I realize that any foodie credibility I may have amassed in the last few months might go down the drain today. For the last week my cooking, if any, has been mundane and nothing I’ve made is particularly worthy of a blog post. During this creative/culinary dry spell have been working on my to-cook list for this holiday weekend, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:
- Lasagna Bolognese (already assembled and frozen)
- Ensalada de Bacalao con Viandas (salted codfish/pollock salad with boiled root vegetables) – I’ll be documenting it for a future post!
- Brownies (Best Brownies sans icing + 7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips + 1/8 teaspoon cayenne)
- Sandwiches de Mezcla
Back in the post on plantain soup, I did a mini-review on Wilo Benet’s Puerto Rico True Flavors, mentioning that he did embrace our strange love for processed foods by including a recipe for Sandwiches de Mezcla. Sandwiches de Mezcla translates to ‘mix’ sandwiches. What is the mix made of? Velveeta, Spam, and canned roasted red peppers… on white bread. Crusts are optional.
If one of Puerto Rico’s flagship chefs can get behind this treat, then I can shed my snobbery towards overly processed foods and make a batch of mezcla a couple of times a year. And begrudgingly enjoy it. (Sigh) I wasn’t always like this. As a kid, there was no birthday party or last day of school without a tray of sandwichitos. Back in my college days, I would get care packages from my Mom with mezcla and other treats. At that time, my former roommate was the one who turned up her nose at my ‘Velveeta/Spam concoction’. The rest of my friends would fight over it.
When I decided to make this post, I put on my cultural anthropologist hat/Google-Fu sash, and dug deep to learn or at least come up with a theory on how this combination came to be. I am sure that this is a local spin-off to pimento cheese, the cheese and pepper spread that’s popular in the Southern US (and the Phillipines!), but have always wondered… why add the ham/spam? My starting point was a battered copy of the1977 edition of Cocina Criolla, the Puerto Rican cooking bible penned by Mrs. Carmen Aboy de Valdejulli. My main criticism of this book is on how readily it embraced incorporating processed foods into the Puerto Rican way of cooking back in the fifties – nonetheless it is a classic and is embraced as such, warts and all. I leafed through the ‘Breads, Sandwiches, and Drinks’ section and found my first clue:
American Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers Sandwiches
Ingredients for 50 sandwiches: 1/2 pound of butter, 1/2 pound American cheese, 1 can roasted red peppers (pimientos morrones), 8 hard-boiled eggs, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, 2 tablespoons of mayo, and salt to taste. This egg salad was definitely not it.
My eyes moved to the previous page, just to see if I could find anything as fantastically retro as that recipe, and I found it. The name was misleading – emparedados descubiertos (open-faced sandwiches)… half a pound of butter, four hard-boiled eggs, two cans of deviled ham, two jars of pimento cheese. This is definitely closer. I’m guessing the jarred pimento cheese was an earlier form of Cheez Whiz; ditto the deviled ham/Spam connection.
This is as much research as I’ve been able to put together for now. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my slightly less evil version, swapping the Velveeta for some real cheese from the dairy case.
GF 360° Sandwiches de Mezcla
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 3 ounces cheddar cheese, cubed
- 1 12 ounce can low-sodium Spam, cubed
- 1 jarred roasted red pepper (reserve the liquid)
Depending on your food processor’s capacity, combine all the ingredients and take them for a spin, adding some of the red pepper liquid to achieve a smoother consistency.
To my fellow Doristas – I’ll see you next week for a double-whammy of Mustard Batons and Bistrot Paul Bert Pepper Steak, but I’ll check out your posts (although at a more leasurely pace). Here’s to a happy weekend!