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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Click here to get the recipe from Rona’s blog.
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 – red snapper, with a salsa of tomatoes, olives, and capers
Tinga Poblano – Spicy Pork Stew
I chose to feature the Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, as it was so light and refreshing compared to the fried dishes made in class.
- 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
- 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.
- Toss the tomato chunks in coarse salt and drain in a colander for 30 minutes.
- 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.
- Stir in the avocado and serve.
- 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.