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
One of the things that I’m most enthusiastic about in what I do, is breaking down myths about Mexican food and also about Mexicans. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Mexican food is greasy, fatty, cheesy and overloaded in heavy amounts of condiments. Some of the dishes that crossed the Mexican border and have become popular in the US, have been re-interpreted and promoted by the US fast food industry. Yet, mega burrito bombs, nachos smothered in cheese, and sizzling fajitas with scoops of sour cream on top are things you will have a really hard time finding in Mexico.
One thing that surprises people who delve a bit more into the Mexican culinary world is how crazy we are about salads. Not taco salads, no, no, no… Wholesome salads that use vegetables and beans and grains and flowers and all kinds of dried chiles and herbs…
It may be that the Mexican use of the word salad “ensalada” doesn’t help much to spread this good information because we usually call “ensalada” when there is lettuce or leafy greens in it. This leaves out chayote en vinagre, calabacitas en escacheche (pickled zucchini salad), nopalitos, and a gazillion other salads named simply by their main ingredient.
Continue reading Hearty Bean & Corn Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette
Hearty Bean & Corn Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette
We’ve all heard that word here and there: “emulsify.” Why do we need to emulsify a vinaigrette? It is simple, emulsify is just a sophisticated word used for saying that you are making ingredients that would not naturally mix together, like water (or vinegar or wine or citrus juice) and oil, come together. And we do want them to come together so that when we add the vinaigrette to a salad or a dish, we’ll be able to taste their combination and not their disparate routes. If you don’t make them mix, you may get one forkful of unappetizing oil-covered greens, and another that tastes overly acidic, making your eyes squint.
To make them mix, or to emulsify, all you need to do is whisk with a fork or whisk or puree in a blender. By mixing fast, the oil breaks into the tiniest of droplets so that it has no choice but to mingle with the other ingredients. However, as it is natural, with the passing of time, the oil will separate again.
In my kitchen, as in most Mexican kitchens, most of my vinaigrettes are oil based. I usually do a ratio of 1 vinegar (or citrus or fruit juice) to 2 or 3 of oil, depending on how acidic my vinegar or juices are and if I am adding other things.
Continue reading Emulsifying an Oil-Based Vinaigrette
It was my friend Tamara´s birthday party. Her husband, Sean, an American who speaks and acts like a Mexico City native (says a Mexico City native), made the dinner for the 40+ guests. The guests were drinking, eating and laughing until their stomachs were hurting, usual for their home. Sean came up to me when he saw me walk in, gave me a plate, placed two of these sliders on and said, “You are going to like these.”
I ate one. YUM.
I said, “There’s chipotle in them!”
I ate two. OMG.
I said, “I can take that platter”, and ate the remaining four. Of course, he was grilling some more.
No, I didn’t even try his Asian tuna sliders. No, I didn’t try his regular cheeseburger sliders. No, of course, I didn’t try his vegetarian sliders. All I wanted were these Chipotle Pork Sliders. I was hooked.
After I had my fill, I told Sean I had to post his recipe on my blog, as I was sure you all would love them just like I did. He obliged, and I tested his recipe many times giving it a few tweaks (hey, you know, I can’t help myself). I added a bit of onion, garlic and oregano to the meat mix and more chipotle (come on Sean, you talk like a Mexican!). I took some of the mayo out of the avocado spread and added the refreshing chives.
Continue reading Sean’s Cheesy Chipotle Pork Sliders with Avocado Spread
Sean’s Cheesy Chipotle Pork Sliders with Avocado Spread
If you were to ask me what cooking tool I could not live without, I would tell you it’s my Mexican-style lime squeezer.
Limes are one of the most iconic ingredients of Mexican cooking. Not lemons. Limes! To me, limes have a much more concentrated citrus punch, and I like the fresh juice. I have a deep disregard for pre-squeezed lime juice bottles sold at the stores; they taste like airplane food.
What’s complicated about squeezing a fresh lime? Nothing much really. But when you use as many as I do, this squeezer is a delight: gets as much juice as the lime has in a snap, feels heavy and powerful in your hand, and it is easy to maintain and keep clean.
My lime squeezer is as common as common gets. You can find one easily in just about any Mexican kitchen. It is made of cast aluminum, which resists corrosion from the acidic juices. It is super simple to use: open it up, place a halved lime cut side down and just squeeze the juice wherever you want it to go, directly over food or into a bowl or measuring cup. Close and squeeze the long handles that give you leverage to extract all the juice and that’s that. Since it is so big, it works with lemons too… (continue for more information and photos)
Continue reading Lime Squeezer or Exprimidor de Limón
Red, green, orange, blue… and all the colors you can dream up! Vanilla, cajeta, jamaica, chocolate, coffee, fruits, nuts… and just about any flavor you may crave. Smooth or chunky, creamy or foamy, heavy or light… choose any texture you like. Wait! We haven’t even gotten into shapes. Did you say your son likes Spiderman, your mom likes flowers or you want to go for a simple 2 layer design?
