To get a genuine south-of-the-Rio Grande taste requires a lot of special ingredients, and in Pittsburgh, until recently, that wasn't easy. Things have improved with more Goya brand and other Hispanic products available even in supermarkets, but one important ingredient was missing: fresh tortillas. Those plastic-wrapped, preservative-loaded tortillas most of us know have a chemical taste. Wait 'til you taste the real thing.
Thanks to Reyna Foods in the Strip District, Mexican food fans now have a local source for hot-off-the-griddle tortillas just like the ones Latin American homemakers have been turning out for centuries.
Tortillas are what created Reyna Foods, the brainchild of Nicola DiCio, who in spite of his very Italian name, is half Mexican-American. His mother fed their family the Mexican foods she learned to cook as a girl. She moved to Pittsburgh long before Goya products arrived, so in order to make enchiladas and tamales, Mrs. DiCio asked her Texas relatives to send CARE packages with the ingredients she needed. As her son got older, he was dispatched to New York to restock her pantry at Latino grocery stores.
On one such trip he overbought corn tortillas, and when he realized that they would spoil before they could be consumed, he had the good sense to fry them to make chips that would have a longer shelf life. Thus was born Reyna Foods, which opened in a tiny storefront in Etna in 1987.
From the beginning, it was his intention to make fresh tortillas, but his chips were so popular that instead he concentrated on them while the fresh tortilla project was put on hold. The store always carried an assortment of authentic Mexican food products, and over the years, the number of items increased.
The store expanded rapidly, so to have more space, in 1988 Mr. DiCio moved it to the Strip. It was only a few months ago that the space Reyna occupied became available to purchase.
When he finally owned the property, Mr. DiCio was ready to realize his dream of 21 years ago. Now he could begin to make fresh tortillas.
To make tortillas from the traditional recipe, whole kernels of corn are boiled in water with an alkali (lime) until the hulls fall off and float to the top. The kernels are drained, crushed and kneaded into a paste or dough, which is formed into the flat, round tortillas.
On Fridays and Saturdays, follow your nose to the delicious aroma of roasting corn that wafts out of the store and onto the sidewalk. Taste the intense flavor of a fresh corn tortilla. For burrito lovers, there also are fresh flour tortillas.
Reyna can satisfy all your Cinco de Mayo party needs (with the exception of tequila or Dos Equis beer). There are fresh salsas made in the store. Pico de Gallo or Fire-Roasted Tomatillo salsa come in 16-ounce containers for $5.75. Eight ounces of mango or chipotle salsa is $4.50.
Chicken burritos, tamales, empanadas and enchiladas are made daily in the store. It is best to arrive early for these popular items as they normally sell out quickly, but store manager Linda Jones welcomes advance orders.
On the way: Mesquite-grilled carne asada and carnitas.
There's a dairy case filled with a panoply of Mexican cheeses, from the soft and bland queso blanco to an older and harder Oaxaca. The store carries an extensive selection of fresh, dried and canned chilis. There are herbs and spices not easily found in our supermarkets. The shelves are packed with such oddities as "Cock Soup" (Jamaican Chicken Noodle Soup). There are more brands of hot sauce than I ever dreamed existed.
There is also an ever-changing collection of Mexican handcrafts and folk art.
For the practical joker or the collector of offbeat food experiences, there are fried crickets and fried worms and even a lollipop with a genuine scorpion inside.
Reyna Foods, at 2031 Penn Ave. in the Strip District, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays (412-261-2606).
When we saw the recipe and photo in Sunset Magazine, we knew this was a winner, a fun presentation of an old favorite dish. Here's why. When you order enchiladas in a restaurant, they are served lined up in horizontal fashion. When you make them at home, you can go vertical. Just stack them up into a tortilla tower and top with a crunchy coleslaw garnish.
