Spring is in the air. Winter has been pretty mild so I can't complain even if it is human nature to do so; just the right amount of snow, no extended weeks of minus temperatures, but just one frigid day to allow the wineries to press their grapes for ice wine. Mother Nature has been kind to us...so far. I live in Canada and have no delusion that winter lasts only a couple of months. I know that it is not over yet, but, there have been years when we have been golfing in February so a girl can dream can't she? I like it. Even so my thoughts always drift to white sand beaches, warm tropical breezes and a vacation in Mexico this time of year. My latest foodie obsession is a cemita from south of the border. Now I have never had a cemita in Mexico, but, with an upcoming family wedding on the Mayan Riviera early next year I find myself doing my research as I would love to take a food tour in Mexico City as well as a cooking class in the mountains.
Have you ever had a cemita? It’s a sandwich popular in the Mexican state of Puebla, Mexico. The bun, which is also called a cemita, is where the sandwich gets its name. It’s an egg-rich bread topped with sesame seeds that is sort of a cross between challah and brioche. The two most distinguishing ingredients of the cemita are the dark-green citrus-y tasting leaves called papalo and the thick snarl of stringy white Oaxacan cheese that trails out the sides of each sandwich like paper streamers.
Papalo is a green herb with scalloped leaves. The name comes from the Nahuatl word "papalotl," for butterfly. It is as pretty as it is pungent, with a sharp citrusy flavor that slices through the fatty layers of the sandwich. Any proper cemita should have a couple of leaves, although, as a hard-to-find ingredient, it is usually the most frequently omitted.
I have always felt that one of the best ways to visit a country is to take a cooking class or better yet spend an entire week on a culinary vacation. One year from now I hope to have the opportunity to try a cemita on the streets of Mexico with both papalo and Oaxacan cheese, but until then the substitution of lemon basil and mozzarella cheese is the best I can offer.
In a search for an authentic recipe I discovered that the meat used most often was a pulled pork similar to what you would find in a carnita or a even a breaded piece of pork pounded thinly. What intrigued me was the burger version. No matter which you choose a festival of flavours and textures nestled between a pillow-soft bun will tickle your tastebuds. It seems that that is what Mexico is all about.
The original recipe for this burger was one of 5 winners in the 2011 LA Times Burger contest submitted by Harold Cohen of Hollywood, Florida. If you have hearty eaters you can cook it up like a burger or do as I did and create Game Day sliders. The crunch of the corn chips, the pepperiness of the basil and the slight heat of the chipotles makes for one tasty snack that will take your mind off the game. I hope your team is winning. Go team!!!!
Who else is doing the cemita.
Cemita-Style Pork Sandwich - Canadian Living
Supersize Cemita - New York Times
Cemita Poblano - Saveur
** Mexican Cemita Burgers or Sliders**
2 canned chipotle peppers (packed in adobo sauce), diced, and 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 clove garlic, grated
1/4 cup Mexican crema (can substitute crème fraîche or sour cream)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
In a small mixing bowl, combine the chipotle, adobo sauce, garlic, Mexican crema, and mayonnaise.
Mix until well combined.
This makes about two-thirds cup chipotle crema, which will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.
1/2 cup lightly mashed avocado, preferably Hass (about 3/4 of an avocado)
Scant tablespoon lime juice
In a small mixing bowl, combine avocado and lime juice. Season with one-eighth teaspoon salt, or to taste. This makes a scant one-half cup avocado spread, which will keep, tightly covered and refrigerated, up to 1 day.
Patties and assembly
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
1 canned chipotle pepper, minced with 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
Scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Scant 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Canola oil for pan-frying
3 ounces Oaxacan cheese (quesillo), separated into thin strings (can substitute mozzarella or Jack cheese)
2 sesame seed buns, toasted (or 8 slider buns)
Chipotle crema (recipe above)
5 papalo leaves, finely minced (or ¼ cup cilantro sprigs plus 2 tablespoons watercress leaves, minced/ I opted for lemon basil)
1 cup corn tortilla chips, lightly crushed
Very thin slices red onion
Avocado spread (recipe above)
In a large bowl, combine the beef, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, salt and pepper. Mix well to combine, but do not overmix. Divide the mixture in half and form the portions into patties to fit the buns. If making sliders divide into 8 meatball size pieces and flatten.
Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add enough oil to form a thin film on the bottom of the pan, about 2 tablespoons, then add the burgers to the skillet. Cook the burgers until set and browned on one side, about 3 minutes, then flip.
Top the burgers with the cheese, then cover the pan with aluminum foil or lid. Cook an additional 3 to 4 minutes for medium-rare burgers, or until the burgers have reached desired doneness.
Assemble the burgers: Spread the chipotle crema evenly on each cut side of the toasted buns. Sprinkle the minced papalo leaves over the crema on the cut sides of the bun tops. On the bottom halves of each bun, sprinkle the crushed tortilla chips then top with a cheese-topped patty, a slice of onion, and equal amounts of the avocado spread. Top the burgers with the bun tops and serve immediately.