Achiote or Annatto seeds is a spice that grows heavily in the Yucatán area and is unique and native to this area. The seeds come from the Annatto tree, which grows beautiful pink flowers that produce a prickly pod which has dozens and dozens of these seeds inside.
The seeds have a beautiful brown, brick, reddish warm and appealing color. The Mayas used the seeds since Pre-Hispanic times to color their skin, garments, art and they also mixed them with their chocolate drink as a symbol of blood, given the color, in their rites. The seeds provide a strong, pungent and sort of permanent flavor to the dishes they are used in.
The achiote paste or recado rojo, is one of the main seasonings of the Yucatecan cuisine. Although it is mainly known for its use as the base of a marinade in the Pibil style dishes, it is used in many other ways.
This paste is made of achiote seeds, charred garlic, toasted herbs and spices such as oregano, cloves, cumin, black peppercorns, allspice, coriander seeds, salt and bitter orange or its substitute, which is a mix of citrus juices and/or vinegar.
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Acitrón is one of the few ingredients used for Mexican cooking that is still very hard to find outside of Mexico. Acitrón is made with the pad or paddle -leaf- of a cactus plant called biznaga, which is similar to the prickly pear but rounder in shape and it also grows in dry land. To make acitrón, the leaves are peeled off the outer skin along with the little thorns, sometimes soaked in a lime solution, dried in the sun and finally simmered in a syrup made with water and sugar or honey, then left to dry again.
In Mexico it is sold in stores and markets in square or rectangular small blocks along with other candied fruits or vegetables, of which my favorite is the candied sweet potato or camote.
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Funny, it wasn’t until recently that allspice became incorporated into Mexican local cuisine. Allspice has been grown in Mexico since the 1600’s but was seen as an exotic and expensive spice for export.
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The Ancho chile is a stellar ingredient in Mexican cuisine. It is probably the most used dried Chile throughout Mexico and no wonder why: Its flavor is unmatchable.
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The smooth, soothing, creamy qualities of avocados are the perfect combination to the richly flavored and sometimes spicy Mexican food. My favorite avocados are the Hass variety and for some reason… I like the Mexican ones the most (!) They tend to be larger, meatier, creamier and just more luxurious than others.
Though many people think of avocados as vegetables, they are fruits…
Since they are harvested green (mature but not yet ripened), in some stores you may find them when they are not ready to eat. If the skin still looks green and the avocado feels firm to the touch, they probably need 3 to 6 days of ripening. You can bring them home and place them in a paper bag or newspaper in a warm area of your kitchen to speed up the ripening process. You can also just leave them outside of the refrigerator. They are ripe and ready to eat when the skin is almost completely black and the avocado gives in a bit if you gently squeeze it. Once ripe, you can keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week if not opened and about one or two days if opened and covered with plastic wrap.
Incredibly long leaves from the banana tree, the banana leaves have a beautiful deep green color and a strong fragrant smell. They are often used in Mexican cooking to wrap and cook many kinds of foods including tamales, meats, fish and poultry. They are both malleable and strong. Cooking in them not only concentrates the flavors of the wrapped ingredients but it also infuses them with a grassy, intensely aromatic and fresh feel.
Banana leaves used to be hard to find in the US when I moved here more than a dozen years ago.
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Banana peppers are called chiles güeros in many regions of Mexico. Güero, translates to blond, name given because of their pale, yellowish color. There are different varieties or banana peppers, but they are pale and light in looks, have waxy skin, and a similar flavor to Jalapeños. Their heat level can range from mild to hot.
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Beans are a crucial part of any Mexican meal, where the black bean is the most common bean used generally speaking. However, speaking regionally, it is favored in the Southern states and also in Veracruz. In the northern areas of Mexico, the lighter colored beans such as the Pinto are more common, and in the center areas, both kinds are eaten as well as Peruvian beans.
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Fava beans have been around for quite a long time. Ancient Egyptians prized them so much that they were buried with them inside of their tombs! Originally native to Africa and southwest Asia, today Favas are cultivated all over the world. Thanks to the Spaniards, Mexicans have been enjoying them since the XVI century, in may different ways.
Filled with nutrients and Vitamins, they are also filled with a deep strong flavor. In Central Mexico, they are commonly found fresh at markets in the spring time where they range in size from the mini to the large and in colors from the pale green to the deep purple. When fresh, they come with a shell and a leathery skin underneath it, both of which needs to be removed before eating. Which can be quite laborious. Then they are eaten in soups, stews and salads mostly.
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