My friend Gwyneth Doland writes in her book, Tantalizing Tamales: Although we don’t know for sure the exact origin of tamales we can see from pots and carvings that, for the ancient Mayans, tamales were their daily bread. (The word comes from the Nahuatl tamalii and tamal is the correct singular form, but tamale is more common.) Researchers believe it is likely that tamales originated in Mesoamerica and eventually spread throughout Latin America and beyond. As an ancient precursor to fast food, the supremely portable tamale provided satisfying and nutritious meal for people on the go—and it still does. Tamales are a popular menu item in Latin American and Mexican restaurants and market stalls, but for most home cooks, the effort required to prepare tamales (as opposed to tacos or burritos) means they are mostly made on celebration days. Christmas, New Year’s, the Day of the Dead, weddings, birthdays and baptisms are often celebrated with a feast of tamales.
MexGrocer.com is totally on top of the tamale situation, so see their special Tamale Section, here.
Grilled Green Chile Cheese Tamales with Avocado Cream
Grilled Tamales Awaiting the Avocado Cream
Here’s one of the most unusual tamale recipes you will ever find, and your first thought will be: Oh no, not a grilled tamale! But it works–if you can keep the corn husks from burning. And for that, be armed with a spray bottle filled with water. These tamales can be served as an entree or as a side dish. You can tie the tamales together with string or with a thin strip of corn husk. Serve with Mexican rice, squash with tomatoes and green chile, and flan for dessert.
15 dried corn husks
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon instant masa mix
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole kernel corn
Green Chile Cheese Filling:
6 to 8 green New Mexican chiles, roasted, peeled, stems and seeds removed, cut in strips
1/3 cup finely chopped onions
6 ounces asadero cheese, coarsely grated or substitute Monterey Jack cheese
1/3 cup chopped black olives
2 medium avocados, peeled and chopped
2 jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped onions
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
Sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
Place the corn husks in water in a large bowl, weigh down with a plate and soak for 30 minutes or until soft.
Combine the cornmeal, milk, butter, masa, sugar and salt in a saucepan and simmer for a couple of minutes. Cool and add the corn.
Drain the husks, pat dry with paper towels, and lay on a flat surface. Place two together, overlapping a little. Spread some of the cornmeal mixture on a husk, cover with chile strips, then onions, olives, and cheese. Place another layer of the cornmeal on top, pull the husks over the top and tie at both ends. Repeat until you have 6 packets.
Arrange the tamales around the edge of a high heat grill. Cook until the filling sets, turning occasionally, spraying with water to keep the husks from burning. It will take 45 to 60 minutes.
Place all the ingredients for the avocado cream in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth
To serve, slice open the tamale, spoon in the avocado cream, top with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with the cilantro.
Yield: 6 tamales
Heat Scale: Medium
La tradición de celebrar el Día de Muertos el 2 de Noviembre nos trae muchos recuerdos y nostalgia a todos los que tenemos raíces latinas y especialmente quienes son de origen Mexicano, ya que nuestros antepasados vienen celebrando este día, lleno de nostalgia, cultura prehispánica y tradiciones por muchos siglos. El saborear un Pan de muerto es una parte muy tradicional ligada a estas fechas.
El día de Muertos se celebra un día después del día de Todos los Santos y dos días después de la fiesta Americana de Halloween o noche de brujas, que de por si tiene también muchas tradiciones como el pedir dulces casa por casa a cambio de no hacer una travesura, disfrazándose los niños y mezclando un poco motivos relacionados con estas fechas. En estos días hay quienes hacen poesías o versos que mencionan el día de la muerte y utilizan personajes vivos para hablar de ellos, como si fuera algo triste, pero realmente se considera una broma y se denominan: Calavera o Calaveras, como por ejemplo ésta “calavera” que fue elaborada por Jaime Mirman para MexGrocer.com:
Surtida de la “A” a la “Z”
Ganó MexGrocer renombre,
Partió Nacho como un hombre
Que ha conseguido su meta.
Al acercarse el Día de Muertos se acostumbraba ir a los cementerios unos días antes y decorar las tumbas con altares llenos de fotografías o imágenes, calaveras azúcar, flores de cempasúchil y platillos de comida Mexicana que les gustaban a los difuntos comer cuando estaban vivos. Estos altares de muertos, también se acostumbra poner en las casas y los mantienen durante toda la temporada recordando a los difuntos. Los familiares suponen que las almas que ya partieron regresan con los vivos a convivir y compartir esos días en una reunión de almas disfrutando juntos el colorido de las flores en el altar con las decoraciones y luego comen con ellos todo tipo de guisos con recetas Mexicanas, pero especialmente el sabroso Pan de Muerto. Aquí se pueden ver algunos de estos Videos del Día de Muertos.
