Recently in History and Food Category

Smoking a Thanksgiving Turkey

amsmokepit.jpgKarla McLaughlin drove all the way to my home to deliver this 15 pound organic-fed, free-roaming turkey and two pork loins.  She generously took the time because I was in a pinch, facing a party deadline. She is a one-of-a-kind farm owner.  Knowledgeable, caring and meticulously strict about raising the turkeys and other animals that she and her husband, John, tend on their farm.

They call it "Olde World Farms" and it is located in Montgomery, Texas. No antibiotics, no animal products in their feed.  The turkeys stay inside large barns until they are big enough so that the hawks won't swoop them up. Then they grouse around and eat freely on the farm.  You can contact Karla or John at (936)-597-3999.  Their email is
To prepare the turkey for smoking, this is what I used to make the
3 gallons warm water
1 lb salt
12 ounces light brown sugar
1 Tbs onion powder
1 Tbs garlic powder
Stir until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved then let the brine cool down completely.
1.  I used a syringe to inject some of the brine into the meat. the total amount of brine should be 10% of the weight of the turkey.  Here's the math for a 15 lb turkey.
15 X 16 ounces = 240 ounces
240 ounces X .10 = 24 ounces of brine. (FYI: One fluid ounce of water weights exactly 1 ounce)
2.  Using a plastic or stainless steel container, submerge the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for 3 days. The container was too heavy and large for my refrigerator so I partially filled a large ice chest with ice and a little water and set the container in it.  Closing the ice chest, the temperature is maintained at a safe 37-39 degrees F 
3. After the third day, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it thouroughly with fresh water, pat dry and place in the fridge, uncovered, for 16 hours until a pellicle forms on the skin.  This tacky glaze will help absorb smoke and keep in the moisture.  I hate to say this but in the interest of efficiency, omit this step if you don't have time to do this or if there's no room in the fridge.
4. Smoke the turkey in Pecan wood at 185 F for about 6-8 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.   
Ok, yes,  you can enjoy a beer meanwhile, and ponder this:
A)  The habit of cooking and eating turkey predates us by centuries and
B) The bird came from Mexico and is native to this land, Americas.
mapcoba.gif I've placed a dot on the location of Coba, Mexico, near Cancún.(1) This is where archeologists have found the earliest evidence of turkey remains.  They are dated 100 BCE-100 CE.  From there the turkey went north and populated North America, evidence of the vibrant trade and communication withiin the region pre-1400's.   By the time the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, we had domesticated turkeys not just in Mexico but also in what is now the US New Mexico and Texas.  Thereafter the turkey, wild and domesticated, populated the whole of the US and some of Canada. By your second beer, you will have pondered that we and the turkey go back a long way. 

Let me know how it turns out if you decide to smoke for Thanksgiving.  ¡Feliz Día de Dar Gracias!

(1) map used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Yes, tangerine, ginger and sultanas.  A contrast of flavor and color that I think is really amazing with the seasonal cranberries.  I urge you to try it at your Thanksgiving meal.  I've adapted this recipe from one I read many, many years ago in Gourmet magazine.

cranberrycons5.jpgRemember that?  Ruth Reichl's highly influential monthly register of food travels, chef's cultural insights, slow-cooking meditations, etc.  Gourmet Magazine went under because it could not survive the shifting reader interest toward faster-paced and more bouncy food-making. That's my opinion. Happily, though, her elegant and "keep it real" influence continues and, as they say, that's a good thing.

Recipe:  (makes 3 cups)

3/4  lb fresh cranberries
1 tsp grated peeled ginger
1/2 cup sultanas  (golden raisins)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed tangerine juice
4" X 1" Tangerine peel, pith removed.
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbsp sugar


1.  Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugars.
2.  Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes until the cranberries begin to pop open.

3. Remove from heat and let it cool.
You can serve the conserve immediately or store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  To me it tastes better after about 12 hours in the fridge.

Let me know how this turns out!

