Mexican Food Recipes

Mexican Pizza: Courtesy of Sazòn

Teresa Jones is founder and owner of Sazòn, an extraordinary Culinary School in San Miguel de Allende. Teresa has assembled an incredible team and attracts some of the most renowned chefs in the world, including Patricia Quintana, Toni Cherry, and Agustin Gaytan, who is currently of Ramekins Cooking School in Sonoma, California.

Relocated to Correo #22 in November 2003, Sazòn is also a remarkable store, purveyor to a chef’s every need, be they fledgling or world class. “Store” is not quite the right word to describe what Teresa has created. While perusing the products offered, ranging from complete kitchens by Wolf, Thermador and other top-of-the-line brands, cabinetry and counter tops, table settings, one of a kind pottery, every kitchen implement imaginable, and a full array of linens, you are enveloped in an ambiance that is inspirational. With original paintings by Juan Carlos Breceda of Mexico City, chandeliers, antique armoires filled with collections of glasswear that Teresa designs, assembles, and displays with such exquisite taste, it is fair to refer to Sazòn as a Galeria.

It is in this setting that cooking classes are presented. Teresa hopes you will visit her at Sazòn when you are in San Miguel de Allende studying Spanish with Warren Hardy. Maybe nibbling on Mexican Pizza will help you concentrate while studying Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns.

Mexican Pizza a la Sazòn
Courtesy of Chef Toni Cherry

1 sheet puff pastry
3 roasted, peeled and seeded bell peppers, preferably a combination of red, orange, and yellow (no green).
6 large chili poblanos, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 large white onion, diced
1 lb. Oaxacan or Manchego cheese, grated Cooking oil

Roll out the puff pastry and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate. Cut the chilies into strips. Saute the onions in oil until soft. Add the chilies and cook until slightly al dente. Cool.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and cover with 1/2 of the cheese. Spread the chili and onion mixture over the cheese and bake in a 500 F oven until the pastry is brown on the bottom, about 20 minutes. Remove the pizza and add the remaining cheese. Return to the oven until the cheese bubbles. Let the pizza rest at least 10 minutes before cutting.

San Miguel is all about fusion…. in food and people, and here we have a delicious meeting of Italy and Mexico. Buen Provecho!

Do you know what indispensable Mexican cooking herb translates from Nauatl into English as “sweat of skunk?” See next Thursday’s Comida Mexicana.

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Salsa Mexicana Cruda

Salsa mexicana cruda, or uncooked Mexican sauce, is a mixture of chopped tomatoes, finely chopped white onion, loosely chopped cilantro (not minced, as it is an aromatic and you wouldn’t want to “bruise” it), minced serrano chilies, salt to taste and a splash of water. It is ever present, in all parts of Mexico, and delicious with almost every Mexican dish from the first egg in the morning, with frijoles de la olla, appetizers, and right through meat dishes served at la comida. It is made in small batches, and served at room temperature (refrigeration steals its thunder) within a couple of hours of conception so it is still crunchy, freshly fragrant and piquant. A guide to the amount of each ingredient might be a generous cup of chopped tomatoes to a half cup each of onions and cilantro, with a couple of chili serranos per cup of tomatoes, and salt to taste. Put a plate of quartered limes nearby.

If you want to peel the tomatoes, just put them in boiling water for a minute or so while you chop the onion, then into an ice water bath and the skin will slip right off after you make the first cut. Don’t let the tomatoes sit in the hot water too long, or they will get mushy. If you want the salsa to be picanté, then mince the serrano chilies, membrane, seeds, and all. If you prefer a milder salsa, then take out the white membrane and seeds before chopping them, and maybe add one more chili. Remember to wear gloves or to hold the raw chili down with a plastic bag while handling them if you wear contact lenses and intend to either put them in or take them out in the next few hours. And as for you gentlemen chefs, well, just use plastic gloves. Buen provecho!

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Frijoles de la olla

Put 2 cups of sorted, rinsed, beans into an earthenware pot filled with purified water, bring to a boil, and then turn off the heat. Let the beans soak in the olla for an hour or two to reduce sugars which can cause gas, drain the beans, add fresh water and bring to a boil again. Turn the heat down to a good simmer and add the Big Five: a couple of whole serrano chilies), a branch of fresh, easy to grow, epazote, about 3 TBS of bacon fat or corn oil, a white onion(quartered), and 2 or 3 whole, peeled, garlic cloves. After a couple of hours or so of gentle cooking, lift one or two beans out of the pot and blow on them. If their skin wrinkles, or the beans are beginning to soften, it is time to add salt to taste. Remember, in high altitude regions, this may take three or so hours.

