Thankful (But Not for Grasshoppers)

I had just finished my last post about my pal Mike and his wife Bridget harassing me from Oaxaca with their photos and videos of delicious meals, when they returned — bearing gifts!

There was a lovely and colorful dishtowel, a jar of black mole paste which to this cook is as good as its weight in gold, and there was a small jar of chapulines — roasted grasshoppers.

Chapulines

Chapulines

On the adventurous eater scale of 1 to 10, I consider myself about a 7. I’m no Anthony Bourdain. But I’ve recently been venturing more deeply into the euphemistically named world of “variety” meats, have sampled the slimiest offerings the world’s oceans put forth, and am a fan of such culinary curiosities as Japanese fermented natto and the stinking durian. There’s not a lot I won’t try, at least once. But one taxonomic class I have steadfastly resisted ingesting is that of the insect.

Most often when I think of eating insects, I am reminded of Nicolas Cage eating a live cockroach when he thinks he’s turning into a vampire in the film, “Vampire’s Kiss”.

Eating insects actually makes a lot of sense. They are eaten the world over, high in protein and low in fat. I’ve even heard they can be quite tasty. And I’ve probably eaten pounds of them without even realizing it.

“I was just reading an article about how they’re one of the most sustainable foods,” a friend was recounting recently.

Turkey mole tacos

Turkey mole tacos

And why would it make any more sense to eat, say, the leg of a pig or a fatty rib from a cow? Still, I was not sold on intentionally putting an insect in my mouth.

“Ooh! Chapulines!!” said Mike and Bridget’s 6-year-old son, Griffin, when he caught sight of the jar, and rushed in for a taste.

“Not too many!” his mom cautioned him, presumably that there would be plenty left for the rest of us. And then she turned to me.

“Try one?”

I was on the spot.

I took a medium-sized specimen from the jar, feeling more like I was in science class than in the kitchen. I looked the other direction and thought of happy things as I feigned nonchalance and popped the bug into my mouth.

“How was it?” my friend Sean asked the following night, as I recounted the story to him and then kicked myself when I remembered that I had been planning on sharing the love and regifting the chapulines to HIM that very evening!

“I chewed the fewest number of times possible — two, I think,” I confessed. A slug of Mike’s Del Maguey mezcal helped wash the insect down.

Surprisingly, the insect tasted quite good, once I got past the sensation of it’s abdomen popping between my teeth. Not good enough, mind you, for a second. At least not yet. After a few days of gazing at them sitting untouched on the kitchen counter, I decided to share them with a very receptive audience — the chickens.

“After all, how much different is it really than eating a shrimp or a clam?” my wife suggested the evening of the chapulines‘ debut at our house. Of course, she refused to try one.

Imogen making leftover turkey sandwiches

Imogen making leftover turkey sandwiches

The day after Thanksgiving, Bridget invited us to a “leftover turkey sandwich” party at their house. I promised to bring a variety of pickles and aioli for the sandwiches, and stuff to make turkey mole tacos. There were certain to be chapulines there. Sure enough, there they were, in a large jar on the table. Our friend, Heather — a Vassar girl who likes to fancy herself adventurous — tried to try one, but as soon as it touched her throat, it inspired a cat-hairball-like contortion and came projectile shooting back out.

Perhaps a few sips of mezcal would embolden me to give the grasshopper another try. Or… perhaps not. There was always the next life.

*     *     *

Turkey mole tacos
serves 4-6

1 lb. cooked dark meat turkey, roughly shredded
2 tbsp. lard
1 cup mole sauce
1 medium red onion, sliced lengthwise into slivers
1 cup white vinegar or apple vinegar
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup crumbled queso cotija
12 taco-size corn tortillas

Make onion pickles: Place sliced red onion in a bowl with vinegar and oregano, and toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 hours.

Brush each of the 12 tortillas with a little lard, stack and set aside.

Melt remaining lard in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add turkey and fry, stirring occasionally, until it begins to crisp up and turn golden. Reduce heat to medium-low and add mole sauce. (Use a little chicken broth or water to thin if it seems too thick.) Stir and reduce heat to low.

While turkey mole is simmering, place a large pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, toast the tortillas, a minute or two on each side, until they crisp up slightly. Remove from heat.

Compose tacos: Scoop a tablespoon of turkey mole into the center of each taco. Top with some pickled onions and a little sprinkle of queso cotija, and serve.

When Mike Goes to Mexico

My pal Mike likes to taunt me with photos and videos of his business trips to Mexico, which are frequent. See, if you haven’t been paying attention to previous posts, his business is Mexico — mezcal, that is: Del Maguey, the best in the world.

Mike in Mexico

Mike in Mexico

His provocations are most often in the form of eyewitness video accounts of parades in Oaxaca, where there seems to always be a parade in progress, or photos of voluptuous window mannequins with whom he is certain I am a perfect romantic match. More

A Chili in the Air

If it’s early fall in Topanga, it must be chili time.

My ingredient list

My ingredient list

Every year, around the first weekend in November, the Topanga Swap Meet & Chili Cook Off rolls around. For a couple years, I was a judge. And then two autumns back, I was convinced by my friend Nonie who helps run the local community house to enter the contest, along with her husband Dan who was also entering. More

Queues and Barbecues

They asked me to do it again. Despite the lines — oh! the lines… — they asked me to do it again.

“Is there anything we can do about the lines?” they gingerly put forth.

Last Halloween, our children’s annual grade school Halloween carnival got an upgrade. It moved from school to the ballfield at the local community center, a live band would play, there would be a bar… And they asked me to do the food.

The Chef boogying at sunset

The chef/fairy/cow boogying at sunset

I was to cook for somewhere between 450 and 600 people. I was a week in preparation and was all set — except that the chimneys I needed for my coal were 90 minutes late. The carnival had opened at 3:30, people began queuing up for food at 4-ish. And I didn’t have anything to serve until close to 5 p.m., at which point the line had stretched from our home-plate set up well into left field. We would never catch up.

More

Trippa alla Romana

When in Rome, eat as the Romans do.

So I was in Rome, and wanted to eat as the Romans do. We had settled into a friendly and popular trattoria around the corner from our apartment, and scanning the menu, I landed on one of the most traditional Roman dishes of them all — trippa alla Romana.

Tripe — architectural shot

Tripe — architectural shot

I’ve always wanted to like tripe. Many a regrettable weekend morning I tried to gag down a bowl of menudo, the supposed cure-all for the hangover. And each time was reminded why I swore the last time I was never going to order it again.

More

Previous Older Entries