Things have been crazy busy around here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. October-November is my least favorite stretch of the year. It’s slow, it’s hard and it seems to never end but once it’s over, the school year gets significantly easier and I am able to do normal people things like…
Hello! I am sitting in the beautiful pink courtyard of 200 year old hotel in Puebla, Mexico listening to a trio sing live Mexican ballads and sipping on coffee as I type this. The first leg of our Mexico Trip has been dreamy. I have been continually astounded by the richness of Mexican food and culture.
It is such a shame that America’s proximity to Mexico sometimes blinds us to the diversity and beauty of the culture and cuisine of our southern neighbor. I hope that by sharing some of the foods that I’ve been cooking this week you will be inspired to try a new recipe or to travel to Mexico for yourself and experience some of this magic.
This week started with an enchilada class in Mexico City at Esgamex. We made six different enchiladas from different regions of Mexico and I was hard pressed to pick a favorite after we got to taste them all. The chef there deeply impressed upon me a respect for traditional Mexican cooking techniques. One of the things he said that stuck with me most was when we worry too much about appearance we actually end up altering the recipe or the food that we are cooking. As a food blogger, I often find myself cutting things a certain way or serving meals differently than how I would if I were just eating it myself, so this definitely struck home. I do think that food can be art, and that it is ok to spend time styling food and cooking with esthetics in mind BUT his comment, and the humble but delicious presentation of the enchiladas in the course, certainly made me question my motives and practices. (More pictures here)
Tuesday we headed to Casa Jacaranda and learned to cook Cochinita Pibil, Sopes, Salsas, and a sweet corn tamal from Guerrero. This class started at el Mercado Medillin where we learned that goods were brought to the mercado by boat as recently as the mid 1900s. I loved hearing about the waves of immigrants that have come to Mexico City and the impact they have left on Mexican cuisine through foods like tacos arabes and flour tortillas. I was also astounded by the beauty and abundance of Mexican produce in the market- I’m pretty sure the mango I ate there was the best mango I’ve ever had. I was shocked to touch some chiles secos in the mercado and to feel their pliable and soft skin. By the time I get chiles in Boston, they tend to be brittle and even dusty! After the market tour we headed to Beto’s home to prepare the meal. His gorgeous home and cooking school is located atop a gorgeous boutique hotel. Beyond the market tour, the cooking techniques and the food and drinks we prepared, Beto impressed upon me a deep desire to host people, to make my guests feel like family, and to share Mexican cuisine with others.
Wednesday we started off our morning at El Cardenal in the center of Mexico City and after devouring some delicious pan dulce, enchiladas, and eggs we headed to la Biblioteca Herdez to dive into their diverse Mexican cookbook collection with over 4,900 volumes. Here I engrossed myself in books about tamales, salsas, and Mexican history. I found a recipe from an hacienda dating back to the 1700’s! After our restful morning we headed to an airbnb experience on Pan Dulce. This was my first airbnb experience and though I was not quite sure what to expect, I loved getting to take a small class and learn the basics of how to make a classic Mexican bread, pan dulce. The resulting conchas were perfectly moist and flaky on the inside while the concha topping was perfectly crunchy. I foresee lots of conchas in the near future. (More pictures here)
Thursday we partook in EatMexico’s Journey through la Merced. La Merced is not the safest neighborhood in Mexico City so I appreciated having a tour guide to lead me through the market, sharing the stories of the store owners, while sprinkling in a bit of Mexican history and culture. I honestly cannot even recall everything that we ate and my phone died halfway through the tour so you only get a short glimpse of the tour, but I was especially impressed by the tacos de lengua. The cow tongue was hacked off, peeled, diced and placed on warm corn tortilla for me on the spot. Topped with cilantro and salsa this taco was a work of art. After a dozen or so stalls, when I thought I could not possibly eat more food, we ended the tour at a small restaurant where a requezon, guacamole “cake” topped with chapulines was presented to us. Our tour guide was delightful and I loved getting to know Lola from Lola’s Cocina better. (More pictures coming soon!)
Today, Friday, we arrived in Puebla where we will be for the weekend before we head off to Oaxaca. I’m so excited to keep sharing everything that I am learning with you in the next two weeks. Make sure to follow along on instagram for daily updates.
Finally, I can’t leave you without a recipe. So bringing together my love for something totally Mexican, agua fresca, and something from Boston, my new home, I have some Rhubarb Agua fresca for you.
