Thursday, January 6, 2022

LEFFtovers: Perfecting and Applying Pan-Toasted Tortilla Shreds

A trio of recent LEFFtover treatments, all building on the same tortilla move:

Chunky Central American-Korean Breakfast Hash
  • Egg white omelet.
  • Pan-toasted torn shreds of thick leftover Guatemalan tortillas.
  • Morsels of leftover Korean whitefish pancake.
  • Leftover broccolini.
I should have started by pan-toasting black mustard seeds, South Indian style. My bad.

LEFFtover Goat Curry
  • Leftover Goat Curry
  • Leftover tortillas, torn and pan toasted
  • Baby spinach

Punjabi Chole with Guatemalan Makki di Roti*
  • Leftover Punjabi stewed chickpeas
  • Leftover tortillas, torn and pan toasted
  • Coarsely-chopped baby bok choy drizzled with olive oil and zataar
* In case you missed the droll witticism, Punjabis actually make corn bread (makki di roti, most often served with sarson da saag, or soupy greens).

Making Of

Several things coming together here:

1. Frying is the dirty route to crunchiness
I thought I liked fried foods, but I mostly just like crunch. Some may get off on the overpowering oil flavor and heaviness of frying (and while I'll acknowledge that elite soul food chefs wield copious lard for results lighter than light itself, good luck finding cooking like that). I've always considered the oiliness to be something to tolerate if you want crunch. Which is insane, health-wise.

I perennially have loads of leftover thick Guatemalan tortillas in my fridge, because Guatemalans descended a few years ago and are everywhere and I love them. But their tortillas are so thick (ala Mexican gorditas) that I just can't finish a pile of them....along with the humungous mound of rice accompanying everything. Guatemela's just not super keto.

So in pursuit of giving them crunchy highlights, I've been working on alternative crunch production (ACP), finally settling on this formula: low heat, very lightly oiled cast iron (i.e. quick rub with an oily paper towel), and plenty of patience and care and timing. To create fast easy crunch, chuck your food into a vat of hot oil. But if you want nuance (bit of chew 'neath the crunch) and a >6 decade lifespan, you need to work harder.

2. My Carb Problem
Between the aforementioned Guatemalans and the Indians and the Dominicans and the East Asians, I ingest rice like a rural Chinese serf from a Pearl Buck novel. And most rice contains arsenic, which is cumulative in your system. So I'm trying to diversify carbs.

My go-to standby would be bread, but since I'm already way into panini, I don't have open bread slots. And potatoes take time to cook. So corny Guatemalan rounds seem more and more attractive. But I don't crave spongey, stale, leftover tortillas. I want something more appealing. Something a bit crunchy. But without the frying. So, yeah. This is where I'm headed with that.

3. Stew + Rice = Nice...but Tedious
I'm getting righteously tired of stewy stuff on rice. If I had more time to make mashed potatoes, I'd head straight there. But this is faster and lazier. I do need to buy some kasha, now that winter's here. And, of course, there's always pasta, but I can't imagine kasha or rigatoni would serve toothsomely in these contexts. So viva Guatemala! 

4. Fatah and Fatah
The "Yemen" section of my smart phone app, "Eat Everywhere" ("Your personal eating assistant in any restaurant at home or abroad") describes their much beloved Fatah:
Yemenis go crazy for both bread and butter, and fatah is the ultimate expression of both together. It's easy to remember the name - the more you eat it, the fatah you'll get. These buttery, bready croutons are moistened with broth and cooked with meat or vegetables until totally soggy. Really, it's a way of reusing stale bread (Yemenis go through a ton of the stuff).
Fatah is cousins with the better-known (hereabouts) Lebanese fattoush, which I've been told predate French salad croutons by like sixteen thousand years. So this toasting-torn-leftover-bread trick is done all over the Middle East, and northern South Asia. Also: Mexico. While this may not be precisely the move a Mexican grandma would make (i.e. chilaquiles), abuelita would surely nod her head approvingly.

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