If salt is added too soon, as with most proteins, cooking time is slowed down, and the beans will be tough. Salt should be added during the last 45 minutes or so before the beans are done. If you add salt too late, the salt will not be absorbed, and the beans will seem tasteless if you are used to using salt in your cooking. Pull out the spent strands of epazote, the whole serrano chilies, and dispose of them. Ladle the beans into bowls, crumble queso fresco, a soft Mexican Ranchero type cheese, over them and and serve with a basket of hot corn tortillas and a molcajete full of uncooked Mexican tomato salsa to add as you wish. Savor Frijoles de la Olla as a side dish, or toss a light salad and enjoy them as a hearty meal. Sometimes after several courses at a traditional Mexican table, a small bowl of beans might be served last as a symbol that no one will leave the table hungry.

Are “refried” beans fried again and again? Find out in next Thursday’s Comida.

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Purchasing and preparing Frijoles for Cooking

Shopping at a Mexican mercado for beans can be a daunting experience for the uninitiated. You want to look for the freshest beans, and make sure they are not mixed; you don’t want to by the pale yellow Peruvian beans, perujanas, mixed with the pale pink flor de mayo, or flor de junio (flower of May or Flower of June), for example, as the cooking times may vary, leaving you with some overcooked, and some indigestible undercooked, beans.

When you spot a mountain of beans in the market, follow the example of the Mexican woman, who will swoop down into the pile and bring up a handful of beans, letting them trickle through her fingers. She is looking for telltale holes in the beans or a powdery substance that indicates a little bug or a family of weevils may have gotten to the beans before you did. When you find good fresh beans, make sure to pour over them before you use them, bean for bean, and pick out any little bits of rocks, stems or small dirt clods. This is a great thing to do while watching your favorite TV novella or listening to tapes and CDs in Spanish from The Warren Hardy Foundation Course. Be sure to rinse beans right before using them.

Remember, the older the bean, the longer they take to cook, so freshness is vital. Also don’t forget that while cooking beans in San Miguel Allende, everything takes longer to cook here because of the high altitude.

You now have an olla and you know how to choose quality beans in the marketplace. Are you ready to learn a couple of the secrets to making a delicious pot of beans and more? Read next Thursday’s Comida Mexicana to find out how.

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Epazote, or Wormseed

In Mexico, Epazote is an indispensable herb, or weed, depending on your point of view. In English it is known as Wormseed, Mexican tea, West Indian goosefoot, Jerusalem parsley, hedge mustard, Jesuit’s tea, and sweet pigweed. In Spanish it is often called yerba de Santa Maria. It is native to Mexico and South America, and has naturalized as far north as Missouri, New England, and the Eastern United States. It is now cultivated in large quantities in Baltimore. In parts of California, Texas and Arizona, farmers rip it out, plough it under, and curse it. Mexican’s grow epazote in pots and lovingly cultivate it in their herb gardens. Most indigenous languages don’t have a word for “weed.” “We only have plants,” say the shamans.

In a Mexican covered-market where refrigeration is available, you must ask for it, and they will get a bunch of it for you out of the refrigerator. It is best used fresh as it looses its potency soon after being harvested. Upon first whiff of this powerful plant, it may seem counterintuitive to put a branch of it in your bean pot. In fact, the name comes from Náhuatl, epatl meaning “skunk” and tzoll, meaning “sweat,” or “dirt.” Skunk sweat in your beans? Hmmm.

The main ingredient of epazote is ascridole, known for its potency to combat intestinal worms and while it is not as commonly used in central Mexican cuisine as an ingredient in soups and beans as it is in the south, especially the Yucatan Peninsular, it is taken as a tea in most households in Mexico. You can buy small plants and they will naturalize in your garden, or plant epazote in a big maceta in a sunny spot. Then, next time you make frijoles de la olla, snip off 2 or 3 branches, about 8 inches long and let them teach you just how flavorful your beans can get. Be sure to pull them out and discard them before you serve the beans.

Want to know how to purchase, cure, and use an earthenware bean pot (olla) to make the best frijoles you will ever make? Find out in next weeks Comida Mexicana.

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Warren Hardy’s Perfect Margarita:

El Tres, Dos, Uno The Three, Two, One.

3 parts good tequila
2 parts lime juice
1 part Cointreau or “Controy,” an inexpensive Cointreau knock off made in Mexico that works just as good for Margaritas Salt

Run the edge of a cut lime around the rim of the glass, then dip the rim in a plate of salt.