If you haven’t fallen for Jello, then you haven’t tried those in the Mexican repertoire. Forget about the 1950s-style-jello salads. Forget about the Jello you’ve seen people eat, or you may have eaten, in hospitals, too.
Mexican Jello is something to celebrate, to showcase, to boast about.
Gelatinas, in Spanish, many times come in individual servings with different flavors stacked in bright and colorful layers. Sold by street vendors who carry them in see through 2 to 3 tier covered stands, they are a common site in gas stations where cars wait for their turn and passersby can’t help but be tempted. Now you know why I always tagged along with my dad to fill up the tank!
It’s hard to show up at a kids party in Mexico and not see them. You will run into more sophisticated versions of them, standing tall, firm and proud at grown up parties, maybe with generous splashes of rum, tequila or rompope in their mix. There are simpler Jello creations brightening shelves at bakeries and grocery stores, too. In fact, Jello is such a big thing, that some cooks have elevated it to a complex art form with floral and abstract designs.
Continue reading Dream Big: Tres Leches and Strawberry Jello
Are you tired of the clumps and lumps when you make your own flavored Jello? Yes? No? What?! You don’t make your own flavored Jello? You should! It is healthier than the already flavored ones sold at the store and you can decide what ingredients go in it! It is tastier, exactly for the same reason, since you can choose your flavors, you can choose your own favorite ones.
Many cooks complain about the clumping when mixing unflavored gelatin with any liquid in order to be able to use it. Yet there is a fast and simple technique that provides a smooth and seamlessly effective gelatin base that will add volume and will help solidify any liquid that you may want to turn into Jello.
Note: You can find unflavored gelatin as easily as finding flour or sugar. It will be located in the baking section of your grocery store and is usually sold as a dry powder in packets or in a dry leaf form. I use the dry powder, which is most common. Make sure to buy “unflavored” gelatin.
Continue reading Using Unflavored Gelatin or Gelatina
Jello molds or moldes para gelatina are as versatile as Jello desserts themselves. Plastic, metal, ceramic, stoneware, porcelain, glass and silicone are all suitable materials for molding Jello. They can vary from multiserving ring molds to individual portions in plastic cups or ramekins (even water glasses or anything you can pour a drink onto!), or in silicon shaped, like anything from pyramids to cartoon characters. It’s important to make sure your molds are heat-tolerant to avoid warping when using hot liquids.
I tend to make my Jellos in clear and simple plastic cups like the ones you’d see on street stands in Mexico. It is simple, fast and you can see through all the colors and layers of your creations without having to unmold the Jello. It is also great for kids because they can just eat the Jello right out the cup. Also, in a way, servings are pre-measured.
But if you want to be artistic with the shapes, aside from the flavors of your Jello creations, the newest molds are made of high-quality silicone and come in elaborate shapes.
See below all the choices I could gather for individual servings of Jello…
Continue reading Jello Molds or Moldes Para Gelatina
For years, I’ve managed to turn every Mexican vacation into a working trip. As soon as I touch Mexican soil, I set up interviews, plan research tours, library searches, cooking adventures, all the while trying to tweet and instagram. And facebook, pinterest and blog too… My appetite expands outrageously as if giving me a chance to try all that my eyes can see and my mind can gather. Even with the best of intentions to relax and disconnect, they only last so long.
My family had been enthusiastic about it until recently: my husband announced last summer he’s had it. He won’t travel with me to Mexico when he wants us to vacation, together.
So when I suggested we go visit for the December holidays, he said “no, no, no Pati, you can’t control yourself there.” I kept pursuing Mexico because I missed it so bad, seeking out a place where I wouldn’t be tempted to work. San Miguel de Allende sounded like just the spot.
Continue reading Homemade Cajeta
When I visited Mexico this past December, I bought a gorgeous copper pot from a young lovely woman in the city of Celaya. Although the most famous place in Mexico to buy copper pots is the town of Santa Clara del Cobre in the state of Michoacán, I visited Celaya to learn how to make Cajeta the traditional way. Traditional Cajeta makers consider copper pots a required tool for this craft, so Celaya has managed to make their own. And boy, are they pretty.
Continue reading Copper Pot or Cazo De Cobre: Maintenance and Use