 -- "Had no idea that golden raisins were called sultanas.  I remember this recipe now.  You shared it with me last Thanksgiving.  I mentioned that I did not like the traditional cranberry sauce and you assured me this would be a great alternative....and it was!  I'm so glad you reminded me...Sultanas, here I come--again Chris O." posted by
Christine Ortega, Nov 14, 2011

Mexican Cuisine

Notes on Cooking
three-minute interviews with chefs, filmmakers and food activists

This week Chef Iliana De La Vega, acclaimed authority on Mexican Cuisine, explains the Spanish and Arab influences on Mexican Cuisine.  Noting her philosophy of food, she advocates not covering up flavors with heavy lard or fats.  Techniques of roasting, charring date back to pre-Columbian times. But the final test of fine Mexican cuisine is the taste, delicious, rich, harmonious.


Fall, the time for pickling, brining, drying, freezing.  All those tasks that take us back to a time when we were more in tune with the earth's changing seasons.  Well, it was either be in tune or starve!   haha..!

Here's a recipe I'm making this morning for smoked trout. The final result is flaky, aromatic and richly flavorful.  It can be mixed and mingled with an array of creams butters and dips during cool autumnal evenings.

2 cups water
1 lb ice
1 1/2 ounce salt
3/4 ounce brown sugar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp pickling spice

troutbrinesml.jpg1. Add the salt, sugar and spices to the water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar completely.
2.  Cool the hot brine mixture by pouring it over the ice

2 8-ounce trout filets
If you possibly can, opt for pan dressing the trout, which means leaving the bones, skin and tail intact.  As you can see in the picture, I used skin-on fillets because that's what was readily available from the fish monger this morning. 

Pour the brine over the fish, making sure it is completely submerged.

Place in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours.  Then remove the fish from the brine and lay the fillets flat on a tray and dry them, uncovered, in the refrigerator for about 8 hours or until a dry, tacky glaze, "pellicle," forms on the lovely fillets.  This pellicle formation is critical at the time of smoking because it maximizes the smoke flavor and keeps oils and moisture where they belong.

In the next blog I'll show the smoked trout and the various ways it can be served. 

Just a few final thoughts about our tradition of drying fish.  I'm reminded of a recent discussion regarding one of our ancestor Texas peoples, the Karankawas.  They lived for thousands of years along the Texas coast from Galveston to Corpus Christi. They ate speckled trout, among other fish, and drying and smoking were of course known culinary practices.

The discussion leader reported that the Karankawas were horrible savages who pierced their skin for adornment and were cannibals.  They were generally ugly, awful, I repeat, savages.

Then was not the proper moment to refute but here I want to report that the current body of academic research (see bibliography at the end of this post) finds the following:

1.  Piercings: Karankawa men were aound 6 feet tall and they sometimes pierced their nipples  and lower lips to wear cane adornments.  Here in Houston I've seen a lot of men and women with piercings, wearing body jewelry.  I'm not calling them savages for doing so.

2.  Accusations do not make it so:  The accusation of cannibalism is so often repeated, mainly by those with a vested interest in discrediting natives, that the repetition tends to make it so.  But there is no direct oral nor written evidence.  There is no direct eyewitness account of such behavior.  There is no archaeological evidence at all of scraped or shattered bones to support the claim of cannibalism. 
3. The record refutes the claim: When the Spanish colleagues of Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked onto Galveston Island, they began to eat the bodies of their shipmates to stave off starvation.   When the Karankawas found them they were horrified at the Spanish cannibalism.  Cabeza de Vaca writes: "The Indians were so shocked at this cannibalism that, if they had seen it sometime earlier, they surely would have killed every one of us who had survived."  (La Vere, 2004,  p. 60-62)

We receive culinary techniques from our ancestors, enjoy the same seasonal fish as they did, so I delight at the academic work that is giving us a clearer picture of who they really were. 

In my next blog I'll be serving the smoked trout to some of my nose-pierced friends!

Here's Some Bibliographic info:

La Vere, D. (2004). The texas indians. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
Newcomb, W.W. Jr. (1961). The indians of texas. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Warnes, Andrew. (2008). Savage barbecue. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

A Serving of Justice

It's a good thing that I'm feeling jumbled, riled, mixed up and chaotic.  The protests against the corporate reality in which we live (corporations are persons now) are chaotic, which means powerful, energizing and substantive.  Injustice is always served with food.  So is justice.

ServeWhitesml.jpg The recipe that I'm posting today is one for chefs and foodies.  We will continue to serve food when needed to support  Occupy Wall Street rallies.  We will blog about food and it's corporate control.  Foodies will take up anew conversations about the food movemen and about:  Native Americans denied the right to plant corn seeds in their gardens because Monsanto has patented the seed, Obesity resulting from corporatized food,,etc., etc., etc. 

