Archive for Mexican food
You may recall I went to visit my boyfriend at his Tlaxcala home in February, and was amazed by the pre-hispanic market that has stood on the same site for a thousand years, and still sells the same products they sold way back then.
Today Manuel sent me a story about pinole, a traditional toasted corn drink he remembers fondly from his childhood. Like many Mexican children, he loved to eat it dry, enjoying its sandy texture and rich toasted corn taste.
Here is my translation of his pinole story:
“Pinole. Since I was a child I hadn’t eaten pinole, and last week I had the chance to taste it once again thanks to my sister, who had a bit in her kitchen. She told me that they’ve always sold it in the market here in Tlaxcala, so I went to look for it and on the second try located it.
I asked an old woman who sold seeds where to find it, and she told me who carried it. ’ There’s an old woman who sells her goods right on the floor, she’s got it,’ she told me. So I found her, and noticed that she is old, but quite strong like people of her generation often are, and yes, she sells pinole and ground corn of different colors to make atole. I asked how pinole is made and she told me it’s a simple recipe, you just toast corn on a hot comal, then grind it with sugar and cinnamon. I tried some before buying, and the flavor was different than I remembered from my childhood. I bought some anyway and took it back to the woman who sells seeds to try, to tell me if it seemed like good stuff to her.
She said, ‘I believe you love pinole because your mother ate a lot of it before she had you, and hey, my son loves quesadillas made with squash blossoms because I ate a lot of them when I was pregnant with him. I love seafood because they say my mother ate it before I was born.’ I asked her again if she liked the pinole and she said she really didn’t care for it. I asked if it was bad, and she explained why she never eats the stuff. ‘I’ve never liked pinole because an uncle died eating pinole, he asphyxiated, so I recommend that you make it into atole and drink it .’
Muchos saludos a todos,
The answer to this burning question is a resounding YES! I am amazed at the response to the August culinary tour I designed to allow us to continue to take in Cabo’s traditional Mexican food scene without losing our cool… and now I’m hearing from truly intrepid travelers who venture to Cabo at the height of hurricane season–hey, if you’re crazy enough, count me in!
Here’s the deal:
I am offering a special culinary tour, Breakfast and Marketing in Mexico, to take in Cabo’s burgeoning traditional Mexican food inlets and outlets. This four hour experience, 9am to 1pm, will take you off the beaten path and into the heart of Mexico.
Next time you’re driving down Baja, try to hit Ensenada on a Sunday and stop in at Marcelo Castro’s recent addition to Baja’s quiet gourmet food and drink revolution. Take the short drive 40 miles east of Ensenada on federal highway 3 to Ojos Negros to see what it’s all about.
Now, in addition to incomparable seafood, fantastic organic produce, olive oil and wines all made possible by sea breezes which create a very special micro climate perfect for all these culinary treasures, Marcelo Castro has installed America’s first stone cave for aging artesanal cheeses the way it’s been done for generations in Europe.
It makes sense. Marcelo is a fourth generation artesanal cheese producer, following in the footsteps of his Swiss-Italian grandfather who brought the family tradition to Baja, making cheeses for American and Mexican cowboys in the valley historically known as Valle de San Rafael. The family business expanded to include the Ensenada-Tecate-Tijuana triangle, then the entire country of Mexico.
Marcelo’s ambitious project allows him to turn out 400 kilos of exquisite artesanal cheeses daily, and the stone cave has a capacity for 10,000 pieces at the perfect humidity and light exposure for European quality cheeses.
Artesanal doesn’t just encompass cheese production, either. Marcelo’s grows and feeds their own livestock, milks the cows and takes it from there! And yes, you can drop in on Sundays for a tour that allows you to see just how it’s being done, and to sample the fare, including the Valley’s famous wines. Google Cava de Marcelo for more information.
It’s an exciting time for foodies in Baja! Come for lunch…
We started out in Tabasco with some absolutely addictive chipotle chiles simmered in a piloncillo brine then plump-stuffed with platano macho fried golden in butter with sweet onions, then mashed with fresh orange juice, raisins, chopped toasted walnuts and a good handful of crumbled queso panela for good measure… each one rolled in flour, then egg, then dry breadcrumbs and fried golden crisp and served with cold sour cream to cut the heat… I dream about those chiles!
Then yesterday some culinarily adventurous cooks asked for lunch in Yucatan — so off we went! Sopa de Limon is Yucatan’s version of Mexico’s famous and also addictive tortilla soup — with a chunk of habanero simmered in the broth and a good squeeze of sour orange juice to top it off.
