In Pictures: Mercado Merced

The Mercado Merced complex, which actually includes several different markets, is one of the largest marketplaces in Mexico City, with vendors selling nearly everything that one can imagine.  The main building, alone, spans several square blocks, and passages at street level, above, and below, lead to a wider complex that is beyond my ability to compare.  It even has its own metro station inside the market.  

I go once a month for bulk supplies and have spent hours wandering the various buildings, shopping for grains, fresh and dried fruits, meats and cheeses, chiles, exotic ingredients, aquarium supplies, candles, voo doo dolls, live chickens, tacos, artisan crafts, kitchen supplies, and tupperware.  On the last trip, I brought my camera along to try to capture the size of the place; failing completely, I opted to take pictures of some of the wares in the central market, where the dry goods and fresh produce stalls are.

Chiles, stacked and ready for sale in bulk

Chiles, stacked and ready for sale in bulk

 

 

México, D.F.

Curiosity killed… your liver?

Oh, my!  

Well… sometimes accidents happen.  Speaking hypothetically, of course, what would you do if you were to have, say, 4lbs of mushrooms?  Not the regular ‘ole gringo-white button mushrooms, or something tasty and manageable like portabellas, but 4lbs or random, woody, funky-looking fungi?

One of the hazards of living in another culture and in another language is that misunderstandings happen.  Yesterday, I happened to have one of those “misunderstandings” while shopping for groceries.  I had taken the morning off and gone to La Merced, a massive maze of intertwined warehouses covering many square blocks and forming the largest market in the city.  The market, itself, is the collection of (what may be) thousands of separate vendors, selling everything you can imagine…. from tortillas, to plastic coat hangers, to herbal medicines, to dried chilis, to, well…. fungi.

I had gone to the market to purchase a few random necessities, mostly dry goods (such as a pound of oregano!), but a particular produce vendor caught my eye.  In his small little corner, laid out in a long row of assorted baskets, were a cornucopia of bizarre, foreign, and intriguing mushrooms.  I must admit, I was too curious to not inquire… but similarly I wondered how safe it might be to sample random mushrooms from a stall not too far from a vendor who offered candles designed to “matar a sus enemigos.”  

So… as any keen mushroomologist would do, I asked the vendor, a middle-aged gentleman, for his opinion about a particularly stemmy-looking blob and something that might have been a morel.  His responses, “con pollo” and “para la sopa” were enough to convince me that these might be worth experimenting with in the kitchen.  So, I asked him for 10 pesos of each one (“diez pesos de cada uno”) and, like the distractable gringo that I am, promptly had my attention hijacked by a quesadilla vendor around the corner.  (What?!?  I was hungry!)  

When I turned back to my impending purchase, I saw a massive mound comprised of each of the mushrooms from the many baskets, heaped together on his antique scale.  Not just two, mind you, but at least seven or eight of the varieties!  And the vendor, of course, was reaching for the rest.  Having realized my two errors (both communicative, and then not paying attention), I quickly told him no more….  But looking at the towering stack, I realized it might be a little too late to send those that had already been commingled, back.  They were, after all, mixed together in a massive pile of mushroomness.  I was also, I admit, a little too embarrassed to ask!

So that’s how I happened to acquire a pile of strange mushrooms.  So what would you do?  I ended up making a large batch of soup.  It actually turned out alright… though I had to pick out the stems, and pieces of bark, small insects, an earthworm(!), pine needles…. but it definitely needs a little work.

Of course, after partially enjoying the fruits of my error, I’m now struck with the thought that, if the vendor “misunderstood” my order (either intentionally or not), who is to say that I might also be shopping for a new liver in the near future (a thought I am quickly trying to put out of mind!)?  Well, if I do survive long enough to post again, then perhaps I’ll also try working on another batch of soup.  And perhaps the recipe for the second batch will be good enough to share online.

 

México, D.F.

Soup recipe

So one of the things I hope to do on this blog is to record some of the better eats I find in Mexico, in restaurants, changarros, or, in this case the ‘accidents’ that get conjured up in my kitchen!

Last week I blew way too much money (wedding, conference in DC, painting supplies, etc.) and am trying to get my budget back on track.  This recipe for soup is, well, very Mexican, and about as cheap as it comes!  At many of the markets in Mexico City, as well as at little vegetable vendors on the street, it’s possible to buy freshly-diced, shrink-wrapped packets of soup-ready vegetables.  Cost?  5-6 pesos for a large one, or about 50 cents!  Of course, you never know exactly what you’re going to get!

 

Simple Mexican Vegetable Soup Recipe

1 large packet of pre-cut ‘Mexican market’ veggies  (Carrots, celery, cabbage, little odds and ends)

1 small handful of dry lentils (< 1/4 of a cup) [optional]

1 large pinch garlic salt

1 tablespoon chicken-flavor seasoning

1 teaspoon cooking oil

1 heaping teaspoon dry dill (eneldo)

fresh corn tortillas, just because you can [optional]

 

1.  Add the salt, chicken stock mix, oil, and lentils to a medium-sized stock pot.  Cover with 1″ of water and simmer 10-20 minutes.  You can snack on the warm tortillas while you wait.  If you omit the lentils (which really stretch the soup), then there’s no need to simmer for the 10-20 minutes.

2.  Add vegetables and dill, add a cup or two of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer 10-20 minutes.  Cooking time and amount of water added can vary to your tastes.

3.  Serve.  This actually makes quite a lot, enough for dinner for two people.  (Call it four sizable servings)

 

But the best part of this soup is what you can do with the leftovers.  Corn tortillas are awesome when warm and fresh and awful if you leave them out overnight!  (oops!)  

 

Even Simpler Mexican Soup Recipe

Leftover vegetable soup

Dry, day+ old corn tortillas (2-3 per serving of leftover soup)

Salt to taste 

 

1. Take the cold leftover soup, add 2-3 tortillas dry tortillas per serving directly to the pot.  Cover with water (about a cup), bring to a boil, and simmer 5-10 minutes or so, or until the tortillas break apart easily.

2. With a fork, stir the soup.  The tortillas should break apart easily.  Add more water, to your liking, and then add salt to taste.  Carefull — this can get thick in a hurry!  

3.  Bring back to a boil then immediately remove from heat and serve.  Garnish with more dill and crema.  Adding the tortillas roughly doubles the number of servings that were originally leftover.

 

México, D.F.