Shake or stir, and pour into salt rimmed glasses filled with ice y disfrutarlos! Enjoy them!

Julia Child’s Perfect Margarita:
El Dos, Dos, Dos The Two, Two, Two

2 oz white tequila
2 oz Triple Sec or Cointreau
2 oz fresh lime juice
8 ice cubes
Salt
An electric blender

Dip the rim of the glass in tequilla, and then dip rim of glass into a plate of salt.
Pour mixture over ice in blender, set for puree, and pulse on and off for a few seconds.

Pour into center of glass so not to disturb the salt. Salud! To your health!

In the next Comida Mexicana we will fuse the best of Italy and Mexico in a delicious recipe created by Chef Toni Cherry. And it is vegetarian. Can you guess what it might be?

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Tequila: a Bit of History

The town of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco, gives us the name for the famous beverage used in the infamous cocktail, the Margarita. This town was founded by the indigenous Ticuila tribe in 1530 who produced pulque from the local agave plant. Pulque is one of the alcoholic beverages made by early indigenous peoples of the Americas, and like its more refined descendants, mezcal and tequila, it is made by distilling the fermented juice of the agave plant. However, unlike pulque, and mezcal, Mexican law dictates that tequila can only be made from the blue agave.

A few hundred years after the town was founded, Mexico decided that the town of Tequila was the best source of blue agave, and little by little the beverage from that area became to be known as tequila. The first recorded export of tequila to the US was in 1873, and during Prohibition in the US, between 1919 and 1933, tequila was smuggled into the US in enormous quantities. In 1976, the rights to the name tequila were deemed to be the intellectual property of the Mexican government and laws surrounding the production of tequila are very strict.

The Aztecs confined the drinking of pulque to religious ceremonies; social drinking was prohibited and drunkenness was punishable by death. Today, if you drink a few Margaritas in an evening, and you didn’t buy a smooth, 100% agave, reputable brand of tequila, the next morning you will only think you are dying.

In search of the Perfect Margarita, both Warren Hardy and Julia Childs came up with the winning recipes. Find out next week how to prepare a winning Margarita in Comida Mexicana.

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Chiles in Walnut Sauce

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Mexico in September, with all the festivities surrounding Mexican Independence Day on September 16th, then you will probably be offered a very special dining treat: Chiles en Nogada. Typically August and September are the only months this culinary treat is available, as it is then that the new walnut crop comes in and used in the heavenly sauce that smothers Chiles en Nogada. If you are in San Miguel de Allende studying Spanish at The Warren Hardy School, you can find Chiles en Nogada year round at restaurants Mesón de San Jose on Mesones #38, and Bugambilia, at Hildago #42. You will be asked if you prefer them served hot (caliente) or at room temperature (tibio.)

This spectacular dish has patriotic associations, as can be seen by its colors which were inspired by the red, white, and green Mexican flag. Imagine stuffed green chiles peeking out from under a rich, creamy-white sauce featuring walnuts, thick cream, and cheese, and then see the whole plate sprinkled with glistening bright red pomegranate seeds, also in season during the Independence celebrations (festivales patrioticos).

This dish was first served to Mexico’s Emperor, Don Augustín de Iturbide, by the Augustine nuns of Puebla, who created it in his honor when he visited Puebla soon after the War of Independence. While there are as many variations to this national dish as there are recipes for a Thanksgiving turkey stuffing, and since it is a fairly complicated and complex recipe, we won’t include the recipe here. Almost every good cookbook featuring Mexican food will have its rendition of Chiles en Nogada, so suffice it to say that the stuffing for the chiles includes tender pork loin with the usual tomato, garlic, and onion background. However, the surprise is that the pork filling is also simmered with peaches, bananas, pears, raisins, and blanched almonds until the flavors marry and the mixture has thickened. If your experience with stuffed chiles (chiles rellenos) has been a poblano chile stuffed with a finger of Monterey Jack cheese, then you have a possible moment of enlightenment to look forward to with your first bite of Chiles en Nogada.

In next weeks Comida Mexicana, Lágrimas en el Caldo, or “Tears in the Soup,” we are going to find out how important it is for the chef to be in a good mood when he or she is cooking.

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Sopa de Tortillas

Tortilla Soup Serves 6

The popular San Miguel de Allende Restaurant, Hecho en Mexico, shares part of what used to be the Canal family’s summer estate built in 1736. In the winter of 2000, some 260 years after El Conde de Manuel Canal built his home, Chef Eric Nemer arrived in San Miguel de Allende to relax, having just sold his one of his three successful seafood restaurants, De Sotos, in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Still a young man, it wasn’t that long ago that Eric graduated in Restaurant Management from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, and completed several courses with the Culinary Institute of America. He says his love of food comes the home cooking of his mother, a native of Alabama.