El Pan de muerto constituye una parte muy tradicional en los altares de muertos. Sus formas son muy variadas siendo la más tradicional la redonda con bolitas simulando canillas o huesos de las extremidades. Esta forma redonda algunos la consideran como si fuera una flor con sus pétalos y pistilos, pero otros dicen que simboliza una tumba o la forma de un cráneo rodeada con huesos (canillas) que apuntan al centro. Su sabor de los panes de muerto es el de un biscocho Mexicano a base de pan de huevo con leche y mantequilla con un aroma de azahar o flor del naranjo y espolvoreado con azúcar en la parte superior. Para la cultura latina la muerte se venera, honra y utiliza como un símbolo que puede servir para jugar y hasta espantar como burlándose de ella. Es por eso que la tradición de las calaveras de azúcar se pone el nombre de las personas y las familias buscan comprar aquellas que tienen el nombre de cada uno de los familiares.
What would you do if someone invited you to a fiesta in a graveyard? Would you go? Or does the mere idea of it give you a major case of the creeps?! Well, you’re not alone, amigo. In the USA we try to deny, cheat and minimize death.
Not so in Mexico. In Mexico, the symbol of death is a grinning, fleshless beauty called La Muerte-Lady Death (La Catrina). An elegantly and colorfully clad skeleton wearing a flower-laden hat, created by press artist José Guadalupe Posada (1853-1913), she’s an amazing metaphor of life embracing death. You can feel this in her name, for she goes by La Catrina-Fancy Lady, La Flaca-Skinny, La Huesuda-Bony and La Pelona-Baldy. There’s humor here, not fear. What’s up with that?!
The renowned Mexican poet, Octavio Paz put it this way back in 1959:
“The word death is not spoken aloud in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite toy and his most lasting love.”
How did nextdoor neighbors-the US and Mexico-develop such wildly divergent attitudes toward death? And how did what was originally a pagan holiday survive the invasion of Catholicism? History holds the answer to those questions. Día de Muertos has its roots in pre-Columbian tradition where the people felt deeply connected to and lived harmoniously with the Earth. They viewed the cycle of life-conception, birth, growth, maturity, decline and death as part of a great and mysterious whole. Spiritually, rather than materialistically grounded, they felt themselves to be one with all that had ever existed or would exist-on this planet and in our universe. For these reasons, death didn’t scare them, nor did they try to outsmart it.
Although the holiday’s exact origin is uncertain, it’s believed that it began with the Olmecs about 3000 years ago. They saw life as an illusion and believed that in dying, human beings truly awakened and their souls were set free. The Olmecs transmitted their ideas to the Toltecs and Mayans in Central America, who later shared them with the Aztecs, Tlaxcaltec, Chichimec, Tecpanec and other Indians native to Mexico.
When the Spaniards defeated the Aztecs in the 1500′s, they converted the Indians to Catholicism. However, they encountered resistence when attempting to eradicate all native religious traditions. In a compromise sanctioned by the Church, Día de Muertos was merged with two Christian holidays-All Saints Day on November first and All Souls Day on November second. This makes it a thoroughly unique, cross-cultural holiday, effectively blending two very different traditions. In that regard, it is symbolic of the Mexican people, for they are also a synthesis of the brown-skinned “people of the earth” and their white-skinned conquerors, the “people of the “sky”-as the Spanish were initially called.
True to its roots, Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead is a celebration, not of death but of the continuum of life. It consists of prayerful reflection, joy and revelry honoring those who came before. In a culture without written family trees, parents and grandparents pass stories on to their children. These aren’t boring lists of names, facts and dates, but lively, humorous tales about those who came before. Their favorite foods, passions and possessions are discussed, along with their triumphs, their foibles and all sorts of other anecdotal details about their lives-forging a tangible, emotional link between the past and the present.
So now that we have a little background on the holiday-onward-to the graveyard fiestas, amigo! One more thing before we go. Be advised that there’s no connection between Día de los Muertos and Halloween whatsoever. This holiday is as important to Mexicans as Thanksgiving is to us. It’s a time when people travel long distances to be with their families, some coming from as far away as the northern US.
So-here we go! It’s the last week in October in a rural Mexican village. Along the sides of the roads and in the open-air marketplace, homemade stands pop up. They’re filled with pan de muerto – a special sweet bread with crossed bones on top (recipe follows article), amaranth seed skulls with raisin eyes and peanut teeth, candied Marzipan and chocolate skulls called calaveras, roasted corn or elotes, dancing skeletons or calacas carrying cardboard coffins, votive candles, and mountains of golden yellow marigolds-the flowers used to summon the spirits of the departed.