Papadzules — strange food! Mayan food. This unusual and somewhat baroque offering from Yucatan makes a wonderful breakfast dish — tender corn tortillas are dipped in a toasted pumpkin seed sauce then rolled around chopped hard boiled eggs and served in a pool of spicy tomato sauce.
Ah, and the pibil! You thought I would never get around to the pibil, right? Well there it was, simmering away on low in my trusty crock pot since four a.m., tender juicy bundles of chicken, achiote and other traditional herbs and spices, onion rings and tomato slices — with a chunk of habanero tucked into each bundle to add a little extra interest — all wrapped in fresh banana leaves redolent of the jungle from which they were harvested…
And sure enough, the crock pot is the way to make pibil if you aren’t lucky enough to have a pit barbecue in your back yard. A good friend makes pork the same way and it melts in your mouth!
So where will we be off to next? Oaxaca, or maybe Veracruz… the fun part is that we can eat our way through the Republic of Mexico without leaving my cozy Cabo kitchen these days since we can now get pretty much all the ingredients for any regional dish we can dream up right here in town!
I’m loving the new Cabo!
This one goes out to my culinarily adventurous friend Alberto…
Jicama. Surprisingly few people have explored this juicy, crispy tuber that is so popular in Mexico, Central and South America and the Orient, since the Spaniards carried it to the Philippines as one of the spoils of the conquest of Mexico. It remains quite popular in Oriental cuisine as an economical substitute for water chestnuts, since it has a pleasing quality of absorbing flavors and retains its crispy crunch in stir fries and the like.
You may have tried it on a trip to Mexico while wandering the streets, in an irresistable fruit cocktail or on its own, liberally doused with lime juice and chile powder. It discolors slowly, making it a great addition to relish platters even in the comparatively culinarily conservative U.S.A., where aficionados think the flavor is a cross between a crisp apple and a crisper pear… or an apple and a potato if the tuber is older and starchier.
It’s high in vitamin C and fiber, low in sodium and has zero fat… so it SHOULD become a staple on your table as it is in so many Mexican homes. Choose a tuber that feels heavy for its size, with a root that doesn’t look too dried out. Mexican cooks in jicama country won’t take it home from the market unless it has fresh leaves sprouting from the top, but most of us aren’t that lucky.
Try it peeled and cubed in a salad with similarly cubed cantaloupe and honeydew dressed with lime and honey (add a good grind of fresh black pepper, what the heck!); chop it and make a fruity salsa with mango, red onion and serrano pepper… or try this delicious, refreshing salad from Jalisco, known as Picardía:
Cube a small jicama in 1/2″ dice
Seed and devein one or two small fresh serrano chiles
Chop a good handful of fresh mint
Mix together and dress with fresh lime juice and a drizzle of honey if the jicama isn’t sweet enough. Chill well and serve in pretty butter lettuce leaf cups and really cut the heat of a summer day!
However you enjoy your jicama, try it in another recipe, fresh or cooked and you’ll be glad you got to know this Mexican delight!
Hello, and happy Spring!
Today I’m inspired to talk about Mexico’s creamy classic dessert, flan…
Some have never eaten flan, and others have fallen on funky flan! Fortunate diners have had the full on flan experience, which rivals good cheesecake as a dessert classic and can run the gamut from basic vanilla to baroque chocoflan to suit the most demanding dessert-o-holic’s palate — but have no idea how to create the flan fantasy for themselves.
Similar to creme brulee, flan’s caramel sauce is baked on the bottom to be inverted and served as a liquid topping that requires a serving platter with a lip to contain every golden drop.
I’ve never had a flan fail to flip. This is because the custard floats on its base of liquid caramel, and all it takes to release it from its mold is to run a sharp knife around the sides, once it has been thoroughly chilled. Simply place your platter over the mold, and FLIP! Fabulous flan!
It’s all technique. Melting the sugar for the caramel topping is simple. Get a heavy skillet, place over medium heat, add 3/4 c. sugar and let it stand until you can see the sugar clearly melting; the top sugar layer will be floating on melted caramel. At this point stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is mostly melted; turn off the heat and continue to stir until completely melted and golden.
Have a mold ready to receive the caramel. I use a glass souffle baker, which I preheat with some boiling water, drying it well just before pouring in the melted sugar. IMMEDIATELY tilt the mold around to coat the bottom and 1/2-1″ up the sides with caramel, working quickly as it sets up fast. Set aside to cool until you can place your hand on the sugar to avoid scrambling the eggs in your custard.