Seeing a niche he believed needed to be filled, a menu that would appeal to the many visitors that get a little nostalgic for home cooking, he actualized just that: Steaks and Chicken, Fish and Chips, Salads, Hamburgers, and Coconut Shrimp, for example. But the comfort food de resistance is his Peanut Butter Cream Pie on a Graham Cracker Crust, drizzled with chocolate and topped with fresh whipped cream.

Most of his well trained and gracious staff speak English, and Chef Eric studied at Warren Hardy Spanish School to be able to communicate with his staff and clientele who don’t speak English. It was from his Spanish speaking cook, Imelda, that he got his delicious Sopa de Tortilla recipe, redolent with the distinctive flavor of epazote, which he so generously shares with us.

Sopa de Tortilla
Tortilla Soup Serves 6

10 roma tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1/4 white onion
6 cups chicken stock
4 stems of fresh epazote (can be 10-12 inches long)
12 tortillas cut into strips and a little vegetable oil to fry them in
1/4 cup cooked, shredded or diced, chicken per person
1/2 cup grated Manchego cheese (can substitute Gouda)
6 chipotles adobados (canned and easy to find)
1 avocado

Dry roast the first three ingredients in a cast-iron skillet or on the flat-top (plancha) of your stove. When roasted, add the tomatoes, garlic and onion to the chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 or 15 minutes.

Take out the tomatoes, garlic ,and onion, and about 2 cups of the broth. Put this mixture in the blender and puree.

Add pureed ingredients to the rest of the broth and bring to a boil again. This time after it comes to a boil, immediately take the broth off the heat, add the whole branches of epazote, and let it sit until cool. Taste for seasoning. Strain, discarding the epazote, bits of tomato and onion, and refrigerate the broth overnight. As with all stocks, it will be much better the next day.

Set out serving bowls and while broth is re-heating, put into each bowl:
2 TBS of grated Manchego cheese
A handful of tortillas that have been cut into 1 inch strips and lightly fried in vegetable oil then drained on paper towels
Chunks or shreds of cooked chicken
A couple of avocado slices
One whole chipotle chile
Pour hot broth into the bowl and serve immediately.

Hecho en Mexico is open from noon to 10pm daily and is located on Ancha de San Antonio#8 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Tel.(415) 154-6383

The next Comida Mexicana will be about Chiles en Nogada. Do you know why this national dish is only served one month out of the year in Mexico?

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Mango, Pineapple and Chipotle Salsa from Chef Lisa Gahafer

One of the main traits that Chef and Caterer Lisa Gahafer exudes is an ease with ingredients that transcends any and all recipes she might give out in a cooking class. “You can choose to dry roast the tomatoes, or not.” Or, most often heard is “If you don’t have this particular chile, or cheese or fresh herb, then don’t be afraid to substitute.” She likes her students to see her recipes as guides, be it salsas, desserts, or main dishes. She encourages students to taste, consider texture, color, and availability of an ingredient and then to improvise and trust their instincts. Her gift is to wean you away from dependence on a recipe and to inspire your self confidence.

Having said that, it is to be noted that she distributes amazing recipes at her classes specializing in mexican cuisine. Lisa Gahafer works independently and has been a part of the incredible team assembled by Teresa Jones, founder and owner of Sazón, an extraordinary kitchen store, and Galeria-cum-Culinary School in San Miguel de Allende.

While studying Spanish with Warren Hardy in San Miguel de Allende, taking a cooking class with Lisa could provide just the right mind-body balance.

Lisa Gahafer hopes to tempt you to join her in a kitchen classroom with her own recipe for a delicious fresh fruit and chipotle salsa. In her years as a yacht chef, Lisa says she most often served this salsa with Fresh Grilled Salmon, Crab and Avocado Quesadillas, and Grilled Shrimp Skewers. In typical Lisa style, she invites you to vary this recipe by adding diced avocado just before serving.

Salsa de Mango, Piña y Chipotle Mango, Pinapple and Chiptole Salsa Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 mangoes, diced
2 cups pineapple, diced
1/2 cup green onion, minced
2 or 3 canned chipotle chiles in adobado. Remove seeds and membranes.
1/2 cup cilantro, loosely chopped
2 TBS piloncillo, or dark brown sugar, or to taste
Juice of 1-2 limes
1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, combine fruits with the green onion, minced chipotles, grated piloncillo & chopped cilantro. Add salt and lime juice. Taste and adjust seasonings.