By October thirty-first, we see altars springing up in every home. As we stroll down the cobblestone streets, we notice that the front doors are wide open. We see entire families joining together in decorating tables topped with wooden crates and lace table cloths. They’re covered with marigolds or zenpasuchitl, along with the purchases from the street vendors. There’s an abundances of candles, pictures of saints and photos of the deceased. In homes where there have been children who died, we see toys, balloons, piñatas. Even clothing and tiny pairs of shoes. Suspended from the ceilings are rectangular sheets of yellow, pink, Orange, blue and green papel picado-tissue paper with cutouts-that impart an airy feeling reminiscent of the sky at sunset. We inhale pungent, delicious aromas. The smell of the marigolds. The strong odor of copal incense, mixed with the chocolate-nut-and-chile aroma of mole and the earthy, meaty smell of tamales. We see pottery urns of mescal or pulque (native drinks made from cactus) and bottles of tequila. Our attention is momentarily diverted by a band of mariachis strolling down the middle of the sidewalk, playing, singing and laughing, followed by a troop of children.
November first, All Saints Day is reserved for honoring the children, or angelitos. Early in the morning we head toward the local graveyard, where the family members are cutting down weeds, raking, touching up chipped plaster and repainting the tombs. Decorations are springing up here too. We see crosses made from marigold petals, elaborate multi-colored floral wreaths and artificial flower arrangements, along with more of the fruits, vegetables, goodies, photos, personal mementos and statues we saw in the homes. It’s colorful. It’s powerful. It’s noisy. At 2:00 p.m. a hush falls over the crowd as the priest appears to conduct an open-air mass. Relatives huddle together, mourning their dead with la llorada-the weeping. It chokes every one of us up. At sunset, hundreds of candles are lit, mingling with the powerful scents of the food, incense and flowers. At midnight, the church bells begin to toll, summoning the dead. Many families will spend the entire night here, remembering their loved ones with recitations of the Rosary and praying that they will come and partake of the aromas of their favorite foods.
On November second the entire village gathers in the cemetery for the big fiesta. It’s packed. Every family has a picnic basket, plus beer and tequila for toasting the departed. Street vendors are selling tacos, tamales, shrimp and fruit cocktails, drinks and fireworks. Mariachis compete with one another and with the occasional radio blasting Mexican Ranchero music. At the close of the all-day festivities, multi-colored explosions light up the sky. Then the ancestors return to heaven and it’s over until next year.
To celebrate Día de Muertos in your own home, try making an altar to honor and remember your ancestors. Then cook up some Pan de Muerto, some colorful Sugar Skulls and serve after a luscious, soulful, authentic meal consisting of Mole and Tamales. Some real Mexican tequila for slow, thoughtful sipping with this feast just might be in order too!
October is finally here and it’s time to make sugar skulls! You can learn how to make them right at home and decorate them yourself, or you can buy them pre-made. This fun and festive Mexican folk art is a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) tradition. The decorated sugar skulls are used to adorn the altars of loved ones along with marigolds, papel picado and candles. It is not a somber holiday but one of remembrance and joy. For more information about Dia de los Muertos and more about Mexican Cooking, visit Mexican Food at About.com
This magnificent dish of Stuffed Poblano Chiles in Walnut Sauce, was created in the city of Puebla by the nuns of the Santa Monica Convent in honour of the triumphant arrival of General Agustin de Iturbide, when independence from Spain was finally attained in 1821 after some not so easy negotiations with General Vicente Guerrero who was then at the head of the Insurgentes army.
Agustín de Iturbide
Agustin de Iturbide (1782-1824), a criollo (born in Mexico of Spanish parents), having been fighting for a few years against the rebels of Insurgentes, first against José Maria Morelos y Pavon (another hero of the independence) who was captured and executed at the end of a ferocious battle, and then against General Guerrero.
Several years had passed before Iturbide realized that the royalists would never win this war and as a result, decided to present General Guerrero with a plan (Plan of Iguala) through which an independent Mexico with himself as Emperor, could be established. General Guerrero agreed to meet with him in Acatempan (The Embrace of Acatempan), in order to discuss the plan drawn out by General Iturbide.
The Plan of Iguala (March 1821) became very popular mainly due to the fact that it satisfied both parties, the Insurgentes by implementing Independence from Spain and the Peninsulares (Spaniards living in Mexico) for avoiding attacks on them and their properties.
On September 17, 1821 (Iturbide’s birthday), he marched triumphantly into Mexico City with his Ejército Trigarante (Army of the Three Guarantees). The following day Mexico was declared an independent empire and General Iturbide was crowned on July 21, 1822. He ruled as Agustin I (1822-1823), over a large territory which was bordered by Panama in the south, and by the Oregon territory in the north, including the present countries of Central America and the U.S. states of California, Texas, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. Less than a year later, Agustin de Iturbide was forced to abdicate his reign by a General Santa Ana who announced the birth of a Republic.
