Here in Nuevo León we have very unique dishes and customs. The key is to always try and use local and regional ingredients to prepare the recipes, as that gives them a particular authenticity and value. Out of the three meals we make everyday, breakfast is the most important one, for it’s the one that we commence our day with.
I’m putting together a small book titled “Desayunos Notables” (“Notable Breakfasts”); it’s a compilation of breakfast recipes that I grew up with and includes recipes from Tampico, the Huasteca region in Veracruz, and Nuevo León, but also features some new recipes that I’ve developed throughout the years.
Today’s recipe is a take on the mythical “empalmes”, which are very common in the northeast: two tortillas passed through some fantastic lard, filled with refried beans. For the beans, I first cook them in water with salt and a few herbs. Then, I mash them and season with salt, cumin (Lots of cumin! Such is the custom around here), and ground pepper. Next, I fry some onion and garlic and slightly caramelize them on a low flame before adding the chorizo ranchero. The chorizos from the north are rough, vinegary, and heavily spiced, and match the humor of the people.
So, pinto beans with onion and chorizo to create the perfect empalmes. To assemble, two nixtamal tortillas are passed through hot oil, and once golden, you add the mixture of beans and chorizo. On top of that goes a fried egg with chile piquin salsa. This salsa is very typical of the “national highway” (that goes from Monterrey to Tampico) around El Blanquillo, a community known for its salsas, preserves, and dried meats. This salsa has dried chile piquin, garlic, onion, and spices like pepper, cumin, and oregano. It is of a spicy and vinegary character, which goes along perfectly with the empalmes. To decorate: chopped green onions or cilantro, either works fine. This breakfast dish is accompanied with black coffee –I like it without sugar– or with a very cold glass of orange juice from the citrus-producing regions of Nuevo León.
Adrian Herrera (Monterrey, 1969) is a chef and owner of La Fonda San Francisco in Monterrey. He is soon to publish his own book of anecdotes and opinions on the world of gastronomy, “Escritos Sobre Gastronomía”, has been a contributor for the past 11 years for the newspaper Milenio, and is one of the judges on MasterChef México.
EMPALMES DEL CHEF HERRERA
MAKES 2 SERVINGS
- 4 corn tortillas
- 2 tablespoons of oil or lard
- ½ cup pinto beans with chorizo
- 2 eggs
- Piquin peppers salsa
- Chopped cilantro or pan roasted green onions
- Recipes for the salsa and pinto beans with chorizo are given below.
- Heat lard or oil in a skillet. Fry each tortilla until it acquires a golden color, then place on a plate while you finish frying the rest.
- Spread a generous amount of the beans over one tortilla and then place another tortilla on top of it. Do the same with the other 2 tortillas.
- Fry one egg in the same frying pan, and once it is done, place it on top of the “Empalmes”. Fry another egg for the other set of tortillas.
To serve, top with the piquin salsa and garnish with the chopped cilantro or serve with the roasted green onions.
FRIED PINTO BEANS WITH CHORIZO NUEVO LEON STYLE
MAKES ABOUT 4 CUPS*
- 3 cups of cooked beans with some of their broth
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons of lard or oil
- ½ cup onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove, diced
- 2 chorizos (about 4 oz.)
- Salt and pepper
- You are only going to use ½ cup of this preparation for the Empalmes; you can store the rest in your fridge to serve with eggs or other Mexican dishes.
- Place the beans with the broth into a blender pitcher, add the cumin, and process until they are creamy smooth. Add water in case they look too dry. Set aside.
- In a skillet, heat the lard or oil, add the onion and garlic, and cook until they start caramelizing. About 3 minutes.
- Stir in the crumbled chorizo and cook for about 4 minutes.
- Pour in the bean purée and mix well. Cook for about 4-5 more minutes on low heat, allowing all the flavors to mix. Season with salt and pepper, and if you wish, more cumin, according to your own personal taste. Some people love cumin, so go ahead and season it. Set aside to proceed to prepare the Empalmes.
DRIED PIQUIN PEPPER SALSA
MAKES ABOUT 1/2 A CUP*
- 2 tablespoons piquin pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 4 kernels of black pepper
- 1/3 of a small white onion, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- ½ tablespoon of white or apple cider vinegar
- 6 tablespoons of water
- Salt to taste
* You can double the amount of ingredients to make a larger batch; this salsa lasts several days in the fridge.
- Toast the peppers in a hot pan for about 45 seconds, shaking the pan during the process to avoid burning the peppers. Place peppers into the mortar.
- Slightly toast the cumin seeds and black peppers for 30 seconds in the hot pan, and add them to the mortar.
- Grind the piquin peppers, cumin, black pepper, and the oregano until you have a very fine texture.