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Warming Latin American Stews For A Chilly Spring


Ephemeral snow showers just before the nation springs forward into Daylight Saving Time? Around Portland, April is possibly the cruelest month.

During these dreary, so-called spring months, the days will grudgingly lengthen, brighten and warm a bit. Landscapes will flourish and green up, brushed with brilliant color. But even in parkas and knit hats, we seek relief from brusque winds and drippy rains.

Local food carts are waiting with steaming bowls, hot sandwiches or wraps and grilled or deep-fried sustenance. How does green chicken posole or a Cuban ropa vieja sound? Pick up these consoling dishes at the window or prepare the chefs’ recipes at home (see below).

José Perez points out menu choices to a customer in front of his Cuban food cart, Qué Bola?, at the Portland Mercado in Southeast Portland.

José Perez points out menu choices to a customer in front of his Cuban food cart, Qué Bola?, at the Portland Mercado in Southeast Portland.

Jo Mancuso/OPB

During our brutal Oregon winter, many carts closed only when frozen out or customers simply could not reach them. Portland Mercado’s Latin American carts at Southeast Foster Road and 72nd Avenue were able to direct customers into the communal dining hall. But for a week in January “you couldn’t even walk around,” said José Perez of the Cuban cart Qué Bolá?, “and the gray-water tanks underneath the carts froze.”

While the Cubano sandwich and ropa viejo remain popular, Perez has added a gluten-free beginner’s sampler of roasted pork, yuca, steak, plantain, grilled chicken, chorizo, rice and beans to the menu. The Havana native also does event catering as part of his participation in the Mercado’s incubator-model economic-development program.

A customer picks up his order at Nourishment's 1957 International Harvester Metro van parked in a lot at NE Halsey Street and 60th Avenue. Customers can duck into an adjacent covered eating area.

A customer picks up his order at Nourishment's 1957 International Harvester Metro van parked in a lot at NE Halsey Street and 60th Avenue. Customers can duck into an adjacent covered eating area.

Jo Mancuso/OPB

Meanwhile, inside the Mercado’s Micro Mercantes commissary kitchen for entrepreneurs, Ramona White has ramped up prep of breakfast burritos, bowls and chilaquiles for her expanding business, Nourishment. From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, her bright-orange 1957 International Harvester Metro van is parked in a lot at Northeast Halsey Street and 60th Avenue. Customers can duck into an adjacent covered eating area attached to Guffy’s School of Canine Manners.

White will continue her Saturday gig at the Hollywood Farmers Market but said that “in the new Portland development wave, I will be hanging 10 and riding on over to 22nd and Sandy” starting May 1, maintaining the same weekday schedule.

Her future serving window at 2240A NE Sandy Boulevard is part of ReRack, a retail shop for car racks that opens onto a parking lot just west of Providore Fine Foods market hall. Little restaurants wrap around 24th Avenue and Glisan Street, forming a happening triangular culinary node just a few blocks down from head-turning micro-restaurant complex The Zipper.

White, a culinary-school grad, is also helping to launch Bread and Salt Academy, a nonprofit program to prepare youths for careers in the hospitality industry. She developed the culinary curriculum and will be its instructor.

Recipes 

Havana Ropa Vieja | Qué Bolá?

Hearty, deeply flavored Ropa Vieja is served with white rice and fried plantains. To prepare this dish at home, you can cook the flank steak on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker or slow cooker.

Hearty, deeply flavored Ropa Vieja is served with white rice and fried plantains. To prepare this dish at home, you can cook the flank steak on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker or slow cooker.

John Rosman/OPB

Preparation time: 4-1/2 hours, including 15 minutes of prep | Difficulty: Medium

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds flank steak
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup pitted green olives       
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup dry cooking wine, such as Edmundo*
  • 1 (12-ounce) can tomato purée
  • 2 tablespoons olive juice from can or jar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt to taste

*Available at most Latino markets

To prepare

  1. Place the whole flank steak in a 6-quart saucepan or pot and cover with about 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 3 to 4 hours or until meat is tender, pierced easily with a fork or knife. Steak can also be cooked in a pressure cooker for 30 to 45 minutes or in a slow cooker.
  2. While meat is cooking, slice onions and pepper thinly into full-length strips about 1/2 inch wide. Crush garlic using mortar and pestle or dice finely. Chop olives roughly.
  3. Remove cooked meat to a plate and let cool until it can be handled. Using your fingers or two forks, shred the beef to about the same proportions as the onions and peppers. Set aside.
  4. In a 4- to 6-quart saucepan or pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, heat the vegetable oil on high and sauté the onions, peppers and garlic, stirring occasionally, until onions are clear and peppers are soft, about 6 minutes. Add bay leaves and cook for 2 more minutes, continuing to stir.
  5. Adjust the heat to medium-low and stir in the wine. Let it reduce for 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Stir in the tomato purée and olive juice to create a medium-thick sauce.
  6. Stir in the shredded beef, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Stir in lemon juice and salt. Remove the bay leaves.