During his reign as Emperor of Mexico, he lived in what used to be known as the Palacio de Iturbide now Museo Palacio Cultural Banamex, a true jewel of Baroque architecture with marked Italian influence. This magnificent building was built by the Count of San Mateo Valparaiso as a wedding present for his daughter whose fiancé was of Italian descent. The building is currently a museum that holds the vast Mexican art collection of Banamex (the National Bank of Mexico) and is located in downtown Mexico City, or the Centro Histórico, just a few blocks from the Zócalo and the Cathedral where General Iturbide is buried.
Historic Mexican Flags
During his brief Empire, Iturbide was responsible among other things, for the creation of the modern Mexican flag with its three colours, green, white and red. These colors representing the three guarantees and to honour the legacy of the Aztecs, the emblem of the cactus with the perching eagle.
The decoration of the Stuffed Poblano Chiles in Walnut Sauce (Chiles en Nogada) was clearly a political move. If there is something that gives a unique character to Mexican cuisine in my opinion, is most definitely all its sauces and moles with key ingredients such as peanuts, almonds, walnuts, and of course chiles. In fact, poblano chiles are sometimes identified outside of Mexico as the ‘stuffing’ chile, so the uniqueness of this particular dish is clearly due to its attractive decoration and the history behind it.
In Mexico, this wonderful dish is traditionally served in the fall, when the walnuts for the creamy nogada sauce are harvested in northern Mexico. The combination of the pulled pork, the sweetness of the raisins, almonds and candied fruit, with the spicy heat of the chiles, is bound to conquer refined palates anywhere.
Stuffed Poblano Chiles in Walnut Sauce
Chiles en Nogada
For the filling
1 lb (500 g) pork loin
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup chopped onion
3 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
½ cup canned tomato sauce
Dash each of cinnamon, cumin, cloves
½ cup chopped cooked ham
¼ cup chopped almonds
¼ cup raisins, soaked in water
½ cup chopped, candied citron or
¼ cup each, peeled and chopped fresh apple, pear, and peach
Dash each of salt, sugar
Cook the pork loin in boiling salted water for 12 to 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and reserve the broth. When the pork is cool enough to handle, shred it with your fingers and set aside.
In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the garlic and onion until the onion is transparent. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce, and continue cooking for a few minutes longer. Stir in the pork, ½ to 1 cup of the reserved broth, the cinnamon, cumin, cloves, ham, almonds, drained raisins, and citron. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the fruit is tender. Set aside to cool.
For the Sauce
1 slice of bread
½ cup milk
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 (4 oz/125 g) package cream cheese or
125 g. Mexican Queso Fresco
Dash each of cinnamon, sugar
1 teaspoon dry sherry
Soak the bread in the milk. In a blender or food processor, half an hour before serving the chiles, blend the walnuts with the cheese, soaked bread, sherry, cinnamon and sugar. The nogada sauce should be thick. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.
For the chiles
10 small Poblano chiles, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 to 2 pomegranate(s) or
1 (2 oz/60 g) jar red pimientos
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Fill each chile with a spoonful of the pork mixture and carefully place each stuffed chile on a serving platter. Cover the chiles with the nogada sauce and garnish with pomegranate seeds and parsley.
Serve this festive dish at room temperature with good French bread on the side and celebrate the Mexican Independence.
Note: In later years, cooks wanting a smoother creamy sauce for the nogada, introduced cream cheese, but the original recipe called for queso fresco (fresh cheese), which fortunately, is now available anywhere in English North America where Mexican products are sold.
Here is another colourful dish that can be served as an appetizer with small corn tortillas or as a salad.
ENSALADA DE NOPALES (Cactus Leaves Salad)
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
4-6 cactus leaves/pads, fresh or
1 (825g) jar Nopalitos or Tender Cactus,*
1 tsp. salt
4-6 tbsp. finely chopped onion
2-4 Serrano chiles, chopped
4 sprigs fresh cilantro, washed and chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt & pepper
1 large fresh tomato, sliced
1/2 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
Peel cactus leaves and remove thorns, if any. Wash with running water and slice into strips. Transfer cactus strips to a dry saucepan and cook at very low temperature stirring occasionally, for approximately 6 to 8 minutes or until the sap is gone completely and nopalitos are tender. Depending on the altitude, they might need to be cooked in water beforehand. Drain and cool.
In a salad bowl, mix nopales with the onion, chile, cilantro, oregano and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top salad with the tomato slices and the cheese.
*Cooked nopalitos would still need to be placed on a dry saucepan for a few minutes to remove the sap completely. I recommend La Costeña brand.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a little more on history of Mexico, the history of the Mexican Independence, Chiles en Nogada, and a simple but delicious Nopalitos Salad recipe. Please comment below your thoughts, and what you’d like me to write about if you have any suggestions. I’d love to hear them!
