Que le doy—what can I get you?—they call out to you as you pass by their stalls, brimming with fruits or vegetables or flowers, any variety of meat and much much more. You can hear the pirate CD stall a mile away or maybe it is the birthday of the girl selling leather belts and someone has hired a guitarist to sing her Las Mananitas.
So rich in color and abundance, so full of optimism, with smells easily and not so easily identified, give me a Mexican Mercado any day over a supermarket with higher prices and sterile packaging, and lacking the bright vibrancy of life.
Usually I can’t buy much—a banana or orange here or there, and I can never get out of Mexico without a new bolsa—the inexpensive shopping bags print-screened with images of Frida or the Virgin Guadalupe.
But I have a kitchen this week—here in San Miguel de Allende with Felipe and Diana.
On Tuesday we wandered the 8 acre portable market; they began unloading and set-up at 4 am and by the time our taxi dropped us off around 10:30 it was in full crescendo, tiny brown, wrinkled senoras wrapped in their traditional shawls selling avocados and limes from their garden, old cowboys with older tools arranged on a blanket, and more than I could count tables, in front of stands with each vendor hand forming tortillas, or other shapes to hold a selection of frijoles, thinly sliced meat, red and green salsa, grated cheese—it all depends on the menu, and it is all cooked right there in front of you.
Felipe says he loves to watch women shop for food and that we did. We had a mission of sorts and our purchases have defined our meals for the week. I bought a fresh coconut that I have yet you grate, to fill the hollowed-out limes that today I will simmer in sugar syrup until they are soft and sweet. Laura treated us to a snack of corn on the cob right off the grill. The girl cut it in 2-inch pieces and put it in a plastic bag before she added the chile powder and fresh-squeezed lime juice. We moved on slowly around each corner and passageway, taking it all in through our skin. We found beans call Peruana, a white bean that makes the creamiest of refried beans; dried guajillo chiles and garlic and onion we bought to flavor the beans. The freshest of green poblano chiles and small white potatoes eventually became dinner that night. Oh and we needed fresh tomatoes for sauce and jalapeno chiles and avocados for guacamole. Fragile purple orchids went in Diana’s shopping bolsa at the very end and now they grace the kitchen counter.
Poblano Chiles Stuffed with Potatoes and Cheese
4 poblano chiles
About 1 ½ pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, (peeled or not,) steamed until a fork pierces easily
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ of an onion
½ cup (1/4-inch) diced zucchini squash
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
Real Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cube instant vegetable bullion
Roast the chiles over an open flame or broiler–on your grill is best: Heat the broiler (or flame grill) to high. Place the peppers directly under the hot broiler (or on the hot grill) and cook, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened on all surfaces, about 3 to 5 minutes for each exposed surface; set aside to cool. Once cooled, run the peppers under a stream of cool water and pull off the blackened skin and seeds. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and cook and stir the onion until it is transparent. Add the diced squash and cook and stir a few more minutes. Season with salt to taste.
Mash the potatoes with some salt and a bit of crema if needed. Mix in the cooked onion and zucchini and the diced cheese. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Stuff the peeled peppers with the potato mixture.
Make the sauce: Puree the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a blender. Heat the oil in a skillet and add the tomato mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally. Mash the bullion cube and stir into the sauce. Cook until any traces of bullion have become part of the sauce.
Spread the sauce in the bottom of a shallow casserole dish. Lay the rellenos in the sauce. Cover and cook until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted. Drizzle with the crema.
Makes 4 servings.