April 2011 Archives

candybywhites.jpg The picture above is from around 1915's -20's. It appears in the book chronicling segregation of Mexican-Americans, "A Place At The Table," by Maria Fleming (p.97).

Like all the ingredients of Tex-Mex food, the pecan has a fascinating people history. It is Native to Texas, Mexico and all the way to Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa. Our Native American ancestors ate them happily, sometimes grinding them, sometimes stringing them with thread.

The Pecan has been the occasion for people to encounter each other. ServeWhitesml.jpgTo reject each other. To celebrate each other.
Celebration is the part of cuisine that I really love. Simply put, we enjoy the pleasure of eating, and eating together makes it better. The ultimate "great idea" is for everyone to have a place at the table. Especially when the dessert is that delicious Mexican pecan candy made by Mexicans!

In our Centro/SouthTexas and Northern Mexico region pinto beans are the staple in all native Mexican-American homes. No exceptions, not ever. It is only restaurants and caterers that pass them over and use black beans in their recipes. PintoBeanCS.jpgIt's not that we don't think black beans are delicious It's simply that for our cuisine they are philosophically incorrect. By this I mean that they are incoherent, out of context and clash with both the techniques of cooking and the complementary flavors of local products, the terroir.

Pinto beans are natural to the flavor profile of our TexMex regional cuisine, to its history. They meld with the flavors and also enhance the other local ingredients.

I've found three reasons that restaurants and caterers pass over what is the natural ingredient of this region and instead serve the more boldly flavored and colored black bean.
1. The restaurant specializes in food that is not of this region: Southern Mexican, Central American, Carribean or Brazilian food. Yum, I'm getting hungry!
2. The restaurant does not specialize in those cuisines but wants to use an ingredient that seems more soigné. Wants to appear current and hip. They try their best to link it to their dishes.
3. The restaurant is unaware of or does not care about flavor profiles of cuisines, about historical relevance, contextual coherence and just wants to serve new stuff.

pintobnhandsml.jpgI like the following paragraph from the University of North Texas College of Arts and Sciences "The Philosophy of Food Project."

"Food has meaning.... Food expresses its culture and history (pizza, jambalaya, sushi), ceremonial function (Eucharist, horseradish on a Seder plate), and customary consumption (hot dogs rather than beef Wellington at a baseball game, champagne rather than milk for a toast). Gustatory aesthetics directs attention to both the sensual and meaningful qualities of food and drink."

So it's worth considering that pinto beans in this region are philosophically correct.

Tamales in the Coahuiltecan* Region

This San Antonio tamale recipe was taught to me by my sister, Esther M. Martinez, who learned it from our mom, Dominga M. Medrano, who learned it from her mom, María Victoria Vargas, and so forth. Esther also learned aspects and nuances of tamales from her mother-in-law, Antonia O. Martinez who learned from her mom, Florencia C. Ortega. These tamales differ from tamales of Northern Mexico in flavor and texture. We add hot fat rather than whipped fat and thus produce a more substantial bite. We also don't use oregano in the spice profile, leaving it to the chiles to play an unaccompanied role, nor do we roast the chiles.
Trade routes flourished among native peoples before the arrival of the Europeans. From Central Texas down to Southern Mexico, communication and travel promoted the exchange of recipes for corn, chiles and other foodstuffs. All regions had tamales but each in their own style. coahregionsml.gifOur region is called the Coahuiltecan Region (Just N & S of the Rio Grande River) and I'm proud to say that our indigenous recipe is as delicious as ever!

Recipe for the Masa -- makes about 12-15 tamales
1 lb masa for tamales. This is a coarser grind than masa for tortillas.
1/2 cup canola oil. This is updated, of course, since our mom used rendered pork fat, lard. But it is also a recapturing of our pre-European roots since lard is a Spanish contribution to native cuisines.
1 garlic clove
3 Chiles Ancho, cleaned, seeded and deveined
3 New Mexico Chiles, cleaned, seeded and deveined
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1Tbsp canola oil
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt or to taste

1. Cover the chiles with boiling water and boil for about 15 minutes or until they are tender.
2. Drain the chiles and place in a blender along with the garlic and cumin.
3. Blend to a very fine paste, adding water as needed.
4. In a skillet add the Tbsp canola oil and saute the chile paste until it begins to change color and most of the liquid has evaporated.
5. Add the water and simmer for about 15 minutes and then adjust the seasoning with sugar and salt. The sauce should have a complex, non-green, non-pungent flavor.
6. Either by hand or in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, add 1/4 cup of the chile sauce to the masa and mix thoroughly.
7. In a saucepan heat the oil to the point just before it shimmers. Let it cool if necessary. Then slowly (watch out for dangerous splatter) pour it into the masa to incorporate.
8. Add water as needed to make a thick batter.
The masa can then be spread on the corn husks to be filled and steamed.
More on the variety of fillings and steaming later.