Mexican Culinary Treasures: Recipes From Maria Elena's Kitchen
Maria Elena Cuervo-Lorens is the author of Mexican Culinary Treasures cookbook. She takes you back to her childhood, spent around her grandmother’s table on a shopping expedition with her mother to Mercado La Merced, and for a merienda (snack) of café con leche and bizcochos (Mexican sweet rolls) at a bakery in downtown Mexico City. The authentic Mexican recipes she shares with us include tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas. The nouvelle cuisine of cosmopolitan Mexico City, such as cuitlacoche (huitlacohe) crepes, oysters with chipotle chile.
El 16 de Septiembre de 1810 fue el día en el que se consumó la independencia de México, la cual puso final al dominio Español. A consecuencia de éste acto que desencadenó una gran pasión mexicana se celebra la noche de el 15 de Septiembre el famoso “Grito de Independencia”. Esta celebración por lo general viene acompañana de un grande festejo entre los estados Mexicanos. La fiesta consiste en el establecimiento de las “Fiestas Patrias” las cuales son constituídas por juegos mecánicos, comidas típicas mexicanas, grupos musicales y presentaciones folklóricas.
El “Grito de Dolores” según la tradición mexicana es un llamado que el cura Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla dio la noche del 15 de Septiembre. A lado de el cura Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla venia el Capitán de el Ejército Realista Mexicano Ignacio Allende y el Insurgente Mexicano partícipe en el proceso de independencia Juan Aldama. El “Grito” consistió en tocar las campanas de la parroquia de Dolores ubicada en el estado de Guanajuato proclamando el inicio de la guerra de Independencia. La tradición consiste en tocar las campanas de dicha parroquia mencionando o proclamando las siguientes frases:
¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron Patria!
¡Viva Josefa Ortíz de Domínguez!
¡Viva Aldama y Matamoros!
¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!
¡Viva México! Viva México! Viva México!
Toca la campana y ondea la bandera Mexicana.
El pueblo entusiasta responde con gran pasión “Viva Mexico!” y celebra con fiestas y cantos mexicanos. Es la tradición más pasional que tiene México. Cada estado de la República Mexicana tiene sus respectivos y muy esperados festejos. Esta fecha conmemora el esfuerzo de el pueblo mexicano contra la conquista Española. Es asi como la celebración se lleva a cabo. !Esperemos con mucho orgullo nuestro 16 de Septiembre! ¡Viva México!
There are reportedly over 60 varieties of chiles, chile peppers or hot peppers, ranging from very mild to fiery hot. Chiles are a key ingredient in most Mexican food dishes. All chiles derive their heat from oils concentrated in their seeds and membranes. The heat of a chile lasts six minutes before it dissipates.
Check the Mexican Food Video – Some Like It Hot: Cuisines of Chili Climates with Rick Bayless (VHS) Chiles – Mexican food video
How to Avoid Chile Pepper Irritation
Wear rubber gloves or even small plastic bags over your hands. Don’t touch your face or rub your eyes while handling hot peppers. Slit the chile lengthwise, rinse under running water, remove and discard stem, membranes and seeds. Chop or slice as directed in recipe. Wash hands and utensils thoroughly with hot, soapy water afterward. If your mouth is on fire, try a spoonful of sugar or a bit of salt and limejuice. The heat of a chile lasts six minutes before it dissipates.
Poblanos peppers are used in Chiles Rellenos. They are dark green and about the size of a bell pepper, but tapered at one end. They can be mild or quite hot. They’re best fresh, but also available in cans.
Serranos are hot! They’re about an inch and a half long and bright green and used frequently in salsas. They’re best fresh, but also available in cans.
Guero or gueritos chiles are small, yellow and tapered on the end. They’re sold either fresh or pickled and are medium-hot.
Chipotles are made from jalapenos that have been dried and smoked. They are sold both dried and canned in adobo, or a rich, smoky, dark reddish-brown sauce. Their flavor is uniquely delicious.
Anchos are dried dark red poblano chiles. They’re mildly flavored and used in many sauces. All dried red chiles are best if deveined, seeded and soaked in just enough hot water to cover them for about an hour. Afterward, put them in the blender with the water and add to your recipe.
Mulato chiles or Mulatos are frequently used when ancho chiles are called for in a recipe. It’s deep brown, longer and more tapered than the ancho and is a bit more pungent. All dried red chiles are best if deveined, seeded and soaked in just enough hot water to cover them for about an hour. Afterward, put them in the blender with the water and add to your recipe.
Guajillo is a dried red chile that gives more color than taste to Mexican food recipes. It’s about four to five inches long, narrow and has a smooth skin. All dried red chiles are best if deveined, seeded and soaked in just enough hot water to cover them for about an hour. Afterward, put them in the blender with the water and add to your recipe.
Cola de Rata Chiles
The Cola de Rata or Rat-tail Chile is also known as the Chile de Arbol. It’s about the size of your little finger. These are often dried , toasted and used to decorate Mexican food dishes.