I made this rhubarb agua fresca right before coming to Mexico for my friends birthday party. The Rhubarb agua fresca tasted like a mild, tart pink lemonade. It was delicious and refreshing. Although, I didn’t add anything else to the agua because I wanted it to be purely agua fresca, I bet it would be great with lemon, hibiscus or with strawberries!
Notes: You can strain this to different degrees. I only strained mine with a normal mesh strainer the first time and it was kind of pulpy which I was OK with. However, if you want a clearer and brighter pink drink, then you should strain through a strainer and cheese cloth but know that this will yield much less liquid. The Rhubarb Agua Fresca is best within a day or two.
Rhubarb Agua Fresca
Yields: 5 cups
Rhubarb Agua Fresca
- 1 lb of Rhubarb, washed and cut into small pieces
- 1 cup of sugar
- 4 cups of water, or enough water to cover rhubarb completely
- Place rhubarb, sugar and water in pot and boil for 10 minutes or until rhubarb starts to come apart.
- Place the entire contents of the pot in blender and puree completely.
- Strain the puree through a thin mesh or sieve into a pitcher.
- Then add water until rhubarb reaches your desired level of tartness. For me this was about 2 more cups of water.
I am in Houston today before heading out to Mexico on Sunday for my teacher fellowship! I always love coming home to visit family but am taken aback by the crazy Texas heat. There is only one thing on my mind on a hot day like today- fruit paletas!
Mexican paletas are fruity and delicious popsicles that are often characterized by their freshness and fun flavors. One of my favorite paletas as a child was a chamoy paleta. There are no chamoy paletas to be found in Boston, but luckily one of my favorite ice cream shops in Boston, FOMU, carries a seasonal habanero mango flavor that reminds me of the tart and spicy chamoy paletas of my childhood.
When a heat wave hit Boston last week, I knew that habanero mango popsicles would hit the spot, so I made a batch of these paletas and added candied habanero pieces to the bottom of the mold. Turns out the “bottom” of the paleta is the first thing you bite, and so my first bite was liquid fire. After I recovered from the first bite, I fell in love with the spicy and refreshing habanero mango combination. They were perfect on a hot summer day!
These mango habanero popsicles are tart and especially refreshing due to the habanero taste. Although they don’t feel that spicy upon first taste, after the first bite the warmth from the habanero will begin to spread throughout your mouth and tongue. A spicy but fun experience!
That’s all for now, folks. I’m off to pack and spend time with family here in Houston while I can. Let me know if you try these paletas! They are not for the faint of heart.
Notes: Make sure to turn on your stove fan when cooking the habanero syrup because you will cough due to the pepper smell. I added candied habanero pieces to the bottom of my paletas for a nice pop of color, but they increased the spiciness of the paletas significantly, so do this at your own risk. I would add it at the bottom, or wider end of the paleta, for the brave to try at their own risk. Although the recipe calls for 1 ½ tablespoons of habanero syrup, if you don’t have a high tolerance for heat, I recommend that you start with less. Maybe start with ½ tablespoon at a time and see how that feels for you. You don’t need a special tray to make these, I regularly making them in cups, but if you’re looking for a mold, I like this one.
Mango Habanero Paletas
Yields: 3.5 cups of mango puree
Prep time: 20 minutes
Mango Habanero Paletas:
4 mangos, or 2 cups of cut up mango
½ cup water
½ cup of orange juice
1½ tablespoons of candied habanero syrup*
Candied habanero syrup:
4 habanero peppers, deseeded and stemmed
⅔ cup of sugar
⅓ cup of water
1 teaspoon of cider vinegar
- In a small saucepan, add habanero pieces, sugar, water and cider vinegar. Cook on medium low heat until the habaneros begin to crystallize and the simple syrup becomes a pale orange color. Approximately 10 minutes.
- In a blender, puree mangos, orange juice, habanero syrup and water until smooth and uniform in consistency.
- Pour mango habanero puree into paleta molds and freeze until set, about 4 hours.
This weekend, I embark on a once in a lifetime journey. I am heading to Mexico for three weeks to study the connection between food and the formation of national identity and culture. This week has consisted of list making, reservation printing, and endless double checking. From where does that bus leave? At what time is that cooking class? What is the weather like in Oaxaca?
A few months ago, when I opened the email informing me that I had been awarded the travel grant I applied for, I squealed and did a happy dance around the faculty room. I am normally pretty unemotive, so all of my colleagues looked up from their laptops with quizzical looks before I skipped out of the room to call my mom and husband. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited about an award or acceptance.