You need a water bath to bake the custard; eggs are delicate and really need this insulation from the oven’s heat. Find a baking dish that will hold the mold with room to spare. Measure the water by placing the mold in the baking dish and adding water to about custard-level. Remove the mold and heat the measured water almost to boiling. Preheat your oven to 325.
The custard is a simple thing. Pour a 14 oz. can of Eagle Brand sweeteened condensed milk (La Lechera in Mexico) into your blender jar. Using the same can, measure milk, half and half or cream (depending on how rich you want your flan) and add it to the blender. Break four large eggs in with the milk and voila! Basic flan! Add flavoring of your choice — good quality vanilla, coffee powder dissolved in hot water, Bailey’s, Kahlua, orange zest, a can-full of fresh corn kernels… only your imagination limits your choices.
WHIZZZ the custard thoroughly and pour into your cooled, caramel lined mold. Place the baking dish with hot water in the oven, carefully add the flan in its mold and bake for an hour.
Now the tricky part. Is it done?
The flan should be puffed and a beautiful golden brown. If this is not the case, let it bake another 10-15 minutes and check again. Puffed and brown? Great! Now give it the Jiggle Test. Pay no attention to recipes suggesting that a knife inserted off center will come away clean. By that point your flan is WAAAY overdone!
Give it a judicious jiggle. If it has a liquid sort of jiggle, like an old-style water bed, let it bake another 5 and try again. It should have a happy little jello-type jiggle… in which case it’s done! Take it straight out of the oven, and out of the water bath to cool completely before chilling at least 3 hours prior to flipping.
¡Fabuloso! You’ve mastered the perfect flan! There it sits in its pond of golden caramel awaiting your pleasure. You can, of course, serve it just as-is as a finale to even the most elegant meal. OR… you can certainly gild the lily, adding fresh berries or sliced peaches and a final drizzle of cream before serving, or go completely crazy and pipe whipped cream rosettes and drizzle with hot fudge sauce…
In the end, what you do with your flan in your own home between consenting adults is really up to you.
I know I have gone on and on about how happy I am to have Mexican products available to us here in Cabo. It seems incredible that only a short few years ago we were limited in our selection, and now we are surrounded by such abundance, all with the Mexican cook in mind!
Epazote, arguably the most Mexican of all culinary herbs, has become a regular staple at our big box stores as they try to outdo each other vying for popularity with Cabo’s Mexican population, which suddenly outnumbers foreign residents and locals combined!
Black beans would not be black beans without epazote in central and southern Mexico. It is also used with wild abandon in quesadillas de comal, chopped with fresh corn, in soups and stews, and also as an herbal remedy reputed to be an antiflatuent and vermifuge. It is a pungent, slightly bitter herb that is fairly easy to grow, although it tends to dry out in our Baja hot season. I really love having epazote readily available at the markets, along with a wide selection of other fresh herbs like chamomile for tea; mint, which is used in a variety of Mexican dishes as well as a refreshing tea; laurel (Bay); thyme; basil and sage.
We can also get fresh banana leaves for tamales, a really good selection of fresh and dried chiles, and virtually all the competitive markets have a full-time nopalero, a man who stands whisking the spines from prickly pear cactus paddles–nopales–with a super sharp knife, trimming the edges so each paddle is perfect, ready for the kitchen!
What do do with nopales? Here’s a great tip: drizzle them with a little olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and grill them briefly on each side (you can do this in a hot skillet as well), then use them as a beautiful bright green base for pork in a mole sauce, chicken in chipotle… whatever your imagination can cook up! Serve with a side of rice and wow! Healthy, light and absolutely delicious. They taste a bit like green beans with lime juice, really fresh and tasty.
Ah, but I digress! I was going to talk about green corn. Recently huge shipments of fresh corn have been arriving in our major markets, and by the truckload to be sold on street corners and in the big arroyo where fresh produce appears out of nowhere when it comes in season. The markets use it as a come-on to attract the coveted market of Mexican cooks who mob the place with the cheapest price, using elbows and shopping carts to jockey for the best position as they load up on this most cherished of all Mexican ingredients.
This is a mystery to the foreign palate… these are not ears of sweet corn like those you would find in California, literally bursting with sugar and needing only a brief cooking to be at their tender best. These are tough, starchy ears of field corn that foreigners find inedible! What possible use could you find for these tough customers?
I was in the melee, sharpening my elbows to get my share, and I took the opportunity to ask people around me what they planned to do with the bounty. The answer? TAMALES! Fresh corn tamales must contain a lot of starch, or they will never set up. TORTA DE ELOTE! Mexican gastronomy contains few desserts, but fresh corn makes a delightful, moist cake popular with the whole family. ATOLE! This thick beverage, like a thin pudding, is so nourishing when made with fresh corn kernels.
