“My memories of Tita are unfortunately fuzzy.”
I made this comment to Mom as she drove me to the airport last weekend.
“I don’t think it’s that you’ve forgotten them completely, but you went through a lot early on in your life and sometimes that’s the body’s way of living through the difficulties. The memories will come back to you.”
I come from a long line of women who have learned to make lemonade from lemons.
My grandmother, Tita, which is short for abuelita in Spanish, stepped into her father’s role as director of the telephone company after he passed away, something rather unheard of at the time. While most women took care of hearth and home, she became a working woman. Yet deep inside of her, she longed to marry and have children of her own. And the story of this dream coming to fruition is for another day. When she and Tito journeyed up north to the United States, they found themselves in somewhat dire straits. Their story of survival and adjustment is probably woven into the fabric of most immigrant stories just as their sacrifice could be associated with that of most parents.
Mom, their eldest child was a bit of a terror. Headstrong and stubborn from a young age, she was every part the neighborhood rabble-rouser and leader of adventures and escapades. Not much has changed in that regard. She gave her parents a run for their money and Tito doted on Mom. I think in her he saw his own headstrong thread which bound them together. Living in South Texas during this period, the opportunities for immigrants were not many and they scraped by, living off of love and resourcefulness.
This carne con salsa recipe is testament to that plucky attitude of Tita’s. Mom told me Tita used to make this on a weekly basis. She would use whatever meat was stickered on sale as the foundation for this easy, filling entree. Recently when we were in Costa Rica, eating Gallos con Carne con Salsa, Mama remarked the flavor of it reminded her of Tita’s recipe.
If you think about the place taste holds in the memory, it might be the second most powerful way to remember after smell. That said, smell ties into taste as best evidenced when eating with a cold. One bite of this mixture of beef with tomatoes, of sweated onions and grilled peppers and Mom was transported back to a dinner table in a place not so far but quite different from this Central American lunch table.
My interpretation of Tita’s recipe actually doesn’t use peppers, though you can add one in if you so choose. In the few times that I’ve made this at home, Beck has gone back for seconds. That’s when I know I’ve found a keeper.
You’ll find this something easy to throw together on a Sunday afternoon and the flavors get better the next day as they coalesce. The sauce in my version is more sticky than a traditional salsa and I admit you could add in more water to get a thinner consistency, but the current version will have you licking the spoon for those errant stray bits.
Tita’s Carne con Salsa
- 4 small potatoes
- 1 medium Spanish onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons safflower oil
- 8 ounces can tomato sauce
- 1 pound meat (I go for grassfed & organic when possible)
- Dash of cracked black pepper
- Dash of salt
- 1/3 cup water plus 1 tablespoon
1. Dice the onion and the garlic. Pour the oil in a wide mouthed pan and set on medium high heat. Add in diced onion, garlic, cracked black pepper and salt. Saute for 4 minutes or until onion begins to look translucent.
2. While the onion mixture is cooking, wash the potatoes in a colander. Then slice them into rounds.
3. On another cutting board reserved for meat, slice the meat into bite-sized cubes.
4. Add the entire contents of the tomato sauce to the onion mixture.
5. Brown meat and half cook it for about a few minutes.
6. Add in water and place a potato round atop each meat chunk. The steam will cook the potatoes. If you have extra potatoes and no more meat, just scatter the potatoes in the sauce below. Cover. Cook for 25 minutes over medium heat.
7. Serve with warmed corn tortillas.
~ Makes 4 servings
Serving Variation: You could serve this over carrot puree or mash the cooked potatoes with stewed carrots & leeks for a tasty winter variation on a roast or stew. (Note the photo of the variation above used 1/3 cup water instead of 1/2 cup for a thicker sauce and slightly charred consistency. We liked it just fine, but you want to make sure you get the liquid proportioning to your tastes.)