Chipotle Lentil Soup

sopa de lentejas

  Chipotle chili peppers are items that are a complete must for your pantry, if you're going to cook Mexican food. In fact, they're a unique flavor to add to just about any meat, if you are adventurous. Growing up in Laredo Texas, chipotles were peppers we occasionally used to make a salsa, but I knew these were not well known outside of the Spanish speaking community, for the most part. The word chipotle has become well known because of the restaurant chain by the same name, and even if you don't know how to pronounce it (chee-poh-tleh) chances are, you've eaten there and at least know it has to do with Mexican food.   Chipotle is a nahuatl word, meaning smoked chili pepper. No one knows for how long the indigenous peoples of Mexico have used the technique of dry smoking a pepper both to preserve it and for the flavor. But the flavor the chipotle imparts to a dish is like … [Read more...]

Beans, then and now

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Beans are Mesoamerican in origin and together with corn and squash form the 'three sisters' that provided precolumbian societies the nutrient triangle necessary for survival. They are among the most important legumes in the world with their high concentration of protein and fiber. They were central to my family's diet when I was a child growing up in Laredo, prepared in different ways depending on which meal of the day it was. When they were served at lunchtime, they came with guisados or picadillos, or calabacita con pollo. But we never tired of the ubiquitous beans boiling in a clay pot on our stove; it was always a taste and a texture that was as comforting as a mother's embrace. In fact, it's no surprise that one of my son's first meals when he began to eat 'solid' food was a strained bean soup with a velvety consistency that he loved from the first spoonful. The marriage of … [Read more...]

You say guava, I say guayaba

Fresh guayabas

  Escaping the snowy Washington D.C. March winter for a few days in San Miguel de Allende, I was drawn to the sun-kissed, aromatic, tropical fruit found in abundance at the market here: guayaba or guava, as it's called in English. The name guava has always confused me because in Laredo where we grew up everyone called it by its Spanish name, guayaba. A bowl of these, with the floral scent of the tropics and redolent of the warm sun under which they grew, make the most inviting fruit one can have arriving from a frigid nothern climate. At Casa Carmen where I'm staying, the devoted cook of this bed and breakfast, Doña Beatriz, prepared a dessert with guayaba today. This is just one of the ways to eat this delectable fruit, but really, you can simply eat it raw when it's sweet and ripe, have it as an agua fresca, make it into dried fruit paste, marmalade, ice cream or even a sauce … [Read more...]

Sopes with Shrimp and Cactus

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So much of what the indigenous people of Mexico eat is finger food, picked up gingerly and eaten with the hands, while it is hot, freshly made, and handed to those gathered around the hot comal. Freshly nixtamalized corn is shaped into small tortillas, gorditas, tlacoyos, huaraches, or sopes...all vessels that will carry the vegetables, the beans, or the meats to those hungry mouths. You simply can't eat some of these things with a fork. They won't even taste the same. The base of all 'wrappings' in Mexican food is, of course, this corn dough, sometimes thickly patted by hand, sometimes flattened thinly in a tortilla press...small, large, oval, round, fried, cooked on a comal, or steamed, but it's all corn dough. Sopes fit into the category of small, edible 'plates' of corn with diverse toppings, usually offered ahead of a meal. You make your masa (dough) using commercial corn dough … [Read more...]

Silky Flan

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This is a blog about Mexican cuisine, but how well we know that cultures cross, mixing and blending together into improved versions of the original. Many years ago I discovered this flan, otherwise known as crème caramel in French, as a guest at a country house in northern France. Our  hostess served it to my three year old son, my youngest sister  and me at the end of a sumptuous meal at a table set by a roaring fire in this country house. The impeccable French hospitality created a welcoming ambiance, leaving us with warm memories of the evening. I can remember almost everything from that meal about 30 years ago, everything prepared to perfection.  But it was the flan (crème caramel)  that came as a revelation. I wondered why I had ever tolerated those overly sweet, rubbery, rich things that looked like Swiss cheese. In Mexico and other countries in Latin America, condensed milk is … [Read more...]