Cooking contests are too ubiquitous to keep track of these days. This particular competition, though, was of unusual interest. It took place in the small Mexican village of Ehido Saltillo and the contestants were all local housewives.
The entrants were asked to make the most appealing use possible of an intensely green, peanut butter-like substance extracted from the alfalfa grown in their vicinity, and 23 recipes were submitted.
The people of Ehido Saltillo are mostly landless laborers who earn about $2 a day, most of which goes for food: cornmeal, potatoes, and beans primarily.
In early 1983, members of a London-based group called Find Your Feet launched a program to make leaf protein supplementation available to the children of the village. A local family processed the alfalfa, and local helpers distributed the resulting protein cake among the children.
Subsequent weekly medical examinations of the children revealed such impressive results that their mothers have now taken over the production process themselves and increased the number of children participating to 200.
Who won the contest? Everyone, clearly: children, parents and certainly the committed volunteer workers who initiated this small but very canny assault on one of today's abiding tragedies, the systematic undernourishment of tomorrow's adults.
The winning recipe has not been published. But apparently the villagers spread the alfalfa extract on a tortilla with a highly seasoned red-bean paste and the children "eat it like candy bars."
Even where malnourishment is not a serious threat, getting those intensely green foodstuffs across can be a challenge. To the mothers and children of Ehido Satillo, then, we dedicate Spinach Quesadillas -- delicious with bowls of chili con elote (chili with corn). SPINACH QUESADILLAS (Makes 6 quesadillas) 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach (2 cups cooked) 1 onion, chopped 1 red bell pepper, chopped 2 cloves garlic, chopped 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chili powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon oil 6 corn tortillas 8 ounces jack or cheddar cheese, grated Optional: your favorite salsa
Wash spinach thoroughly, remove stems, steam and drain thoroughly. Chop and drain again.
Saute' onion, pepper, garlic, chili powder and salt in oil and combine with chopped spinach. Keep warm while you heat the tortillas on a griddle or over a low gas flame until soft.
Spread spinach on tortillas, 1/3 cup on each, and scatter grated cheese over the top. Place under the broiler until cheese bubbles. Dot with salsa if desired. Serve immediately, with chili beans. CHILI CON ELOTE (6 servings) 1 onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, mashed 3 tablespoons oil 1 green pepper, diced 2 cups water or vegetable stock 1 cup chopped tomato or 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1 cup corn, fresh or frozen 4 cups cooked kidney or pinto beans 1/2 teaspoon chili powder 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (unless beans are salty) 1 teaspoon oregano
Saute' onion and garlic clove in oil until onion is soft. Discard garlic clove. Add green pepper. Saute' another 2 or 3 minutes. Add water, tomatoes and corn. Mash 2 cups of the kidney beans and add to pot along with whole beans and seasonings. Simmer 30 minutes. If too watery, remove cover and cook another 10 minutes.