I am embarking on this journey with a fellow Mexican food blogger and Spanish teacher, Nicole Reyna! Nicole is the sweetest friend I’ve never met. When I started my food blog, I found hers when looking up a masa recipe one day. I was amazed by her knowledge on the subject and passion for Mexican food and culture. One day, when drafting my grant proposal, she popped to mind. I messaged her on Instagram, and to my delight she was elated to apply with me. Since then we’ve spent countless hours on the phone planning, researching, editing, and writing.
I have mixed feelings about this experience. On the one hand, Mexican cuisine is very familiar to me. The smell of chiles roasting and salsas frying evokes a deep sense of comfort and home for me. On the other hand, so does the sight of a big pot of bright yellow chile con queso, something unequivocally Tex-mex. My journey with Mexican food in many ways parallels my journey to understand myself as Mexican-American.
Growing up brown in Texas, I was often asked the question, “Where are you from?” My answer was always, “Mexico.” I didn’t think much of the question until I arrived to college and an unassuming peer asked a follow up question at an international student mixer: “Where are you really from?” It was a simple moment; perhaps my peer was getting at my lack of accent, or the fact that I was not in fact an international student, but this question unleashed all sorts of questions about my authenticity and identity. Was I actually Mexican? For the first time, I found that I could answer the question “Where are you from?” in more than one way: I was both from Mexico and from Texas.
A few months later, when visiting relatives in Mexico, I was asked the same question by family friends. This time I answered tentatively, “I was born in Mexico City.” They quickly retorted, “Well, where did you grow up?” The answer for someone who immigrated to the U.S. as a baby was obviously Texas. Since then, my understanding of my ethnic identity began to feel complicated. I am Mexican, yes, but I am also American.
My Spanish is not perfect. There are many times when a conversation is abruptly stopped with a “como se dice..?” or, much to my parents chagrin, a phrase that starts like this–“Es muy importante tener”—will end with a brusque English word like “boundaries.” Ironically, the same thing happens in English. I’ll be having an intense conversation with my colleagues at work that would make my sociology professors proud, and then a word will appear in my mind, something that I haven’t heard out loud enough times to memorize the proper pronunciation. I’ll vacillate between all possible pronunciations, quickly pick one and blurt it out.
I am incredibly proud of my Mexicanness and my Americanness, even when sometimes the two feel like they conflict with one another. Sometimes my newly-found Yankee pragmatism will shut down my instinct to prioritize relationship and to slow down. Other times, both parts of my identity fuse beautifully together, and one of the ways I love to express and celebrate this fusion is through food. Like these tacos.
These tacos were served at the restaurant where my mom worked for years in downtown Houston. They are ridiculously simple and very tasty. They are quintessentially Tex-mex. You will need one flour tortilla, bacon, refried beans, scrambled eggs, potatoes, lots of cheese (quesadilla if you’re feeling Mexican or monterey jack if you’re not), and salsa if you have some at hand. Obviously, the more homemade they are, the tastier they’ll be, but even if you use canned refried beans and flour tortillas from a pack (like I did for these pictures), they will be delicious.
These tacos hold well if made ahead of time, last a few days in the fridge, and can easily be reheated.
The process is simple. Fry your bacon slices first. Reserve some of the bacon fat for frying your potatoes, which should be cut into small cubes. Cook and salt your potatoes. When the potatoes are cooked through, add eggs and scramble until they are cooked to your liking, a few minutes. Then, heat your tortillas on a comal or the microwave and spread your warm refried beans, a slice of bacon, a tablespoon or two of the scrambled eggs, and potato and top with a generous handful of cheese. Roll up your tacos and keep them on a low heat in the oven until you are ready to serve–or eat immediately like I did. Enjoy!
Tex-Mex Breakfast Tacos
Yields: 8-12 tacos
Cook Time: 10-20 minutes
- 8 flour tortillas
- 5 eggs
- A dash of salt
- 1 pack of bacon, cooked
- 1-2 tablespoons of bacon fat, for frying eggs
- 1 cup of cooked potato chunks,
- ½ cup of melting cheese
- 1 cup of refried beans
- Fry eggs in one to two tablespoons of bacon fat. Salt to taste.
- Make sure that all of the taco fillings are hot.
- Take a warm flour tortilla and add a tablespoon or two of refried beans, scrambled eggs, potato, cheese, and a slice of bacon. Roll breakfast taco and allow cheese to melt from residual heat.