Corn has been a central part of the Mexican diet and culture since ancient times. Not only is it eaten fresh in its many varieties, its dried kernels are used for an infinity of things, including masa to make everything from tortillas to tamales. It’s husks are also treasured as an ingredient to wrap and cook food in. Tamales, of course, have remained the wrapped and cooked food par excellence in Mexico. Methods have varied from steaming, to cooking over comales or the open fire, to cooking in underground pits.
Now, the use of fresh or dried leaves for wrapping and cooking foods is not exclusive to Mexico. Grape leaves were used since ancient Greece and banana leaves in the Philippines, to name some. In Mexico, there has been a large variety of ingredients for this use like banana leaves, avocado leaves, chaya, hoja santa leaves, large spinach leaves and even some exotic flower leaves. Still corn husks, fresh or dried, have been and remain a crucial one.
Continue reading Corn Husks
Tamales are it. If you’ve eaten one, you know it.
Simple. When ready and steaming hot, unwrap the edible bundle and eat swiftly, no fork, no knife, bite by bite. So good.
Yet as simple as it may sound to write a post about tamales, I could dedicate an entire series of cookbooks to their endless possibilities, and in the end, not have covered them all.
Ancestral, iconic, yet humble, is each single tamal. And the tamal universe, immense, imagine: tamal refers to anything wrapped and cooked in a husk or leave. Usually made with masa, typically corn masa, either mixed with or swaddling ingredients, or both! As you move through Mexico, and increasingly outside, you find them in different shapes (round, square, flat, puffed up, even triangular like Michoacán corundas); with different wraps (corn husks, either fresh or dried, banana leaves and even fresh edible leafy greens like chaya in Chiapas); with an infinity of ingredients, from savory, like chicken, meat, seafood, vegetables, beans, all sort of grains, salsas and cheese…to sweet ingredients, like fresh and dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, cajeta…
The consistency and texture vary greatly, too, from thin and dense like tamales found in Oaxaca; to sticky and gelatinous from Yucatán; to spongy and cakey like the ones from northern and central Mexico, where I grew up.
Continue reading My Favorite Tamal of All Time: Chicken in Green Salsa
My Favorite Tamal of All Time: Chicken in Green Salsa
Salsa Macha is a very thick and unusual salsa that comes from the state of Veracruz. Located along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, it has been for centuries, a gateway for waves of immigrants from all over the world into Mexico (like my paternal grandparents).
Veracruz, being such an important channel for exchange and always immersed in flux, has seen some of the most interesting combinations of ingredients, cooking techniques and traditions. Salsa Macha is an example.
It is made by frying dried chipotle chiles (mainly the morita kind) in a generous amount of olive oil, along with garlic cloves. The last two ingredients courtesy of the Spanish conquest, for sure. Then it is seasoned with salt. Some versions add fresh chiles such as serranos or jalapeños into the mix. Many times peanuts are added and sesame seeds too.
Continue reading Salsa Macha
A Mexican immigrant cooking Thanksgiving and Hanukkah on the same night in the cold Eastern region of the United States may sound a bit odd to some. For me, it turns out to be an unexpected opportunity to bring all my pieces together. Which has my mind reeling about the just as unexpected possibilities for the menu.
See… ever since I can remember, I have felt like I am treading between worlds. The Mexican. The Jewish. The immigrant in the U.S. Not from here, not from there. Yet, as time goes by, the different parts of my identity feel increasingly solid, in all those worlds and their intersections. It turns out that where those intersections make the most sense is in the kitchen.
I admit, though, that I am a hopeless romantic. That’s why every year when my husband asks what I want for my birthday, I say: the most passionate love letter, ever. Haven’t seen it, since he has seen me everyday in one way or another for the past 17 years. So, when my birthday comes close, I offer to pack my bags and leave, just to pretend… so he can write that super duper passionate love letter.
Continue reading Potato, Sweet Potato and Granny Smith Latkes
This is one of the quickest recipes that I have come up with.
It was just as quick to come up with it, as it was quick to make it.
It was sheer craving: I imagined it to accompany the Potato, Sweet Potato and Granny Smith Latkes, but you can use it to complement so many other things.
Continue reading Fennel and Lime Crema
A taco is a beautiful thing.
One of the most satisfying, versatile, exciting, and downright honest foods I can think of.
Plus, there is no need or mood a taco can’t tackle.