For more information on catering and classes provided by Lisa Gahafer, she can be reached via email, or phone: 044-415-103-5958.

Next weeks Comida Mexicana will include a recipe for Sopa de Tortillas. Do you know which popular restaurant in San Miguel de Allende was originally part of the home of The Count of Canal and his family?

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Chocolate Atole: Champurrado

“Ni amor recomenzado ni chocolate recalentado.” (Neither rekindle a love affair nor reheat chocolate.) Anonymous

Long gone are the days when Mexican women would twirl the melting chocolate in boiling water (which is still used rather than milk in most of Mexico) with a molinillo. We have all seen the molinillos in the market place: a wooden stick topped by intricately carved rings, meant to be held between your palms and twirled to create foam on the hot chocolate. Most modern Mexican women will put hot water and and chocolate tablets together into the blender, or licuadora, and when well mixed, serve up the frothy brew. This beats 16th century Mexico when, pre blender and pre molinillo, in order to get hot chocolate to foam, someone would have to practically climb atop a pyramid and pour the chocolate down, down, down, into the gold ceremonial vessels. Today we can just buy the chocolate tablets, usually chocolate ground up with almonds, sugar and vanilla, and add either milk or water, following directions on the package, for a wonderful cup of Mexican hot chocolate.

Another rich traditional chocolate beverage, especially in Oaxaca where you can find really good freshly ground chocolate, is champurrado, or chocolate atole. Go to the place where you buy freshly made corn tortillas and ask for 4oz of masa. Stir the masa into 4 cups of water and let it stand for 15 minutes. Strain the water into a saucepan, add 4 more cups of water and cook over medium heat. As it is heating, thinly slice 2 oz of piloncillo, or raw sugar, a cinnamon stick and 5 oz of semisweet baking chocolate. Keep stirring, and the chocolate should be melted and the beverage ready in about 15 minutes. The masa thickens and enriches this mixture. Other flavors of atole, a thick beverage which incorporates corn meal masa, are equally popular. Typically, champurrado is served with tamales and is as important on a feast day in Mexico as is baked turkey and cranberry sauce in the US for Thanksgiving.

Next week, in Comida Mexicana, learn to make a delicious Mango, Pineapple, and Chipotle Salsa that is delicious with salmon, shrimp, and turkey too!

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History of Mexican Chocolate

Imagine this Aztec wedding scene in AD 1051: a cup of foaming chocolate beverage is exchanged at the marriage of two nobles. The bride’s name is 8 Deer, and her groom is 13 Serpents. Such is shown in one of the images of the Nuttal Codex. Of course chocolate was old hat to these wedding guests, because as early as 500 AD Mayans were “writing” about chocolate on their pottery, and it is suspected that the Olmecs before them knew of chocolate.

Now jump to Christopher Columbus returning from his journey to the new world and presenting bags of cocoa beans to the mystified King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. No one knew what to make of these beans. Literally.

It took Moctezuma, who greeted Cortés and his army in 1519 with a drink of xocoatl, or “bitter water” in the Nauatl language, to finally get the point across to Europeans of the value of Theobroma Cacao, the botanical name of chocolate, meaning “Food of the Gods.”

Moctezuma had the cocoa beans crushed on a metate with chilies, spices, flowers, vanilla beans and a little honey. This paste was then mixed with water, and poured from a great height to create the foam. Moctezuma was served this beverage up to 50 times a day in a golden chalice, according to Bernal, an imbedded war correspondent with Cortés and his army. “After Moctezuma dined, his retinue was provided with over two thousand jugs of cocoa daily, all frothed up,” Bernal wrote. Only nobility was allowed to drink this precious nectar. The beans were used as currency and were as precious as gold.

Chocolate took off like the plague in Spain as soon as Cortés presented it to King Carlos V. Cortés wrote to the king, telling him that chocolate was good for his army as it “builds up resistance and fights fatigue.”Spanish ladies of nobility, unable to get enough of it, took to having it served to them in church. Only after 100 years did Italy catch onto chocolate, and then shortly after that, France took chocolate to culinary heights. Finally, chocolate made its way to England and out of the pervue of nobility. Queen Anne’s Dr. first suggested it be made with milk, rather than water. Ultimately, in the pre revolutionary 1700′s, it was embraced in the United States.

While recognized as a dessert drug by “chocoholics” everywhere, nowhere is chocolate so embraced in main dishes as it is in Mexico.

Next week learn how to make another delicious Mexican chocolate beverage, that creamy classic, champurrado.

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