Chile de Arbol
Chile de Arbol is also known as the Cola de Rata. It’s about the size of your little finger. These are often dried , toasted and used to decorate Mexican food dishes.
Chilacas look and taste much like the anaheim, green chile, california and guayon chiles. They are a mild chile.
Pasilla or Pasillas are about seven inches long and very thin. They’re dark green like the ancho, but have more fire to them.
Jalapenos or Jalapeños are the most recognizable and widely used of all Mexican chiles. Rarely do you see a Mexican table without a small bowl of jalapenos from a can, pickled in escabeche with carrots and onions. They are plump, about an inch or two in length, medium to dark green and fairly hot. They’re used as a condiment, in salsa and in many other dishes.
Pequins or piquin peppers are tiny, dried red bullets of fiery heat. They add a unique flavor to many dishes. To use, crumble the dried pod between your thumb and forefinger. Piquin peppers are also called CHILITEPINS OR CHILTEPIN PEPPERS, tiny seedy red peppers used for seasoning in salsas in combinations with other chiles. They are also used in pickling. They are very, very hot!
Habaneros are the hottest chiles in the world! Bright orange and looking like a tiny bell pepper, their flavor is delicious, if used sparingly. They are used widely throughout southern Mexico, particularly the Yucatan. Originally discovered by the Maya, they are said to have mystical healing powers and to impart a great sense of well-being.
As we all know enchiladas are usually made with a chile-based sauce; enchiladas rojas with tomatoes, enchiladas verdes with tomatillos, enchiladas de mole with mole, and so forth.
These enchiladas however, not only have a cream-based sauce, and the chile is just a flavoring, but are also baked! Things have changed very much since I lived in Mexico City, but one would hope that at least some traditions prevail. After all, Mexico is an old country, and as such it is full of traditions. A family tradition, was to go downtown to any of the many good family restaurants on Saturdays, and if we were in the mood for enchiladas, the place to go was to the only restaurant that served at that time the Enchiladas Suizas.
Casa de los Azulejos
La Casa de los Azulejos or The House of Tiles, located in the Centro Histórico was where the first Sanborns Restaurant opened for business in 1919. This beautiful building was originally the home of the Counts of the Orizaba Valley, descendants of Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador. It is a magnificent example of Spanish colonial architecture, and this unique building along with the Casa del Marqués de Ramos in Lima, Perú, are considered by experts to be the only such buildings outside of Spain, masterly preserved for almost five hundred years.
With the fall of the Aztec empire on August 13, 1521, a chapter in history of more than two hundred years of one of the most extraordinary cultures of America came to an end. Cortés began organizing the political, economic and religious life of La Nueva España or New Spain, and one of the very first things he did was to provide his best men with land where they could build homes and start a family. Cortés gave them a few years either to bring a wife from Spain, or to marry an Indian.
Around 1530, at the onset of the colony, the construction of a modest house started for the first count of Orizaba. In the course of several decades, the house was then passed on to the different heirs who in turn made additions to the house in order to accommodate their family necessities. By 1828, several changes and additions had been made to this already majestic house. One of the most important additions, if not the most important, was the addition of the blue tiles to the facade known as Talavera of the Queen, made by the last count of Orizaba who died shortly after. Thus, the name of La Casa de los Azulejos or translated the House of Tiles.
The House of Tiles changed owners several times. One of them, Mr. Martinez de la Torre, a well known businessman, would organize literary gatherings at which prestigious poets and writers of the time were invited to read their works. After the demise of Mr. de la Torre, the Iturbe family bought the palace and just a few years later while residing in Paris, decided to rent it to two American entrepreneurs, the Sanborn brothers, Walter and Frank. The government was severely criticized for allowing the Iturbe family to rent such a property to foreigners. The deal finally went through with the condition that the building would be properly maintained and the architecture preserved. The Sanborn brothers converted The House of Tiles into the first restaurant of what it is nowadays, a huge chain of restaurants all over the country.
These new owners maintained and preserved the colonial style of the building and, coached by talented architects, added their own touch. The most visible addition to the building was the glass vault ceiling that covers the beautiful courtyard which serves as the main floor restaurant. This addition allowed famous painters to decorate the walls around the courtyard. Worth mentioning are the paintings of the well known Mexican muralist, Jose Clemente Orozco. La Casa de los Azulejos was declared a National Monument in 1931.
The Sanborns restaurants are very popular at any time of the day. Breakfast business meetings take place while savoring a great assortment of Mexican antojitos, delicious pan dulce (sweet rolls), or just to have coffee with friends and do some browsing or shopping. Fine costume jewellery, leather women’s purses, watches, photography equipment, books, magazines, newspapers of around the world, etc. All this, plus good food makes Sanborns or La Casa de los Azulejos, a place to visit when you are in Mexico City. In the meantime, try this version of the Swiss Enchiladas, which is a bit different from the one served in Sanborns, equally good if not better.