Personal actions in choosing what we  do are the cornerstone.  This essay by Kristin Wartman maps well the food movement opportunity. 

Going out for brunch now!

I cry for us

I cry for us.
people powerless in society,
the despised,
the de-humanized
what a contradiction.

The despiser.
I cry for us. 
And sob,
that it is in our nature
to inflict pain,
bully, fellow human beings.

Recently during a delicious and amiable meal, a 20-something friend of mine asked me for details of how Gays and Lesbians in the US got more freedoms, and about Stonewall.

Thereafter I shared with him this audio documentary, "Remembering Stonewall," by Peabody and MacArthur Awardee David Isay. Produced in 1989 and broadcast on NPR's All Things Considered.  I had not heard it in years.  Hearing it anew, especially eye-witness accounts of lesbians brutally beaten for fun by male cops, it makes me cry. 

I'm glad for meals where generations ask questions of each other. They give me hope.

Roots and Vision of TexMex Cuisine

Chef and Author Melissa Guerro identifies the Mariame Indians of Texas, the Comanches and others in the roots of today's TexMex cuisine. Melded with the Spanish influence, this delicious cuisine is growing in importance. Like all cultural cuisines, "It can fix the world!"


notes on cooking...

a series of video shorts
"critical thinking about food and its meanings"

3 minutes with a chef, filmmaker or food activist.  The series covers trends in food pathways, food conglomerates, kitchens, farms, labor and entertainment. Issues about social justice and the cultivation of enjoyment and fun. And of course, inventive recipes--delicious taste is IN!

The series uploads one segment weekly on

--a High Definition version is on the Vimeo channel, "Notes on Cooking,"

The series begins with critically acclaimed Chef Iliana De La Vega who speaks out on Mexican cuisine. Her call is for "no more burros!"  Originally from Mexico City and Oaxaca, she currently serves on the Faculty of the Culinary Institute of America and the Center for Foods of the Americas. She is Owner/Chef of El Naranjo in Austin, Texas.
 Other chefs included in the series are:

-Chef Johnny Hernandez, Chef/Owner of "La Gloria" in San Antonio, Texas is acclaimed for his inventive recreations of Mexican street food and regional cuisines. His stellar positions include the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara.

-Chef Hinnerk von Bargen, International Consultant on Restaurant and Culinary Trends, Faculty at the Culinary Institute of America, His chef positions have included hotels and restaurants in Germany, South Africa and China. He is currently authoring a book on Street Foods of the World.

-Chef Melissa Guerra, Host of "The Texas Provincial Kitchen" Television series, author of Tejano and TexMex cuisine cookbooks including "Dishes From The Wild Horse Desert."

-Chef Alain Dubernard, His positions have included chef-owner and general manager of La Balance Pâtisserie in Mexico City, Chef de partie at Hôtel Bristol in Paris, and commis pâtissier/chef de tour for Roux Restaurants Ltd. in London.

See a High Definition version on Vimeo:

Produced by Adán M. Medrano

The series is licensed under Creative Commons License: Attribution, Non-commercial, Share-alike 

Chicken Poached in a Garlic-Cumin Broth

Hidalgo, in the central Eastern region of Mexico, is the homeland of the great Toltec culture.toltectula.jpg Toltec art and the huge monuments are well-known and iconic of MesoAmerica, but a lesser known fact is that the region has a delicious, distinctive cuisine.   "Ajo Comino de Gallina" is a Hidalgo dish that uses poaching as a method for infusing flavors into food as it cooks with no fat.  The French have a similar method, their Court Bouillon used to deep poach foods.CalabazPollosml.jpg

So I've used that Hidalgo cooking method to make the traditional TexMex favorite, "Calabacita con Pollo."  I hope you'll like, and I ask especially my TexMex Chef friends for comments.

Recipe:  serves 6

2 1/2 lbs Chicken, skinned, trimmed of all fat, cut into 1"cubes
1 Tbsp Garlic, minced
1/4 tsp Cumin
3 cups Water
1 tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Canola oil
1 1/2 cup Tomato, small dice
1 White Onion, sliced
1 Tbsp Chile Serrano
2 large Mexican Tatuma squash (Calabacita) 1/4" slices.  You can substitute zuchini if Tatuma is not available.

