Cooking Like A Mexican

BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Mexican cuisine is known for its vibrancy and earthy colors, and romeritos are no exception. Romeritos are a type of weed called “quelite,” which translates to “edible herb or vegetable.” They look very similar to rosemary, but are more tender, odorless and can be bought by the pound or in large bunches. These wild plants taste a lot like baby spinach, and can be prepared similarly. Juicy and stringy, romeritos are most often served during the holidays in various dishes.

Romeritos are known as sacred herbs in Mexico. This native ingredient is one of the main dishes in Mexican Christmas dinners, prepared with mole, nopales (cacti leaves), potatoes and shrimp patties, all combined to make a revoltijo, meaning mixture.

08.JPGDuring prehispanic times, romeritos were a highly valued ingredient by the Aztecs in central Mexico, and still are. When the Spaniards came though, romeritos were frowned upon since they grew everywhere -sideroads, corn fields - just like any weed. The Spanish didn’t find it appealing to eat something so… primitive. Romerito consumption dropped drastically because it wasn’t “cool” anymore.

Native Mexicans fasted around the same time that Christmas came around. One of the traditional ways of sacrificing for the gods was to not eat red meat, which translated to many vegetable, seafood and dishes. When the Spaniards came to town, bringing all sorts of new ingredients with them (like potatoes), the revoltijo was born, at least according to one theory.

In another theory, the story goes that in the Soledad temple, the Mother Superior announced to the nuns that the convent was going through extreme economic hardship and they had to cut corners wherever they could. The nuns got creative with the goal of using everything they had in the pantry so they wouldn’t have to buy anything else for dinner. That day, everything they found went into the pot: romeritos, potatoes, nopales and who knows whatever else found it’s way in there. From this mixture, revoltijo was born.

When the nuns tasted their experiment, they praised the Lord for how good it had turned out and decided to share the recipe with whoever wanted it. The recipe quickly travelled the country. Little did the nuns know, this dish would become a staple of Christmas dinners across the country, being one of the most (if not THE most) iconic meals to exchange expensive gifts over.

There are many ways of preparing romeritos and, as with all Mexican dishes, the ingredients vary from region to region. The northern states tend to be heavy on the spice, and the southern states are heavy on the sweet. Around Xochimilco, a lake in Mexico City, the recipe was traditionally made with mosquito eggs, which have a seafood flavor. Don’t worry, we’re not making it with those. The recipe I’m about to give you is the most neutral I found, so enjoy!

Parts list- 10 ounces of cleaned, boiled and dried romeritos

- 3 ounces of dried shrimp, toasted

- 3 ounces of fresh cheese, crumbled

- 5 ounces of cooked white rice

- 8 eggs

- 4 tablespoons all purpose flour

- 1 clove garlic

- 3 cups of mole (store bought is fine, I recommend the Doña Maria brand’s poblano flavor)

- vegetable oil, enough for cooking

- 1 cup of broth or water

- 10 ounces of cooked potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces

- 6 ounces of cooked nopales (optional, see instructions below)

- Salt to taste

Preparation:

Prepare the eggs. Separate the whites from yolks and beat until soft peaks form. Once the whites are fluffy, gradually add in the flour. Then add in the yolks and carefully beat until a fluffy, light yellow mixture is formed, being careful not to over beat.

Blend the toasted shrimp until powdered. Mix with the cheese and rice, add the eggs and blend again. Make little patties or meatballs.

Heat up the oil with the garlic. Once the oil is very hot, add the patties and cook until golden on both sides.

Heat up the mole and dilute with the broth or water if necessary. The texture must be quite runny, like a salsa, not a thick gravy. Season if desired.

Add the romeritos, nopales and potatoes and let boil for a couple of minutes.

Once the romeritos and potatoes are cooked, add the shrimp patties.

For the nopales:

Before they're prepared for cooking or eating, the cactus needles have to be scraped off and the leaves have to be diced (you can usually find them already de-needled). They're somewhat tart and have a flavor that will remind you of green beans.

Wash your nopales and cut them into small squares. Place the squares in a pot and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to a boil.

Lower the heat and let them simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they're tender. Drain and use for the recipe above.

Romeritos are great for feeding large crowds on a budget. They also taste great on bread, especially bolillo, and even better when reheated the next day.