Growing up in Mexico City, I didn’t know a single person who celebrated Cinco de Mayo, except for the people who lived in the state of Puebla. We didn’t even get the day off! Sure we studied it in school–the unprecedented victory of a small Mexican militia against the large French army in 1862–but it was a short-lived victory, as the French won right back.
Fast forward 150 years to 2012: the French and Spanish are gone; Mexicans proudly celebrate Independence Day every September 16; yet, for reasons few of us can explain, Cinco de Mayo has become the greatest, most joyous, colorful celebration–for Mexicans living abroad. As strange as the nostalgia is, the longer I live abroad, the stronger the impact Cinco de Mayo has within my soul. These words fluff up like soft conchas right out of the oven, getting fluffier, sweeter and more comforting as the years go by.
Continue reading Creamy Poblano Soup
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
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!