Habanero chiles are one happy looking bunch. They have colorful colors that go from green to the yellow, and then orange to red as they mature. They are small, cute, shinny and have waxy skin. But as much as their looks are inviting, they are the spiciest chiles in Mexican cuisine. They are incredibly fierce. With a rating of 300,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville scale for measuring hotness of a chili pepper, you can get an idea of how hot they are: Jalapeños go around 10,000 to 15,000.
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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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Right off the bat, you must understand: I heart chorizo. Especially the kind I grew up eating in Mexico. It comes in deep-burnt-reddish links of fresh, moist, exotically seasoned ground meat that, once fried, becomes crisp and filling bites with bold flavors and a thousand uses. My oldest son’s quick choice for breakfast is chorizo fried until it browns and crisps, with a side of white toast. Add some lightly beaten eggs as the chorizo is starting to brown and some ripe and creamy avocado slices on the side, and that’s my kind of rich-tasting brunch dish. Of course chorizo is delicious in sandwiches, in tacos and quesadillas, on top of enchiladas, in mashed potatoes, as a topping for heartier salads, in some of the tastiest bean dishes I have tried, in pastas with a ton of personality and on pizzas with pickled jalapeño peppers on top.
I am really trying to stop myself here…
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Although they are widely available in the US, I don’t think I have met more than a couple people here who use fresh tomatillos in their cooking. It may be partly because people are not familiar with them or how to cook them, but…. they are not an appealing ingredient as far as looks go with the first impression! But let me tell you why you should definitely give them a try.
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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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As we returned from our 10 day vacation to Mexico this December and walked out of the Dulles airport, I felt my bones freeze. Say what? I told my husband, I think I am turning around and catching the next flight back to Mexico.
Now we are home, with the heating so high it seems we moved to the Equator. And I admit that the cold and especially the snow, which I am watching right this minute through my kitchen window starting to magically fall from the night sky, is one of the things I love about living in the Eastern United States. We can experience the full change of seasons.
Continue reading Comfort me with Café de Olla (or Coffee from the Pot)
Comfort me with Café de Olla (or Coffee from the Pot)
As promised, and right before the year ends, here is a recipe for pickled red onions or cebollas encurtidas or en escabeche, so you can try them with Pollo Pibil. Please do! You will see why it’s no wonder pickled red onion has been Pibil’s faithful and enlightened companion for centuries: they both taste great separately, but blissful when paired together.
Pickled red onions are also a permanent fixture at every single table in Yucatan. As they are mildly spicy, deliciously tangy and surprisingly crunchy they go well with so many things. These past couple weeks I learned first hand why they are such a fabulous pickle to have handy.
Since one of its main ingredients, the bitter orange, is hard to come by around here, I had 16 takes with different bitter orange substitutes. There are well-known versions for substitutes, but I am not crazy about any of them. 16 pickled red onion batches later: I found one I love! It is equal parts grapefruit, orange, lime juice and white distilled vinegar. Without the vinegar it’s not acid enough and the pickle loses its color and crunch, it faints quickly.
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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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Last December, Daniel and I went to Yucatán. I was swept off my feet by the grandiose nature and history of the old Haciendas, but mostly by the uniqueness of the cuisine. It stands out from the rest of the country; with its aromatic, pungent, citrus flavors, charred and toasted ingredients and elements not found anywhere else.
Since at the Institute we established topics for the 2009 program in January and I left Yucatán as a December closing session, by the time class came around I was desperate to share these flavors. What a tortuous self imposed wait!
Of course Pollo Pibil had to be included, as it is one of the most loved dishes of the area. The rest of the menu was built around: Dzotobi-chay tamales, Mexican avocado soup, strained beans, a yellow rice, and old fashioned flan for dessert.
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