* NOTE: Although problematic, I use the term "Coahuiltecan" for the purpose of breaking away from the border-fixated term, Tex-Mex. The natives did not call themselves Coahuiltecans, since they were so many different peoples. It is researchers who used the term. But the term does give the region a place, keeping the river as a source of water and travel, not just a border. My intention is to preserve the food history of the region which predates, certainly does not exclude, the current geopolitical jurisdictions of Mexico and Texas.

In the 1950's the Iceberg lettuce wedge with blue cheese dressing was ubiquitous. It is now a cool retro food on many menus. I think of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers who in the early 1970's were picking the lettuce under miserable working conditions (no bathrooms, no water, no healthcare, petty wages). Chavez called for a boycott of iceberg lettuce. YES! We started eating Romaine lettuce, a great way to eat and be at one with the United Farmworkers.

Lettucewedge.jpgWe can eat Iceberg these days, so I served my recipe last night. The Iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing (gooey, lava-like, creamy, delectable) will take you to a place of nostalgia and hopefully solidarity.

Recipe -- serves four
Greens and onions:
1 Iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into four wedges
1/2 cup red onion, small dice, placed in an ice-water bath for 30-45 minutes then drained of all excess water.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup crumbly blue cheese
1/4 tsp fresh yellow or white onion
1/8 tsp fresh garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1-3 Tbsp milk or water as need to adjust thickness of the dressing


Make a thoroughly smooth paste (no lumps) of the onion and garlic using a mortar and pestle.
Combine the paste with all the other ingredients and whisk until well blended.
Pour over each of the wedges and sprinkle with the diced red onion.
Crunch, crunch -- and excess of lavish blue cheese lava!

saladartichokesml.jpgThis crunchy salad gets a velvety, unctuous mouthfeel from a vinaigrette infused with chervil.
Recipe for Four
6 cups romaine lettuce, washed, dried, cut into medium pieces
8 marinated artichoke hearts, halved or quartered, with tender leaves included
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried chervil or 4 tsp fresh
1/8 tsp fresh garlic, crushed into a paste
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 tspn salt or t.t.
1/4 tspn ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp finely diced shallot
Garlic Croutons:
8 thin slices dry french baguette
1 garlic clove
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. To make the croutons, peel the garlic and rub both sides of each slice of bread, then brush both sides with olive oil. Toast under a broiler so that both sides are deeply browned.
2. To make the vinaigrette, add the chervil to the olive oil and let stand for one hour.
3. Add all the other ingredients to the chervil-infused olive oil and whisk or shake together vigorously to emulsify.
4. Gently coat the greens with the vinaigrette.
3. When serving, arrange the artichoke hearts alongside and on top of the romaine lettuce. Add two garlic croutons per plate.

Inspired Food For Train Passengers

"El Tren de las Moscas" is a 14-minute video that truly grips. One of those gems of art that keeps hope alive that art is well and growing.
It's about rice, beans, braised vegetables and bottled water. Tied to sturdy string so that passengers on passing trains can grab the food at high speed. The indigent immigrants are from Central Amerca, on a dangerous trek to find food "up north."

For 15 years a group of women, "Las Patronas," in Veracruz, Mexico, have been cooking and feeding the growing number of immigrants who ride atop trains enroute to the USA. This video is an inside view and feel for their actions, their view of the world. They never meet the "moscas" (flies) hanging on the trains. They touch their lives only fleetingly to relieve their hunger for that day.

Roger Castillo
told me about this 14-minute video. Thanks.

Salade Moutarde Lyonnaise

I learned to make this mustard dressing from the locals in Lyon. It's got a freshness and a heartiness that's hard to beat.
Green Salad Moutarde Lyonnaise MoutardeLyonsmljpg.jpg
Salad for Four
• 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1/8 tspn finely minced fresh garlic (or use a garlic press)
• ¼ tspn salt
• 2 Tbsp Pommery whole grain mustard (In Houston available at Central Market)
• 1 tspn red wine vinegar
• 1 tspn fresh lemon juice
• ¼ tspn freshly ground black pepper
• 6 cups red-tip leaf lettuce
• 1 cup watercress, tough stems removed
• 3 cups hearts of romaine lettuce
• 1 ½ cup croutons (Cube hearty bread, toss to lightly coat with an additional 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Toast in a skillet over medium heat, turning often until golden brown or bake in a 350°F oven until golden brown. Allow to cool.)

