There is a pot of beans simmering at almost every market stand in the Merced, pintos and black beans being the most popular. The beans often accompany carne asada, grilled steaks, served with salsas, freshly-made tortillas, pickled jalapeños, and carrots. Often, there is a salad made from cactus paddles and a combination of radishes, tomatoes, chiles and white cheese. Refried beans are the filling for fried masa boats called sopes, topped with onion, shredded fresh cheese, and cilantro. Eggs and chorizo are popular for breakfast, as well as empanaditas or small pastries filled with beef, chicken, or cheese.
There are many versions of salsa verde, green salsa, and salsa rojo, red salsa. Every stand or restaurant in the market has its favorite rendition of each set out on the tables. Salsa verdes are made from different combinations of raw and cooked ingredients including green chili peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, and tomatillos. For bright, citrus-flavored salsas to go with poultry and fish, lightly boil or steam the tomatillos. For a more complex flavor that compliments beef or lamb, fire-roast the tomatillos, chiles and onion before using them in the salsa.
Salsa rojo can also be prepared with a variety of dried chiles. It can range in flavor from a mellow, sweet heat, like salsas made with guajillo chiles, to more fiery mixes like salsas made using chile dé arbol. Canned chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce make a great base for sauces brushed on grilled pork or poultry imparting a smoky, spicy sweetness.
Many of the ingredients and produce that you see in La Merced are available in Mexican grocery stores across the United States. After all, people need the taste of home. In the Gazette I include a number of recipes based on these ingredients. Yet there is no substitute for actually being there, experiencing the community, the energy, the sights, sounds, and smells. Get there!