Pumpkin seeds, Pepitas in Spanish, are one of the things I used to stuff in my suitcase when visiting Mexico. That’s because they have a mellow, somewhat nutty, almost sweet, barely chewy and nutritious nature. They are also one of the most nutritious seeds (they are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants).
Pumpkin seeds were prized by both the Aztecs and Mayans and it is said that the Mayans were the ones who began grinding them to make bases for sauces. In fact, the Yucatan Peninsula, home of the Mayas, has amongst its basic seasoning pastes (one being the famous achiote paste ) a lightly colored pumpkin seed paste that can already be bought in the markets.
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Funny, it wasn’t until recently that allspice became incorporated into Mexican local cuisine. Allspice has been grown in Mexico since the 1600’s but was seen as an exotic and expensive spice for export.
Continue reading Allspice or Pimienta Gorda
Continue reading Mushroom-Jalapeño Matzo Ball Soup
Known in the US as hominy in the US, maíz cacahuacintle is one of the favorite types of corn in Mexico. It has giant kernels that are whiter, softer, thicker, with rounder tops, than the regular white or yellow corn. It also has a deep, mealy bite.
Its traditional name, cacahuacintle comes from the combination of two náhuatl words, cacáhuatl and centli, meaning corn and cacao, because of its size, mostly. Though this giant corn is most used to make pozole, it is also used to make other dishes like tamales, sweets, drinks, and is eaten in street style crazy corn.
Continue reading Hominy, Maíz Cacahuacintle, Mote or Giant Corn
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!
With a metallic dark color and mottled skin, Chia seeds are delightfully crunchy. Once you rehydrate them in water, as the popular Lime based Agua Fresca, they become covered in an irresistible gelatinous layer. No wonder the word chia comes from the náhuatl name chian, which means oily.
Scientifically, Salvia Hispanica, they come from a flowering plant from the mint family. Some new wave health oriented groups, call it “the Miracle seed”. They are indeed miraculous for good digestion and some say weight loss.
In Mexico they have been used for centuries. In Aztec times, aside from eating, they were one of the main means of exchange and also used for religious rituals.
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The Mexican way to wildly dress simply cooked corn drives me wild:
Crunchy sweet corn on a stick, brushed with butter and mayo, coated in tangy and salty crumbled queso fresco, sprinkled with chile powder, typically chile piquín, coarse salt and a liberal squeeze of lime juice…
It doesn’t matter if I am hungry. The mere site of a street food corn stand makes me stop dead in my tracks and zoom over for one. Like a wild woman. I need one. Well, the truth is one is not enough, ever.
In Mexico you find corn stands all over, in little towns and big cities. Locals know what day of the week and at what times they show up. If you are not from there, it takes a while to figure it out.
Continue reading Go Wild, Munch On Your Crazy Corn!
I began to see the exotic side of the tomatillo once in the US.
Growing up in Mexico, they were a standard at every market, part of our weekly mandado, present in our family meals at least half a dozen times a week: in salsa verde to pour on top of almost everything, in enchiladas, chilaquiles, bathing fish, covering a shredded meat and potato stew, and sometimes cactus paddles.
Think something like salt … how odd it is to find a kitchen without salt?
Once we moved to Texas, the only place I could find them was in Latino stores. As the years moved on, there was no one I met without a Mexican connection who had ever cooked with a tomatillo or even dared to bring one home.
Sure, many people love salsa verde and eat it in restaurants or buy a jar at the store, but few know that its star ingredient, is the tomatillo.
Continue reading Tomatillo and Lime Jam
Whenever it starts pouring down rain in late Spring, I hanker for huitlacoche.
A true Mexican delicacy, also called cuitlacoche, it is a form of fungus, similar to some mushrooms, that grows on fresh corn. In the Mexican rainy season, which starts in April (some say March…) and ends sometime in September (some say October…), you can find huitlacoche at its peak.
It doesn’t look that pretty. It grows in an oversize and disproportionate manner on ears of corn, producing huge kernels that are black inside and covered with a somewhat silvery-white, sparkly and velvet textured skin.
Its flavor is intense and unmatchable: mushroomy, earthy, woody, a bit inky… reminds me of calamari ink.
Continue reading Huitlacoche