Cheese Crisp, Roasted Jalapenos, Pico de Gallo
Moving truck loaded up and off to its cross country destination, the family then followed suit filling into the large olive green station wagon with the kids vying for the much sought after, fold down back seat.
The bench running the width of the car had no seat belts and enabled a perfect view of the horizon, plus the added benefit of waving to folks in other cars with the little ones during fleeting moments of boredom along the journey of driving through about twenty-five states en route.
Following a number of days, and evening swims at the next hotel destination, the changing scenery at the back of the station wagon seemed an illusion of another world whose beauty embedded the mind but whose memory could never seem to capture the words.
Designed by map and routed to provide an educational experience for five children along the road trip, the winding roads at the state entry border then transformed to drier mountainous regions, rugged shades of brown mixed between light colored sands hosting various types of cactus. Desert.
Finally entering a city surrounded by rock formations, rather than skyscrapers, the sun shone brightly, every day. Once settled in, it was time to get back to normal living even in this new nirvana, until the hit of shock and awe.
Could it be possible that there was a place that did not have Tastykakes and Soft Pretzels? What did people eat for after school snack? No freshly sliced lunchmeat? No place to go to the plywood box at a local deli whose covering of a clear thick plastic lid exposed the day’s fresh long rolls. No barrels of Jewish Pickles scenting the room while sitting in their own brine? It was true.
The friendly community enlightened the newly arriving family with five children who had driven across the country in the olive green station wagon with the benched back that hosted no seat belts and provided a perfect view of the horizon on a simple favorite in the Southwest parts, The Cheese Crisp.
Cheese crisps were an easily prepared, commonly served, and much enjoyed dish for a quick lunch, after school, or anytime snack in those parts. Instead of flavors whose adaptations shared inspiration of a more European past, these tastes were influenced not too far away, south of the border, in Mexico.
A fresh soft, white tortilla about ten or twelve inches around, topped with fresh shredded cheese, even a kid could make it.
Popped into the oven and baked until its cheese melted and bubbled, the top then provided any number of creative outlets from Mexican style sauce or condiments, including salsa, roasted jalapenos, or maybe a spoonful of Pico de Gallo right into the center.
Many years later the eldest of the five children would prepare cheese crisps for her daughters, using a decidedly Asian flavored hot sauce, Sriracha, drizzling on the shape of two eyes, a nose, and a big smiley face circling the outer side as the topping.
Olive green cars have not yet resumed their popular interest of years past, nor have station wagons for that matter, unheard of, a car not equipped with seat belts, including those for any back seat bench providing the perfect horizon view.
But the inspirational flavors of Mexico have expanded and made an imprint everywhere, including those places with skyscrapers rather than mountainous deserts.
Rather than noting that Cinco de Maya is really about a triumphant battle, Battle of Puebla Day, Cinco de Maya as much as anything has been a day of acknowledgement to the Mexican people and their great contributions to this country, the United States.
From the glorious expanse of scenery to food, flavors lending complexities in colorful dishes, and tastes of fresh simplicity such as the Cheese Crisp, Roasted Jalapenos, Pico de Gallo. Happy Cinco de Maya.
Cheese Crisp, Roasted Jalapenos, Pico de Gallo
- 1 large flour tortilla
- 1/2 teaspoon oil, brushed across the top of the tortilla and around the edges
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or a mix of cheddar and jack cheeses
- 1 roasted jalapeno, skinned, seeded, cut into thin strips
- 2 tablespoons Pico de Gallo, plus extra on the side
- For the Pico de Gallo:
- 5-6 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped into very small pieces
- 1 jalapeno, seeded, chopped
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons cider or wine vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more or less to taste
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- For the Roasted Jalapenos:
- 2 jalapenos
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- pinch of coarse kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, set flour tortilla on a parchment lined baking sheet, brush oil all across and around edges, sprinkle with shredded cheese, and roasted jalapenos, bake five minutes until cheese is melted and begins bubbling, transfer to a plate topping the center with a spoonful of Pico de Gallo, serve straight away with extra Pico de Gallo on the side
- For Preparing the Pico de Gallo: Mix together all ingredients together and chill, covered, at least an hour for flavors to develop
- Preparing Roasted Jalapenos or Hot Green Chili Peppers: Preheat oven to 350 degrees, roast jalapenos in a small shallow dish tossed with some olive oil and a pinch of coarse kosher salt around twenty minutes until soft and blistering, let cool, pull out stem, remove seeds and peel skin, cutting the pepper into thin small pieces