Yep, Vanilla comes from Mexico!
Many people think that the vanilla bean originally came from Madagascar, but even though vanilla beans are grown there, they originated and were first cultivated in the lush state of Veracruz, which physically hugs the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, vanilla grown outside of Mexico has to be pollinated by hand, since the only insect that will pollinate it is the stingless Melipona bee, which only lives, and can only survive, in Mexico.
Vanilla, the fruit of the world’s only orchid with an edible pod, has been used since pre-Hispanic times by the Totonacs, first, then by other indigenous tribes throughout Mexico. The Totonacs were so incredibly resourceful they were able to develop the growing, harvesting and curing and drying methods that make vanilla edible. It was so revered it was used for sacred rituals, as well as for currency. And it is in Totonac lands, mainly in Papantla, where the finest vanilla thrives today.
Continue reading Vanilla
Vanilla is such an extraordinary ingredient.
As basic as that little black dress in your closet, it can be pulled out time and again, bringing class, flair and comfort every single time you wear it. Vanilla’s flavor and fragrance has come to embody comfort in kitchens worldwide.
However, given its popularity it has been overused in unfortunate ways, like bad imitation extract and exaggerated aromatic imitators. No wonder it has tried to be replicated though, vanilla comes with a high price tag.
But here is the thing: you can make a vanilla bean go a long way. You can extend its exuberant properties and multiply its uses by flavoring other basic ingredients with it.
Continue reading Vanilla Beans: Five Ways to Preserve
This marinated salsa – more like a pickle or relish – is sweet, mildly spicy, and beguiling.
It is a very versatile salsa, too, as you can use it like a regular salsa and spoon it on top of any kind of antojito, like tacos, quesadillas, and even scoop it up with chips. It can also act as a luxurious relish for grilled meat, chicken or seafood, not to mention paninis, tortas or hamburgers. You can also use it as the surprising final touch on crostinis with a base of goat or fresh cheese, or cherry tomatoes…And these are just a few options.
Continue reading Ancho Chile Salsa (or Relish, or Pickle, or Viniagrette)!
Ancho Chile Salsa (or Relish, or Pickle, or Viniagrette)!
It is almost time for Cinco.
If you are a Mexican living in the US and you want to get attention, if you want to make some noise, if you feel that you have something good to share or say: Cinco de Mayo is your day!
My first cooking demo: Foods from Puebla during Cinco.
The first time I got invited to cook on TV: Chicken Tinga for Cinco.
My first radio interview: Do Mexicans celebrate Cinco?
The biggest sales day for my first cookbook: Cinco.
The day I was honored to be invited as guest chef to cook at the White House: You guessed it, Cinco!
Continue reading Coco-Lime Margarita: Let’s Toast to Cinco (and a New Cookbook…)!
Some Latin foods don’t need translating anymore. That is the case of churros. Crisp and golden on the outside, soft and almost moist in the center, and covered in a gritty mix of sugar and cinnamon. They have to be some of the most, if not the most, irresistible fritters.
Mexicans don’t get the credit for inventing them though. That battle is still disputed between the Portuguese and the Spanish. But we do owe the Spanish for helping churros find their way to our Mexican kitchens, where we have found a way to make them our very own. More than five centuries later, so rooted they have become, it is hard to find a town, small or large, that doesn’t sell them.
You can find churros being sold by street vendors in little paper bags, in baskets, or in stands that have a heating light to keep them warm – people tend to underestimate how chilly Mexican nights can get. But there are also churrerías, places that only sell churros and different kinds of hot chocolate to accompany them.
Continue reading Churros Don’t Need Translating Anymore
Just four ingredients that you may already have at home make for one of the tastiest treats in the Mexican pan dulce repertoire: campechanas.
Not all panaderías in Mexico have campechanas though. And not all the panaderías that do carry them have fabulous campechanas. In fact, I have found that campechanas sold on the streets tend to be the very best ones.
Campechanas are one of the things I look for the moment I touch Valle de Bravo, a small town about a 2-hour drive from Mexico City. I grew up vacationing there with my family, and I still go as often as I can. It is a town whose campechanas are of the finest sort. Very puffy and dry with the perfectly crisp caramelized top, they are sold in thin plastic bags by the dozen in so many street corners.
It is practically impossible to keep them whole once you hold one up, or even as you try to take one out of the bag. The moment you take a bite, forget about it: it has crumbled all over the place into pieces that make for delirious bites. Once you have one, you can’t stop until there are no more.
Continue reading Campechanas
My mom is the best cook I know.
Growing up in Mexico City, she used to make the most incredible ponche, or warm fruit punch, every New Year’s Eve. Just once a year.
My sisters and I used to pace up and down the kitchen as she peeled, diced and threw the ingredients -many of which were only available at this time of year in the markets- into a gigantic pot. To tame our impatience she would peel a few pieces of the fresh sugar cane meant to go into that pot, and cut it into smaller sticks, so we could chew and suck its sweetly tangy juice, ever so slowly, as we waited for the ponche to be served.
Continue reading Ponche: Or My Mom’s New Year’s Warm Fruit Punch
I don’t think twice about eating a hot stew in the summertime. And, as far as I know, millions of Mexicans feel the same way.
You will see Pozole served in fondas in the middle of June, hot Caldo de Camarón as one of the most popular items on beach restaurant menus, and the famed Mole de Olla being ladled, sizzling hot from the pot, in markets all over the country at peak midday heat.
I’ve read that having something hot in the summer will actually cool you off. It turns out chiles are thought to have the same effect. All these Mexican stews, quoted above, have rich broths that are usually flavored with one or more kinds of chiles.
Continue reading Mole de Olla
Not for nothing is there a saying that goes “as American as apple pie.” Pie in the US is American comfort food of the first order.
Pie in Mexico is pay.
Pay : a sweet taste of el sueño Americano, a bite of the ideal life en los Estados Unidos. Just like a milkshake, just like a Hollywood blockbuster, just like being able to wear a pair of laid-back Levi’s jeans.
In the 80s, when I was a tween like my son Sami is today, my school friends and I would go for a thick and tall slice of pay, right after watching an American blockbuster film. Which wasn’t often. Back then, you had to wait anywhere from a few months to a year for any of these movies to make their way down to Mexico, if they ever did.
Continue reading A Piece of Mexican Lime Pie
An intrinsically Mexican dish, enchiladas are not one but a multitude of possibilities that can dress up a corn tortilla. Simply the sound of the word enchilada makes any Mexican’s mouth water in less than a millisecond and is cause for celebration.
One of the dearest antojos or antojitos (translate to whims or little whims), enchiladas are corn tortillas that may be heated up or lightly fried, either folded or rolled, with or without a variety of fillings, always bathed in a salsa or sauce, and garnished with a a few from a long list of possible toppings. From crumbled queso fresco and a drizzle of crema, to raw or pickled onion, chiles or other vegetables, Mexican avocado, chorizo, shredded lettuces and cabbage, just to name some.
Considering the variations of fillings, salsas, and toppings, enchiladas not only embody different regional cuisine’s identities, but also the whims of different cooks…
Here is my latest one; I call it the Big Brunch Enchilada.
Continue reading Big Brunch Enchiladas