¡Muy Bueno! Mexican Food

From FACES magazine
Page 1
¡Muy Bueno! Mexican Food
From Faces, December 2000
By Cyndy Hall
If you are hungry and happen to be visiting Mexico, consider yourself lucky. Few countries in the world offer as
wide a selection of delicious foods.
Mexican cuisine remains as diverse as the country itself.
Coastal cities are famous for flavorful mariscos (mah-RIScos), or seafood dishes. Inland and mountain-area cooks
serve stews, sauces, and corn-based foods. Desert chefs create
delicious recipes containing the edible parts of cactus plants.
The history of Mexican food originates partially in
the 16th- and 17th-century kitchens of Spain. Spanish
explorers first introduced the newly conquered colony
to onions, rice, olives, garlic, sugar, beef, pork, chicken,
cheese, and many different varieties of fruit.
Some of the best mingling of Indian and Spanish ingredients occurred in recipes created by Catholic nuns. Missionary convents often competed in contests, each trying to
present the most delectable dish to the local bishop or visiting
clergy from Spain.
Perhaps the most famous of the convent chefs was Sister Andrea de la Asuncion. According to legend, Sister
Andrea took on the task of creating a new recipe that would delight and surprise the viceroy of New Spain. On a
clay dish over an open fire, she roasted sesame seeds, then ground in cloves, peppers, almonds, peanuts, and cinnamon. Native Mexican tomatoes, onions, and roasted garlic simmered with fresh guajalote (gua-ha-LOH-te),
or turkey meat, and broth for several hours before Sister Andrea added her secret mix of local spices. Finally, she
ladled her flavorful mole (MOH-lay) sauce over a platter of warm corn tortillas.
Everyone at the banquet watched the viceroy as he took his first bite of Sister Andrea’s savory creation. Success!
As other convents asked for Sister Andrea’s secrets, word of her delicious, inventive recipes spread across Mexico.
More than 300 years after Sister Andrea stirred her first mole sauce for the viceroy, this flavorful mix of Spanish
and Mexican ingredients remains one of Mexico’s most important national dishes.
The Spanish were not the only contributors to Mexican cuisine. During the French invasion and the reign of the
Emperor Maximilian of Austria (1863–1867), sweet rolls, flan (custard pudding), and crispy-crusted bread became popular additions to Mexican tables. German immigrants brought sausage, honey, and beer. Italian pastas
joined exotic spices from Asian countries on the shelves of Mexican kitchens. Pies, doughnuts, pancakes, and
hamburgers crossed the border from the United States.
Many foods found in markets around the world originated in Mexico. The Spanish explorer Hernando Cortés
brought tomatoes back to Europe, where they were combined with many European foods. Can you imagine
Italian food without tomatoes? Other travelers returned home with pumpkins, squash, peanuts, chili peppers,
turkey, assorted beans, avocados, and dozens of other items.
copyright © Carus Publishing
subscribe or order back issues at www.cricketmag.com
From FACES magazine
Page 2
Corn is Mexico’s greatest contribution to the world’s diet. Mayan priests worshipped toconayo (toe-co-NAY-oh),
or “our meat,” as an all-important “giver of life.” They believed that the gods created the first man from a cornhusk, making the corn plant a sacred object. Even today, Mexicans seldom cut down wild corn growing along
roads or in public parks.
No part of the corn plant ends up in a trash can in Mexico. Medicinal teas contain broth steeped from corn silk.
Cooks wrap washed cornhusks around tamales (tah-MAL-es) and dulce (DUL-che, or sweet treats). Artisans
weave softened cornstalks into beautiful baskets, while dried corncobs fuel the fires of barbecues and grills.
Mexican meals often begin with a platter of warm corn tortillas. This flat, grilled cake made of ground corn and
water forms the basis of most Mexican dishes, including tacos and enchiladas. Mexican families eat up to nine
pounds of tortillas every day! Mexican cooks believe that a table without tortillas is empty, no matter what else
they serve.
The Aztecs and Mayans called chili peppers “the spices of the gods.” Long before scientists discovered that chilies
are a great source of vitamin C and minerals, the Aztecs used chilies as medicine. Today more than 100 varieties
of chili peppers grow within the varied climates of Mexico. Each has its own distinct flavor. Generally, the smaller the chili, the hotter it tastes — so watch out!
Almost every Mexican meal includes beans. Frijoles refritos (fri-HOL-es rey-FREE-toes), or refried beans, are
mashed beans mixed with a variety of spices. A bowl of flavored rice also accompanies most meals.
Mexicans enjoy hot cups of sugar-laced café con leche (cah-FEY KONE leh-CHE, or coffee with milk) at the end
of almost every meal. Hot chocolate made with a touch of cinnamon (a Mexican tradition dating back to pre-Columbian times) is a favorite breakfast and supper treat. Atole (a-TOH-leh), made by boiling corn dough diluted
in water until it resembles a thick milkshake, is also popular. Adults sometimes enjoy alcoholic beverages made
from cactus plants and fruit.
Buying food in Mexico is a social event. Most people shop daily for bargains at open-air markets or small grocery stores called tiendas (tee-EN-dahs). Marketplaces have several fondas (FAHN-dahs), or eating stalls, where
shoppers can snack on sweet treats and coffee while talking to their friends. Mexican families also shop occasionally at either a supermercados (su-per-mehr- CAH-dohs) or a government-owned conasupos (con-ah-SU-pos),
where prices are controlled.
