We gather in the small apartment kitchen, myself, Carlos, our friend Mando and his very pregnant wife, Naji. They have invited us over for dinner again and this time they welcome us behind the curtain that separates the kitchen from the living room, to watch them prepare the meal together.
They work in perfect rhythm, this young couple from Veracruz, never fighting for space at the stove. She drops a handful of chiles into a sizzling pot of oil and while she’s turned to the counter to chop tomato, Mando reaches over to add seasoning to the diced lengua and stir it with a wooden spoon.
“Cocina usted, Don?” Mando asks Carlos, using the nickname his Mexican co-workers had given him his first day on the job.
Carlos laughs, “Honestamente, ella cocina casi todo,” he responds.
“Tiene que aprender, Don, para que usted le ayude a ella,” Mando says, surprising me with his lack of machismo. He tells us how he diced the lengua the night before, that it took him two hours, and I can see why. The meat is in perfect, uniform cubes, each one smaller than a sweet pea.
I ask Naji if she’d mind me writing down the recipe for the salsa she’s making. This, I realize, is the bright orange salsa I love – the one Carlos often brings home from work in a twisted plastic bag, a gift from Mando’s lunchbox. Naji smiles and tells me to go ahead. I pull out a little notebook and pen from my bag, I start scribbling down the ingredients and the generous extra tips she gives me.
Soon the kitchen fills with all the delicious scents of tacos de lengua. The meat is seasoned and cooked, the salsa prepared, the cabbage finely chopped with a large, sharp knife. Naji warms corn tortillas and cuts limes into wedges while Mando pours glasses of agua de uva. Now it is time to sit together at the table and eat this meal made with love.
Mexican Salsa Roja
• 2 generous handfuls of chiles guajillos secos – stems removed
(use chiles japones secos for spicier salsa)
• 2 large tomatoes chopped (or 1 can diced tomates, 14.5 oz, no salt added, undrained)
• 1/2 a medium onion
• 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
• 3 tbs. canola oil
• 2 cups water
• 1 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 can chiles in adobo, 7 oz. (optional)
1. In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, add oil, dried chiles, onion and garlic. Chiles should have stems removed. When you remove stems, seeds will fall out. Include the seeds in the pot.
2. Stir continuously taking care not to let it burn. After a minute or two, add tomato. Stir over medium heat another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. In a blender combine 2 cups water, salt and contents of pot.
4. Blend 1 minute until mostly smooth. (If you prefer a thinner salsa, add more salted water and blend.)
5. This step is optional: To make the salsa spicier and add a lot of flavor, add 1 can chiles in adobo. Blend for another 30 seconds.
6. Return contents to pot. Stir salsa over medium heat for 2 minutes.
7. Allow to cool.
8. Keep refrigerated in jar or container for 1 week. (You could also can or freeze it.) Use on tacos or anything you like.