Wash and dry the greens. Cut or tear apart the red-tip leaf lettuce into manageable pieces. Leave the hearts of romaine at least 4-5 inches long so they can be used as a bed on the plate. Hold the greens in the fridge.

Using a mortar and pestle,
Make a fine paste with the olive oil, salt and garlic.
Add the Pommery mustard, wine vinegar, lemon juice and black pepper.
Whisk using a small whisk or a fork until the dressing completely emulsifies. It will have a creamy texture.
Pour the dressing into a large salad mixing bowl, add the croutons and the greens and toss gently until completely coated with the dressing.
Arrange the hearts of romaine lettuce on the plate to make a bed and place the remaining greens and croutons on top. Serve immediately.

I'm a firm believer in two seemingly contradictory tenets.
1. Never change a traditional recipe that has survived over 100 years, and
2. Always innovate recipes and stay attuned to our changing planet.

When I first started making "coquilles St. Jacques à la provençale" I followed Julia Child's recipe religiously, just as I read it in her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and as I watched her make it on TV. I've never changed a thing and it's always delicious, beautifully so. In this I agree with Mexican Chef Iliana de la Vega who always says that if you want to fiddle around with traditional recipes, for example, Mexican mole, go ahead and do so.
"Just Don't Call it Mole!" That's tenet #1.
As for tenet #2, I took Julia Child's recipe and surrounded the flavors with a background of serrano chile flavor. Solid flavor, but still a background. I did this in two ways. First I added finely diced serrano chile, no seeds no membrane, to the sauce. Second I served it with a white rice pilaf in which the liquid had an infusion of serrano chile. The dish has an overall earthiness and lift that is in keeping with Texas and Northern Mexico. But I'm not calling the dish "à la provençale." I choose to call it Serrano Scallops.

Today I'm finding recipes for "scallops á la provençale" that include tomatoes, a quintessentially Mexican product. (Julia Child does not and so I never do.) But here's the question that brings together both tenets: Should the tomato-inclined cooks name their dish " "provençale-mexicaine" since tomatoes are a Mexican staple? No, because they are not copying any Mexican dish, they are making their own, but this time with ingredients available in a new and changing world. I'm in Texas and Northern Mexico where I keep out the tomato and add Serrano chile.
Voilà, Serrano Scallops!

"Why We're Fasting" - Mark Bittman

Today I started fasting and I'll do it for two days. It's to bring attention to the many poor who will go hungry and also those who will die because of the legislation being passed in Congress right now that cancels food for the poor. I'm joining Mark Bittman who just finished his fast. He writes eloquently in his New York Times blog about ironies. And about outrage at defunding food for the poor while simultaneously giving tax breaks to those who are rich. AMhngryinvsml.jpg
He writes "In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation's richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their posttax income on food -- and still run out monthly -- and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time."

I hope many food enthusiasts, writers and chefs will also join up. It's not too late to join. Take a picture like mine and upload it here.


Texas Indians and Tex-Mex Cuisine

I've shot five video interviews for my documentary about "food trends and their impact on identity and the sense of belonging." I'm focusing in on TexMex Cuisine as the first story line (not the only one) and these are two of the books that provide the background. TexasIndians.jpg

The first is by David La Vere, The Texas Indians
which is a thorough detailing of all the earliest communities in Texas including, thankfully, their food.

The second is by Gary Clayton Anderson,The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875.texasethnic.jpg

A review of Clayton Anderson's book by Jarid Manos is illuminating. Both books are reviewed by Jahue Anderson on Humanities and Science online.

I'm starting to edit some of the interviews to see a general map of the food ideas. Before we get to the important contributions of the Spaniards, the Texas rangers and other European settlers with their culinary interactions with native food, we first have to be very clear about the land, people and cuisine upon which Mexico and then Texas were constructed.

If you have any ideas or material that relate to these topics and would like to share them with me, please contact me and let me know. Especially contact me if you have visual material and, most of all, recipes. I'm cooking every step of the way because cooking is an integral part of this documentary.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from April 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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