You are hungry and have but one peso in your pocket? Eat a Taco de Nada. You pass a tortillería on your way home? A Taco de Sal will hold you off until you get there. A deep hangover ails you? Go for Tacos de Barbacoa with Salsa Borracha. Did you say you have a broken heart? A pair of fully stocked Tacos al Pastor will be your most effective rebound. You are home with a cold? Soft chicken tacos dipped in fresh crema will make you all better, no doubt about that. Need to feed your teen kid and his buddies before they head out? Crispy Potato and Chorizo Tacos dressed with shredded lettuce, crumbled queso fresco and Salsa Verde will make them happy and fill them up. It’s lunchtime and you are on the road? If you are in Mexico (or somewhere with a large Mexican community), you will find someone with a huge basket selling Tacos Sudados to go. Planning a backyard party? Tacos de Carnitas will kick it off, without you even saying a word.
Continue reading Bricklayer Tacos
There are so many ways that you can have and enjoy tortillas de harina at home. You can make them the traditional way, the fast-track-modern way (if you have an electric tortilla maker such as the REVEL…), or buy them ready made at the store. Different from corn tortillas, which rule Mexico’s south and are made with a base of nixtamalized corn, flour tortillas rule Mexico’s north and are wheat flour based. The latter also have an element of fat (either lard, vegetable shortening or oil) and are milder, sweeter and softer.
Sometimes both kinds of tortillas, flour and corn, work interchangeably for a dish, say cheese quesadillas or chicken tacos, and may depend on the preference of the eater. However, beware, there are other times when either the flour or corn tortilla should be the prime choice. Take Chilorio, it needs to be tucked in a flour tortilla. Yet any kind of enchiladas, enfrijoladas, or casserole must, REALLY MUST, be made with corn tortillas because they withhold the sauce much better than wheat flour ones, and sweetness may be uncalled for.
Continue reading Homemade Wheat Flour Tortillas
My paternal grand mother, Bobe, used to make two kinds of gefilte fish every Friday: white or traditional and red or a la Veracruzana. The moment you sat down, she made you choose, “which do you want mamele, white or red?”
Invariably, after you chose, she’d ask, “you don’t like the way I make the other one?”
She’d barge in, make room on your plate and serve you the kind you hadn’t picked, right next to the one you had chosen. She’d wait for you to taste it and tell her how good the one you hadn’t chosen was. Then, she would eat right off your plate.
Having come from tiny shtetls in the polish countryside, both her and my grandfather arrived in Mexico so very young. Mexico gave them an opportunity to start a life away from pogroms.
They worked hard and made a simple but good life for themselves. Though they were humble, and without much savings, every Friday they had a bountiful table full of food for their three grown children and their families – all together there were ten granddaughters. Nope. Not a single grandson!
Continue reading Do You Want it Red or White? Mexican Style Gefilte Fish
Do You Want it Red or White? Mexican Style Gefilte Fish
Before she died, my maternal grandmother, whom we called Lali (remember I’ve told you about her before?) gave me Gloria Miller’s Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. She was fascinated with Chinese cookery. She was also very good at it. What she loved the most were the stir-fry dishes: fast, tasty and healthy.
So, she bought herself a wok.
I couldn’t begin to count how many wok-made dishes I ate at her house during those long summers I visited her and my grandfather, after they moved to the Californian desert.
After she passed away, that wok found its way into my kitchen. I’ve cherished it. I’ve prized it. I haven’t used it! I’ve dragged it through so many house moves that I’ve also managed to lose its cord. It’s an electric wok. It’s real pretty, too. It’s hers. And in my mind, it is inseparable from her Miller’s cookbook, so I didn’t try to cook “her” Chinese dishes for years. And here and there, I’ve looked for that cord…
Continue reading A Taste of Barrio Chino: Green Beans with Peanuts and Chile de Arbol
When you don’t care much about something in Mexico, it is very popular to say “me importa un cacahuate” or “me vale un cacahuate.” This translates to something like “I don’t care enough” or “I couldn’t care less,” the word cacahuate being used for that “less or not enough.” That may be in regards to the tiny size of an individual peeled peanut, but ironically, cacahuates or peanuts mean a lot to Mexico and Mexicans.
Peanuts have been in Mexico’s culinary repertoire since Pre-Hispanic times. Though its origins can be traced to Southern Latin America, specifically Peru, and it is said to have been domesticated in Bolivia or Paraguay, when the Spanish arrived in Mexico they found it for sale in the street markets where it was a staple.
Used to snack on, be it raw, roasted, toasted, steamed, salted or spiced up and combined with other ingredients like in Pico de Gallos; as a thickener for Mole sauces or salsas, soups and stews; it’s oil extracted and used in and out of the kitchen; in “palanqueta” or bark form, entirely covered and hardened in some kind of a sweet and thick syrup and other sweets and even drinks! As times have moved on, the peanut not only remains central to our eating but also to our celebrating.
Continue reading Peanuts or Cacahuates