My personal favorite bean, they are lighter in color, creamier in texture and softer than black beans. In Northern states, the pinto is the most popular bean.
In Sinaloa they cook them with onion, garlic, tomato and the serrano chile, those four ingredients that are the basis for many Mexican dishes. There is also a twist on Sinaloa beans called frijoles puercos or piggy style beans which is rather heavy, and served with bacon, chorizo, and cheese. It is delicious!!!
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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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It’s hard to think of Mexico without images of cactus plants. From landscapes to murals, to paintings, photos, plays, songs… and namely to the Mexican flag! Mexico’s coat of arms has an eagle eating a snake triumphantly standing on a cactus plant. As legend goes, that sign led the Aztecs to their promised land, Tenochtitlán.
But you know what is even harder? To think of a Mexican table without cactus, or nopales, on our plates. They’ve been a crucial ingredient since pre-Hispanic times.
Though there are hundreds of varieties, the most common is the Prickly Pear cactus. It has fleshy leaves or paddles, that are used as a vegetable in salads, stews, soups, eggs, stews, all sorts of appetizers and even smoothies and juices -a really popular one combines nopales with orange juice and my mom is fond of adding fresh spinach to the mix. They are used as a base to mount other ingredients onto, as a wrapper instead of thick tortillas and as a filler or topper for tamales, quesadillas, tostadas… They are found from breakfast to dinner options and anywhere in between (continue for more information and photos).
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I think the most commonly used zucchini in Mexican cooking is either what in Mexico is called the calabacita italiana, or Itailian zucchini, or the calabacita bola or round squash, which is similar to the Italian but rounder and smaller and used a lot in French cooking. Italian zucchini is different from the regular green zucchini found in most US stores, in that the later is large, thick and has a uniform dark green color. The Italian zucchini is smaller, a bit rounder with a chubbier appearance, and has a lighter green color that is randomly speckled with a cream color and is milder and sweeter in flavor.
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Its name, Cascabel, which translates to rattle, comes from the sound it makes when you shake it. With its sphere, globe-like shape, the dried seeds have a lot of room to play and make noise in. Sometimes, because of that shape it is also called Chile Bola, as in ball.
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Chayote, also called chayote squash (it is from the squash family), choko, vegetable pear, mirliton and christophene, is a beautiful pear like shaped vegetable. Ironically, it has a texture similar to a pear that isn’t ripe, but less grainy. Yet the chayotes isn’t wholly sweet, it just has a sweet hint, barely a whisper, really. Its flavor is more neutral, like a cross between a pear and a cucumber… and zucchini. Well, you just have to give them a try.
Crispy, watery, very low-fat, with a clean and wholesome feel, chayote can be used many ways. Most typically in soups, as a warm vegetable side, a cold salad or very popularly stuffed either with a sweet or savory spin. They are most times cooked and best al dente, unless eaten stuffed.
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With a metallic dark color and mottled skin, Chia seeds are delightfully crunchy. Once you rehydrate them in water, as the popular Lime based Agua Fresca, they become covered in an irresistible gelatinous layer. No wonder the word chia comes from the náhuatl name chian, which means oily.
Scientifically, Salvia Hispanica, they come from a flowering plant from the mint family. Some new wave health oriented groups, call it “the Miracle seed”. They are indeed miraculous for good digestion and some say weight loss.
In Mexico they have been used for centuries. In Aztec times, aside from eating, they were one of the main means of exchange and also used for religious rituals.
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The chilacas, similar to the American Anaheim, are long, thin chiles, that sometimes twist and have a shinny light green color. Their heat goes from mild to mildly hot, but they are never very spicy.
Chilacas are very meaty and are used many times as a vegetable. Most times charred, peeled, and seeded, like the Poblanos, they are used for side dishes like rajas sauteed with onions and sometimes cream and cheese. I ate this version many times in the state of Chihuahua, in the North of Mexico. They are also used for eggs, sauces, soups, casseroles and fillings, amongst other things.
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Chile de árbol is a very spicy, yet incredibly flavorful dried chile. It is small, but elongated and thin. It has a deep and shinny orange-red color and it is used in many, many ways. It is often crushed for very spicy table salsas, though it is also used to add flavor and a bit of heat if not opened when cooking, amongst others.
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