Continue reading Hoja Santa or Hierba Santa
Known in the US as hominy in the US, maíz cacahuacintle is one of the favorite types of corn in Mexico. It has giant kernels that are whiter, softer, thicker, with rounder tops, than the regular white or yellow corn. It also has a deep, mealy bite.
Its traditional name, cacahuacintle comes from the combination of two náhuatl words, cacáhuatl and centli, meaning corn and cacao, because of its size, mostly. Though this giant corn is most used to make pozole, it is also used to make other dishes like tamales, sweets, drinks, and is eaten in street style crazy corn.
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Huauzontles, also called Huazontles or Cuazontles, are a native plant to Mexico. Their scientific name is Chenopodium nuttalliae. Huauzontles gave a very thick main stem, oval leaves -that aren’t eaten- and thinner stems filled with edible green flowers that resemble broccoli or rapini, but are much more smaller and delicate.
They have a strong smell when you get close. Similarly as the Epazote, Huauzontles have a deep, clean and almost astringent smell. Some people say they taste similar to spinach or watercress. It seems to me, they have a welcoming and original, light bitter taste.
Though they have been commonly eaten during Lent for centuries, but they are also eaten throughout the year. Since they have become increasingly popular in the US -where they used to be considered a weed- they are now being imported and also grown. They are now available in many Latino and International stores.
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Whenever it starts pouring down in late Spring, I hanker for Huitlacoche.
A true Mexican delicacy, also called cuitlacoche, it is a form of fungus similar to some mushrooms, that grows on fresh corn. In the rainy Mexican season, that starts in April (some say March…) and ends sometime in September (some say October…) it’s when you can huitlacoche at its peak.
It doesn’t look that pretty. It grows in an oversize and disproportionate manner on the ears of corn, producing huge kernels that are black inside and covered with a somewhat silvery-white, sparkly and velvet textured skin.
Its flavor is intense and unmatchable: mushroomy, earthy, woody, a bit inky… reminds me of calamari ink.
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This is probably the most well known fresh chile outside of Mexico. It is extremely popular inside the country as well. It looks a bit similar to the Serrano chile, and can be used interchangeably, thus they are many times confused. They are both dark green, with a shine to them, and carry a small and thin darker stem.
However, the Jalapeño is larger, bigger, rounder and chubbier than the Serrano. Ironically, it is milder in heat and has a lighter taste. Just as most fresh chiles, its heat can be pumped down by removing the seeds and veins. Similarly as other fresh chiles, don’t buy them if they have wrinkled skin or dark brown or black spots.
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Jícamas are one of the many Mexican ingredients that luckily, have become readily available outside of the country. Also known as Mexican yams or turnips, they are also a root vegetable. But they are far from the latter in flavor, texture or cooking uses.
They are mostly (and as far as I know also successfully) eaten raw. No need to try to cook them, for many of the qualities they are loved for would be lost. They have a similar taste and crunch as the water chestnuts, but in my view, jícamas are more refreshing, crispy, sweet and watery.
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Continue reading Limes
Mexican chocolate is quite different from regular bittersweet chocolate sold throughout the world.
It is sweeter, yet with contrasting layers of flavor that seem to sweep your tongue in waves as you take a bite. It is also grainy, practically gritty. It is traditionally made from a mixture of toasted cacao beans, ground almonds, regular sugar and cinnamon.
Native from Mexico, in pre-hispanic times cacao beans were transformed into a chocolate paste. In that form, chocolate was combined with water and drank every day, by the liters, by Aztec Emperor Moctezuma. It was served for him, in hand carved precious mugs and spiced up with ground chiles and sometimes honey. Only the high tier of the Aztec hierarchy had access to it, on special occasions. It was only after the Spaniards arrived that it turned into a sweeter ingredient by adding the sugar, cinnamon and almonds.
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Mexican cream is rich, thick, tangy and slightly salty. It used to be hard to find in the US, but now you can find it in Latin or International stores, but also mainstream stores! In Mexico, you can find it in any grocery store, and there are richer versions in small towns and ranches, where the cream earns its name “Crema Fresca” and I bet you would feel like me: that you can finish a whole pint in spoonfuls.
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The Mulato chile has similar looks to the Ancho chile but instead of a reddish black skin it has a dark black skin. You can tell the difference much better against the light! The Mulato chile also has a sweeter, fuller and more chocolaty flavor than the Ancho. No doubt they are different as they come from different chiles.
The Ancho chile comes from the dried regular Poblano chile. The Mulato chile comes from a variation of the Chile Poblano that has slightly different genes with a darker color and fuller flavor. It is hard to find the latter Poblano chile variation, as the growers prefer to dry them since they can sell them at a higher price at the markets.
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