Monica Greene's ropa vieja

Adapted from a recipe by Monica Greene.

This festive, cold Mexican beef salad can be eaten on its own; it's also delicious served on tostadas or wrapped in warm corn tortillas. 

Serves 8-10.

For the beef:

1 brisket, about 5 pounds

2 small onions, quartered

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks

3 stalks celery, cut in large chunks

6 bay leaves

6 sprigs thyme

6 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon salt

12-15 grinds of black pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon cumin seed

 

For the pickled onions:

1 cup cider vinegar

1 clove garlic

4 cloves

2 habanero chiles, seeded and halved

2 bay leaves

1 star anise or 1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon black or mixed peppercorns

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon piloncillo or brown sugar

1 ½ large red onion, sliced

1 orange

Juice of two limes

 

To complete the salad:

2/3 cup pickled onions

1 nopal (cactus) paddle, trimmed, thorns removed and cut into 3/8-inch strips

2 large eggs

4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into 3/8-inch strips

6 radishes

4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled

6 cups arugula, purslane or mixed greens

2 avocados, sliced

 

For the dressing:

½ cup cider vinegar

Juice of ½ lime

1 cup cilantro leaves

5 sprigs of thyme

1 jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

¼ cup corn or sunflowr oil

¼ teaspoon salt

5 grinds of black pepper

1. Cut the brisket in half against the grain. Fill a stockpot large enough to hold the brisket with cold water, add the onions, carrots and celery, bay leaves, thyme, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and cumin seeds, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the brisket and let it simmer. After about an hour, skim the broth and turn the meat. Continue simmering for another hour and 45 minutes, for a total of about 2 hours 45 minutes, till the meat is tender. Remove meat to a platter and let it cool.

2. While the meat is simmering, make the pickled onions: Put the cider vinegar into a medium saucepan with ¾ cups water. Tie the garlic, cloves, habanero chiles, bay leaves and peppercorns and star anise or allspice into a piece of cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni, drop it into the pot, add the salt and piloncillo or sugar and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat., stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 7 minutes. Place the onions in a medium bowl. Cut the orange in half, squeeze the juice over the onions, and drop the rinds into the bowl with the onions; add the lime juice. Strain the vinegar mixture over the onions, cover and let cool. Set aside to steep.

3. Cook the eggs: Place the eggs in a small pot of cold water, bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium and continue boiling for 17 minutes. Cool the eggs under running water, and peel them. Separate the yolks and whites. Push the yolks through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl. Slice the whites into strips, add them to the bowl, cover it and set aside to chill in the fridge.

4. Prepare the nopal: Rinse the strips very well in a colander, until they no longer feel slimy. Pat them dry, place them in a medium saucepan, cover with water and add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 7 minutes, then drain. Transfer to a bowl, cover and chill in fridge.

5. Seed the Roma tomatoes and slice them into strips about 3/8 inch wide. Set aside. Trim the radishes and cut them into half-moon slices.

6. When the brisket has cooled, cut out any fat and gristle, and "pull" the meat, using your fingers and maybe a fork to shred it.

7. Make the dressing: Combine the cider vinegar, lime juice, cilantro, thyme, jalapeno, garlic, oil, salt and pepper in the jar of a blender or immersion blender. Blend till smooth.

8. Assemble the salad: Place the meat in a large mixing bowl or salad bowl. Add the pickled onions, nopal strips, radishes, hard-boiled egg whites and yolks, and queso fresco; pour the dressing over all and toss well to coat all the ingredients. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with the avocado slices and serve with store-bought or home-made tostadas (whole fried corn tortillas), if desired.