The Dish: Mexican chef Eddie Hernandez

The Dish: Mexican chef Eddie Hernandez

Growing up in Mexico, Eddie Hernandez opened his own food stand when he was just 15. His many careers have included rock 'n' roll drummer, volunteer fireman, and small-town mayor. Now his focus is back on food as executive chef and partner of Georgia's Taqueria del Sol restaurants. His food philosophy is summed up in his brand new cookbook "Turnip Greens & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen." 

Here are some of Hernandez's signature recipes: 

Steak churrasco with chimichurri sauce

Chimichurri sauce ingredients

2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 jalapeño, roasted, peeled, and stemmed (remove some or all of the seeds and membranes for less heat)
1 cup lightly packed fresh parsley
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt, plus additional as desired 

Steak churrasco ingredients

½ medium onion, cut into thin slices
1 garlic clove, mashed
Juice of 1 large lemon (about ¼ cup)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 pounds skirt or flank steak, cut into eight 6-ounce portions
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 recipe chimichurri sauce (recipe above)
8 sprigs fresh cilantro 

Directions

1. For the chimichurri sauce: Place the garlic, jalapeño, parsley, and cilantro in a food processor and pulse a few times until coarsely chopped. Add the oil and vinegar and pulse a few more times until combined and finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and add the salt. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

2. Place the onion, garlic, lemon juice, and soy sauce in a shallow dish. Add the steaks, turn once to coat, cover, and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for 2 to 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cooking to allow the steaks to come to room temperature.

3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Remove the steaks from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Brush lightly with the olive oil and place the steaks in the pan, a few at a time if necessary so as to not to overcrowd. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side to sear, then remove the pan from the heat and allow steaks to finish cooking in the residual heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until medium-rare. Remove the steaks from the pan, cover with foil, and rest for 5 minutes. Serve each steak topped with 2 tablespoons Chimichurri Sauce and garnished with a sprig of cilantro.

Deviled eggs with pimento cheese and spicy bread and butter pickles

Pimento cheese ingredients

10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (2½ cups)
2 tablespoons finely chopped pimentos or 2 tablespoons roasted (see page 12), peeled, and finely chopped red bell pepper (about ½ medium)
2 tablespoons stemmed, dry-roasted (see page 12), finely chopped jalapeños (remove some or all of the seeds and membranes for less heat)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon hot sauce (such as Texas Pete)
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup mayonnaise 

Directions

1. Combine the cheese, pimentos, jalapeños, black pepper, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl. Add the mayonnaise and gently stir to combine. Use immediately, or chill overnight to allow the flavors to develop.

Spicy bread and butter pickles ingredients

3 pounds pickling cucumbers
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups white vinegar
2½ cups sugar
3 jalapeños, stemmed and sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds, or 3 whole dried chiles de árbol
1 small white onion, thinly sliced (optional)
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds 

Directions

1. Partially peel the cucumbers, cutting away thin lengthwise strips of skin. Thinly slice them crosswise. Place in a large bowl and toss with the salt. Cover with ice and refrigerate for 1 hour. Drain but do not rinse.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, chiles, if using, onion, if using, garlic, turmeric, peppercorns, and mustard seeds. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the cucumbers, return to a boil, and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired.

3. Cool to room temperature, transfer to glass quart jars, and refrigerate. The pickles keep for up to 1 month, covered and refrigerated.

4. Place the eggs in a large saucepan. Cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and let the eggs rest in the water until you can immerse your hand in it, about 20 minutes. Drain off the hot water and cover the eggs with cold water and then drain. Crack and peel the eggs. Halve them lengthwise, remove the yolks, and reserve for another use. Or mash some or all of them into the Pimento Cheese with more mayonnaise to moisten, as needed.

5. Fill each egg half with 1 tablespoon of the pimento cheese mixture. Top with 1 slice Spicy Bread and Butter Pickle. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 1 day before serving.

Foil-roasted beets and vidalia onions with butter, lime and sea salt 

Ingredients

1 tablespoon sea salt
½ cup sugar
4 large beets, stemmed and trimmed
4 vidalia onions or other sweet onions, peeled
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves (optional)
Lime wedges for garnish
Sea salt for garnish 

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Mix the salt and sugar together in a small bowl.

3. Cut sixteen 8-inch-square pieces of aluminum foil and place two together so you have eight double-thicknesses of foil. Set the beets and onions on the squares of foil, one per square. Top each with 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon of the sugar/salt mixture. Sprinkle with mint leaves if desired.

