Updated: Apr 24, 2020
When I was in college, I was the starting shortstop for my university’s softball team.
Growing up, I loved watching baseball, which is the national sport in Venezuela, my home country. I’d watch it on television and attend minor league games. My dad was a professional player in Venezuela for several years. He is a great first baseman!
Naturally, my father wanted his sons to be great baseball players. My oldest brother, Jose, instead opted to play basketball, and for a few years he competed in Olympic-style weightlifting (my brother is strong and very tall!). So, my dad used to take my second oldest brother, Julio, to train in the baseball fields. I would tag along … I guess they let me because they needed someone to pick up all the balls my brother hit while practicing his swing. Haha.
I remember hearing the instructions my dad would give, at times celebrating Julio’s achievements, other times correcting his technique, and still other times just pushing him to do better. One thing was for certain – they knew baseball.
When I was about 13-years-old, we moved from Venezuela to Mexico. And though baseball is somewhat popular in certain states (like Tabasco and Veracruz), it’s not very popular in Mexico City. So my brother had an advantage above others around the area, and he went on to play in college.
When I entered college in Mexico City, I found myself drawn to the baseball fields. One day, I looked up and noticed a skinny, blond man in the field training some girls. Juan Acuña or Juanito as we affectionately call him, was the baseball and softball manager. I went and spoke to him and he invited me to join the girls in their trainings.
After my first day training with them, Juanito asked me, “Did you play in the Olmeca league?” The Olmeca League was the premier softball academy in Mexico City.
“No, I’ve never played in a softball league,” I answered.
Confused, he asked, “Then, who taught you how to play?”
In that moment I realized that I had never been intentionally taught how to play softball. I was taught secondhand. I observed for years, and repeated as best as I could all the things I heard was my dad tell my brother, what I had seen on tv, and what I’d seen my dad do while playing.
“I used to pick up the balls while my brother and dad where out in the baseball field. I just like baseball,” I told responded after a long pause. “So, I guess my dad taught me.”
After that day, I was asked to join the team and the team became a part of me.
Juanito was not only my softball coach, he has become my friend and one of the mentors of my life. I am very thankful for that beautiful time, the discipline, and persevering mindset shaped me and became a part of my life.
The softball team became so special to me. I even asked other friends to attend trainings, some of whom eventually joined the team as well. One of those friends is Marcela. (She was actually our best batter! She said she enjoyed hitting homeruns so she didn’t have to run!)
No matter what happens in the world, Marcela’s uniqueness, honesty and vulnerability guarantees that I can count on her friendship – just as she can count on mine!
I knew I had a special connection with Marcela as soon as we met. She is from the state of Veracruz, a region that closely resembles Venezuelan culture. The people are generally loud, they like to party, they have amazing food and they are very straight forward – just like my people!
We took many classes together and trained every day. She would often talk about her family in Veracruz. She talked a lot about her grandma Dulcinea and the wisdom she carried. She was a woman full of street smarts – that wisdom that only comes from walking for many years on this planet. She would wake up every morning and brew a big pot of coffee, adding the ingredients for café de olla (Mexican coffee). She would then prepare breakfast for family and guests (mostly during weekends), because there were always guests in their small town!
Guests would arrive at her house - men would enter, taking off their sombreros, and women folding their umbrellas - always welcomed in by the aromas drifting from the kitchen. Fresh coffee, fried plantains, black beans and fresh cheese, and if it was after 10 a.m., they would receive the delicious aroma of lunch dishes like Bisteces a la Mexicana (Steak Mexican style) with white rice, frijoles de la olla (black beans) and handmade tortillas.
Bisteces a la Mexicana is Marcela’s favorite dish, it was one of the dishes Mama Dulcinea learned from her mother – passed down from generation to generation. Mama Dulcinea actually mastered the dish so well that their governor tasted this dish and became a fan!
The thing is, Mama Dulcinea didn’t think that she knew how to cook well. In her house growing up they only had rice and beans, and she only cooked “simple” things. But she mastered those simple things and gave them an authentic touch of herself, just like learning by observation and instinct, trying the best she could with what she had.
So I share with you all Mama Dulcinea’s Bisteces a la Mexicana recipe.
I truly believe that the secret ingredient of this recipe is love. This precious recipe is full of history and preparing it allowed me to remember all those beautiful times with my friend Marce, her stories, and how much I appreciate our friendship. I am thankful that now I also have a piece of Mama Dulcinea’s kitchen in my life!
Mama Dulcinea’s Mexican stakes (Bisteces a la Mexicana)
1kg beef (Chuck steak boneless, Eye round steak) *
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 kg of tomatoes, chopped
10 sprigs of Cilantro
3 Jalapeño peppers, sliced lengthwise, without seeds**
1 garlic glove, finely chopped (minced)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
3 Tsp of vegetable oil
* Depending on your location and your budget, you can choose an inexpensive cut like shoulder, chuck steak, shoulder steak, or bottom round steak. You can ask your butcher for advice on an inexpensive cut that would do well braised.
** Only one jalapeño if you don’t want it to be too spicy. If you only want the flavor of the peppers – and not the spice – carefully extract the seeds and do not add them to the dish.
If you want the dish to be spicier leave the seeds of the peppers.
If your meat is not sliced:
Rinse and dry the meat with a paper towel, set on a cutting board and carefully slice it no more than ¼ inch thick, they don’t have to be perfect.
Place the slices between two pieces of plastic wrap and use a meat mallet to beat to thin them. Do not beat too hard, you don’t want to destroy the meat, just enough to even out the thickness of the steak slices.
1. In a large pan or medium pot, turn the stovetop eye to medium heat and add the oil. Wait for the heat to rise. Add the garlic and fry until golden. Add the sliced onion and the meat.
2. Add plenty of salt and pepper and cover, allowing them to simmer at low-medium heat, so the meat absorbs all the juice.
3. Once the meat is cooked (do not let the steaks get dry or brown too much, they must remain moist), add the tomato.
4. Let the tomato season in the juices. The perfect point is when you observe a change of color and texture in the tomato.
5. Add Jalapeño and cilantro. Taste and adjust salt or pepper if needed.
6. Let simmer with the lid on for about 5 minutes, until the peppers feel tender and the cilantro is cooked.
7. Taste again and adjust salt/pepper if needed. Serve warm with white rice, black beans and, if possible, handmade corn tortillas!
It very important to keep the lid on the pot unless adding ingredients/seasonings; this keeps the moisture in and prevents the meat from getting dry and tough.
Once the tomatoes have simmered, if it looks too dry, add up to 1 cup of water. Don’t add more than that, otherwise it would begin to lose flavor.
The real trick of this dish is to put the perfect amount of pepper. Don’t feel too timid - add a little more than usual. Pepper is a game changer for this recipe, it enriches the flavor.
As mentioned earlier, if you don’t want it to be too spicy only add 1 Jalapeño.
Make this recipe and share your experience with me using #johastable!