My name is Les, and I’m a Mexican food addict.
It started in 1958. I was in the Air Force, stationed in southern California. Quite by accident, a buddy and I found ourselves in a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in Oxnard. It was just us, a few itinerant Mexican field hands and the Mexican couple who ran the place. The food — it was the real stuff, not California tacos — was from another world. It’s heat appealed to the side of me that liked to live dangerously. Right there, I was hooked.
Over the years, I’ve become more dependent on Mexican food. The addictive stuff used to be scarce, but now it’s available everywhere. In Bellingham, Wash., where my wife and I spend winter vacations, a well-stocked Mexican grocery store and two Mexican restaurants are within a 10-minute walk from our condo.
My addiction has developed to the point where I’m eating Mexican food every day. Fortunately, my wife likes it as much as I do. We try to “eat healthy,” so we can continue doing all the things we love, such as fishing. We sometimes eat Thai, Cajun and Indian food, but we always come back to Mexican, which seems to best provide our wants and needs.
Of all the delicious dishes, our favorite is the tostada. Some people think of a tostada as a salad, but not me. My tostada is a full meal: a toasted tortilla under layers of refried beans, meat, chopped romaine lettuce, chopped sweet onion and chopped tomato, and topped with salsa, cheese, guacamole and sour cream.
I load these goodies onto burrito-size, Baja Cafe brand flour tortillas. These king-sized wheat tortillas have a nice flavor and only 150 calories. Some people fry tortillas for tostadas in oil. I hold down the calories by baking them in large-size “tortilla shell maker” pans in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. The shells — now edible bowls — come out light-tan and crispy, not chewy.
Anything you can put in a taco, enchilada or burrito, you can put in a tostada. The makings can be as simple or as complex as you like. For example:
■ For refried beans, you can cook beans and then cook them again, or you can buy canned refried beans and heat them in the microwave. I buy the canned, fat-free, Old El Paso brand of refried beans and nuke them.
■ Shredded beef, pork or chicken are traditionally used in tostadas, but it takes hours of cooking to do that right. To save time and hassle, I use ground venison with no fat added. If that isn’t available, I grind up an inexpensive cut of beef. (See “Tostada Meat Recipe” below.)
■ As for cheese, you can either buy packaged, shredded “Mexican” cheese, or grate your own combination. I prefer a combo of sharp cheddar and pepper-jack.
■ You can buy salsa in jars, or make your own. I make my own, never the same way twice. When pressed for time, I’ll jazz up some mild LaVictoria “Thick ‘n Chunky” salsa with freshly chopped sweet onions, a minced jalapeno pepper and some chopped cilantro. For more heat, I’ll add a pinch of ground chipotle pepper.
It’s so easy to get hooked on this stuff. Muchos recipes for tostadas, salsa and guacamole can be found on the internet. The grande-size tortilla-shell makers can be purchased on-line. You can buy all the ingredients you’ll need at peninsula grocery stores, without a prescription.
If you have an addiction to Mexican food and feel a need to discuss it with a sympathetic someone, shoot me an e-mail. Between now and when the fishing warms up, there’s no subject I’d rather discuss.
Tostada Meat Recipe
1 T. light olive oil
1 lb. ground, fat-free meat
½ cup onion, chopped
1 minced jalapeno pepper, without stem, seeds and veins
½ T. ground chili pepper
1 t. smoked Spanish paprika
¼ t. ground chipotle pepper
½ t. cumin
½ t. garlic powder
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
1 t. Mexican oregano
¼ cup water
In a large skillet, brown the meat over med-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks. Add onion, and cook until translucent. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly with meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the meat is just moist, but not dry. Add salt to taste. Leftover meat can be used in enchiladas and burritos. Makes 4-6 servings.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.