Tempting tempeh tortas

Tortas are like mole:  Everyone’s is different.  The first torta tasted was decades back in an unrecalled location, maybe Chicago, or somewhere in Indiana, but it was served with an amazing sauce, recollected — as mole.  So when we stopped into a dinky little spot in the old-town part of Lansing, mole was again asked for, and what was brought, was a delicious, spicy and very dark red sauce.

The next time we stopped there and ordered the very exact same thing, what was brought out was an oily, bright red sauce.  It was not quite as good…

These tortas use both a tomato paste as condiment, and a powerfully potent red sauce:

This was heavily diluted with red bells, to make it palatable all around — perhaps to its detriment.  It is a good sandwich, but not that exotic flavor either remembered or imagined, long ago.

Without expectations, the boys thought they were quite good.

Ingredients:

For the tomato sauce:

  • 3 pounds roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ cup water
  • salt to taste

For the chile sauce:

  • ¼ pound arbol chiles
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • salt to taste

For the tortas:

  • 8 bolillos (French rolls) split in half lengthwise
  • 1 ½ pounds boneless pork loin or shoulder
  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig oregano
  • salt to taste

Preparation:

Place all tomato sauce ingredients in a saucepan and cook until the tomatoes and onions are soft. Allow to cool, place in blender and puree. Strain the puree and set aside.

Lightly roast the arbol chiles on a comal or dry griddle, just to the point of fragrance. Do not allow them to char, as this results in a bitter flavor. Remove the stem and seeds from the chiles. Place the chiles and remaining chile sauce ingredients in a saucepan, cook until the chiles have softened, remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer sauce ingredients to a blender, puree and strain. Set aside.

Cook the meat in water to cover with the onion, garlic, bay leaf, oregano and salt to taste. When cooked through, remove from cooking liquid and allow to cool. Shred the meat with two forks, or slice thinly if preferred.

Remove the soft center (called the miga) from the rolls, place the rolls on plates, and divide the meat among the rolls by placing some on the bottom half of each roll. Bathe each one with tomato sauce. The tortas are easier to eat if the top half is left “dry.” Each diner can add chile sauce to taste. If possible, do as they do in Jalisco and use a plate with a lip to serve these tortas, to prevent messy dripping. Serves 8.

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The Crew are omnivorous land mammals