Just when I thought that diversity had come to La Cañada Flintridge, the banana leaf conundrum forced me to reconsider.
When we moved to La Cañada in 1976, it was a white bread town. There was a store on Linda Vista called Jurgensen's that used to deliver incredible groceries. It was "a pricey grocery chain where Southern California gourmets and celebrities go for fresh truffles and pate de foie gras..." (Groves, Martha, "Posh Jurgensen's Grocery Chain Agrees to Be Sold," L.A. Times, May 13, 1986).
As wonderful as Jurgensen's was, it was kind of a vanilla place. I once overheard a customer order a corned beef sandwich. "What kind of bread?" asked the sales clerk. "We have white, wheat, rye and sourdough. Do you want mayonnaise?"
Obviously, no one in their right mind would put mayonnaise on a corned beef sandwich. The requisite bread is corn rye, thin-sliced, with mustard. This is 2014 and everyone knows this. Not so back in 1976.
Fast forward to multicultural La Cañada Flintridge in 2014.
Last week, we had a hankering for kosher pollo pibil, a delicious Yucatán chicken dish, marinated in a red achiote-and-citrus sauce. Trader Joe's sometimes sells cilantro, but it was gone. Ralphs still had kosher tortillas. But neither store stocks banana leaves or achiote. (Achiote is the seed of the fruit of the achiote tree, which grows in jungles and tropical regions.)
That's why home-cooked kosher pollo pibil in La Cañada requires the following steps.
No. 1: purchase kosher chicken at Trader Joe's.
No. 2: Go to the Lotte Korean Market for cilantro and jalapeños.
No. 3: No, no. This isn't working.
To make kosher Mexican food, everyone must leave. We must take the back road to Altadena. We must turn right on Oak Grove, continue onto Woodbury, turn left on Lincoln.
There, only 2 miles away, is the source, Super King Market, 2260 N. Lincoln Ave. Here's what you will find at Super King: tomatillos, achiote, dried chiles, inexpensive nonorganic vegetables, Middle Eastern food, sunflower seeds, olives, Armenian staples, Ukrainian bread and 100 brands of tequila.
Of course, Super King sells banana leaves, the very banana leaves essential to pollo pibil. The recipe for Pollo Pibil is too complex to describe in one column. Here is an easy chile verde recipe, with the caveat that chile verde sauce is not used in pollo pibil.
Sure, you can buy the cans of green enchilada sauce at Ralphs or the little jars of green salsa at Trader Joe's, but why not "eat clean"?
This recipe is simple, healthy and less expensive than the store-bought versions. It is my modification of the pork recipe created by Chef Nelson from the Pasadena Cordon Bleu.
- Six garlic cloves (Trader Joe's and Lotte sell them already peeled.)
- Olive oil
- 1.5 pounds tomatillos, washed and peeled
- One jalapeño pepper
- One bunch fresh cilantro, cleaned and trimmed
- Salt to taste
- Optional: chicken breasts and hominy
1. Wash and peel the tomatillos. The dried skin comes right off, but the fruit needs to be carefully cleaned.
2. Coat a pot with the olive oil and place on medium heat.
3. Add the garlic cloves.
3a. Optional: add chicken breasts, brown on both sides, then go to step 4.
4. Add the tomatillos, cilantro and jalapeño
5. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for an hour, or until the tomatillos and pepper begin to collapse.
(Use a thermometer on the chicken; it should be 165 to 170°)
6. Remove from heat. (Remove the chicken, if you added it.) Use a blender to blend the sauce. Return all ingredients (including the chicken and hominy) to the pot.
There it is. Kosher chile verde! As for the Pollo Pibil, there are several choices. Oven? Double boiler? Dig a pit in the yard? Right here in La Cañada, with a side trip to Super King.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER