Cooking with EL CHAVO!

How to make Vegetarian Menudo!
(It's Vegan too!)

Bienvenidos Chavos y Chavas a otra edicion de mis recetas vegetarianas! Settle down now with all your laughing and guffawing, cuz this here is indeed a plate of vegan menudo. And it's good. No, really, its tasty and animal-less. Oh shut up with the giggling, let me get started!

I've seen people ridicule my vegetarian Mexican recipes, some idiot laughing at the concept of tofu in tamales, someone on facebook jokingly suggesting I turn in my "mexican card" for the sellout idea of vegetarian chorizo. If these cooking instructions are "authentic" or not is of no concern to me, cuz I just don't give a fuck. I don't eat animals, but I do aim to eat tasty food. No, I'm not Mexican but my Chicano tastebuds favor the flavors from the homeland down south, and I do believe these cooking instructions are worthy of your time and effort. Do with that info what you may.

For those not in the know, Menudo is a popular Mexican dish for weekend mornings, and often sought after as a cure for hangovers. It's a hearty chile based soup with maiz (hominy) and usually some disgusting meats, like Cow Stomach, aka tripe. Mind you, even lots of meat eaters hate the flavor and extreme chewiness of tripe, and many order their Menudo "solo con maiz" so they don't get any of the terrible tripe. Cuz really, most of the flavor is in the broth and the maiz. And I've come up with a fairly easy way to make your own Veggie Menudo at home!

Ok, let's get something straight: I'm not going to give you a recipe. I'll show you how I make this dish but there's just no way I can give you accurate measurements of what I used. Truth is, I never really know how much of this or that I use, I just kinda wing it. The beauty of this system is that it allows for tinkering and for you to put your own touch on it. The drawback is that those unfamiliar around the kitchen seem to get lost without constant preciseness, somehow tied to this idea that it will all go horribly wrong if you add 1/2 a teaspoon instead of a 1/4 teaspoon. Nope, it will still turn out to be food. And hopefully next time you'll tweak it just a bit to get it more to your liking.

Above we see the basis of this soup, a bunch of chiles. I usually look in my pantry, see what I have, and formulate my recipe that way. This time around, for a big pot of menudo, I'm using about 6 chiles guajillos, 3 anchos, and 3 arbol for a bit of kick. This is probably a bit more chile than necessary, but I like to prepare more instead of less, we don't have to use them all.

I like to remve the seeds and veins from the chiles before I start. This way our resulting dish is not overly spicy. Just tear the chile and shake out the seeds and pull out the vein. Not sure why this is done, but that's what I do. (You don't even have to do any of this if you don't want. What do I care?) Do this with the guajillos and the ancho, let the seeds be in the arbol chiles.

Feel free to wipe down the chiles with a damp cloth/towel to remove any excess dirt they may have. But a lil' dirt never hurt no one. ;) We toast them on a comal for a few minutes, this helps release the aromatic oils in the chile. Turn them over, make sure not to burn them. About 2 min low heat on each side should be good.

Once that's done, place them in a pot of boiling water, bring the water back up to a quick boil. Then turn off the heat. We will let these chiles steep for about 30 minutes, this rehydrates them and makes them easier to blend.

Oh yeah, add an onion to the steeping chiles.

And lots of garlic! I like to use around 6 cloves, but I could see adding a bit more. Stick to 5 or 6 for now, next time you can see if you want more.

After 30 minutes, the chiles should be nice and soft. Uhh, I resumed my cooking about 3 hours later as I had some stuff to do. No worries, its not like they'll go bad. Add the chiles, onion, and garlic into a blender, pour in some of the liquid to aid in the blending, and mix it up!

There's going to be lots of lil' chunks of chile in your sauce so make sure you strain it before using. A fine mesh colander is preferable. Don't have a strainer? Head to the 99 cent store, surely they have some. Or use your t-shirt if you must, just strain it already.

See? All the fine smooth goodness we want is below, the rough gritty dregs we can throw away.

Heat up some corn oil in a big pot. I used around 1/4 cup (I think) cuz I was trying to finish off an oil bottle. You do want it to have some extra oil as menudo works well that way. But if you want it healthier, by all means use less.

Pour the strained chile sauce into the hot oil. You'll now need to add quite a bit of water, so add some. Enough to make it a big pot of soup. Turn up the heat as we want this to boil. Now we add some of our flavorings, such as a bouillon cubes..

..a palmful of Mexican oregano..

..and a few bay leaves. Oh, and salt. Just pour some in, taste, add, taste, stop. Salt is a great ingredient, learn to use it properly. Bring this broth to a boil, then turn the heat down to a slow boil. Simmer this sauce for at least around 10-15 minutes, the spices will break down, the salt will work its wonders, the broth will start coming alive with an amazing taste, somewhat gamey, but all rich and flavorful. This is where you work your magic, add something if it needs it. I added a bit of black pepper, a dash of nutritional yeast, and I think that was it. Maybe some cumin would be good.

Even though it doesn't need it, I am going to add a substitute meat in the form of some textured soy slices. It does add a nice texture to the menudo, and it's much easier to chew than that hated tripe. You can find this style of slices at health food shops but I got a large bag of these excellent ones at Bodhi Vegetarian Supply in Rosemead. (8450 Valley Bl. #6  626.280.7936)

These are a bit larger than I want, but we will cut them later. Put some in a bowl and rehydrate by adding boiling water.

Around 15 minutes later, the TVP "meat" is ready to use.

I cut these into smaller chunks.

The most essential item to menudo is the hominy, which is basically a certain type of dry corn kernal that has been cooked in lime (as in the stone, not the citrus) and been cleaned of its skin. I think you can make this yourself, but you can do that on your own time. Today we will be using a big can of hominy, like the one we see above. I got this big can on sale for $1.99.

Drain the hominy, it should look like this. It's already cooked, you just need to add it to the menudo around 10-15 minutes before you shut it off, basically to heat it up.

Simmer the chile sauce soup with the hominy for those 15 minutes. Oh yeah, and add the TVP slices. I forgot to take a pic.

At some point you'll decide its ready. Like here, I decided its ready. Ladle out a proper mix of maiz, tvp slices, and broth. That proper mix is up to you.

And now, the fixings! Part of the menudo experience is all the extra stuff you add afterwards, ingredients you don't cook and are added according to your preference. These include sliced cabbage (essential), chopped onions, cilantro, Mexican oregano, lots of lime wedges, and ground up chile pequin. The pequin is a hot lil' chile so this is how you moderate your heat for the menudo. Plus it tastes good! Add a bit, more if you think it needs it.

A bowl of menudo, ready to eat. Of course, make sure to have some warm tortillas de maiz on hand as well.

This is a really great dish. It's savory, spicy, and satisfying. If I lose my job I think I'm just going to go around selling hot veggie menudo, too many people  think this is an impossible dish to replicate. As you can see, and you will soon taste, it plainly isn't. And since you're not cooking down all those tough animal parts, this is actually fairly quick to prepare. And look, I've just given you my secret recipe, at no cost. (Uhh, my recipe that isn't a recipe.) Damn, 2010 is starting to look awesome already!


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