1.  Place the water, garlic and cumin In a large skillet or sauté pan and bring to the boiling point.
2.  Add the chicken pieces and keep the fire on high to bring the liquid back to a low simmer.  Lower the heat and keep poaching at a very low simmer until the chicken is fully cooked, approximately 20 minutes.
3.  Remove the chicken and hold warm.
4.  Strain the liquid with a fine mesh sieve and hold.
5.  In a Dutch oven or deep skillet heat the Canola oil.
6.  Add the onions and cook until they are soft and translucent.
calabacita2.jpg7.  While the onions are cooking, grind the Serrano chile into a fine paste using a molcajete. Add a little of the strained broth to the molcajete to lift off the paste and add to the onions.
8.  Add the tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups of the strained broth and cook this sauce, uncovered, on medium heat for 15 minutes.
9.  Add the chicken pieces and continue cooking until the chicken is heated through.
10. In a separate saucepan place the Calabacita and 1 Tbsp of the broth and cooked covered until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add salt to taste.

Serve the chicken topped with the Calabacita and with hot corn tortillas.

Gorditas are for everyone

Gorditas YES!  

Perfect for parties as interactive food where guests can fill them with a variety of fillings.
Vary the size and you can have either finger food or a sit-down meal.

But here's the misunderstood side: ingredients and methods for
1) flavorings,
2) texture and
3) fillings
have been tested over centuries. They are tied to culture and the land. When you cook these, pay close attention.  Taste fully, slowly.  It bears repeating that you are dealing not just with food but with a cuisine.

Corn or Maize "was domesticated first in Mexico around 5500 BC and it gradually spread northward, appearing first in what is now the US around 3500 BC, according to archeological evidence from a cave in New Mexico."  (Murray Berzok, 2005, p. 51.)  Native Americans devised ingenious irrigation methods as they farmed corn.

I say Gorditas are for everyone because corn is so natural here and has always been shared. Knowing our roots, we keep the tradition alive, renew it and going forward.  Send me recipes, please if you have.


mapGorditas1821.PNGI have drawn circles on this 1821 map of Mexico to show three areas where I have found distinctive recipes:  Present day New Mexico (USA), Texas (USA), and Queretaro (Mexico).

In New Mexico the Hopi and Pueblo recipes use rather slender tortillas flavored with Guajillo chile.  Down in Queretaro, the corn masa is blended with chile Ancho and cheese!  The recipe I'm sharing is one I've adapted from Texas gorditas, using  Queso Fresco.  I hope you find these Gorditas as delicious as I do.

Gorditasgriddle.jpgRecipe makes 25 small gorditas like the ones in the picture
1 lb corn flour
2 1/2 cups water, if you need a little more, add 1 or 2 Tbsp or so at a time
6 oz queso fresco, finely crumbled
Salt to taste.  I use 1/2 tspn
3 Tbsp Canola oil or as needed

1.  Combine corn flour, salt and water to make a masa. 
2.  Add the queso fresco and knead to combine thoroughly.  The masa should feel like a soft clay, the "play doh" with which kids play.
3.  Cover the masa with a damp cloth and let rest for about 45 minutes
4.  Roll the masa into 25 balls, then flatten each ball into a little gordita.  Have a bowl of water handy so that you can keep your hangs slightly moist.  This will keep the masa from sticking to your hands as you form the gorditas.    
5.  Heat a cast iron skillet or a griddle to 375-400oF and apply a film of Canola oil on the surface.
6.  Place the gorditas and cook until fully cooked and golden brown.
7.  Split apart or slice with a knife or fork and fill with the following.


--A layer of frijoles refritos
--A spoonful of Chilorio (optional)  Wonderful with only beans and the other fillings below
--a mixture of thinly sliced Iceberg lettuce and small dice tomatoes
--crumbled queso fresco.
--Salsa mexicana (I'm uploading the Salsa Mexicana recipe next week.)  You can serve them with another salsa that you like.

(1) Murray Berzok, L. (2005), American Indian Food. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Our link to Mexican Independence Day, September 16, is illustrated by this map that I've used in a previous blog.  This land used to be called Mexico so we celebrate our past. 
But it also used to be called Spain. 
It used to be called France. 

Before our European ancestors arrived it was Caddo, Karankawa, Tonkawa and others.  Which brings me to the realization that: I embrace ALL of my past in order to go beyond "feeding" and truly enjoy "dining."