1 large chicken breast
½ celery stalk with leaves
¼ small onion
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 cups whipping cream
½ cup chopped black or green olives
3 green onions, chopped
¼ cup chopped Serrano chiles, seeded
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
12 corn tortillas
1 cup shredded Manchego or Chihuahua cheese
In salted boiling water, cook the chicken breast with the celery and onion for about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the chicken breast and cool, reserving the chicken broth for future use. Discard the celery and onion. When cool enough to handle, shred it with your fingers and set aside.
In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in ¼ cup of the whipping cream. In a saucepan, mix the dissolved cornstarch with the remaining whipping cream and heat over medium heat, stirring, until the cream starts to boil. Add the olives, onions, chiles, and salt and pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Remove the sauce from the heat and keep it warm. Mix about ½ cup of this cream sauce with the shredded chicken. Set the chicken and the rest of the cream sauce aside.
In a frying pan, heat the oil over medium-to-high heat almost to the point of smoking. Using a spatula, quickly dip each tortilla in the hot oil and transfer to paper towels to drain. Keep them warm until you have finished frying all the tortillas.
Dip a tortilla into the cream sauce, add about 2 tablespoons of the chicken, and roll up. Place the enchilada in a baking dish. Repeat this process with the rest of the tortillas. Spoon the remaining sauce over the enchiladas and cover with the cheese. Bake the enchiladas for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and they are heated through. Serve at once.
Another popular dish of the Sanborn’s Restaurants is Molletes, usually served for brunch, topped with a tomato salsa. For a light merienda or supper, these are also served with scrambled eggs .
For the sake of variation, I am also including the recipe of a tomatillo salsa with avocado, a family favourite.
Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the bread with the refried beans. Add the salsa and top with enough cheese to cover bread. Place the molletes on a cookie sheet and bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until the cheese melts and the bread starts to brown. Serve immediately.
Photo by Tamera Clark
Green Salsa with Avocado
8 medium tomatillos, husked, stemmed, and washed
3 tbsp. chopped onion
1 large clove garlic
4 serrano chiles, stemmed
½ medium avocado, peeled
A free drops of lime juice
In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatillos, onion, garlic, chiles, avocado, lime juice, ¼ cup water, and salt to taste and purée until smooth. Add a bit of liquid if the salsa is too thick. Transfer the salsa to a serving bowl or salsera and serve.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a little more on history of Mexico, the story of Sanborns, the Swiss Enchiladas and a simple but delicious Molletes recipe. Please comment below your thoughts, and what you’d like me to write about if you have any suggestions. I’d love to hear them!
Mexican Culinary Treasures: Recipes From Maria Elena's Kitchen
Maria Elena Cuervo-Lorens is the author of Mexican Culinary Treasures cookbook. She takes you back to her childhood, spent around her grandmother’s table on a shopping expedition with her mother to Mercado La Merced, and for a merienda (snack) of café con leche and biscochos (Mexican sweet rolls) at a bakery in downtown Mexico City. The authentic Mexican recipes she shares with us include tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas. The nouvelle cuisine of cosmopolitan Mexico City, such as cuitlacoche (huitlacohe) crepes, oysters with chipotle chile.
When people think of Mexican moles they usually conjure up the chocolate-laced moles of the state of Puebla. But Puebla is not the only state in Mexico with a reputation for moles. Oaxaca, in the south, lays claim to seven unique moles–and dozens and dozens of variations. Susana Trilling, who owns the Seasons of My Heart cooking school located outside of Oaxaca city at Rancho Aurora, was our guide to the moles of Oaxaca. During a trip to her school, I was given lessons on preparing the famous mole negro Oaxaqueño, while Susana described her experiences with the seven famous moles. She later wrote about the moles in a Chile Pepper magazine article entitled: “My Search for the Seventh Mole.”
Susana wondered about the number seven, because there are seven regions in the state of Oaxaca, and, of course, seven days in the week. But then she read Tradiciones Gastronómicas Oaxaqueñas, in which the author, Ana Maria Guzmán de Vasquez Colmenares, noted: “There must be something magical in the number seven, for the number of Oaxacan moles coincides with the wonders of the world, the theological virtues, the wise men of Athens–and for their wisdom which elected the number seven to represent justice.”
“There may be seven moles,” say the locals, “but of the thousands and thousands of cooks, each has their own private version of all of the moles, so how many does that make?” One magazine writer suggested: “Oaxaca should be the land of 200 moles!”
For the record, the seven moles are: mole negro, mole coloradito, mole verde, mole amarillo, mole rojo, manchas manteles (“tablecloth stainer”), and mole chichilo. They are all descendants of clemole, believed to be the original moleof Oaxaca. It was quite simple, being composed of ancho and pasilla chiles, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander.
