Mexican Food; The History and Preparation
Growing up in Los Angeles, I have loved Mexican food for as long as I can remember. I never forgot the first time I went to El Gato, a famous Mexican restaurant in the San Fernando Valley, where I lived and I ordered cheese enchiladas. I was blown away by the flavor of those enchiladas; this was the beginning of my love affair with Mexican food. I have been to Mexico several times. First I went to Ensenada, later to Mexico City and then to Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara, in every city I visited I never forgot the dining experience because, like everything else in Mexico, it was feast for the senses.
The History of Mexican Cuisine
In Pre-Columbian Mexico there already existed an established agricultural pattern. Food such as: corn, beans, chilies, bell peppers, avocados, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, guavas, pineapple and vegetables such as: jicama, chayote, and sapote were grown.
During the Mayan era, the priests allotted the land for the growing of crops and were also in charge of the storage of seed and distributions of surplus food. When the Aztecs took over, the ruling class was less inclined to share their food.
Montezuma often required that his servants prepare more than two dozen dishes daily. The emperor would then discuss the ingredients with his chefs, before making his selection. During the meal the most beautiful young women would bring the emperor hot tortillas and gold cups filled with frothy chocolate, which was believed to be an aphrodisiac.
When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico around 1492, they had the local people prepare their meals. The meals contained corn, chilies, beans, tomatoes and chocolate. The Spanish were particularly fond of the chilies, as well as the chocolate and vanilla. The Spaniards brought livestock with them, which was welcomed. Until that time, the only source of meat was the wild turkey and the only source of meat.
The Spaniards introduced pork to Mexico and this meant that a different type of meat was introduced, as well as lard that was used for frying, before this frying was not possible due to the absence of animal oils and fats. The Spaniards began to adapt their own recipes to the local ingredients. The local people in turn adapted the cooking to include meat, which created a fusion that is the foundation of Mexican food today.
Besides the Spaniards, the evolutions of Mexican food has also been a product of the French occupation of Mexico which although it only lasted three years has left Mexico with a lasting legacy of beautiful breads and pastries for which Mexico is famous for. The Germans also contributed by introducing what is known as queso de Chihuahua, which is a type of cheese named after the town in Northern Mexico where the German settlers lived.
Mexican food evolved even more in the United States into what is know as Tex-Mex style cooking, which is popular in Texas and California. After enjoying a rich history it is now enjoyed throughout the United States and most of the world. Mexican food well always be a favorite of many people.
Basic Equipment for Making Mexican Food
Tortilla Press: Metal of cast iron presses that come in various sizes and are heavy in order to limit the leverage needed to work them.
Comal: Thin circular griddle used over an open fire to cook tortillas.
Molcajete and Tejolote: The mortar and pestle of Mexico. There are made of porous volcanic rock. They are used for grinding spices such as anchiote (annatto) or for grinding nuts and seeds.
Tortilla Warmer: Small round basket or clay dish with a lid for keeping tortillas warm at the table.
Ollas: Clay pots used for cooking stews and sauces. These pots give food a unique flavor, but they are usually sold in Mexico.
Molinollo: A carved wooden spoon used for whisking drinking chocolate.
Basic Ingredients of Mexican Food
Corn: Comes in several varieties blue corn, white corn, flint corn, yellow corn, flour corn.
Masa/Harina: Refer to fresh corn dough. Made of sun dried or fire dried white corn kernels which have been cooked in water with lime, this brings about the chemical change that implores the flavor of masa. The wet corn is the grounded into a flour used for making tortillas.
Beans: There is a variety of beans used in Mexican cooking they are chickpeas, pinto beans, and black beans.
Rice: Long grain rice
Chocolate: Dark and bitter chocolate mixed with sugar.
Nuts and Seeds: Pecans, walnuts and almonds as well as pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Piloncillo: Unrefined brown cane sugar comes in small cones and adds a distinctive flavor and color to any dish. Only available in Mexico, but you can use brown sugar to substitute Piloncillo.
- Granadillas: largest member of the passion fruit family
- Guavas: Yellow thick skin with a creamy pulp, full of edible seeds with a sweet and slightly acidic flavor.
- Prickly Pears: Shaped like grenades, are deep red to greenish orange, tough skin hair and prickles, has a sweet aromatic flavor much like melons.
- Sapodillas: Has a luscious honey colored flesh and taste like vanilla-flavored banana custard.
- Sapote: Dark salmon pink flesh, sweet and rather cloying. Great for making marmalades.
- Tomatillos: range in color from yellowish green to lime, about the size of tomato, lighter in weight, not as juicy, has the flavor of tart apples with a hint of lemon.
- Sweet Bell Peppers: Green, red and yellow
- Napolles: Edible leaves from the prickly pear cactus. Are pale or dark green, taste like green beans with a slightly acidic tang.
- Green beans
- Sweet Potatoes
- Jicamas: the root of a climbing bean plant. Looks like a turnip or beet, is brown, and quite thin. Tastes slightly fruity can be eaten raw or cooked. Note: older ones can be poisonous.
- Chayotes: Pale green, pear shaped, similar in appearance to a mango, flesh is pale and crisp like a tart green apple.
- Chorizo: Pork sausage made from coarsely ground pork, garlic and spices.
- Salt Cod
- Queso Fresco
- Asadero: Roasting cheese
- Queso Anejo
- Queso Chihuahua
- Queso De Oaxaca
- Monterey Jack
Herb, Seasoning and Spices:
- Achiote: Hard red-orange seed of the annatto tree
- Cumin Seeds
Now for my special Enchilada Recipe!
Here I will give you my own personal adaptation of a recipe I found on the internet for the best cheese enchiladas I ever had. Easy to make, economical and most of all delicious!!!
- 1 cube of cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 small package of corn tortilla or some home made tortillas made with a tortilla press and corn flour.
- 6 oz corn oil
- 1 small onion
- Mixture for Enchilada sauce
- 2-4 table spoons oil
- 3-6 tablespoon all purpose flours
- 2 teaspoons cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3-6 tablespoon chili powder
- ¼-1/2 teaspoon red pepper ( cayenne pepper)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1- 3 cups water (depends how thick you want it) tip: if it get to thin use corn starch to thicken it.
- In a saucepan put in all the ingredients for the enchilada sauce, put them in the order listed above. Heat ingredients over medium heat, stir sauce till you get the desired thickness.
- Mince onion
- Grate Cheese
- Mix the grated cheese with the minced onion
- In a small skillet pan put about 1 to 2 inches of corn oil.
- Heat the corn oil with high heat.
- Fry each tortilla for a half a minute to soften tortilla but remove before tortilla becomes hard.
- Remove excess oil from tortillas with paper towel and stack on plate
- Dip each tortilla in the enchilada sauce.
- Fill each tortilla with a small portion of the cheese and onion mixture
- Place filled tortillas in baking pan
- Put some remaining enchilada sauce on enchiladas
- Put remaining cheese mixture on the enchiladas
- Heat in oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes
- Enjoy, these enchiladas taste great with fried eggs sunny side up. Put the egg on top of the enchiladas.
Mexico has brought us some of the greatest cuisine on the planet. It has evolved thanks to the contribution of both its native peoples and that of the Spaniards. It has become a phenomenon here in the United States, served not only in fine Mexican restaurants, but as fast food and in most houses during what is traditionally known as taco night. Next time you bite into a taco, you now know you are enjoying a cultural phenomenon.
I would like to leave you with a link to a site, that in my opinion has some of the most incredible Mexican food recipes on the web. It is run by Web Master extraordinaire, Elizabeth McWhorter. http://www.myhomecooking.net/