Two examples of this are 1)  Barbacoa at Houston's "Tierra Caliente" and 2)  Hollandaise Sauce at Houston's "Danton's."

Barbacoa is Barbecue.  Andrew Warnes, University of Leeds, cites the first European mention of the native word, "barbeque," in Christopher Columbus' journal in 1492 as he observed natives roasting iguanas and fish in the Caribbean. (1)  Later the Spanish in Mexico called it barbacoa.

barbacoataco.jpgTierra Caliente serves Mexican barbacoa tacos. Mexican "barbacoa" is beef. It has a long history in this region.  It can be cooked underground (cabeza de pozo--barbacoa de cabeza) or, as the chef, María Zamano, does, on the stove with seasonings that include garlic and.  I promised her I would not talk out of school so you'll have to ask her for her delicious recipe.

María Samano and her husband, Vicente, moved to the Alabama Ice House location a little over a year ago.  Their recipes do not vary from the traditional and that is why you will find that all of the flavors harmonize beautifully.  When you bite one of these tacos, you are in the land of Mexico, Tonkawa and now Texas, with all of its traditions and spice combinations. 

TierraCaliente.jpgThis is very different from taco combinations that simply "juxtapose" ingredients inside a tortilla. Tierra Caliente recipes harmonize.  No clashing juxtapositions here.  In order to accomplish this you have to know your past, both written and oral stories, and taste it. It makes for a fuller dining experience.

The little truck is on 1919 West Alabama.  Perfect for 16 de septiembre.  I loved it.

Hollandaise Sauce
The second example is one of the Five Mother Sauces of Auguste Escoffier.  Chef Danton Nix here in Houston makes an exquisite Hollandaise. 
DantonsPartners.jpgTo do this he has the right blend of egg yolks, butter, lemon and seasonings. The emulsion is whisked together so well that the mouth-feel is sooooo velvety.  OK, I'll stop drooling. ..  And he adds a twist that is his very own, a type of red chile!
Escoffier included Hollandaise as one of the mother sauces in early 1900's basing his work on that of another French culinary giant, Antoine Careme (1800's).  A mother sauce is one to which you can add other ingredients and create derivative sauces.  The derivative that Danton has created keeps the full French flavor of butter, eggs, subtle lemon and then he adds from this land: powdered red chile.  The type of chile? Hope he'll tell me next time, but it is definitely not Chipotle.  I don't mean the paprika some sprinkle on top to color it, no. The chile is part of the Louisiana twist he gives to the entire taste pleasure.  As in Tierra Caliente, it is a beautiful harmony.   

Danton, pictured on the right, explained to me that he is a self-taught chef, that he loves the Gulf coast food he cooks.  We are lucky in Houston that he has a strong understanding and respect for French tradition and of course Cajun because this gives him the ability to create something new, local and derivative of our past. 

Yup, as I said above,
embrace ALL of our past in order to truly enjoy fine "dining."   Happy September 16th!

(1) Warnes, Andrew. (2008). Savage barbecue: race, culture and the invention of america's first food. The University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia.

Do you Understand my Enchilada?

Enchiladas marked special occasions in our home.  To understand them is to understand our community.


I'm glad to share this recipe because its history makes it quintessentially TexMex.   I say this for two reasons.  

1.  It grounds us in our region.  The discriminating blending of different types of chiles links us to the other communities in our geographic region who also combined chiles in different variations to make different dishes.  Think Guanajuato, Puebla, Oaxaca, etc.  

2. It integrates Texas Indian with European ingredients.   Actually its success as a fine dining culinary dish results exactly from the successful integration of native with foreign ingredients: a beautiful culinary marriage.  In this case, chiles with flour; and Mexican oregano with cumin.  The same happened in Oaxaca with mole using wheat bread as a thickener for chiles.  Thankfully, today more scholars like my friend, Dr. Mario Montano, Food Anthropologist, are documenting histories of  people and cultures who live along the Rio Grande river and these will give us a more accurate history of the origins and evolution of  such ingredient combinations.

OK, I call these Enchiladas a fine-dining dish because we savor them with sensory pleasure but also with intellectual enjoyment.  This will become clear (I hope) in the recipe. 