Traditional Mexican meals follow a unique pattern. Breakfast, usually coffee and bread or warm tamales, is eaten
between 6 and 8 a.m. Many people stop work around 11 a.m. for a light brunch of eggs, meat, and tortillas, accompanied by coffee or fruit beverages.
La comida (lah co-MEE-dah) is the heaviest, most traditional meal of the day. People go home between 2 and 3
p.m. each day for la comida (and perhaps a short siesta afterwards). The menu includes soup, rice, pasta, beans,
warm tortillas, bread, dessert, and coffee. Modern Mexicans, however, are moving away from this traditional way
of eating.
At sunset, the family gathers for merienda (mer-ee-EN-dah), a kind of high tea. Usually a light snack of tamales,
pastries, atole, coffee, or hot chocolate, merienda keeps hungry tummies satisfied until the last meal of the day.
Cena (CE-nah), a supper eaten between 9 and 10 p.m., is the third major meal of the day. Cena is a light meal
that sometimes includes leftovers and sweet treats.
Mexican cooks prepare some of the most delicious treats and desserts in the world. Flan, a custard pudding made
of eggs, sugar, and milk, is a rich treat enjoyed by young and old. Pastries, cookies, sweet breads, and chocolate
copyright © Carus Publishing
subscribe or order back issues at www.cricketmag.com
From FACES magazine
Page 3
and fruit-filled candies wrapped in cornhusks often appear at the end of a meal.
Chocolate desserts, cookies, pastries, drinks, and candies are among Mexico’s tastiest additions to world cuisine.
The Aztecs held chocolate in such high regard that they used chocolate beans for money. Spanish explorers carried cacao plants to Europe, where they spread rapidly among Spanish royals, French nobility, and the rest of
Europe. Even English pirates looked for prized crates of chocolate beans as they looted the ships of their victims.
One Italian traveling to 16th-century Mexico in search of the sweet treat described the whole world as being
completely “addicted” to chocolate!
Are you hungry yet? Imagine yourself sharing conversation and the great tastes of Mexico with a new friend.
Buen provencho (BU-en pro-VEH-cho) — enjoy your meal!
Taking a mid-afternoon siesta (see-ES-ta) break from school or work is a centuries-old tradition in Mexican society. Many believe that siestas date back to the hunting practices of the ancient Aztecs and Mayans, but it is also
a tradition in Spain and other Mediterranean countries. The dimly lit hours of the morning and evening helped
hunters conceal themselves from both their enemies and their intended prey. Most returned home to hide and
rest during the hot midday period when the sun was at its highest.
Schools, shops, and some businesses in modern Mexico close at about 1 p.m., emptying the streets and village
squares of their usual activity. Families gather at home for a leisurely meal followed by a short nap. By 4 p.m.,
most people return to work for another few hours until sunset.
Businesspeople often use their daily siesta time to schedule long lunch meetings with new clients. In a culture
that values close personal relationships, a long siesta lunch may be the difference that “seals the deal.”
The Mexican government would like to say ¡Adios! (Goodbye!) to the traditional siesta break. In 1999, new laws
limited midday breaks for government workers to one hour. Will the rest of Mexico’s population do the same?
A reporter asked a group of Mexican citizens if they would consider giving up their siesta time. Their answer:
Perhaps mañana — tomorrow!
See Sopa de Chocolate (Chocolate Soup) Recipe on Next Page
copyright © Carus Publishing
subscribe or order back issues at www.cricketmag.com
From FACES magazine
Page 4
Sopa de Chocolate (Chocolate Soup)
French invaders brought the original Sopa recipe to Mexico in the 19th century. Sopa de Chocolate (SO-pah deh
cho-co-LAH-te), or “chocolate soup,” was the delicious Mexican variation.
Ingredients for the “ocean”
Ingredients for the “island”
medium saucepan
2 cups low-fat milk
4 egg whites
small and medium mixing
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup sugar
electric or hand mixer
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablet (about 2 ounces) of
Mexican chocolate (Mexican
chocolate can be found on the
specialty shelves of most supermarkets.)
3–4 tablespoons slivered almonds for garnish (optional)
measuring cups and spoons
four custard or muffin cups (not
baking pan filled with one inch
of water
hand grater
4 scoops vanilla ice cream for
garnish (optional)
4 egg yolks (Ask a parent or
adult to help separate the eggs.)
large spoons for stirring
Directions for the “ocean”:
Grate the chocolate tablet into a small bowl.
Place the milk and half the sugar (1/4 cup) in a medium saucepan. Cook over low heat until warm.
Combine egg yolks with the remaining sugar (1/4 cup). Beat until thoroughly blended.
Add the egg mixture to the milk and sugar mixture. Stirring constantly, cook the combined mixtures
over low heat until thick. Do not boil.
Add the grated chocolate. Stir until dissolved into a smooth pudding consistency.
Cool the “ocean” mixture. Pour into four dessert bowls.
Directions for the “islands”:
Beat the egg whites, slowly adding the sugar, until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
Divide the mixture into four custard or muffin cups. Set these into a baking pan filled with 1 inch of
water. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven until the tops of the “islands” are golden.
To serve:
Carefully spoon each “island” onto the top of the chocolate “ocean” mixture.
Top with slivered almonds and ice cream if desired.
copyright © Carus Publishing
subscribe or order back issues at www.cricketmag.com