If I had to speculate about exactly where my fascination with food truck culture comes from, I suspect it could be traced back to the roadside food forays of my childhood.
Come summer (or during the year when we switched to a yearround school schedule), my parents packed me and my two brothers plus our energetic Boston terrier into our camper and headed down the highway. For several weeks at a time, we would spend most of our time traversing a trail of national parks and national forests throughout the western United States.
From our tiny, mobile kitchenette — complete with a mini fridge, two-burner gas stove/oven and a double sink — came the gourmet eats of my childhood. We were not, by any stretch of the imagination, a restaurant family. Starved for so-called “normal” travel experiences, we begged Dad to pull over at roadside diners or sneak through a fast-food drive thru. But it never happened. We were “completely self contained,” Dad reminded us.
Then, when I was in high school, we headed out for a three-week European vacation in a rented orange VW pop-up. There were fewer cooking amenities with this set up so we shopped almost daily at local butchers, bakers and cheesemakers. Again, virtually no restaurant meals, except when waiting in airports, or on the last night before we clambered onto the plane home.
Food trucks possess some of that same self-contained charm. Their kitchens may be miniscule and seemingly makeshift, but the food that comes out of the best ones is always memorable. The following recipes are from two of my favorite Kansas City food truck entrepreneurs, Adrian Bermudez ofIndios Carbonsitos
and Carmen Cabia ofEl Tenedor
Both trucks will be featured at The Star’sFood Truck Friday
on May 3. Join us from 5 to 8 p.m. in the parking lot at 18th and McGee.Indios Carbonsito’s Tortas Ahogadas (or Drowned Sandwiches)
Makes 8 sandwiches
Pork carnitas:1 (3-pound) pork roast 2 tablespoons canola oil 1 teaspoon cumin 1 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon chili seasoning 1 bay leaf 1 (14.5-ounce) can low-sodium chicken stock
Sauce:2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce 2 teaspoons cumin 2 teaspoons salt, divided 2 teaspoons black pepper 6 teaspoons ground oregano 6 garlic cloves, finely minced 4 teaspoons white vinegar 2 cups water 1 white onion, finely minced 4 chile de árbol peppers, less if you prefer a milder sauce
Sandwich:1 (16-ounce) can refried beans 8 bolillos, or French rolls, split length-wise, leaving a "hinge" on one side (see note) 2 red onions, thinly sliced 2 avocados, each pitted, peeled, cut into 8 slices 4 limes, each cut into 4 wedges Cayenne pepper, if desired
To prepare the pork carnitas: In a large sauté pan, brown the outside of pork roast in canola oil over medium-high heat. Transfer browned pork roast into the crock of a slow cooker. Sprinkle cumin, black pepper, chili seasoning and bay leaf over meat. Pour chicken stock over all.
Cover with lid and cook on low heat setting for 8 to 10 hours. Remove lid and shred pork with two forks, taking care to remove any visible fat before shredding. Replace lid and allow meat to cook in juices for another hour.
To prepare the sauce: Pour tomato sauce into a saucepan and season with cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper, oregano and garlic cloves. Simmer over low heat slowly for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While sauce is simmering, pour vinegar and water into a separate saucepan. Add minced onion and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat, add peppers and allow to steep for 15 minutes, or until the water turns a reddish-brown color.
Transfer contents of saucepan with peppers to the bowl of a blender and season with remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Blend mixture until it becomes smooth and add to simmering tomato sauce mixture. Simmer an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
To assemble the sandwich: Place refried beans in a microwave-safe dish and heat in microwave until warmed through. Spread warmed beans along the inside bottom of cut bread. Using tongs, add about 1/3-pound of prepared pork carnitas on top of beans. Ladle sauce over meat and garnish with sliced onion and 2 avocado slices. Squeeze a wedge of lime over all. Close sandwich and place on serving plate. Ladle more sauce on top of sandwich until it runs onto the plate. Top sandwich with more onions and garnish with additional lime wedge. Sprinkle cayenne pepper on top for maximum heat, if desired. Repeat process using the remaining ingredients.Note:
A bolillo roll is the traditional bread on which a tortas ahogadas is served. Bolillo rolls resemble a football. Bermudez buys his bread at Osuna Bakery in Kansas City, Kan.Per sandwich: 611 calories (43 percent of calories from fat), 30 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 84 milligrams cholesterol, 52 grams carbohydrates, 38 grams protein, 1,741 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber. El Tenedor’s Catalan Seafood Paella (Paella Catalana de Pescado
Makes 6 to 8 servings
For the sauce (Picada):1/2 teaspoon saffron threads 6 garlic cloves, peeled 1 cup fresh parsley leaves 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the Paella:4 cups or 1 (32-ounce) container seafood stock 5 tablespoons olive oil 1 pound calamari, cleaned with bodies cut into rings 1/2 pound monkfish or white fish 2 green peppers, seeded and finely diced 2 red peppers, seeded and finely diced 3 garlic cloves, finely minced 5 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced 2 cups or 1 (16-ounce) package Arborio rice 1 teaspoon salt 12 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined 24 mussels, cleaned and beards removed 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves To make the Picada:
Create a small bowl of aluminum foil and place in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat on stovetop. When heated, drop saffron threads into aluminum foil and toast lightly for a few seconds. Remove aluminum foil bowl with saffron from sauté pan and allow to cool.
Place garlic and parsley leaves into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well combined. Add toasted saffron threads and with processor running, drizzle in olive oil to make a smooth sauce. Set aside.To make the Paella:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour stock into a saucepot over low heat to warm.
On the stovetop over medium heat, warm olive oil in a 14-inch paella pan (paellera) or cast-iron skillet. Add calamari and monkfish (or white fish) and sauté until all water is absorbed. Add peppers, garlic and tomatoes to pan and sauté about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and start to caramelize. Stir in rice, coating all grains. Pour in warm stock and stir, until ingredients are well mixed. Season with salt. Cook on stovetop over medium-low heat until 1/2-inch of liquid remains, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Stir in the reserved Picada and decorate top with mussels and shrimp. Place paellera or cast-iron skillet into oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until all stock has been absorbed, shrimp is pink and mussels have opened. Discard any mussels that do not open and bring pan directly from oven to table. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley leaves and serve immediately.Per serving, based on 6: 788 calories (37 percent from fat), 31 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 272 milligrams cholesterol, 78 grams carbohydrates, 41 grams protein, 824 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s award-winning food editor and restaurant critic. Find her at @kcstarfood, @chowtownkc and as herself on Facebook.