Recipe:  (serves 6)  --updated 9/7/11

4 Ancho chiles (on a HOT/SPICY scale of 1 to 10, this is an 8.  If you want milder, use only 2 Ancho chiles and 1/2 pasilla)

1 Pasilla chile

1/4 tsp cumin

2 garlic cloves

1/8 tsp black peppercorns

1/4 tsp salt

2" sprig of Mexican oregano  (This is actually TexMex oregano because it is cultivated in Texas around San Antonio,  Austin, then also a little farther west, and then all the way south to the Mexican states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon.  It is very different from the common European oregano.  Much more aromatic, with a brighter flavor.  You can grow it easily in your back yard as a perrenial. ....but I digress)

1/4 cup all purpose wheat flour

3 Tbs Canola oil

8 cups water

18 corn tortillas

1 white onion

2 cups shredded or crumbled cheese  (We used queso fresco but over time processed yellow cheese has gained favor.  The industrial revolution spawned Kraft's processed Velveeta cheese in 1928.  Processed yellow cheeses entered the TexMex kitchen and changed the flavors.  Be that as it may, just make sure that the cheese you use has a mild, unobtrusive flavor and has the least possible fat.  Remember it is the chiles that play the "Prima Donna" role in this dish, which is why it's called Enchiladas.)


1.  Wipe clean and remove the seeds and veins from the chiles.

2.  In a molcajete make a paste of the chiles, cumin, garlic cloves peppercorns and oregano.  Alternately you can use a blender and one cup of the water to make a very fine purée.  Just make sure there are no chunks nor granules.  This chile-spice combination is the focal point.  It is what you want to taste first and throughout.  All the other elements of the dish play  supporting and contrasting roles.

3. Finely dice the onion.  The picture shows how small the dice are.  My sister, Nieves Ortega, reminded me yesterday about how important this fine dice is.  Onions, for some reason, are a naturally delicious combination with chile.  You want your mouth to easily taste chile-onion as a principal..."yum!"  . 

4.  In a saucepan or large skillet, heat the flour and oil over medium heat for two minutes, stirring.

5. Use the water to dissolve and remove all the paste from the molcajete and add this to the saucepan, whisking all the while to dissolve lumps.  Of course if you have used a blender, add the purée and the rest of the water.

6. Bring to a boil, then simmer rapidly, for about 25 minutes until the flavors are blended and all the flour taste is gone.  The chile will thicken and reduce.  You should have about 3 cups.  Taste and adjust the salt

7.  While keeping the chile hot over medium heat,  use tongs or a spatula to place a corn tortilla in the hot chile for about 8-20 seconds until it is heated through and soft but holding its structure.  If too long, it'll fall apart.  If too short a time it will not soften properly.  You'll get the feel of it.

8.  Place the tortilla flat on a warm platter and add 2 Tbsp cheese and 1/2 Tbsp diced onions

9.  Roll them and arrange seam down on six warm plates. Repeat with all the tortillas, three per plate.

10.  Spoon about 1/3 cup of the very hot (temperature) chile in each plate and garnish with additional diced onions.

Taste these with enjoyment, knowing that each ingredient is there for a reason: to make your mouth feel complex, deep pleasure. The chile carries the dish.  Let your mind notice the differences in mouthfeel and textures.  To understand the layers of flavors, the aromas - individually and also together.   Isn't it great to enjoy food and understand the link to its people!

¡Buen Provecho/Bon Appétit!

Rajas Poblanas

This is a great appetizer for company.  With Rajas Poblanas you mix the heat of chiles with velvety Crema Mexicana. Rajassquare.JPG

Once you make it you'll see that it resembles the TexMex Chile con Queso.  Both combine chiles with cream and cheese for contrast in both taste and mouth feel. 

This is yet another example of how the TexMex regional cuisine developed simultaneously alongside the other regional cuisines of Mexico.

 map1824Mexcrop.jpgIn the Mexican constitution of 1824, the republic of Mexico included "Coahuila y Texas" as one state. (1)  It extended far North and South of the Rio Grande river which at that time was used in the region for transportation and irrigation.  

I sometimes like to serve both Rajas Poblanas and Chile con Queso side by side to savor the nice, interesting differences.

