A week ago I surprised the hostess by making a couple appetizers to bring to her party. There seems to be an impression out there that I never spend any time in the kitchen. (g) I picked up the ingredients from two Mexican markets, Quezada in Novato and La Palma in SF.
Quezada is the sister grocer to the market of the same name in Santa Rosa. The Novato store is larger and feels less cramped. Quezada has a large selection of dried chilis, a carniceria and take-out counter, and also some South and Central American products as well as Mexican. I bought avocados, queso fresco (cut and weighed to order), pepitas (4 oz. for $1.59), and dried pequin chilis.
The night before the party I roasted and seasoned the pound of pepitas. It's easy as can be. Start cold with a big skillet, dump in a pound of pepitas, a head of garlic broken into cloves but unpeeled (about a dozen cloves), 3 tablespoons of EVOO, and 2 tablespoons of pequins. Turn the heat up to high and when the crackling, popping sound starts, turn the heat down to medium-high and start stirring the mixture. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Continue stirring until the popping sound slows down/stops and most of the seeds are lightly browned. This takes about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool completely, then store in air-tight container.
The afternoon of the party we stopped by La Palma on our way to pick some warm and freshly made chicharrones. The chicharrones, cut into inch-size cubish pieces, can be selected with mostly meat or with meat and the rind. I got about a mixed pound for around $4. We ordered a carne asada taco with the handmade thick corn tortilla upgrade to share that hit the spot for an afternoon snack. I also bought a bag of the handmade potato chips which are at a prime part of the season right now.
I'd brought the ingredients for the second appetizer - aguacate y queso fresco con chicharrones - with me to make fresh on site. This is a stripped down version of guacamole, unmucked up by onion, tomatoes, limes, cilantro, etc., to be made only at the time of year when avocados are ultra-rich and buttery to show off the pure rich flavor of the aguacate. In a medium size bowl, mix and coarsely mash together two peeled and roasted garlic cloves (leftover from making the pepitas) with 1/3 pound of crumbled queso fresco, mix in two minced jalapeños (ribs and seeds removed), and two ripe avocados. Add sea salt to taste. Mound the avocado mixture in the middle of a large plate, strew the chicharrones around the rim, and serve.
The reactions of the Latinos in the group to these snacks was really gratifying, ranging from "omigod, real guacamole!" to "I love chicharrones, I'm not supposed to eat them, but could I have another?" I presented them as the Atkins low carb version. We got into discussions of the varying chicharrone styles and avocado treatments in different Latin American countries. Julio made me a delicious margarita with Tommy's fresh mix that was great with the spice in both appetizers. Eugenio stood over the plate of chicharrones, gulping down bite after bite of fried pork rinds dipped in guacamole. He looked like he was going to cry when it was all gone.