The last of the garden cauliflowers was on the menu last night. Because I picked it a bit late, it was not a pretty white head but a scraggly thing with light green stems. Who cares what it looks like, I thought – it is still a cauliflower. So I decided to use it in an inexpensive, nutritious and delicious classic of Mexican home cooking – tortitas de coliflor. Although it takes a few steps, the recipe is quite straight forward, and I believe even your kids will dig it. I know I did when my mom made it when I was a kid.
Tortitas, meaning patties or fritters, can be made with a number of veggies, and are a popular alternative to meat dishes during Lent or when the budget is lean. Tortitas are a staple of the frugal Mexican kitchen. They are usually served swimming in a thin sauce or broth. Check out this recipe for another tortita alternative with Prehispanic Central Mexican roots.
For this recipe, the cauliflower is usually boiled, but yesterday was hot and humid and I didn’t want the stove on for long so I steamed it in my electric steamer, then chopped it into small pieces. You will recognize the batter technique, known in Mexico as rebozar, if you’ve ever eaten a chile relleno in a restaurant. In Mexico, this egg batter is used not only for chile rellenos but for a variety of vegetables like calabacitas, and it is commonly used for frying fish fillets.
Tortitas de coliflor
1 cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 cup flour
Vegetable oil for frying, as needed
For the tomato broth:
2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh is best but canned will do)
1/4 medium white onion, roughly chopped
2-3 garlic cloves
1 chile serrano or chipotle in adobo (optional)
Salt to taste
2 cups water or vegetable broth
Cook the cauliflower until fork tender, either boiling or steaming. Meanwhile, separate eggs and beat whites to small peaks; add the yolks carefully, just folding in rather than beating. Place cauliflower bits in a large bowl and toss with flour to coat completely. Pour beaten eggs over it and gently toss to cover completely.
Heat oil in a frying pan and drop large spoonfuls of the cauliflower mixture. Fry until it starts to brown, then turn over and fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Prepare the basic tomato broth: blend the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and chile in the blender. Add salt to taste. Fry with a tablespoon of oil in a heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit and is well seasoned. Add the water, lower the heat and simmer on low. Place the tortitas in the hot tomato broth and simmer for a few minutes so they absorb some broth and remain heated through.
These are awesome served with a basic Mexican white rice:
1 cup white rice
2 cloves garlic, sliced in half
1/4 withe onion, thick sliced
1 T vegetable oil
2 cups water or broth (chicken or veggie)
Salt to taste
1 sprig cilantro or Italian parsley, optional
1/2 c frozen peas and carrots, optional
Rinse the rice under cold running water until rinse water comes out clear; drain well. Heat oil in a saucepan with a lid and fry onion and garlic until fragrant and translucent. Add rice and fry, stirring, until rice becomes opaque. Add broth and salt and bring to a boil; lower heat to low, cover, and cook for about 1o minutes. Before it dries completely, add cilantro or parsley sprig and peas and carrots, if using. Cover and cook 5 more minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
What to drink? How about an inexpensive rose vinho verde, to continue the frugal theme!