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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Cilantro is also known by many names like culantro, coriander and even Chinese parsley. Although it didn’t originate in Mexico, it has grown such strong roots in its cuisine, to the point that its hard to think about Mexican cooking without it.
It has delicate, paper thin leaves and tender stems. Its deep green color tends to be shinny too.
It is used for countless foods including being a key ingredients of many salsas, guacamoles and pico de gallo. It is used to flavor beans, rice, salads, stews amongst some dishes. It is even placed frequently on the table in a bowl, just as an optional garnish for tacos, antojos and soups. In the last couple decades it has even become quite popular for smoothies and juices.
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Though I am no painter, this I know to be true:
Throw in four primary colors onto a painting palette and mix randomly. Whatever combination you come up with, there will be a Mexican rice that catches the spirit of those tones.
Red rice, cooked in a rich base of tomato puree, onion and garlic, and sometimes chopped vegetables. Depending on the cook and the style, sometimes red rice may end up a bit on the orange side. Green rice, either based on Poblano chile, cilantro, parsley or a combination of those, giving a beautiful range of flavors along those grassy lines. Black rice, seasoned with cooking broth from beans in the pot. White rice, the classic yet flavorful Mexican take that can be an unpretentious yet comforting side to almost anything. And we are not even getting started.
What many people don’t know is that Mexico also has its versions of Yellow rice.
Continue reading Old World and New World: Yellow Rice
Saffron native to Asia, was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards, who in turn learned how to use it from the Arabs. Once in Mexico, it took strong roots especially in the Yucatan Peninsula and the South East regions.
However, since it is very expensive, there are seasonings that have been developed trying to approximate its flavor. Also, achiote seeds have been used instead, given how cheap they are, and how similar to saffron their strong taste and deep infusing color is.
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Story goes, that for centuries, a woman could find a mate in many Mexican regions if she was able to make a good and considerable amount of foam when making hot chocolate. Otherwise, suitors would not turn their heads to her direction regardless of any other virtue. What’s more, it was the mother of the groom to be, who judged how good the foam was.
Thankfully, my mother in law (who loves to dip Conchas into hot chocolate) didn’t abide by that tradition or I wouldn’t have gotten married. When I met my husband, the best I could whip up were some decent scrambled eggs and an extremely sweet limeade. Forget about a worthy, frothy, delicate, silky foam to top a rich tasting chocolate.
But it turns out that producing an admirable chocolate foam may be a sign of things to come: it may show how hardworking, dedicated, focused, energetic and skilled a person can be. Not only do you have to break a sweat, but also develop an effective technique and then there is also the matter of style…
Continue reading Ancient Ways for Comfort on Cold Days: Mexican Hot Chocolate
Pastel de Tres Leches or Three Milk’s Cake, is one of the most, if not the most popular and sold cake throughout Mexico. It is also amongst the most requested recipes I have been asked for after Pickled Jalapeños and Piggie cookies. So dear readers, I am sorry it has taken this long but here it goes! I promise to get to the other requests, which I love getting on your emails, as soon as possible.
Tres Leches is a sweet, practically wet, homey cake. Its base is a vanilla sponge cake, completely soaked in a sauce traditionally made with three kinds of milk: La Lechera sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and regular milk. Some versions substitute regular milk with heavy cream. The cake will sometimes have a topping like fresh whipped cream, which I seriously consider of utmost necessity. Sometimes the topping turns out to be meringue or even chocolate ganache.
Growing up in Mexico City, there was a bakery called La Gran Via, which sold such delicious Tres Leches that even though it was far from home, we used to drive many Sundays to get one. These days La Gran Via has become a large chain store of bakeries… it has been years since I have eaten one of their cakes. This recipe, is as close as I get to my nostalgic memories.
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If you are into the habit, like me, of making your own home made corn tortillas, a tortilla press comes in really handy.
It’s true that tortillas can be made in many different ways such as simply flattening round corn masa or dough balls with your hands or rolling out the masa with a rolling pin. However, the tortilla press makes the process be a speedy, consistent, fun and even therapeutic one (it is!).
Moreover, look at what a pretty tool it is.
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Avocados are, to me, amongst the most sensuous, luscious and luxurious of ingredients. Add how delicious, soft and subtly flavored they are, and you get a clear winner for Valentine’s Day.Despite the many pounds of avocados we go through at home each week, regardless of the infinite number of cases I use for events at Washington, DC’s Mexican Cultural Institute, and notwithstanding that my sisters and I used them for hair and face treatments as we were growing up (all those nurturing natural oils and vitamins), I still find avocados to be wow-inducing.
If there’s an avocado dish on a restaurant menu, it lands on my table.
So if I am planning a menu, especially with a hint of romance, avocados will be there…
Continue reading Romancing The Avocado
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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I am not one to prepare for disasters.
People can tell me a thousand times that severe thunderstorms are approaching, that a dry spell is forcasted or that a shortage of something essential like water (or coffee) will happen, and no, I will not be among the first to run for shelter nor stock up on provisions. I don’t know if it is my continuous belief that despite humps and downs eventually things turn out OK or if I am lacking an alarm button…I just don’t panic.
When I took it as a serious matter to go to the grocery store in the middle of my work day, at a rather inconvenient time, it wasn’t because there is a strong snowstorm coming (though my boys did give me an absurdly long grocery list to prepare for it), it was because we ran out of avocados.
Continue reading Chipotle Guacamole for any Party (or Disaster)