Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fried Cheese (Queso De Freir) Tacos

Queso De Freir brings me surprising comfort.  I first had the scrumptious Hispanic cheese years ago on the Southside of Providence, Rhode Island when I was a restless undergraduate on a mission to get off the hill (i.e., the College Hill neighborhood of Providence).  It was during the time that I became good friends with a local chef who shared my appreciation for ethnic foods.  We ate indiscriminately--Dominican, Jamaican, Vietnamese, West African, soul food, Mexican, Italian, Puerto Rican, Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern, etc.--and I experienced new tastes, textures, techniques, and ingredients.  When I first tried Queso De Freir, I remember thinking it was weird that you could fry this cheese and it wouldn't melt.  I ate it "straight up" and it was salty, but not overpowering.  I only had it that one time, but it made quite an impression on me.

Fast forward about 6 years to 2011, and I am living in Philadelphia, PA.  I continue to eat indiscriminately, with a much greater focus on healthy foods.   I continue to enjoy dining out, but I have learned to lower my expectations (for other people's cooking) after far too many bland meals as a pescetarian.  Now, imagine the vibrant neighborhood of South Philly where The Italian Market is located along with the East Passyunk Avenue Business District and the iconic cheesesteak institutions of Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks.  If it matters to you, numerous sources along with Craig LaBan, Inquirer Restaurant Critic, say that the cheesesteaks at John's Roast Pork are the best in the city.  Check out Craig's 2002 Cheesesteak Report.  Now, imagine the most mundane, no frills Mexican restaurant sandwiched between all this action.  That would be La Lupe. I went there with slight apprehension a few months ago with a good friend who is a regular.  As we entered the mostly empty restaurant, the staff sat at two tables eating and chatting in Spanish as it was near closing time.  I was immediately taken aback by the fact that the Cha Cha Slide was blaring from a small portable boombox and I felt more like I was at a cookout down South.  However, I decided to overlook that odd occurrence. I was truly determined to give this place a fighting chance.  I perused the menu and the cheese tacos jumped out at me.  WAS IT THE ELUSIVE FRIED CHEESE FROM PROVIDENCE?!?!?!  I inquired and, as the cook described the dish, it still seemed like a bit of a gamble.  I went ahead and gave in to temptation and ordered two.  I was assured that "everything on the menu is good" by both my friend and the cook.   A few minutes later, the tacos finally arrived and we took our meals back to my friend's place, where I anxiously bit into a taco.  It was pure delight!  I had finally rediscovered the elusive Queso De Freir and it made a darn good taco!

This fried cheese taco is a recreation of the masterpiece I had at La Lupe during the winter of 2011.

Fried Cheese Tacos (Queso De Freir)

1 1/4 cups Queso De Freir, shredded
1/2 avocado
sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons pico de gallo
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 corn tortillas

In a mortar or bowl, mash the avocado until slightly chunky.  Add the pico de gallo, chopped cilantro, and fresh ground pepper.  Mix well and set aside.

Heat canola oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat.  Add the shredded cheese and cook 2-3 minutes.  Using a spatula, separate the cheese into two distinct patties.  Continue cooking and allow to brown on both sides by flipping the cheese patties.  Remove from heat and sprinkle sparingly with sea salt.  Queso De Freir is naturally salty so be careful not to over salt.

Heat tortillas for 1-2 minutes in the frying pan, until warm.  Then, place the warm tortillas on a dinner plate and add the fried cheese patties and guacamole.  Enjoy with crudites such as radishes and cucumbers.

Notes:  This guacamole recipe is my easy, weekday recipe for quick guacamole.  Guacamole is even better with freshly chopped vegetables and a little lime juice if you seek a more traditional taste.

If you are extra sensitive to the taste of salt, eliminate the sea salt in the recipe.

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