Variety Is the Spice of Mexican Life
By Awake! correspondent in Mexico
WOULD you like to taste a typical Mexican meal? Then, please take a seat at the table. Just look at the variety of dishes placed on the colorful Mexican zarape used as a tablecloth, and smell the appetizing aroma of the food!
Of course, nearly every country has a great variety of food, but in Mexico the list of local dishes is endless. We have several types of moles; all kinds of hot sauces to put on top of the food; Mexican appetizers, such as tostadas, enchiladas, sopes, quesadillas, and tlacoyos. Also, there are the delicious tacos. There are almost as many kinds of tamales as there are states in Mexico. There is even a great variety of dishes prepared with seafood.
Is your mouth beginning to water? Then we will try to acquaint you with some of our better-known Mexican dishes.
The word mole (pronounced moʹlay) comes from mulli, a term used in the Aztec Nahuatl dialect that means “sauce.” Mole is the paste or sauce that is spread over pieces of chicken and turkey or over rice, and it is what gives a fiesta flavor to the food, since mole is normally used on special occasions. Patricia Quintana tells us in her book Mexico’s Feasts of Life that “moles differ from region to region, from village to village, from cook to cook in the same village.”
This paste is made with dried chili peppers, red tomatoes, onions, almonds, prunes, plantains, toasted bread, cloves, cinnamon, and vegetable oil, salted and peppered to taste. Chocolate is added so that the paste has a taste between spicy and sweetish. May we serve you some on top of your chicken and rice? Be careful! Some palates and stomachs take a while to get used to this heavy mixture.
Stuffed Hot Peppers
Stuffed hot peppers is a very common dish. This is made with poblanos, big chili peppers, which are lightly fried in hot grease to remove the fine skin and also to make them tender. Veins and seeds are then removed. A mixture of chopped meat and nuts is prepared and fried along with spices and prunes; it is then stuffed into the peppers. The peppers are closed with toothpicks. Cheese may also be used as a stuffing. Then the peppers are batter fried. They are served covered with a red tomato sauce. They are so delicious that you have to be careful not to eat the toothpicks!
There is an even more sophisticated stuffed pepper called chiles en nogada. The stuffing is prepared with nuts and several kinds of chopped meats, such as beef, veal, and pork. Sometimes the ingredients include different fruits chopped up fine along with sweet bisnaga plant. The stuffed chili is cooked, then chilled and covered with light sweet cream and sprinkled with pulp-covered seeds of the pomegranate.
A Tempting Mexican Appetizer
The principal ingredients for making Mexican appetizers are tortillas and the great variety of hot chili sauces. Tortillas have become known all over the world. They are usually thin, flexible pancakes of cornmeal dough that are baked on top of a comal (hot iron slab). Generally the sauces are made from green peppers like jalapeños (which are about two inches [5 cm] long and plump) or serranos (smaller and thinner). These hot peppers are used worldwide, since they are preserved in vinegar and exported.
The most common sauce is the easiest to make. It uses green peppers, red tomatoes, and onions—all raw. They are chopped up fine and seasoned with salt as desired. If you mix this sauce with mashed avocados, you have a delicious guacamole, which can be used as a sauce or eaten as a taco (a rolled up or folded tortilla with a filling). There is also a green sauce made with green peppers and green tomatillos that are grilled and then put in the blender. Red sauces are made with red peppers and red tomatoes that have been grilled. Some sauces are made with pure chili peppers, but this depends on how hot you want it.
The tostada is a crisp, fried tortilla on which you put a layer of refried beans, a layer of shredded chicken or other meat, and onion rings, topped off with sauce. Sopes are a little like tostadas, but the tortilla is thicker and smaller and not crisp. Tlacoyos are plump tortillas with refried beans inside. Onion rings and a sauce go on top of these. Enchiladas are similar to rolled up tacos, usually with a little chicken meat inside. These are covered with mole, then with freshly grated cheese and onion rings. If you like, fresh cream can be added to any of these appetizers.
Everybody loves quesadillas! The name comes from its principal ingredient, queso, cheese, but quesadillas are made from a variety of ingredients: crisp pork rinds, huitlacoche (a corn fungus), flowers of the squash plant, tinga (hot shredded beef), and pork sausage, to name a few. There are a great many ways to make these, but the ones that taste the best are those that are made at the same time the tortillas are made. The tortilla is formed and cheese put on one side, and then it is folded and placed on the comal with a little oil and baked. It is turned at least once to make sure it is cooked on both sides. Before it is served, sauce is put inside and then, still steaming—down the hatch! Hmmm, what a treat!
Only for Brave Ones
But there are some Mexican dishes that are only for the brave! Would you like to try a delicious iguana—yes, iguana—in mole? It looks better in the dish, and believe it or not, the flavor can be inviting. How about some fried red ants made into tacos? Experts say they are delicious with either red or green sauce. A dish that is still more difficult to come by is ant’s eggs in tacos—Mexican caviar! Or why don’t you try grasshoppers that have turned red upon being fried in the skillet? They come in all sizes, but for beginners the small ones are the best. These dishes, however, are only for Mexican palates or for confirmed gourmets.
We have just skimmed the surface. You will have to find time to get acquainted with the great variety of tamales (corn dough with meat inside, shaped like an ear of corn, and cooked in corn husks), mixiotes (meat and herbs cooked slowly in the thin skin of the maguey plant), ceviches (raw fish and seafood marinated with lemon juice), soups, and the ever-present bean, which comes in all colors.
Come! Sit down at the table! Don’t worry about the hot chilies. Most of the food is prepared without peppers, and you can add hot sauces according to your palate. Even the Mexican people vary in their tastes for chili peppers, and there are some who will not touch them at all. But accept our Mexican hospitality and try the great variety of food that is set before you, since variety is the spice of Mexican life!
[Picture Credit Line on page 25]
The Codex Nuttall/Zelia Nuttall/Dover Publications
[Pictures on page 25]
Top left: tacos
Top right: chile rellenos
[Pictures on page 26]
Enchilada de mole