(serves 6 as appetizer)
4 Poblano chiles
1 White onion, sliced into 1/4"strips
1 Tbsp Canola oil
3/4 cup Crema Mexicana
1/2 cup Panela cheese
Salt to taste

1.  Deep-fry the chiles very briefly, about 10 seconds, in 360 F to blister the skin. Place in a paper or plastic bag for another few seconds to steam and then remove the skin, seeds and veins.  Slice the chiles into 1/2" wide strips.
2.  Peel and slice the onion into 1/4" wide strips.
3.  Cube the Panela cheese into 1/2"cubes
4.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onions and sauté until they turn soft.
5.  Keeping the heat on medium or low, add the chiles and the Crema Mexicana and heat them thoroughly.
6.  Add the Panela cubes and stir gently. 
7.  Season with salt according to your taste. 

Serve the Rajas with hot corn tortillas, of course.  Warning:  You may uncontrollably crave  a margarita!

(1) Map used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Chilorio from Sinaloa & Stone boiling

Chilorio is a specialty of Sinaloa, Mexico. I'm serving it here with Ensalada de  Bodas, another specialty of the northern Mexico region.chiloriosalad2.jpg
 My friend, J.C. Reid, reminded me of Chilorio and its similarity to Texas Chile con Carne in his recent  article describing the dish as it is served here in Houston.  The TexMex region shares many similar food types and techniques because of the cohesion that existed in the region, even with so much constant turmoil.   Alston V. Thoms from Texas A&M  writes that "Given substantial populations in all parts of Texas for thousands of years, it is unlikely that there were any significant trade secrets in the world of basic cooking technology.  In summary, the people of the interior South Texas were surely familiar with the types of game animals, aquatic resources and plant foods found in adjacent regions as well as with the methods the people there used to procure, process, cook and consume those resources."groundrockboiling.jpg

Chilorio is a type of pulled pork that is cooked by boiling, a technique that dates back thousands of years.  As seen here, the cooking implement is made by digging a bowl in the Earth, covering it with bark or hide and adding hot stones to bring the water to a boil.  (photo courtesy  As the meat cooked slowly, it became "fall apart" tender.  This technique was employed  by the Indians of what is now Texas and Northern Mexico.  They traveled back and forth across regions so it is not surprising that the Chilorio pulled pork of Sinaloa is similar to the Chile con Carne of TexMex.

mapcabezaroute1824.jpgIndeed, on this map of  1824 Mexico(1) I drew the route that Cabeza de Vaca followed in 1500's to travel from Galveston to Mexico City.  I traced the white line to show that, as the natives did at the time, he traveled from Galveston all through Sinaloa. (I based this route on the one researched and drawn by Alex D. Krieger, University of Texas Press)  There were other similar travel routes that made it commonplace to exchange cooking techniques and ideas.

In this recipe I've used Canola oil instead of lard.  

(serves 4)
1 1/2 lbs pork shoulder,cut into 1 or 2" cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup Canola oil
4 Ancho chiles, wiped clean, seeded and deveined
1 Pasilla chile, wiped clean, seeded and deveined
3 Garlic cloves
1/2 tsp Coriander seeds
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
1/8 tsp Black Peppercorns
1 Tbsp White Vinegar
1 Tbsp Rice Vinegar

1.  In a dutch oven, place the pork cubes and add water to cover them, add the salt and bring to a boil
2.  Simmer covered until the pork is fully cooked and soft, about one hour. Uncover in the last 15 minutes so that most of the water will have evaporated.
3.  Transfer the pork to a bowl and pull apart the meat strands using two large spoons or spatulas.
4.  Using a comal or cast iron skillet, dry roast the chiles slightly, not charred.
5.  Place the roasted chiles in a bowl of hot water and let them soak for 15 minutes.
6.  In a blender, place the soaked chiles, 1/2 cup of fresh water, all the spices and vinegars.  Blend on high until you have an extremely smooth puree.
7.  In the dutch oven heat the Canola oil and when it is shimmering add the chile puree slowly, stirring.  Fry the puree for about 5 minutes.  You will see the color change slightly and, as the liquid evaporates, it will thicken.
8.  Add the meat to the chile and combine well.

Serve with warm flour or corn tortillas. I'll upload the recipe for the Ensalada de Bodas, "Wedding Salad", in another blog. 
¡Buen Provecho!