The recipe looks complicated, but it's not. Canned chile sauce is doctored up with spices, raisins, pine nuts and smoky chipotle chiles. And now that fresh corn tortillas are made every Friday and Saturday at Reyna's in the Strip, the dish gets a fresh and local spin.
To make in advance, assemble the stacks, but reserve the final cheese that goes on top and don't bake. Cover tightly with a length of oiled foil and chill up to a day. Bake, covered, in a 375-degree oven until hot in the center, about 50 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with reserved cheese, and bake about 5 minutes more. Make a pot of black beans to serve on the side. Guacamole, salsa and chips are always welcome.
-- Marlene Parrish
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 28-ounce can red chile sauce, divided
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, plus 2 teaspoons sauce
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 3 1/4 cups shredded cooked chicken meat from a rotisserie chicken
- 12 corn tortillas (6-inches wide)
- 3 cups coarsely shredded jack cheese
Radish Salad Garnish
- 2 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 5 to 6 cups angel hair-sliced cabbage (1 bag)
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, cook onion with olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in 3/4 cup red chile sauce, pine nuts, raisins, cinnamon, allspice, chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar and vinegar. Add chicken, then bring mixture to a boil, stirring. Remove from heat. Pour remaining red chile sauce into a pie pan.
To make enchilada stacks, dip 1 tortilla in chile sauce in pie pan to coat. Place on an ovenproof dinner plate or shallow casserole dish. Repeat with another tortilla on a a second plate or beside the first tortilla in the dish. Spread each tortilla evenly with a heaping 1/3 cup chicken mixture, then with 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat layering with 8 more tortillas, dipping them in sauce, then adding chicken mixture and cheese to make 2 stacks of 5 layers. You'll use all the chicken but not all the cheese.
Dip the last 2 tortillas in sauce, and place each, curled side down on the stack, and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake enchiladas until hot in the center and cheese bubbles on top, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour remaining chile sauce from the pie pan into a microwave-safe pitcher and cook in a microwave oven on full power until simmering, 1 to 2 minute.
Make the salad: stir together radishes, lime juice and olive oil in a large bowl. Just before serving, stir in cabbage and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Top each enchilada with a small mound of salad and present the dish at the table.
To serve, cut into thirds or quarters with a sharp knife. Offer with remaining salad and chile sauce to add to taste.
-- Sunset Magazine
Daniel Hoyer says he prefers these Mexican-style chips, which are chewier and more substantial than American store-bought ones. Just make sure your oil is hot before frying or they'll be greasy.
- 20 to 24 corn tortillas (homemade are best but you may use store-bought varieties too)
- 1 to 2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
- Juice of 1 lime (optional)
- Salt to taste
Cut the tortillas into 6 wedges each and spread the chips out for an hour or two to dry (turn them over several times while drying to ensure evenness).
Heat the oil to 350 degrees and fry the chips a few at a time until they are just browning and crisping around the edges. Drain well and continue for all of the chips.
While the chips are still hot, sprinkle with the lime juice (if using) and liberally salt.
Note: You may store the chips in a sealed plastic bag after they have completely cooled.
Makes about 1 pound of chips.
-- "Mayan Cuisine: Recipes from the Yucatan Region" by Daniel Hoyer (Gibbs Smith, $34.95)
Who says salsa has to contain tomatoes? This tropical recipe gets its zip from fresh mangos, black beans and lime juice.
-- Gretchen McKay
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1/4 cup lime juice (from about 2 limes), plus 2 limes cut into wedges, for serving
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 mangos, peeled, pitted and diced
- 1 red bell pepper, halved, seeded and finely diced
- 1 green bell pepper, halved, seeded and finely diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, halved, seeded and finely diced
- 1 large red onion, halved and finely chopped
- 1 serrano chile, finely chopped (optional)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
Whisk the olive oil, garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Add the mangos, peppers, red onions, chile and cilantro and toss to coat. Add the beans and gently toss everything together.
Makes 6 servings.
-- National Mango Board
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