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
Make It, Freeze It, Take It: The Mexican Casserole
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
Continue reading Buñuelos: High Maintenance, But So Worth It!
Sliced bread brushed with melted butter, toasted until golden, layered with handfuls of nuts and dried fruits, drenched in Piloncillo syrup, topped with crumbled salty cheese and baked until it all comes together…. Once out of the oven, it tastes like a cross between French Toast and Bread Pudding. Crisp-on-the-top and moist-in-the-center, every spoonful a delightful mess.
It reminds me of how my father loves to slice sweet bananas over his savory lentil soup; or how my family goes crazy over piling ates (fruit pastes) with Manchego cheese, as so many Mexicans do; or how I used to love eating a handful of chocolate covered raisins right after a handful salty pop corn, and then repeat it again and again at the movies growing up, as long as the movie lasted. Capirotada has that same wild mix.
Once you finish your piece, I bet you will beg for a bit more of that addicting combination. That’s probably why I have received so many requests for a recipe.
Continue reading Going Nuts and Bananas for Capirotada
You can do fabulous things with pumpkins aside from spooky faces and pumpkin pie… Just ask any Mexican. We have a way with pumpkins.
Native to Mexico, pumpkins have been devoured there for centuries, in their entirety. The seeds are addicting as snacks, used as a hefty base for salsas, soups and sauces and more recently sprinkled on top of many dishes. The pumpkin meat is used for soups and stews, and along with the entire rind cooked in a piloncillo syrup, becoming a traditional favorite known as Tacha.
Yet there is something else you can make with those fall pumpkins: Mole!
An easy to make, silky textured and exquisite tasting mole sauce, that can bathe anything you can think of. From chicken to meat, fish, seafood and veggies; it all goes beautifully swaddled in it. I like it mostly with chicken or turkey, which is how I am most used to eating thick and rich Mole sauces….
So that you can try it too, here it goes.
Continue reading Pumpkin and Ancho Chile Mole
Continue reading Mushroom-Jalapeño Matzo Ball Soup
Red pozole, or Pozole Rojo, Jalisco style, has been my favorite pozole of all time. It is bold and gorgeous in every possible way. I am so attached to it, we even served it at our wedding.
For decades now, I’ve refused to replace it with another… And then, I tried a unique green version, Pozole Verde, Guerrero style. It has not surpassed my Pozole Rojo, but it is attempting to tie with it at my table. And that is a lot to say.
Treasured all around Mexico, pozole has many variations, mainly green, red and white. Each distinct and beautiful, and coincidentally, represent the colors of the Mexican flag. Since September is the month of Mexican independence and The Day of El Grito is just around the corner, there is no excuse not to find an excuse to celebrate! And in my mental Mexican dictionary, pozole equals celebration.
Continue reading Pozole: Try It Green!
This year I promised my boys we would plant goodies in the backyard to harvest ourselves. At the nursery, jumping up and down as in a candy shop, they dragged so many plants to the counter, I had to give an absolute NO to half of them.
We ended up with thyme, oregano, bay leaves, rosemary, mint, parsley, and cilantro. Ok, and tomatoes, cherry and roma. Fine… corn too, don’t know what I was thinking. And wait! We couldn’t leave without jalapeños, which led me to run for some tomatillos. And scallions. I stopped there. I did.
Then Sami came back with a little watermelon plant. That was the wildest idea, oh, that monster of mine. We’ve no room to grow watermelon. I told him about the big wide fields in Northern Mexico, in states like Sonora, Chihuahua, Jalisco and Sinaloa where watermelon is grown extensively. Our backyard is… not so big.
We brought home Sami’s watermelon plant.
Continue reading Summertime Watermelon & Tomatillo Salad: Beat the Heat!
Summertime Watermelon & Tomatillo Salad: Beat the Heat!
The Mexican way to wildly dress simply cooked corn drives me wild:
Crunchy sweet corn on a stick, brushed with butter and mayo, coated in tangy and salty crumbled queso fresco, sprinkled with chile powder, typically chile piquín, coarse salt and a liberal squeeze of lime juice…
It doesn’t matter if I am hungry. The mere site of a street food corn stand makes me stop dead in my tracks and zoom over for one. Like a wild woman. I need one. Well, the truth is one is not enough, ever.
In Mexico you find corn stands all over, in little towns and big cities. Locals know what day of the week and at what times they show up. If you are not from there, it takes a while to figure it out.
Continue reading Go Wild, Munch On Your Crazy Corn!
I began to see the exotic side of the tomatillo once in the US.
Growing up in Mexico, they were a standard at every market, part of our weekly mandado, present in our family meals at least half a dozen times a week: in salsa verde to pour on top of almost everything, in enchiladas, chilaquiles, bathing fish, covering a shredded meat and potato stew, and sometimes cactus paddles.
Think something like salt … how odd it is to find a kitchen without salt?
Once we moved to Texas, the only place I could find them was in Latino stores. As the years moved on, there was no one I met without a Mexican connection who had ever cooked with a tomatillo or even dared to bring one home.
Sure, many people love salsa verde and eat it in restaurants or buy a jar at the store, but few know that its star ingredient, is the tomatillo.
Continue reading Tomatillo and Lime Jam