We used to eat at this great hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant when we lived in Southern California. La Llamarada, which means "the bonfire," is located in an old run-down neighborhood in an equally distressed building. The unassuming front of the establishment is nothing more than a large scratched window next to a glass door. There's a folding sign out on the pocked sidewalk with the name of the restaurant written over a quick and colorful painting of a campfire. The narrow space holds a jukebox and a handful of lightweight tables, bottle-necked in the middle by a tile counter outlining the open concept kitchen. The space is full of Mariachi and the sound of hollow metal chairs humming across the hard floor. Cooks and patrons get an equal view (and equal whiff) of the food preparation process. The restaurant closes at dark, for safety reasons.
The words of the menu are painted in Spanish on a large white rectangle hung above the kitchen. There are no prices listed — at least, there didn't used to be. My husband has been eating at this restaurant since before he had a car to get to it. He was fortunate enough to grow up with a great friend who knew the best places to eat in that neighborhood.
When we enter, my husband updates our waitress and the cooks about the goings-on of our family. I can't understand half of what is said, but I can tell when the waitress asks about his parents — relatively recent converts to the restaurant — and she mentions that they were just in a couple of days prior.
I will never find carne asada that will compare with La Llamarada's carne asada. I have accepted that fact. But that doesn't mean I don't still crave the warm afterglow of a good plate of meat, beans, rice, fresh salsa, and warm corn tortillas.
So when there were fresh jalapenos at the dollar store and meat on sale at the supermarket at the same time, I had to take advantage of the opportunity. I had my husband look up a recipe for carne asada and tell me the ingredients over the phone as I walked the store aisles.
Here is where you can find the recipe we used, from Elise over at simplyrecipes.com. Cilantro! Lime! The love affair continues.
While the meat was busy marinating, I threw together the "Spanish rice" that I usually make for taco night.
Now for the disclaimers.
Please understand that this is probably not authentic; it's just me throwing stuff together. This is genuine "white girl making Spanish rice" rice. But it works, and it is simple and tasty. This is also not a show-stopping rice dish with freshly diced vegetables and a strong flavor. This is a 20 minute from start to finish recipe, with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. My version is comparatively mild spice-wise, because that's how I like it, but it could easily be spiced up depending on the type of salsa you use. Also, I don't make large serving sizes of this rice since it goes into an already stuffed tortilla, but the recipe can easily be doubled — just be sure to increase the pan size too.
Time: 20 minutes
3/4 cup long grain rice
1 1/2 cup water (follow package instructions regarding the ratio of liquid to rice, as this may vary depending on the rice.)
1 to 2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 to 1 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp salsa
Begin by measuring the water and setting it next to the stove. Place the dry rice and the butter in a small sauce pan on medium high heat. Stir constantly to prevent the rice from scorching. Stir until the rice is lightly toasted. (I love toasted rice!!)
When the rice has browned a bit, add the water. Be cautious because it will instantly bubble and steam. Stir in the salt, cumin, and salsa.
Reduce heat to medium-low (a 3 out of 10 on my stove), cover, and let the rice simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the rice sit an additional 5 or so minutes before removing the lid and fluffing the rice with a fork.
While the rice is on the stove and your husband is grilling the meat, make some chocolate cookies to round out the meal.
I don't know what it is about Mexican food (and Italian, incidentally,) that makes me crave chocolate. The craving is a burden I love to carry. Especially when this little guy helps me.