The Oaxacan moles are characterized by unusual chiles that are unique to the region. In a discussion with chile vendor Eliseo Ramirez, I learned that there are sixty chiles grown only in the state of Oaxaca and nowhere else in Mexico. Of those sixty, he carried about ten. Some of these unusal chiles in clude chiles de agua, which grow erect and are pointed at the end. The chiles chilhuacle, which are short and fat, come in two varieties, black and red. The red variety is called “the saffron of the poor” because a small amount of ground chilhuacle rojo gives are similar coloring to foods. Other unique chiles are the red-orange chiles onzas, the yellow costeño, and the pasilla Oaxaqueña (sometimes called pasilla Mexicana), a smoked pasilla that adds a chipotle-like flavor to moles.
In the market, I also learned an easy way to make moles. Instead of tediously grinding all the ingredients on a metate, the cooks would go to the Benito Juárez market, buy all their chiles, nuts, and seeds, and have them custom-ground in the special molinos, or mills in another section of the market. The result is a dark paste which is later converted into amole sauce.
Susana Trilling describes the more tedious process: “The chiles are toasted black, soaked and ground, and blended with fried tomatoes, tomatillos, and roasted garlic and onions. Then come nuts and seeds–some toasted, some fried. Almonds, peanuts, pecans, chile seeds, and sesame seeds. There are almost always more sesame seeds than any other seed or nut. They have to be fried slowly and carefully, with lots of love and attention. Hence the affectionate Mexican dicho (saying): “You are the sesame seed of my mole.”
Mole Verde goes great with chicken or pork.
There are other special ingredients which characterize the different Oaxacan moles. Avocado leaves, difficult to find in the U.S. and Canado, are used in mole negro. Fresh green herbs such as epazote and parsley are the source of the green color of mole verde. Pineapple and banana are added to manchas manteles, while string beans, chayote and chiles costeños are ingredients in mole amarillo.
Many different meats are added to moles, from chicken to beef to fish, but by far the most common meat served is turkey. In fact, turkey is so important in mole negro, that Mexican writer Manuel Toussaint noted that the turkey in the mole was as important as the eagle in the Mexican flag, and another writer suggested that to refuse to eat mole negro was a crime of treason against the homeland!
The tradition of exchanging cards on St. Valentines Day began during the Middle Ages. The giving of flowers to attract the attention of a new partner also originated in Europe. Over the years, sweets and candy were added to the list of popular Valentine gifts. And of all the sweets, chocolate became the most popular. Maybe because it is supposed to be an aphrodisiac or just because almost everyone seems to love it, chocolate has become the overwhelming favorite Valentine gift.
Since we all love chiles, and most everyone likes sweets of some sort, I’m proposing combining the two for Valentine’s Day. This may sound strange, but the combination of chiles and sweets goes back to the Mayas, who flavored their hot chocolate with fiery chiles and honey. Today, hot sweets are becoming more available, but as someone once said, the sweetest gifts are the ones you make yourself. So the following are some recipes to heat up your Valentine’s Day. Yes, these require a little more work than just going to the local candy store and buying a heart shaped box of chocolates, but isn’t the love of your life worth it?
Cascabel Caramel Turtles
The word cascabel means rattle in Spanish and this full-flavored dried chile probably received its name due to its shape and the fact that its seeds rattle around when you shake it. These turtles are like no others you’ve tasted before, hot as well as sweet. This recipe is from the book Sweet Heat by Melissa Stock and Dave DeWitt, Ten Speed Press.
24 soft caramels
2 tablespoons frozen whipped topping
Butter flavored vegetable cooking spray
72 pecan halves
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
8 cascabel chiles, stems and seeds removed, finely crushed
In a microwave safe mixing bowl, combine the caramels and whipped topping and cook on 50 percent power for 45 seconds. Remove the bowl, stir, and place back in the microwave. Continue this process in 10-second increments until the mixture has melted and is smooth and well blended. Let the mixture cool slightly.
Spray a cookie sheet lightly with the cooking oil. Place the pecan halves on the pan in groups of 3, arranged so that each pecan group forms a “Y” shape. These form the turtle’s head and legs. Carefully spoon the caramel mixture over each, leaving the ends of the pecans showing. Set aside until the caramel has hardened.
Place the chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl. Cook in the microwave on 50 percent power for 45 seconds, remove and stir, and repeat the process in 10-second intervals until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the cascabels and let the chocolate mixture to cool slightly.
Spoon the melted chocolate over the caramel, being careful not to cover the exposed ends of the pecans.
Set aside until hard, then store in a covered container in a cool place.
Yield: 2 dozen
Heat Scale: Medium
For more food history and recipes on the subjects of Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, just click on the image below.
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