4. Wrap each tightly and set on a baking sheet. Bake until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven. Peel off the foil. Cut the beets into halves or quarters and the onions into bite-size pieces. Serve the beets with a mound of onions on the side. Squeeze with lime juice and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Homemade tostadas and chips

Ingredients

Store-bought or homemade corn or flour tortillas, preferably stale
Vegetable oil for frying
Table salt or sea salt (optional) 

Directions

1. Line a cooling rack or baking sheet with paper towels. 

2. For tostadas: Heat 1 inch of oil to 360 degrees in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over high heat. Carefully add 1 tortilla. Fry for 10 to 15 seconds, flip, and continue to fry until golden and crispy. Transfer to the cooling rack. Allow the oil to return to 360 degrees before adding another tortilla. Season to taste with salt, if desired. 

3. For tortilla chips: Cut the tortillas into quarters. Heat 1 inch of oil to 360 degrees in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over high heat. Carefully add a small handful of tortilla quarters and fry for 20 to 25 seconds, until golden and crispy. Transfer to the cooling rack. Allow the oil to return to 360 degrees between batches. Season to taste with salt, if desired. 

New Mexican chiles rellenos

Ingredients

8 green New Mexico chiles or 8 large Anaheim or poblano chiles
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
2 cups panko
Vegetable oil for frying
2 to 3 cups Salsa Frita (below)

Directions

1. Place the chiles over a medium-high flame on a gas stove or on a very hot grill, turning frequently until the skins are evenly blistered or blackened. Remove from the heat and wrap in a dishtowel or paper bag to steam for 15 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, rub the peppers with a paper towel to remove the skins. Leaving the stem intact, cut a slit down the side of each chile to remove the membranes and seeds. Stuff each pepper with 1/2 cup of cheese. Place in the refrigerator to firm up, about 20 minutes.

2. Combine the flour and salt in a small bowl. Stir in 7 to 8 tablespoons water to create a mixture as thick as pancake batter. Place the panko on a small plate. Working with one chile at a time, dip and roll the chile in the batter, hold over the bowl for a few seconds to let the excess drip off, then roll the chile in the panko. Return the breaded chiles to the refrigerator for 20 minutes to set.

3. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat 1 inch of oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy skillet over high heat to 350 degrees. Gently add the chiles to the pot and fry in batches until browned, 5 to 6 minutes, turning. Allow the oil to return to 350 degrees. Transfer to the paper towel-lined baking sheet and drain. Serve hot over the salsa.

Salsa Frita Ingredients

¼ cup vegetable oil
6 large tomatoes, diced
4 or 5 jalapeños, stemmed, cut lengthwise, and thinly sliced (remove some or all of the seeds and membranes for less heat)
Salt 

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the tomatoes and jalapeños, standing back to avoid splatters. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes are very soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt as desired. For a smoother salsa, puree in a food processor or blender. It keeps for up to 1 week, covered and refrigerated.

Chocolate chimichangas with tequila cream sauce

Ingredients

8 (6-inch) flour tortillas
2 cups miniature chocolate chips
1 egg white, beaten
Vegetable oil for frying
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
2 cups Tequila Cream Sauce (page 280), chilled
Chocolate syrup for drizzling 

Directions

1. Working with 1 tortilla at a time, wrap in a paper towel and heat in the microwave for 10 seconds, until soft. Transfer to a work area. Spread ¼ cup chocolate chips across the tortilla, leaving a 1-inch border on each side. Brush the top edge and sides of the tortilla with a little egg white. Fold in the sides of the tortilla, then fold the bottom up, over, and around the chocolate. Roll the tortilla up toward the top edge like an egg roll and press to seal. Place it seam side down on a large plate. Repeat with the remaining 7 tortillas and chocolate chips. Chill in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours.

2. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside. Place a cooling rack on top. Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat until it is 375 degrees. Add the chimichangas, seam side down, in 1 layer, working in batches. Fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning once if necessary. Drain on the cooling rack. Return the oil to 375 degrees between each batch. Dust with confectioners' sugar while still warm. 

3. To serve, spread ¼ cup cream sauce on a plate. Drizzle decoratively with 1 to 2 teaspoons chocolate syrup. Top with a warm chimichanga.

Tequila cream sauce ingredients

1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cup whole milk
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons gold or other inexpensive tequila, or to taste
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as triple sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier, or to taste
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 cinnamon stick 

Directions

1. Whisk together the egg, egg yolk, cornstarch, ½ cup of the milk, and the salt in a large bowl until smooth.

2. Put the cream, sugar, tequila, orange liqueur, vanilla, and cinnamon stick into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.

3. Continually whisking the egg mixture, pour about half of the hot cream mixture in a steady stream into it. Then whisk this mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture.

4. Return the saucepan to the stove over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a simmer, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, discard the cinnamon stick, and stir in the remaining ¼ cup milk. Let the sauce cool to room temperature before covering with plastic wrap and chilling for at least 1 hour before serving. The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 4 days.