch chilis, a can of Italian cherry tomatoes, and a few greenhouse tomatoes that Nevia, the vegetable goddess had on hand. You will also need a heaping quarter cup of raisins, a few tablespoons of tomato paste, a teaspoon of cumin.
That was more discursive than usual. Here's the full list of ingredients:
olive oil to cover your pan
a green pepper, chopped
a can of hatch chilis, chopped,
a jar of stuffed olives, halved, with the juice reserved
1/4 cup raisins
a 2 cup can of tomatoes of some kind and
a pound of fresh tomatoes, chopped, OR
1 28 ounce can of tomatoes
a few tablespoons of tomato paste
a teaspoon of ground cumin.
This all comes together very easily. Heat the olive oil and when it's hot, add the fresh pepper, and saute', at medium heat, for two minutes. Then add everything else. Keep the heat medium, and cover the pan for a few minutes, if you're using the fresh tomatoes, to soften them. Start stirring, and increase the heat. Every now and then, press your tomatoes, to help break them down.
When you add tomatoes to the pan, they have a bright red color. As you cook them, they will darken and take on a brownish red color. That is what you're looking for here, the "almost burned" flavor that I mentioned above. The sauce is going to be thickening as this happens.
DId you notice there's no salt in this? Well, here it comes. Remember that olive juice? Start pouring it in, and taste. You may want to add lots, or a little. You probably will notice a salty flavor change very quickly. If it's not salty enough for you, well, then, just add salt until you have the flavor you want.
From start to finish, this sauce will take you about half an hour, and will give you a scant quart, just enough for....
Using them for hangar steak tortillas. Here we go. You need 8-10 wheat tortillas. You want the larger size ones, like 8 inches. Whole wheat if you can find them, but you want the bigger ones. You also want a skirt steak or hangar steak or some kind of steak of that type, about a pound of it. I am not going to give you instructions on how to cook it, but grill it to your liking, and put it aside.
You also need two onions, sliced thin, that you then saute' until they are of the degree of doneness that you like (you could use them raw if you like).
Now, here's the fun part. If you have a gas stove, take one of the rests off of a burner, and lay the tortillas on the flame, twenty seconds to the side. The resulting toasted tortillas are so good, you may find yourself eating them by themselves (just sayin').
Now, slice up that steak and mix it with the onions. Put that bowl aside, and get a big, say 9x13 baking dish, and spread about a third of that picadillo sauce in it. Get the tortillas and put about a third of a cup or so of filling in each one. Don't be overgenerous. If you happen to have extra filling at the end, you've got a sandwich for yourself for later in the week. As you roll the tortillas, put them, seam side down in the pan, and then cover them with the rest of the sauce. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, and bake at 400, for about 20 minutes. The meat will not overcook, because it's covered by so much stuff.
If you analyze this recipe, you will see that you can make this in different component parts, over several days. That is how I did this. I made the sauce, on one day, made the steak and onions on a second day. The third day, I toasted the tortillas and put the dish together and refrigerated it. On day 4, we had dinner. And it was GOOD.
I resisted the temptation of putting sliced jalapenos on it, which I really would have liked, but probably would have put it closer to Mexican than Cuban.
There's a lot of text here, but this is a very easy recipe to make, a very hearty one, and one that provides enough to share. Go for it. You'll love it.