Me? I was going to make a batch of Uchepos, Michoacan’s fresh corn tamales, delicate little morsels served right on the fresh steamed corn leaf with queso fresco and a dollop of cream.
And so the answer was the same from all of us as we clamored for our corn: COMFORT FOOD!
Muchos saludos a todos,
The special new man in my life and I both enjoy cooking and experiencing diverse cultures. He has owned a condo in Cabo since the 1980’s and I’ve driven a fair amount through regions in Mexico . Still both of us marveled at our adventures in traditional Mexican Cooking with Donna, at her home Casa de Colores. Donna is a beautiful person, her home is an artful assemblage of Mexican folk-art/ nature/and craftsmanship, her professional Mexican culinary “classroom” is a place for connecting while cooking and the actual classes far exceeded our expectations (which were high to begin with).
Having found Donna on-line, via emails we discussed menus, options, costs and logistics. Donna offered a smorgasbord of whatever we wanted; group or individual classes, set or eclectic menus, market tours etc. What was consistent is that the recipes consisted of authentic regional Mexican dishes and the cost for these experiential classes was far less than a meal at a quality restaurant..
We opted for the market tour, the basic traditional Mexican cooking group class and a private class with an eclectic self-selected menu (enchiladas, a signature fried fish with garlic chips sauce and tortilla soup). Every dish was filled with colors and flavors of Mexico .
Not only were the recipes that we prepared delicious; as in most classes, it’s about relationships. Donna, an ex-pat from Arizona has fun with her students and meets their every need, transportation if needed, aprons for men and women, tequila, a couch for a quick snooze or for those academically inclined- a certificate of completion to display with other degrees.
This was a formidable experience that we both highly recommend to all who visit this region; couples, families, single men or women etc. Other than being with each other- this was the highlight of our trip. Even if cooking is not one of your passions, the experience will broaden your conception of regional Mexican cuisine; you’ll have fun and probably enjoy the best meals of your trip. http://casadecolores.wordpress.com/
UNQUESTIONABLY… Mexican food is growing ever more popular in the world of good eating, and the pressure is on for quality authentic ingredients. One of the most essential is queso… Mexican cheeses which are rapidly moving beyond Latin enclaves into mainstream markets.
There are at least a dozen different Mexican cheeses which are now being produced in the West, about half of them widely distributed — the rest you have to search out locally or over the Internet. Some are known by more than one name, and most are made from cow’s milk. Most are white or cream colored with a mild, fresh taste, though a few are sharp and intense, perfect for garnishing spicy Mexican dishes.
The way they behave in cooking divides them into three categories: Fresh, mild cheeses that hold their shape when heated; good melting cheeses; and aged, sharp, crumbly ones.
Fresh and melting-type cheeses should be used quickly, as they tend to spoil. Once the package is open, eat or use within a few days — the melting types may hold up to a week. If the taste and smell is sour or the cheese is discolored, toss it.
Saltier cheeses contain less moisture and keep longer under refrigeration. The same rules apply — if it smells or looks off, out it goes.
Look for Panela, a very fresh, mild cheese made from curds drained in a basket — the cheese will bear the attractive pattern. It has a squeaky texture similar to fresh Italian buffalo mozzarella. It softens but doesn’t melt and is great in sandwiches, salads and soups. Try pan-frying slices in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill it.
Queso fresco (also known as ranchero) is another fresh cheese with a slightly salty taste and somewhat crumbly texture. Substitute farmer’s or ricotta cheese. Softens when heated, but holds its shape. Traditional topping or filling for tacos, tostadas, chiles rellenos, enchiladas, quesadillas, beans, etc.
Chihuahua (get Menonita if you can) melts beautifully like jack or cheddar. Shred or slice into quesadillas, enchiladas or anywhere a melting cheese works. Can become stringy if overheated.
Oaxaca is a string cheese wound into balls of varying sizes, or sold in strands which may be pulled apart like a typical string cheese. Great in quesadillas, nachos etc.
Manchego is another common melter — use like Chihuahua.
Cotija (or añejo, aged cheese) is crumbly, salty and a bit pungent. Depending on how it’s made, it can be soft like feta, or firm and more complex, like parmesan. It can be used like feta or parmesan, and is the traditional garnish on tacos, enchiladas etc.
There are many more, but I hope this will get you working with whatever Mexican cheeses are available to you, and on the hunt to find more!