Ingredients : Fruits
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.
The bitter orange or naranja agria is a citrus fruit that has a peculiar bitter flavor and a very high acidity that works very well for marinades and to tenderize meats and seafood. It also has a distinct look. It is not very pretty; it’s small, with a pale, somewhat dull colored pebbly textured skin that appears to be speckled with sand or dust. However, slice it down the middle, and you will find a shinny, juicy, deep orange and wonderfully flavored pulp.
It found its way to Mexico through the Spaniards, who got them from the Arabs, who got them from the Persians. In any case, bitter oranges found a wonderful reception in Mexican soil, especially in some regions such as the Yucatan Peninsula and Veracruz. It is used in many ways: to prepare ceviches, sauces, soups, marinades, salsas, pickles… to name some.
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Plantains are now available almost anywhere in the United States. They have the appearance of being thicker, longer and bigger type of bananas. But they are not. No wonder they are called macho bananas, plátano macho, in most areas of Mexico. Although from the same family, plantains are a different ingredient. They are starchier, meatier, firmer, milder in flavor and have much thicker skin than bananas and are better treated as vegetables in a culinary sense, since they are only eaten cooked.
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The pomegranate is such a vivid, vibrant and enticing fruit, that I consider it to be one of the most sensuous ingredients. It has a thick and tough pink-to-reddish skin that comes off as impenetrable. But, break into it, and you will find an overabundance of shiny, ruby red seeds that resemble jewels and have the juiciest crunch.
The taste is sweet, bright and slightly tart and the bursting juice seems primed to make wine. Be mindful when you peel them, as the stains from the juice can be hard to clean off. I cut the fruit in half and then use my fingers to open up the clusters covered in a white membrane. As I remove the membrane I loosen the seeds. Some people like to do this in a bowl with water to avoid the stains. I do it without the bowl of water but use an apron for sure.
Pomegranate season in Mexico starts in early August and goes through October. No coincidence, as one of the most famous dishes it is used for, the Chiles in Nogada proudly boasting the three colors of the flag (green, white and red) are made mainly in the month of September to celebrate the month of Independence. In the US the prime season is a bit later: from (sometimes end of September) October through January/February, which makes it a bit of a challenge for those of us craving that peculiar dish on that specific month…
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Tamarind, also called Indian date, is the pod of a tropical tree that is said to have originated in Asia and North Africa. It was brought to Mexico sometime in the 1500’s in the galleons that came from Asia, manged by the Spaniards, that landed in the gorgeous beaches of Acapulco. Now somewhat touristy…
Tamarind tastes a bit sour, acidic and sweet at the same time. Its flavor has a lot of depth and an earthy feel to it too. Through the years it grew strong roots in Mexican land, where the large trees are loved for their heavy shade, and the pods for their multiple uses in Mexico’s kitchens. From candies and snacks, to drinks and desserts, as well as moles, sauces of different kinds.
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