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
21 OCTOBER 2013
6:00 PM to 7:00 PM
I’m visiting Little Rock, Arkansas, to participate in the Speaker Series at the Clinton School of Public Service. I’m looking forward to an engaging conversation about Mexican cuisine, Mexicans and the relationship between Mexico and the US. I will also be able to meet and greet and sign cookbooks if anyone is interested! If you want to attend, you can reserve seats by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (501) 683-5239.
For more information, click here.
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
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
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
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
I wouldn’t be caught dead without Pan de Muerto during Day of the Dead.
One of the most meaningful, colorful and delicious of Mexican celebrations, Día de Muertos has this bread as one of its trademark treats. It may sound strange to eat fluffy sugared up bread in the shape of bones, but then again, we also eat calaveritas, candies in the shape of skulls. This shows how crucial food is for Mexicans but also how it gets infused with our sarcastic sense of humor, generous spirit and gutsy attitude.
Not that Day of the Dead is such a big occasion here in the United States, but I notice an increased awareness. Teachers are starting to talk about it in schools, sugar skulls and decorations are popping up in stores…It’s becoming trendy. As it happens right on the tail of Halloween, elements from both celebrations seem to cross paths. They both include graveyards and a lot of eating, but they are quite different.
Day of the Dead, which is not one but two days, November 1st and 2nd, is when those departed have a license to come back and visit the ones they’ve left behind. And hey, if they are coming back from another world, it better be a feast worth the trip! Altars are decorated, filled with the visitor’s favorite foods and drinks, candles and flowers placed throughout, to help illuminate for a safe journey back home. There are visits to the cemetery, too, but of a different nature than Halloween: Day of the Dead is a bittersweet, sad and joyous time for gathering, feasting and remembering.
Pan de Muerto, has to be one of the sweetest sides of it, eagerly awaited by all.
Continue reading Make Pan de Muerto at Home!
I have a thing for soups.
Doesn’t matter what time of day, what season of the year, what place I’m in, if I want tasty comfort my entire self craves a big bowl of soup.
As far as soups go, I have concocted some, I religiously repeat some I grew up eating, and then there are others I’ve become enamored with as I’ve ventured deeper into my home country’s cuisine.
As soon as my feet touch new territory, I search for its signature soup: the one everyone knows; the one everyone loves; the one present at every home kitchen. As easy as it may sound, sometimes those soups stir away from restaurants. Luckily, the first meal we had during our trip to Chiapas included that soup.
Continue reading Chipilín Soup with Masa and Fresh Cheese Dumplings
Chipilín Soup with Masa and Fresh Cheese Dumplings
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