Serve with white rice and fried plantains. To boost the healing heat of this dish, pair with a red wine or Sangria.

Green Chicken Posole | Nourishment

Fragrant, spicy Green Chicken Posole with tomatillos is Mexican-inspired but hominy and caramelized onions suggest a hint of the American South. Ramona White's thoughtful recipe includes quick-and-easy options and a vegan variation.

Fragrant, spicy Green Chicken Posole with tomatillos is Mexican-inspired but hominy and caramelized onions suggest a hint of the American South. Ramona White's thoughtful recipe includes quick-and-easy options and a vegan variation.

John Rosman/OPB

Preparation time: 1-1/2 hours, including 45 minutes of prep | Difficulty: Easy

6 to 8 servings

If you don’t feel like roasting tomatillos, toasting and grinding spices or chopping fresh herbs, try Ramona White’s shortcuts. If you are sensitive to gluten, check all labels carefully.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh tomatillos or 1 (15-ounce) can tomatillos with liquid
  • Canola oil for sautéing
  • 1 large or 2 small yellow onions, julienned
  • 3 quarts chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 (4-ounce) cans diced green chiles, mild and/or fire-roasted
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or legs, fresh or frozen
  • 1 teaspoon dried guajillo chile or chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, pinched to release volatile oils*
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, pinched to release volatile oils*
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder or toasted seeds, ground
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder or toasted seeds, ground
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans or 1 (30-ounce) can of white, gold or purple hominy, drained and rinsed
  • 1 pound frozen corn kernels (or kernels cut from 1 or 2 ears of fresh corn)

*If using fresh herbs, double the amount and do not chop leaves

Optional garnishes

  • Cilantro leaves
  • Radishes, sliced
  • Green or red cabbage, shredded
  • Limes, sliced
  • Avocados, cubed
  • Corn chips

To prepare

  1. To roast fresh tomatillos, heat the oven to 425 degrees and set rack in the middle. Pull off and discard husks; rinse tomatillo skins to remove stickiness. Spread in a single layer on a sheet pan or in a shallow baking dish and roast until the skins start to turn brown; they will burst and release some liquid. This might take about 15 minutes but watch carefully. About halfway through, shake the pan so they roll around. Remove from oven and let tomatillos cool until they are no longer steaming and can be handled.
  2. Transfer tomatillos and liquid from pan to a blender or food processor and purée, or to a bowl if using an immersion blender stick. (If using canned tomatillos, just purée them and the liquid.) Set aside.
  3. In a large (4- to 6-quart) pot of any sort, sauté the onions in canola oil over medium-high to high heat, stirring frequently, until they start to turn brown and stick to the bottom of the pan. Leave onions in the pan.
  4. Over high heat, deglaze the pan (using all the stock or broth). Reduce the heat to medium.
  5. Add chicken (from refrigerator or freezer), puréed tomatillos, chiles (with any liquid from the can), garlic, herbs and spices. Leaving uncovered, bring to and maintain a simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and beginning to fall apart, about an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  6. Add the hominy and corn and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to equalize the temperature of ingredients; the hot stew will quickly warm frozen corn. Ladle into bowls.


Offer the cilantro leaves, sliced radishes, shredded cabbage, sliced limes, cubed avocado and corn chips on the side so people can garnish the stew as they like.

Vegan variation

Substitute vegetable stock or broth for the chicken stock and 1 (15-ounce) can of white kidney beans or great northern beans, drained, for the chicken.
 
Storing leftovers

Cool stew on counter to room temperature. Transfer to open containers shallow enough to allow uniform rapid cooling, leaving 1/2 to 1 inch at the top. Refrigerate for approximately 2 hours or until stew reaches 41 degrees or lower. Cover with tight-fitting lids and freeze for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight or in the microwave.

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