Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wonderful Taco Bowl!!

In Mongolia, one often has a driving desire for foods that are not easily attained.  My personal most craved food is Mexican. I often fantasize about the possibility of a Taco Bell opening in our small town.  With the exception of one Mexican restaurant in UB and the occasional quesadilla appetizer (also in UB), Mexican food is not to be found in this country. However, never fear PCVs, because sometimes in the darkness, light still perseveres, and in this Mexican void there is still taco seasoning (sold at Goodprice and Mercury Market…also only in UB), and where there is taco seasoning there is hope!!!
Sally and I love having taco bowls. I prefer this to tortillas because while flour tortillas are easy to make, they can still require a lot of time and work to produce. Our taco bowls currently involve five layers, Spanish rice, taco meat, salsa, cheese, and sour cream, but the beauty of a taco bowl lies in very easy alteration to personal taste, so yours could always include other layers!  
1.       Spanish Rice—Combine a can of tomato paste, a whole onion (chopped), two cups of rice, 4 cups of water, a splash of oil, dried parsley, chopped cilantro if possible, crushed black pepper, a rinsed can of corn if desired, salt to taste, and any other pepper seasonings you desire.
a.       Cook in a rice cooker or on a stove top until rice is cooked. The tomato paste in rice changes the consistency and slows cooking in a rice cooker, be sure to stir often to avoid burning on the bottom.
b.      All of the above ingredients can be found in most provincial centers in Mongolia. Cilantro is tricky, but it shows up in places too.
c.       Beans and bell peppers can also be added to this dish, but we usually don’t.
2.       Taco meat—Combine a kilo of either raw chopped chicken or beef (it is also possible to have the beef ground in most meat markets), 1-2 chopped onions, 2 chopped bell peppers, and a splash of oil.
a.       Sautee over a stove top in a frying pan. When meat is cooked, drain juices. Then add taco seasoning, cilantro if possible, and some water to cook the seasoning into the meat.
b.      Add more taco seasoning as needed.
c.       All of the above can be found in most provincial centers with the exception of taco seasoning.
3.       Salsa—Combine an appropriate amount of chopped tomatoes, yet another chopped onion, a few diced garlic cloves , chopped cilantro, a splash of low grade vinegar (Beware the power  of super concentrated Mongolian white vinegar. I usually use apple cider vinegar.), an appropriate amount of lime or lemon juice depending on what you have.
a.       Salsa is forgiving, and everyone likes it to their own taste and consistency. Add beans and corn if you want.  Use common sense regarding stronger ingredients like vinegar and lemon juice; you can always add more if needed.  
b.      I also recommend flavoring with red pepper or chopped hot peppers if you have them.
c.       Once the mixture is at the right consistency and taste for you, refrigerate for a few hours to blend the flavors. It gets better with age.
d.      All of the above can be found in most provincial centers.
4.       Cheese—shred whatever you can get your hands on. Our aimag center regularly has a variety of white cheese including Edam, Gouda, unknown Russian wheel, etc. All of the imported cheeses are expensive ranging from 17,000-22,000 a kilo, but it is totally worth it. If you don’t have cheese in your town or provincial center try, making friends with a store owner and then arranging with them to ship cheese from UB that you will buy.
5.       Sour Cream—The elusive ingredient. Any westerner living in Mongolia quickly learns to avoid trying unusual creamy dairy products, but sour cream is still a possibility. We do not always have sour cream in our provincial center, but when we do it is with the brand Сайхан. This brand offers a variety of flavored yogurt in kilo size packets. The sour cream flavor is blue with no extra ingredients in the picture labeled Зөөхий. Many stores that sell Mongolian dairy products also sell Mongolian sour cream by the kilo. I have always stuck with the сайхан brand because it tastes like American sour cream.  I haven’t had the Mongolian version which is called цөцгий.  

Combine all of these items in a large bowl and treat yourself!
Cooking disclaimer: I do not usually worry about specific amounts of individual ingredients when I cook, thus the lack of specific measurements. This works well if you are comfortable in your ability to use good cooking senses of smell and taste to reach the appropriate flavor. The exception to this is rice. The ratio of water to rice must be two to one.  In any event, taco bowls are a forgiving and delicious dish to have.


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