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 cream is rich, thick, tangy and slightly salty. It used to be hard to find in the US, but now you can find it in Latin or International stores, but also mainstream stores! In Mexico, you can find it in any grocery store, and there are richer versions in small towns and ranches, where the cream earns its name “Crema Fresca” and I bet you would feel like me: that you can finish a whole pint in spoonfuls.
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The Mulato chile has similar looks to the Ancho chile but instead of a reddish black skin it has a dark black skin. You can tell the difference much better against the light! The Mulato chile also has a sweeter, fuller and more chocolaty flavor than the Ancho. No doubt they are different as they come from different chiles.
The Ancho chile comes from the dried regular Poblano chile. The Mulato chile comes from a variation of the Chile Poblano that has slightly different genes with a darker color and fuller flavor. It is hard to find the latter Poblano chile variation, as the growers prefer to dry them since they can sell them at a higher price at the markets.
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Oaxaca cheese is a mild tasting, gently salty, stringy white cheese with a deliciously chewy, full and filling bite. It is made in the same way as Mozzarella cheese. In fact, they taste very similar! Once the curds are formed, they are heated in water, stirred, and heated in water again. Throughout the process, as they are heated and stirred, they are made into very long threads that are pulled once and then again, until the desired consistency is achieved. Then the long threads are wrapped into balls.
In Mexico, and recently in some places abroad as well, you can find freshly made Oaxaca cheese, as it is usually found in small town and open air markets. You can also find commercially processed Oaxaca cheese in grocery stores, but the flavor and consistency changes considerably from the fresh ones.
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The Pasilla Chile is the dried Chilaca Chile. It is also by far the most harvested and used chile in the state of Michoacan. In some towns you can see some patios covered with mats where hundreds and thousands of Chilacas are being dried in the sun to be turned into Pasillas.
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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.
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Piloncillo is the rawest form of sugar cane. The same thing as cane juice but in a solid form. It typically comes in a block, with the shape of a cone, square or round.
It can be substituted for brown sugar. However, the flavor of piloncillo is more rustic. Reminds me of foods eaten in small villages or pueblos, it is homey. It adds that extra “something”, be it depth, color, aroma, that is hard to define but amazing to taste.
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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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Plantains are now available almost anywhere in the United States. They have the appearance of being thicker, longer and bigger type of bananas. But they are not. No wonder they are called macho bananas, plátano macho, in most areas of Mexico. Although from the same family, plantains are a different ingredient. They are starchier, meatier, firmer, milder in flavor and have much thicker skin than bananas and are better treated as vegetables in a culinary sense, since they are only eaten cooked.
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The poblano chile is a star in Mexican kitchens. It is used in a wide range of ways and in a wide range of dishes. Some well known examples are chiles en nogada, rajas, pickled, and stuffed with meat or cheese and bathed in a tomato sauce. But there are hundreds of other ways…
Aside from being absolutely gorgeous – chubby, curvy, large, sensuous and with a beautiful dark green color with a bit of a shine to it – it has a striking flavor that is rich, exuberant and fruity. It tends to be a bit capricious as well: it ranges from the very mild to the very hot. However, there are ways to tame its heat.
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