It’s ironic. The farthest away from Mexico I’ve been, the closest I’ve felt to my home country and the more I’ve gotten to know it.
Namely, there are 2,419 miles between my home in the DC area and the home I was born and raised in, in Mexico City (I’ve seen it in Google maps a thousand times with my boys), it’s a 44-hour drive if you go non-stop and a 5-hour flight with no connections.
Distance matters. It weighs, in tons of pounds of nostalgia that can be soothed in the kitchen. Distance has made my time in Mexico intense and adventurous, and the foods I am able to replicate in my American kitchen that much more precious.
It has been 15 years since we packed our bags to move from Mexico City to Texas. Since then, I’ve taken every opportunity to go back to visit. There is always something new to learn and something to rediscover. And there is always a dish that sticks with me in such a way that it has me running back home to make it for my boys. If they request it, time and again, it becomes a home staple that I hope to pass on.
That’s the case with the ultra decadent Yucatán style french toast, also known as caballeros pobres. I even included it on an episode called Brunch at the Jinich Home, from Season 3 of my TV series. It is very similar to a dish called Capirotada, in fact, some consider it Yucatan’s version of it.
Continue reading Yucatán Style French Toast: Ultra Decadent
I grew up in Mexico City with La Lechera sweetened condensed milk in my family’s pantry. It is an ingredient that is part of my upbringing, it speaks of home to me.
We had it not only for breakfast, dessert, milkshakes, smoothies, snacks and after school treats (drizzled over fresh fruit or spread over Maria cookies). We also poured it on top of baked plantains and sweet potatoes (in my view, it’s all they need to take them to the stratosphere), which in my memory remains one of the sweetest things. It was part of our everyday lives.
My mom and dad worked full time during the week, but my sisters and I always had a flan, pound cake or gelatina to look forward to. Every day of the week.
Continue reading La Lechera Sweetened Condensed Milk
I grow really fond of my cooking tools. Most of the Mexican ones have come straight from Mexico. Some have been passed down from my family, like the comal my mom gave me in hopes I would become a good cook. Some I have shamelessly taken, like the lime squeezer, which comes from her kitchen, too. The many wooden spoons I have come from different regions in Mexico and have come tucked in my suitcase. As for the molcajete, I asked my father-in-law to get me one from the Mexico City market, and he lugged it for me in his carry-on bag (he reminds me to this day…). Yet, I found my tamalera, a special pot for steaming tamales, here in DC!
When my dad visits from Mexico, ever since we moved to the U.S., he has brought some for me. And I didn’t start making tamales at home, until I had kids. First, I used a vegetable steamer. Once I moved to DC, I found this one at Panam, the mostly Mexican (Latin) grocery store on the corner of 14th Street and Parkwood.
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Corn has been a central part of the Mexican diet and culture since ancient times. Not only is it eaten fresh in its many varieties, its dried kernels are used for an infinity of things, including masa to make everything from tortillas to tamales. It’s husks are also treasured as an ingredient to wrap and cook food in. Tamales, of course, have remained the wrapped and cooked food par excellence in Mexico. Methods have varied from steaming, to cooking over comales or the open fire, to cooking in underground pits.
Now, the use of fresh or dried leaves for wrapping and cooking foods is not exclusive to Mexico. Grape leaves were used since ancient Greece and banana leaves in the Philippines, to name some. In Mexico, there has been a large variety of ingredients for this use like banana leaves, avocado leaves, chaya, hoja santa leaves, large spinach leaves and even some exotic flower leaves. Still corn husks, fresh or dried, have been and remain a crucial one.
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Tamales are it. If you’ve eaten one, you know it.
Simple. When ready and steaming hot, unwrap the edible bundle and eat swiftly, no fork, no knife, bite by bite. So good.
Yet as simple as it may sound to write a post about tamales, I could dedicate an entire series of cookbooks to their endless possibilities, and in the end, not have covered them all.
Ancestral, iconic, yet humble, is each single tamal. And the tamal universe, immense, imagine: tamal refers to anything wrapped and cooked in a husk or leave. Usually made with masa, typically corn masa, either mixed with or swaddling ingredients, or both! As you move through Mexico, and increasingly outside, you find them in different shapes (round, square, flat, puffed up, even triangular like Michoacán corundas); with different wraps (corn husks, either fresh or dried, banana leaves and even fresh edible leafy greens like chaya in Chiapas); with an infinity of ingredients, from savory, like chicken, meat, seafood, vegetables, beans, all sort of grains, salsas and cheese…to sweet ingredients, like fresh and dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, cajeta…
The consistency and texture vary greatly, too, from thin and dense like tamales found in Oaxaca; to sticky and gelatinous from Yucatán; to spongy and cakey like the ones from northern and central Mexico, where I grew up.
