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Mexican Munchies: Memelitas!

By Dennis Linden

This month’s featured recipe is a favorite treat of Navidad Flores, a member of Melissa’s Food Safety team. Memelitas, also called memelas, are thin masa cakes that have been grilled and then topped with any number of tasty components. Navidad prefers a traditional version from her native state of Puebla, Mexico -- just cheese, onions and a couple of spicy salsas that remind her of her childhood.

“One of my fondest memories as a child was going with my mother and brothers to el Mercado, which is like a farmers market here, to buy fruits and vegetables for the week,” Navidad recalled. “We would always stop at a food stand to get memelitas as a special treat. I always ordered the same thing – a Memelitas with Salsa Rojas and a mango-flavored soda drink. I have grown out of the sweet soda, but Memelitas Puebla brings it all back to me as if it were just yesterday!’

This was a fun and fairly simple recipe to make once you get the concept of Navidad’s memelitas. Do not be intimidated by the “special equipment” listed at the bottom of the ingredient list. As stated, a rolling pin can also be used to form the masa cakes, though a tortilla press is much quicker and makes for uniformity in shape and thickness, plus, it is a full-proof kitchen tool for the novice cook!

Navidad’s two salsa formulas are both standalone template recipes. Of course, the degree of spicy heat can be tweaked to reflect personal preferences, though I thought both were perfectly balanced as-is. That is just enough pleasant heat that lingered on the palate but did not overwhelm. In fact, once tasted, I decided to make double batches of each that have been tasty additions to several other dishes since.

The masa cake is cooked for just long enough for a thin “skin” to develop. Then, remove it from heat and use fingers to form a small ridge around the edge of each cake. Brush a little cooking oil on both sides and return the cake back to the fry pan or griddle to complete cooking. While still on the flame, add the toppings of cheese, onion and both colors of salsa on each to symbolize the Mexican flag. Remove immediately and enjoy! That’s it!

Navidad Flores

Navidad Flores’ four years on Melissa’s staff has been more than just a job; it has been a journey in discovering herself and her potential. Navidad started on the company’s packing line. Basically, fresh product comes into the company’s warehouse in bulk from our grower partners around the country and world for packaging into consumer units under the Melissa’s label. For a year, Navidad worked on the line full-time and then went to her second job as a housekeeper at a well-known hotel in downtown Los Angeles. However, a year of this double-time schedule was not sustainable as it left little time to be with her young daughter, so Navidad decided to focus on her position at Melissa’s and work to improve her future with the company.

It took another year on the packing line for her diligence to be recognized and rewarded with an opportunity to transfer to the company’s Food Safety Department. But the new position also presented a challenge to her as a naturally shy person who had only to concentrate on packing orders and now was expected to communicate with a lot more people on a daily basis as part of duties in Food Safety.

“I am a timid person so talking to others has always been one of the most difficult things for me. While on the packing line I had only one friend to sit with at lunchtime,” Navidad admitted. “With my new position I decided that this had to change, so I started that process by reading books I found in the office to help me interact better in the work place. Specifically, The Servant (a simple story about the true essence of leadership), Fish (a remarkable way to boost morale and improve results), and The Book of Excellence (236 habits of effective sales people). I also purchased the well-known How to Win Friends and Influence People. These four books gave me the confidence to talk to my co-workers with ease, and to ask questions and seek advice from others, as well as do my job of asking people to please follow the rules. As a result, I have made more friends both at work and in my personal life. I am so very grateful that those books were even available – they changed my life!” When not winning new friends and influencing her co-workers with Food Safety rules and tips, Navidad’s home life revolves around her five-year-old daughter, Isabella, as well as the rest of her immediate family. Teaching Isabella lessons in both English and Spanish is a part of their daily routine. Navidad tries to get together every Sunday with her sisters, usually for a movie and a meal. Continuing her self-motivation education, she also enjoys listening to Ted Talks as well as making a point to read a book for at least one hour each day on various topics of interest. She says she gets her quiet time tending to her collection of bamboo plants and a special bonsai tree.

When asked for a famous person she would invite to share this dish with at her own table if she could, Navidad did not hesitate with an answer. “I would invite a band from Mexico called Grupo Kual for my own birthday party! They play my favorite music, which has kind of a tropical-style rhythm that combines regional Mexican sounds with folk and pop styles from Colombian, Peruvian, Cuban and Caribbean. I love to dance so I would serve them their fill of Memelitas and then Salsa Dance (the cambia step) late into the night to their wonderful music!

Memelitas Puebla
Makes 16 masa cakes


Ingredients for Memelitas Puebla

Ingredients:

Red Salsa

3 ripe steak tomatoes or 6 Roma tomatoes
6 Dried De Arbol Peppers, reconstituted, stems removed
1 tablespoon Cilantro
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt

Green Salsa

10 tomatillos
4 jalapeños
1/3 cup Cilantro
½ Melissa’s Perfect Sweet Onion, rough chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Memelitas

2 cups Masa Harina (masa mix)
1 1/3 cups warm water
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 Melissa’s Perfect Sweet Onion, diced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
10 ounces Queso Fresco (Mexican fresh cheese)

Special Equipment:

A tortilla press or a rolling pin

Preparation

Red Salsa: Sauté the tomatoes with the Chile de Arbol. When the peppers turn a dark brown, transfer to a blender or food processor.

Red Salsa: Sauté the tomatoes with the Chile de Arbol. When the peppers turn a dark brown, transfer to a blender or food processor. Add cilantro, salt, water and blend thoroughly. Set aside.

Green Salsa: Boil the jalapeños and tomatillos. When the jalapenos turn color, drain and transfer to blender or food processor.

Green Salsa: Boil the jalapeños and tomatillos. When the jalapenos turn color, drain and transfer to blender or food processor. Add cilantro, onion, salt and blend. Set aside.

Memelas: Combine the masa, water and salt to make a dough. Form 3-inch logs of dough.

Memelas: Combine the masa, water and salt to make a dough. Form 3-inch logs of dough. Place log between plastic bag rounds and press into an oblong shape. Cook oval on hot griddle just until a skin forms and some small golden spots appear. Remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, form sides: Beginning half-inch from edge of each Memelas and working around it, push undercooked masa toward edge with your thumb and pinch up to form a 1/4 -inch side.

Brush both sides with oil, return each cake to the hot fry pan for 30 seconds to 1 minute to finish.

Brush both sides with oil, return each cake to the hot fry pan for 30 seconds to 1 minute to finish. When the memelita is fully cooked, sprinkle the cheese and chopped onions, then top one-half with green salsa and the other half with red salsa, immediately remove from pan.

Enjoy!
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