Mexican Mania

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail from New School of Cooking

Mexican cuisine is considered one of the most diverse in the world, and traditionally passed down through the generations in an unwritten form.  This cuisine relies more on intuitive cooking skills, so today’s class was more of a “watch and learn, then do” lesson.

Techniques for Mexican cooking are basically the same across the country of Mexico, but it’s the ingredients that differ by region.  Contributing factors are Mexico’s vast size, diverse climates, geography, and different levels of influence by the Mayas, Aztecs and Spaniards

Indigenous Ingredients

Typical herbs and spices used in Mexican cuisine are chili powder, oregano, cilantro, coriander, cumin, epazote, cinnamon, and cocoa.

The grain staples are corn and rice. Other popular items are pinto beans in Northern Mexico and black beans towards the south.

Peppers and other ingredients in Mexican cuisinedried Peppers for Mexican cuisine

The one ingredient that seems to make its way into more Mexican recipes is chilies. They are grown in every state, there are over 150 varieties, and each one has its own distinct flavor.

Chef Carol Cotner Thompson showed us how to work with fresh and dried chilies, then demonstrated the subtle differences of making salsa and a basic enchilada sauce.

salsa and sauce in Mexican Cuisine

Salsa on the left, sauce on the right. 

Both start with onions sautéed in a little oil.
For the salsa: fresh tomatoes and chilies are added, and then cooked in water.
For the sauce: garlic, canned tomatoes, dried chilies are added and cooked in chicken broth until soft. Both are pureed. This is the starting point as there are hundreds of variations.

Another staple in Mexican cooking is Tomatillos, which are also called “tomate verde” (green tomato) in Mexico.

David about to make Salsa Verde

The real treat was salsa verde made by resident expert David.

It paired beautifully with our student-made tamales.

My assignment was making the chili rellenoes. They were time consuming, but not difficult.

Cathy roasting peppers at schoolRoasted Peppers for Chile Rellenos from New School of Cooking

I started out with roasting the poblano peppers and peeling them. They were stuffed with queso blanco (white cheese) and dipped in whipped egg whites with a few yolks folded in at the last minute.

Chile Rellenos fryingChili Rellenos with Salsa Crema from New School of Cooking, Culver City, CA

The peppers were then fried to a golden brown and served with a Salsa Crema, topped with queso cotija (known as the “Parmesan of Mexico”).

Meanwhile, Chef Carol shows Rona how to make plantain turnovers.

Rona and Chef Carol making Plantain TurnoversPlantain Turnovers from New School of Cooking, Culver City, CA

Using a tortilla press makes making turnovers easy. Once stuffed, they are folded over and fried. Rona and I thought they were amazing, and we don’t normally like deep-fried anything.

Plantain Turnovers from New School of CookingPlantain Turnovers from New School of CookingClick here to get the recipe from Rona’s blog.

 Rona and Cathy frying

Get a good look at Rona and I frying food, as we won’t be doing this at home.

Here are two other dishes that we enjoyed.

Snapper a la Veracruzana from New School of CookingSpicy Pork Stew from New School of Cooking

Snapper a la Veracruzana –   red snapper, with a salsa of tomatoes, olives, and capers
Tinga Poblano – Spicy Pork Stew 

Today’s Recipe

I chose to feature the Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, as it was so light and refreshing compared to the fried dishes made in class.

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail appetizer

5.0 from 1 reviews
Mexican Shrimp Cocktail
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Mexican
This also makes a great salad. Just add chopped romaine lettuce.
  • 1 pound shrimp
  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • ⅓ cup lime juice
  • ½ small red onion, sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
  • ½ jalapeno chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, roasted, skinned and cut into julienne
  • 1 tablespoon canned chipotle chile, drained and chopped
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • leaves from 6 cilantro sprigs, chopped
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into ½ inch cubes
  1. Bring about 5 cups of water to a boil in a pot. Submerge the shrimp in the boiling water for 30 seconds, quickly remove with a slotted spoon and let cool. Peel and devein the shrimp.
  2. Toss the tomato chunks in coarse salt and drain in a colander for 30 minutes.
  3. At least 1 hour before serving, toss together the shrimp and the rest of the ingredients except the avocado. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6 hours until ready to serve.
  4. Stir in the avocado and serve.


Fun Facts

  • Contrary to popular belief, the hottest part of the chili pepper is not the seeds, but where the seed attaches to the white membrane inside the pepper.
  • All the parts of a cow are used in the Mexican cuisine, including: tongue, testicles, uterus, udder, stomach etc. Most of these parts are cooked as stews and eaten with tortillas. These are known as Tacos de Guisado (stew tacos).

That shouldn’t be a startling fact, considering in the Aztec and Mayan days, dishes included iguana, spider monkeys, and rattlesnakes.

I am thinking stewed cow udders and testicles don’t sound so bad after all.
…and then she paused for thought.

Rona Lewis and Cathy ArkleHope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join us each week as we continue learning new culinary skills. Next week is Chinese & Japanese food.

You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.




11 thoughts on “Mexican Mania

    1. cathyarkle Post author

      Thanks Leslie, all of the food was so colorful… how could you go wrong with a photo! 🙂 The shrimp cocktail is easy and great the next day served over a bed of romaine lettuce.

  1. cathy bennett

    Cathy( What a beautiful depiction of your experiences and vast (plus ever increasing) knowledge. I went to a couple of cooking schools in Mexico while I was there but didn’t learn anything this detailed! These recipes look fabulous and I will try at least some of them. I love your Blog………XO Cat

  2. Nan

    Love the look of that Mexican Shrimp cocktail. Mmmmmmm. Thanks again! Also I was wondering what chef Carol said about manteca?

    1. cathyarkle Post author

      Thanks Nan. And yes, we did cook with lard. It was very white, unlike what we used to get from the butcher on the farm. Many cultures use some form of lard to make some mouth watering things like… “lard sandwiches” in Eastern Europe and “lard rice” in China. Or spread it on your toast in Germany to make a Schmalzbrot. And for desert, you could have “lardy cake” in England. Oh Lardy, I think I am getting sick from the thought of it all. 🙂

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