Over the last several years I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Mexican food. I love the complex, but fresh flavors. I welcome the contrasts in textures between smooth and creamy (like mole or guacamole) and crisp and salty (like a crisped tortilla, flaky from a little oil and heat). Oh how this comforting food makes me almost sigh, ‘mmm mmm mmm,’ while I’m eating it!
This past Saturday Jeff and I took one of our weekend afternoon rides for produce. We pick a direction and roam back roads in search of small produce stands with deliciously fresh offerings. Sometimes we go with no plan in mind and see where the wind takes us; but Saturday Jeff had a little nugget in his hip pocket – Tania’s Mexican Restaurant & Store at 2180 Carlisle Road in Aspers.
In the midst of shopping for fresh corn, green beans, tomatoes (to tide us over until the ones in our garden ripen), cantaloupe, etc. we stopped for a late lunch – that turned into linner or dunch.
Although neither Jeff nor I speaks much Spanish and none of the staff we encountered spoke much English, we managed to order everything we wanted and then some. Having never had horchata (a traditional Mexican drink made with rice, vanilla and cinnamon) before, Jeff suggested ordering one to share. It was a good call! The horchata was like the best rice pudding in liquid form. And it reminded me a little of chai, which I love. Being on the sweeter side, we saved it for “dessert” and drank it in the car after we left Tania’s.
While we decided what to order, a basket of warm chips and a dish of thin, tomato-ey, flavorful salsa was delivered to our table. We nibbled on the chips dipped in yummy goodness as we perused the menu. Jeff ordered 1 green chicken tamale, beef tacos and a side of guacamole. I ordered the spicy pork & pineapple tacos and a side of Mexican rice. Of course, we shared it all and were in heaven as we ate.
I like tamales, but Jeff LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS tamales so I only had a small bite. It was comfort food in a perfect little package. Each order of tacos included three 4 1/2″ tacos so I took one of Jeff’s tacos and he took one of mine. I put some of the spicy red sauce that came with the tacos on the beef taco and it was delicious. The sauce gave it a nice heat and although there wasn’t a lot of complexity to the beef/onion mixture it was really good. The flavors were strong and clean and homey. My spicy pork & pineapple tacos were much more complex in flavor. The spicy (but not too spicy) rub on the pork was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple. It was like a taste explosion in my mouth and I really appreciated that the meat in both the beef and pork tacos was cut small enough that you didn’t have the awkward slide of filling onto your chin or down the front of your shirt when you bite into them!
The sides were just as good as the main event. The guacamole was simple, fresh and creamy, yet it had just the right amount of chunky avocado pieces to make it texturally interesting. And the rice – oh, the rice!!!!! You may remember that Jeff isn’t the hugest rice fan – having tasted his attempts at making rice, I understand why! While he is an excellent cook in so many areas, rice is not his forte. However, rice making is the forte of whoever makes the Mexican rice at Tania’s!!!! When you first look at it you may be tempted to think it is going to be dry and boring – but do not rely on this deceptive first impression or you will miss something wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I know in the coming weeks I will wake up in the middle of the night craving the rice. The grains were moist but not soggy, perfectly separate from one another. Clearly the grains were not simply cooked in water – there was a great flavor of something lovingly toasted and cooked with chicken broth and/or tomatoes. And dotting – but not overpowering – the perfectly done rice were garlic, onions, peas and carrots.
It was an exceptional meal followed by a trip through the aisles of the attached store. We made our purchases and were shocked at how low the prices of our lunch and grocery items were. It was a phenomenal value and I would highly recommend it.
Now for the recipe. On Thursday Jeff and I went to the library for a rare trip where we could spend time between the shelves picking out books and DVD’s without rushing. Normally we stop at the library on the way to or from somewhere else and just run in for what we need or drop our books in the outdoor book return. But, I was able to look at books in a leisurely manner and checked out three cookbooks (I know, it’s an addiction – “Hi, my name is Janice and I’m a cookbookaholic!”).
In preparation for an upcoming Mexican meal, I borrowed the book “tacolicious” by Sara Deseran. Although my menu is set, I thought I’d get some inspiration from this book and I was not wrong. One thing caught my attention immediately – Cantaloupe-Ginger Agua Fresca. While on our produce mission on Saturday we found some perfectly ripe cantaloupes so on Sunday I made the agua fresca.
It was scrumptious! And it was super simple to make. I had ginger in the freezer (as I always do), sugar in the baking cabinet and a lemon in the fridge. The hardest parts (which were not at all hard) were cutting the cantaloupe and defrosting the ginger. Once that was done it all came together in a matter of minutes. The only change I made to the recipe was to cut the amount of sugar so that the agua fresca would taste more like the perfectly ripe cantaloupe and less like sugar.
It was a home run! Bright and fresh and a beautiful color. And I am so glad I didn’t put the full amount of sugar in it or it would have been too sweet for my taste. I will definitely make it again, perhaps trying a little more ginger in it the next time.
I’d give both the restaurant and the recipe (revised to include less sugar) 5 m’s out of 5.