By Lindsay Sterling
Even though my Mexican cooking teacher, Azminda Cansino, knows my name is Lindsay, the text I got from her was: “Nena, what is the plan?”
“Azminda,” I responded, a little giddy at the confusing message, “Was this for me? Who’s Nena?”
Azminda: “Nena is baby.” (It’s pronounced NEIGH-nah. And it’s what girlfriends call each other in Mexico.) Little horsie? Little neigh-er? Whatever, I love being a nena! Warm Latina terms of endearment are like nectar to this cold, Northern WASP. Dear readers, nenas, let me tell you our plan. Azminda is teaching me (and therefore you) how to cook Mexican chilaquiles (pronounced Cheela-KEEL-ace), a popular brunch food, at Azminda’s apartment in Yarmouth, Maine, on Wednesday at 11am.
For days I looked forward to this. “Life is good” shirts and spare tire covers didn’t look sarcastic anymore. We’re going to get to learn chilaquiles, whatever they are, and I know they are going to be out-of-this-world amazing because real immigrant food always is. On Wednesday an hour before we were to cook, I was in downtown Portland when I got a foreboding email from Azminda. “I have two drawbacks,” she wrote. Her blender broke, and she couldn’t find green tomatoes at Hannaford, Shaw’s, or Walmart. Of course she couldn’t, poor thing! I had to save our cooking session. I went to LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street to buy a blender. When I came face to face with a real, live $500 Vitamix, desire seared my eyeballs and wrapped its claws around my heart. I could have the smoothest smoothies in all the land! My brain punched back. Or I could spend way too much on a blender. The cheapest blender was the very model I’d blown out on lemongrass last year, so I forked over $150 for the slightly more powerful 700-watt Cuisinart and prayed against all forecasts of appliance life spans in America, that this one last at least two decades.
At the Monument Square Farmer’s Market I scanned the under-tent displays like a lion scanning the savannah. “I know you’re in there somewhere.” After about ten minutes, in the heart of the vegetable hullabaloo at Uncle’s Farm Stand, I pounced on a basket of green tomatoes and ripped them apart with my teeth. Or rather, excuse, me, paid for them and headed to Yarmouth. At Azminda’s, my new blender liquefied 5 serrano chilis and a pound of green tomatoes pretty well, but Azminda broke it to me that a twenty dollar blender in Mexico would have made a smoother blend. Blenders have more blades in Mexico, she says. We started planning our Mexican blender import business while the light green tomato-chili-puree cooked in a large pot. She added water, chicken bouillon and salt. When the color turned muted, more like pond scum, she did something totally crazy. She poured a mountain of tortilla chips into the green liquid. “Oh my _od they’re going to get all soggy!” I cried like it was the end of those little chips’ lives. But nenas, trust your Mexican girlfriends. Tortilla chips come back reincarnated as wonderfully thick, tangy, zippy chilaquiles. You eat a generous mound of this deliciousness with a thin plank of pan-fried chicken breast and sour cream. It is, I kid you not, the best brunch ever. If you do one thing for your pleasure sensors this week, get the recipe and cook this dish.