In keeping with my theme of being culturally diverse with my comfort food recipes in 2021, I’ve decided to go with a favorite of mine this month: carne asada torta.
I first tried this sandwich at a corner store in Chicago Heights, Ill., when I was about 14 years old. My big cousin took me there, and I was surprised to find they not only sold things of convenience, but they also cooked and served this wonderful, flavor-filled sandwich called a torta.
I fell in love at first bite.
To me the torta was amazing and unique, mostly because I had never heard of it before. I thought the bread resembled a tortoise shell.
The carne asada torta starts with a fresh bun that is huge and buttery — but not heavy — with a hint of sweetness. Then there is the light layer of mayo that pairs well with fresh avocado. The tender, seasoned steak and the crunch of the cool lettuce bounces off the spicy jalapeno. It’s just mouth-watering.
Of course, you can try other proteins on the sandwich. I have, but my favorite is the steak version. I buy the fresh baked bread from Lupita’s Bakery on Johnson Avenue NW and Edgewood Road NW in Cedar Rapids. El Super Burrito & Lupita’s Bakery is where I purchase my sandwiches when I’m not in the mood to cook it myself. I’ve tried carne asada torta from multiple authentic Mexican-style restaurants, but Lupita’s is the best, hands down.
I always get my order for steak tortas in a platter, which consists of refried beans, salad and Mexican rice. I can never finish the platter in one sitting, so the leftovers are a great treat later.
When making the torta, I toast my bun face down in a skillet with a little butter. I like to marinate my sirloin steak for at least an hour so that it is tender. Using lime juice brings a little spark to the marinade once the sandwich is complete. Citrus and Mexican spices sing so beautifully together.
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Next, add sweet onions, pickled jalapenos, crisp iceberg lettuce and ripe, firm tomatoes, a thin layer of refried beans, ripe avocado slices and mayo. It may sound like a lot, but it’s amazing once assembled.
Some people prefer the sandwich on French bread, but I like the bakery bread that I get at Lupita’s best. Either way, add some verde sauce and the carne asada torta becomes comfort food at its best. I could eat this sandwich every day and not get tired of it.
A few of my friends say that along with tacos, tortas were a great lunch at school in Mexico because they were easy to carry and delicious whether they were hot or cold.
Now let’s roll up our sleeves, wash our hands and try our hands at creating one of my cultural favorites — carne asada tortas.
Reach Michelle Madden at Da Munchie Plug LLC on Facebook.
Carne Asada Torte
Cooks: 15 minutes
Prep Time: 20 to 80 minutes (depending on how long you marinate your steak)
1 pound sirloin steak
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
ground cayenne pepper to taste
4 buns split
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup refried beans
1 large avocado, thinly sliced
1 large tomato, sliced
2 cups shredded lettuce
1 ounce crumbled cotija cheese
2 whole limes (1 for marinade if you choose and the other cut in pieces to squeeze over finished sandwich)
Preheat a large skillet on medium heat on stove top with your choice of oil (I used about 1/4 cup olive oil and a pat of butter) or an outdoor grill on medium-high heat, and lightly oil the grate.
Season steak with garlic salt, black pepper, cumin, lime juice and cayenne pepper.
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Marinate for 20 to 60 minutes. Grill steak on the preheated grill until medium-rare, about 5 minutes per side. Remove from heat to a cutting board and cover with foil.
Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spread both halves of each bun with mayonnaise. Brown the buns, mayonnaise-side down until golden, about 3 minutes.
Warm the refried bean in a bowl in the microwave, about 1 minute on high, and slice the sirloin steak into thin strips.
Spread a thin layer of beans on the bottom half of each bun, layer with steak, avocado, tomato and lettuce.
Top with cheese, lime juice if desired, and close the sandwich with the top of the bun and enjoy.
Source: Adapted by Michelle Madden