Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Talba's Chile Rellanos


Comfort Food

    When I was 5 years old, my family and I spent the summer with Doris Duke in her Hollywood hills estate Falcon Lair. Doris was my mother's closest friend for over 25 years and was the ultimate Aunty Mame to my sister and I. There was a side to her that was definitely dark and troubled, but it was the crazy, fun part of her that I adored. I can still hear my mother's and Doris's infectious laughter wafting in from far off the coast as I clung to the rocks with my father, longing to be with them but too afraid of the depths they swam in. It wouldn't have done me much good, anyway, as their best gossip was always in French.

The memories I have of that hillside mansion were the terraced gardens where I played with my first daddy-long-legs, the rats that had  tunnels all through the hills, and Talba's chile rellenos.Tiny Talba took care of the kitchen and was renowned for her Mexican food. I remember my mother intently watching her every move as she cooked, as Talba spoke not one word of English and we , no Spanish. It was a relationship built on smiles, sign language, and food. I think she spoke eloquently through the latter, introducing us to her culture in Mexico and old old ways that were brand new to us.

I have a faint memory of watching her cook her chiles rellenos but a strong recollection of the crispy crust, melted smooth center, and the firm bite of the chiles. When I order them in restaurants, they never seem to have that voluptuous mouthfeel.  Here is how my family has recreated it for over 40 years.