Continue reading My Favorite Tamal of All Time: Chicken in Green Salsa
My Favorite Tamal of All Time: Chicken in Green Salsa
Salsa Macha is a very thick and unusual salsa that comes from the state of Veracruz. Located along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, it has been for centuries, a gateway for waves of immigrants from all over the world into Mexico (like my paternal grandparents).
Veracruz, being such an important channel for exchange and always immersed in flux, has seen some of the most interesting combinations of ingredients, cooking techniques and traditions. Salsa Macha is an example.
It is made by frying dried chipotle chiles (mainly the morita kind) in a generous amount of olive oil, along with garlic cloves. The last two ingredients courtesy of the Spanish conquest, for sure. Then it is seasoned with salt. Some versions add fresh chiles such as serranos or jalapeños into the mix. Many times peanuts are added and sesame seeds too.
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A Mexican immigrant cooking Thanksgiving and Hanukkah on the same night in the cold Eastern region of the United States may sound a bit odd to some. For me, it turns out to be an unexpected opportunity to bring all my pieces together. Which has my mind reeling about the just as unexpected possibilities for the menu.
See… ever since I can remember, I have felt like I am treading between worlds. The Mexican. The Jewish. The immigrant in the U.S. Not from here, not from there. Yet, as time goes by, the different parts of my identity feel increasingly solid, in all those worlds and their intersections. It turns out that where those intersections make the most sense is in the kitchen.
I admit, though, that I am a hopeless romantic. That’s why every year when my husband asks what I want for my birthday, I say: the most passionate love letter, ever. Haven’t seen it, since he has seen me everyday in one way or another for the past 17 years. So, when my birthday comes close, I offer to pack my bags and leave, just to pretend… so he can write that super duper passionate love letter.
Continue reading Potato, Sweet Potato and Granny Smith Latkes
This is one of the quickest recipes that I have come up with.
It was just as quick to come up with it, as it was quick to make it.
It was sheer craving: I imagined it to accompany the Potato, Sweet Potato and Granny Smith Latkes, but you can use it to complement so many other things.
Continue reading Fennel and Lime Crema
A taco is a beautiful thing.
One of the most satisfying, versatile, exciting, and downright honest foods I can think of.
Plus, there is no need or mood a taco can’t tackle.
You are hungry and have but one peso in your pocket? Eat a Taco de Nada. You pass a tortillería on your way home? A Taco de Sal will hold you off until you get there. A deep hangover ails you? Go for Tacos de Barbacoa with Salsa Borracha. Did you say you have a broken heart? A pair of fully stocked Tacos al Pastor will be your most effective rebound. You are home with a cold? Soft chicken tacos dipped in fresh crema will make you all better, no doubt about that. Need to feed your teen kid and his buddies before they head out? Crispy Potato and Chorizo Tacos dressed with shredded lettuce, crumbled queso fresco and Salsa Verde will make them happy and fill them up. It’s lunchtime and you are on the road? If you are in Mexico (or somewhere with a large Mexican community), you will find someone with a huge basket selling Tacos Sudados to go. Planning a backyard party? Tacos de Carnitas will kick it off, without you even saying a word.
Continue reading Bricklayer Tacos
There are so many ways that you can have and enjoy tortillas de harina at home. You can make them the traditional way, the fast-track-modern way (if you have an electric tortilla maker such as the REVEL…), or buy them ready made at the store. Different from corn tortillas, which rule Mexico’s south and are made with a base of nixtamalized corn, flour tortillas rule Mexico’s north and are wheat flour based. The latter also have an element of fat (either lard, vegetable shortening or oil) and are milder, sweeter and softer.
Sometimes both kinds of tortillas, flour and corn, work interchangeably for a dish, say cheese quesadillas or chicken tacos, and may depend on the preference of the eater. However, beware, there are other times when either the flour or corn tortilla should be the prime choice. Take Chilorio, it needs to be tucked in a flour tortilla. Yet any kind of enchiladas, enfrijoladas, or casserole must, REALLY MUST, be made with corn tortillas because they withhold the sauce much better than wheat flour ones, and sweetness may be uncalled for.
Continue reading Homemade Wheat Flour Tortillas