#40 Date selected: 30/7/16 Date completed: 22/8/16
Country selected: Mexico
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu / recipe addresses:
- Claudia’s Traditional Guacamole
- Mexican Corn on the Cob
- Mexican Beef Crispy Taquitos (Flautas) / Taquitos Dorados Mexicanos (Flautas)
- Chicken Mole Enchiladas / Enmoladas de Pollo
- Authentic Mole Sauce
- Vegetarian Chilaquiles
- Mexican Mule
I may have done a bit of a happy dance when I selected Mexico as my next challenge. I love Latin food and I knew that there would a huge number of recipes accessible to me that I could choose from. It was also the perfect excuse to incorporate some tequila into proceedings!
My boyfriend, Shane is also a big fan of burritos, tacos and anything Mexican so we decided to do a Mexican feast at his place one night. Due to a delay in getting a couple of the ingredients delivered, this ended up being 2 x Mexican feasts spread out over a couple of different nights. This suited us just fine.
Mexico covers almost two million square kilometres and is the thirteenth largest independent nation in the world as well as the most populous Spanish-speaking country anywhere. The territory east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (or around 12% of the country) is considered by some geographers to be situated within Central America, however Geopolitically, it is considered entirely part of North America, along with Canada and the United States.
Before first contact with Europeans, the country was formed by many advanced Mesoamerican civilizations such as the May and the Aztec (amongst others). Chips of stone tools found near campfire remains in the Valley of Mexico date back over 10,000 years. Beginning around 500 BCE, the domestication of maize, tomato and beans produced an agricultural surplus in the region which enabled the transition from paleo-Indian hunter gathers to sedentary agricultural villages.
The Spanish Empire conquered and colonized the territory in 1521 and became Mexico three centuries later in 1821 after the Mexican War of Independence.
Boasting over 200,000 different species, Mexico is home to 10-12% of the world’s biodiversity and is one of the 17 megadiverse countries of the world. Approximately 2,500 species are protected by Mexican legislations.
Many widely used food crops and edible plants were introduced to the rest of the world with the discovery of the Americas. Some of the Mexican native culinary ingredients included avocado, chocolate, vanilla, tomato, maize, guava, many variety of bean and an even greater variety of chilies. Not surprisingly, many of these ingredients appear frequently in Mexican cuisine.
A cuisine based on pre-Columbian traditions and combined with culinary trends introduced by Spanish colonists, Mexican food is today known for its intense and varied flavours, colourful decoration and variety of spices. It varies from region to region because of local climate and geography as well as ethnic differences among the indigenous inhabitants and the extent to which they were influenced by the Spaniards.
With so much variety on offer, I found it extremely difficult to narrow down which dishes I wanted to make. In the end I went with a mixture of recipes that for the most part I had never tried before and which offered a variety of flavours, ingredients and techniques.
First on the list was a traditional guacamole. I have already made guacamole a couple of times in other challenges and I love seeing the subtle differences from country to country. Not to mention that I’m a huge fan of guacamole in general!
This guacamole was chunky and spicy with a lovely tang coming from the lime juice and cilantro. It contained jalapenos which gave it a lovely sweet zing that made your mouth water. Delicious and complimented the other dishes perfectly.
Next on the list was Mexican corn on the cob. I’m always looking at simple and easy ways of incorporating more vegetables into my diet and, being an Aussie, I thought this dish would be a great addition to BBQs in summer. Having never even seen the Mexican way of preparing corn, I was interested in how these would turn out.
It’s a simple process of boiling the corn still in the husk then spreading them with sour cream and mayonnaise, cheese, chili powder, lime and salt. They’re messy to eat but oh my lord are they delicious! I’ve made these several times since and I could quite happily just have a couple of corn cobs for dinner.
A word of warning, they are extremely hot when first taken out of the water – make sure you have some kitchen mitts or a tea towel or something that you can use to prevent burning yourself with. Also have some napkins or damp cloths handy as you will get this everywhere! The corn is so juicy that it will end up splurting all over your face, the table and any other surface within the near vicinity and the mayo mixture will go everywhere.
I chose the next dish, Mexican beef crispy taquitos (flautas) for a couple of different reasons. I had considered making tacos but wanted to try something I hadn’t really done before, and also because I knew this dish would be something that Shane would adore. I was right!
The flautas are basically shredded beef rolled in tortillas and fried til crispy in a pan. You serve them with cheese, crème fraiche and fresh salad. It’s almost like a Mexican version of a spring roll.
We were using store bought tortillas and found that they started to crack as they rolled so I would suggest using the freshest tortillas you can find if you plan on doing this dish. They’re lovely though and we’ve since also tried them with a chicken filling and that also works beautifully. We worked out that wrapping the flautas in lettuce leaves before eating gives them a really fresh taste and saves you burning your hands also. Adding a bit of chilli sauce also gives them a lovely kick. So yum!
I really wanted to do some vegetarian dishes for this challenge and I had just found some black beans that I wanted to incorporate so my next dish was Vegetarian Chilaquiles. I guess in some ways this dish is a little like nachos – you fry up some tortillas until they’re browed and crisp, cook them in the oven with a tomato salsa, then top them with charred corn, black beans, feta avocado, diced onions and cilantro before serving with wedges of lime.
I admit that in making this I had a bit of trouble working Shane’s oven so it wasn’t quite as hot as it should have been. Stubbornly I put the tortillas in too early and the tomato salsa soaked in a little too much. This made them a little more soggy than they should have been but that said, they still went wonderfully with the other ingredients. The dish was a lot less salad-y than I had expected and was actually incredibly filling. You could easily eat this as a main meal by itself.
Mole is one of Mexico’s national dishes and I was fascinated with it as, with something like 30 ingredients in the sauce alone, including things like dark chocolate, several varieties of chillies, raisins, peanuts and tomatillos, my brain couldn’t process what the resulting taste would be like. With a simple napolitana sauce or something, you know vaguely what the end result is likely to be just from reading the recipe. Not this one!
I had decided on Chicken Mole Enchiladas and to simplify the process, made the mole sauce the night before. Despite the sheer number of ingredients, I found it surprisingly easy to make. It’s mostly cooking groups of ingredients on the stove to bring out their flavours and make them aromatic, then blending them into a sauce.
And for the taste? I’m still not sure that I can describe it adequately. It’s extremely rich – like a punch in the mouth. It’s a lot sweeter and thicker than I expected it to be too. Each of the flavours hit your tongue one by one as you’re eating with a fiery burn at the end from the chillies. I’ve never tried anything like it. I enjoyed it but found the intense flavour almost intimidating in some ways. Definitely make sure that you have some accompaniments to have with it – perhaps some sour cream, lettuce or avocado – nothing too rich.
I think this dish would be a really nice comfort food option during winter though, with so much flavour, it’s probably not suited to someone who is prone to heartburn!
Last on the list was a cocktail, because what would a Mexican feast be without some tequila?! I chose to make a Mexican Mule. I have no idea if it’s in the slightest bit traditional or even comes from Mexico but I don’t care – it was delicious none the less. Tequila, lime and ginger beer – served with ice in a highball glass. It’s a beautiful and refreshing summer cocktail and I would happily make this again and again. In fact, I already have on several occasions haha!
My Mexican feast completely lived up to expectations and I was so impressed by the variety of flavours that came out of the different dishes. For the most part they were all pretty healthy too and I’m happy to add these to my recipe book.
But, for now, it’s onto my next challenge……