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
If you are going to try a new potato salad, it has to be this one.
It’s rich. It’s filling. Yet at the same time, it’s light and bright. How can this happen? You may wonder…
Soft tender potatoes are combined with an exuberant poblano chile rajas, or strips, and lightly caramelized red onion mix. It’s not a creamy salad, but one that has an unexpected vinegary kick, laced with olive and sesame oils.
In my kitchen, it’s a well documented fact that poblano chiles love the company of allspice. And it is no secret that potatoes love to be showered with tarragon. Mix it all up, and I want to eat the entire serves-six-people bowl.
Continue reading Potato and Poblano Rajas Salad
It’s ironic. The farthest away from Mexico I’ve been, the closest I’ve felt to my home country and the more I’ve gotten to know it.
Namely, there are 2,419 miles between my home in the DC area and the home I was born and raised in, in Mexico City (I’ve seen it in Google maps a thousand times with my boys), it’s a 44-hour drive if you go non-stop and a 5-hour flight with no connections.
Distance matters. It weighs, in tons of pounds of nostalgia that can be soothed in the kitchen. Distance has made my time in Mexico intense and adventurous, and the foods I am able to replicate in my American kitchen that much more precious.
Continue reading Yucatán Style French Toast: Ultra Decadent
I grew up in Mexico City with La Lechera sweetened condensed milk in my family’s pantry. It is an ingredient that is part of my upbringing, it speaks of home to me.
We had it not only for breakfast, dessert, milkshakes, smoothies, snacks and after school treats (drizzled over fresh fruit or spread over Maria cookies). We also poured it on top of baked plantains and sweet potatoes (in my view, it’s all they need to take them to the stratosphere), which in my memory remains one of the sweetest things. It was part of our everyday lives.
My mom and dad worked full time during the week, but my sisters and I always had a flan, pound cake or gelatina to look forward to. Every day of the week.
Continue reading La Lechera Sweetened Condensed Milk
I grow really fond of my cooking tools. Most of the Mexican ones have come straight from Mexico. Some have been passed down from my family, like the comal my mom gave me in hopes I would become a good cook. Some I have shamelessly taken, like the lime squeezer, which comes from her kitchen, too. The many wooden spoons I have come from different regions in Mexico and have come tucked in my suitcase. As for the molcajete, I asked my father-in-law to get me one from the Mexico City market, and he lugged it for me in his carry-on bag (he reminds me to this day…). Yet, I found my tamalera, a special pot for steaming tamales, here in DC!
When my dad visits from Mexico, ever since we moved to the U.S., he has brought some for me. And I didn’t start making tamales at home, until I had kids. First, I used a vegetable steamer. Once I moved to DC, I found this one at Panam, the mostly Mexican (Latin) grocery store on the corner of 14th Street and Parkwood.
Continue reading Tamalera
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
Tamales are it. If you’ve eaten one, you know it.
Simple. When ready and steaming hot, unwrap the edible bundle and eat swiftly, no fork, no knife, bite by bite. So good.
Yet as simple as it may sound to write a post about tamales, I could dedicate an entire series of cookbooks to their endless possibilities, and in the end, not have covered them all.
Ancestral, iconic, yet humble, is each single tamal. And the tamal universe, immense, imagine: tamal refers to anything wrapped and cooked in a husk or leave. Usually made with masa, typically corn masa, either mixed with or swaddling ingredients, or both! As you move through Mexico, and increasingly outside, you find them in different shapes (round, square, flat, puffed up, even triangular like Michoacán corundas); with different wraps (corn husks, either fresh or dried, banana leaves and even fresh edible leafy greens like chaya in Chiapas); with an infinity of ingredients, from savory, like chicken, meat, seafood, vegetables, beans, all sort of grains, salsas and cheese…to sweet ingredients, like fresh and dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, cajeta…
The consistency and texture vary greatly, too, from thin and dense like tamales found in Oaxaca; to sticky and gelatinous from Yucatán; to spongy and cakey like the ones from northern and central Mexico, where I grew up.
Continue reading My Favorite Tamal of All Time: Chicken in Green Salsa
My Favorite Tamal of All Time: Chicken in Green Salsa
Salsa Macha is a very thick and unusual salsa that comes from the state of Veracruz. Located along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, it has been for centuries, a gateway for waves of immigrants from all over the world into Mexico (like my paternal grandparents).
Veracruz, being such an important channel for exchange and always immersed in flux, has seen some of the most interesting combinations of ingredients, cooking techniques and traditions. Salsa Macha is an example.
It is made by frying dried chipotle chiles (mainly the morita kind) in a generous amount of olive oil, along with garlic cloves. The last two ingredients courtesy of the Spanish conquest, for sure. Then it is seasoned with salt. Some versions add fresh chiles such as serranos or jalapeños into the mix. Many times peanuts are added and sesame seeds too.
Continue reading Salsa Macha
A Mexican immigrant cooking Thanksgiving and Hanukkah on the same night in the cold Eastern region of the United States may sound a bit odd to some. For me, it turns out to be an unexpected opportunity to bring all my pieces together. Which has my mind reeling about the just as unexpected possibilities for the menu.
See… ever since I can remember, I have felt like I am treading between worlds. The Mexican. The Jewish. The immigrant in the U.S. Not from here, not from there. Yet, as time goes by, the different parts of my identity feel increasingly solid, in all those worlds and their intersections. It turns out that where those intersections make the most sense is in the kitchen.
I admit, though, that I am a hopeless romantic. That’s why every year when my husband asks what I want for my birthday, I say: the most passionate love letter, ever. Haven’t seen it, since he has seen me everyday in one way or another for the past 17 years. So, when my birthday comes close, I offer to pack my bags and leave, just to pretend… so he can write that super duper passionate love letter.
Continue reading Potato, Sweet Potato and Granny Smith Latkes