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April 22, 2012
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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 Chocolate

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April 5, 2012

A couple weeks ago, right as I was setting up for one of my classes, “A Culinary Compass of Mexico,” at the Mexican Cultural Institute, Alberto Roblest came over and asked me a great question.

“Pati, do you cook traditional Mexican recipes OR do you create your own?”

Alberto is doing a project with the support of The Office on Latino Affairs. It is called Hola Cultura and explores the contributions of Latinos to DC life and culture, from art to language to sports to cooking.

I think he meant for me to respond with an either or. He really did. Come on Pati, “traditional” OR “new,” he insisted. But I kept answering “BOTH!” As I kept trying to explain why, I realized so wholeheartedly that both traditional and new not only describe my cooking style but also one of the many wonders of Mexican cuisine.

Continue reading Apple, Radish, Watercress Salad with Pistachio and Chile de Arbol


March 19, 2012
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Don’t let their size fool you. These chiles pack a punch of flavor and more importantly, they have been spicing up Mexico’s taste buds for a long time in many ways.

Different varieties of Piquí­n grow in bushes that have small and pointy leaves. The chiles are adorably cute! They are tiny and grow to be only 1 to 2 centimeters long, round and a bit elongated. When fresh, they start green and as they mature their color turns to a deep red that moves towards brown as they dry, which is how they are mostly consumed.Piquí­n chiles have a deep flavor with hints of citrus and smoke. They are a bit spicy but incredibly pleasant.

Chile Piquin goes by different names such as tepí­n, chiltepí­n, chilito, Chiapas (yes, like the state located in south east Mexico), diente de tlacuache (opposum’s tooth), mosquito, pajarito (little bird), enano (dwarf), pulga (flea), amash, and chilpaya amongst others…

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Piquí­n Chile

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March 7, 2012
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Wooden spoons are much more than essential tools in my kitchen. There is not one but many reasons why wooden spoons have been used for centuries and continue to this day.

Not only are they beautiful, but they are also good natured: they do not scrape or damage pots and pans. What’s more, they don’t absorb flavoring, so you can use them for something salty and then after a wash, use them for something sweet.

The spoons I have fill my kitchen with meaning, as they tell me stories from where I found them and where they come from. They connect me to those places and age with me, as they last so long.

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Wooden Spoons

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February 15, 2012

Every few months, my family gets together with a Latin group of friends and their families for a pot luck.

This winter it was our turn. As tradition goes, the host brings the main dishes to the table and the others bring the rest. I eagerly announced my plans to share Mexican casseroles, also called cazuelas, budines or pasteles. The Mexicans couldn’t hide their joy- “Pati! De veras? Budin Azteca? Cazuela de Tamal?!”- and quickly thought of other “very” Mexican sides to pair with them. The Argentines and Costa Ricans tried to understand what “Mexican casserole” meant and whether it was supposed to be any good. The Americans in the group (though they consider themselves Latin) were clearly not excited about it.

No doubt about it, casseroles have had their ups and downs in culinary history. Their weakest stand seems to have been in the United States, after being fashioned into “two-step-many-can” versions in the 1930 and ’40s. But think of all the bright stars in the casserole universe: French cocottes enveloped in mother sauces; British potpies encrusting fillings as wet as British weather; irresistible Italian lasagnas layered with pasta; Peruvian causas with seasoned meat encased in mashed potatos; Greek spanakopitas with an extra-savory cheese-spinach mix covered with phyllo dough; Middle Eastern moussakas stacked with layers of eggplant; and the not-so-well-known, yet gloriously tasty Mexican cazuelas…

Continue reading Make It, Freeze It, Take It: The Mexican Casserole


February 14, 2012
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The name Hoja Santa translates to “sacred leaf.” The leaves of the hoja santa plant are heart-shaped with a thick velvety texture. These leaves can grow up to a foot and sometimes more. I find them to be truly beautiful. Though hoja santa is found throughout Mexico, it is mostly used in the south.

Mexican cooks use hoja santa judiciously not only because of it’s strong, unique, unexpected taste, but also because too much of it is not good for you, just like epazote.

Continue reading Hoja Santa or Hierba Santa


February 4, 2012

Barbacoa is one of those iconic Mexican foods.

Juicy, tender meat that falls off the bone, infused with a rustic, smoky flavor and a jungle like fragrance. It uses a cooking technique that began in ancient times, long before the Spanish arrived, and it lives on to this day across Mexico in places that specialize in making it. Of course, there are accessible homestyle versions too.

Abroad, so many people have heard of barbacoa and want to have a taste of the real thing. The people I’ve talked to that have tried it are dying to repeat the experience. In Mexico it has never ever gone out of fashion, and it is especially rooted in the central part of the country, where I grew up.

True, that barbacoa sounds much like barbeque. Though it is from a type of barbacoa that Americans got the idea to cook barbeque, it’s not the Mexican kind, but the Native American found here in the US, which used to be outdoors and above the ground. In Mexico we call ours barbacoa too (thanks to the Spanish!), but the Mexican way is completely different: the meat is wrapped tightly in banana leaves, cooked for many (so very many!) hours in an underground pit with an initial heating base of burning wood, walls of brick and smoldering rocks that are sealed with a kind of clay, and finally steamed and cooked overnight.

If you haven’t tried it, this is your chance to make it! And no, you don’t need an underground pit, there are ways to go about it and you can cook it away while you are tucked away in your bed…

Continue reading Lamb Barbacoa in Adobo


February 1, 2012
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I first tried chipilí­n in Chiapas, Mexico. First, in a soup, then in tamales, then in a stew, then in a delicious omelette… After walking around many towns in that state, I was surprised to find it grown in tall bushes in the front and back lawns of many homes. After being smitten with its flavor, which is a cross somewhat between watercress and spinach but a bit milder, and its lovely gentle but meaty bite, I came back to DC wishing I had a chipilí­n bush too!

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Chipilí­n

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January 12, 2012
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A tortillero is a tortilla holder, and many times a cover too, that is meant to hold and insulate tortillas. It helps them stay warm, soft and cozy after they have been heated and while you finish them off along with your meal. In a Mexican home, they are as popular as tortillas themselves, eaten almost everyday and accompany almost every meal. The same applies for restaurants, no matter how humble or fancy.

Tortilleros tend to be stunning in their craftsmanship, design and color. They are usually handmade and can have from the most simple to the most intricate designs. Mexican cooks take great pride in arranging their table to make it colorful and beautiful, and the tortillero is no exception.

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Tortillero

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January 5, 2012
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It’s hard to think of Mexico and not think of limes. In Mexico, limes are everywhere and served with everything from peanuts, to fruit, to tacos, to a steak dinner. So, it’s hard to believe that limes did not originate in Mexico and were brought over by the Europeans from the Indo-Malaysian region. Yet, the fruit was eagerly embraced and incorporated into Mexican cuisine, so much so, that it has become a necessity in the Mexican kitchen.

In my mind, no other citrus packs the punch that a Mexican lime does. Called limón in Spanish, it is also known as true lime, West Indian Lime, or sometimes key lime.

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Limes

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