(1) Map used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

TexMex Cornbreaded Fish Fry Menu

"Between A.D. 900 and 1500 most, but not all, the Indians living in Texas had developed the distinct culture that Europeans and Americans encountered and would write about." (David La Vere,The Texas Indians p.26). Their cuisine included various preparations of the fish they caught in the San Antonio, Guadalupe, Pecos, Rio Grande/Bravo and other rivers.  At that time the rivers were not so much borders as oases of food and irrigation,

More to the East, along the coast,(Beaumont, Galveston, Houston, Victoria, Corpus Christi) our Texas Indian ancestors dined on fish that included black drum, redfish, speckled sea trout, croaker, sea catfish, flounder, sheepshead, silver perch and mullet."(1). 

batteredfishfry.jpgThis fried fish method is straightforward and reflects the penchant for coupling the flavors of fish with corn, that elemental grain that was everywhere, even in our creation myths, all the way down to what is today Southern Mexico.

Even though fried fish is part of our TexMex cuisine profile, we all know that throughout the Southern US "Fish Fry" is a strong tradition.  For very good reasons: it goes back hundreds of years AND is deeelicious!

--Cut 6" filets of very fresh catfish or grouper (remember that there should be no "fishy," or other malodor at all!)
--dry the filets and season with salt and pepper
--dredge in wheat flour and shake off excess
--dip in a bowl of well beaten eggs, to which you've added just a little water. (1 teaspoon per egg) THEN immediately
--place in a bowl of corn meal.  Make sure the corn meal covers all the surfaces of the filet.  You can hold the filets in the cornmeal until you are ready to fry them.
--in a deep-fryer or deep saucepan pour enough canola oil so that the filets (2 or 3 at a time depending on the size of the pan) can be submerged. 
--When the oil is at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, place the filets in the oil and fry until the fish is golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon (or basket) and place in rack for  holding until served. I suggest you serve it with a green vegetable, maybe snap peas, and slices of lemon.

RioGrandeRiver.gifMayonnaise Sauce: makes one cup (I love this remoulade sauce. The French arrived in Texas in 1600's)
--combine the following ingredients in a bowl and let the flavors blend for about an hour:
7 fl oz mayonnaise
1/2 oz finely chopped capers
1 Tbspn finely chopped chives
1 Tbspn finely chopped tarragon
1/2 Tbspn Dijon Mustard
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Tabasco sauce
salt to taste.

Iceberg Salad with Herbed Onion-Radish Melange
: serves four
Vinaigrette:  In a bowl whisk together until an emulsion forms:
3 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
1 fl oz red wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp finely minced oregano
1 teaspoon finely minced sage
1 teaspoon finely minced thyme
1/8 tspn salt
4 radishes, cut into quarters or sixths if large
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/8 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbspn flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Place the melange in a bowl and add the vinaigrette.  Chill for 30 to 60 minutes.
Slice half a head of iceberg lettuce into 1/4"strips.  Arrange in circular fashion in plates.  Spoon the marinated melange on top and serve with the fish and sauce. 
This TexMex Fish Fry Menu is great for Sunday dinner!

1.  David La Vere, The Texas Indians, Texas A & M University Press, College Station, 2004.

A Question of Delicious Identity

Returning from Galveston Island "Gringo's" caught my eye.  The sign is dazzling.  It also exquisitely describes the aspect of TexMex food about which I've been doing a lot of thinking. We cook TexMex because we seek identity, discovery of who we are.
There's much to say about this but I'd like to just briefly note two forces that are at play.
First, there is a written documentation of TexMex cuisine, mainly books that attempt to say what TexMex is. These are written by cooks who've been able to access education and publishing centers.  This is an emerging phenomenon, one which hopefully will become more diverse.

Second, there is an oral tradition which is carried on in private homes mainly by cooks who've not been able to access education nor publishing venues. This oral tradition is ancient.

Each of these forces links cooking to identity.   Our region's history (Texas/Northern Mexico), saw the near extinction of Indians and the increase of Europeans. Over time both Indians and Europeans have come to eat variations of the same cuisine. Both want to sit at the table and taste delicious food that is linked specifically to the land and to our families. Regardless of how we label it, we continue to cook TexMex, Gringo's, Mexicano, Tejano because what is at play in the kitchens is who we are and how we will choose to live and eat together. 

Chile is Mexican, scientific name capsicum.
Pepper is Indian (India), scientific name piper.
ChileAndPeppersml.jpgWhen our European ancestors, searching for India, landed instead in South America and found chiles, they used the default name with which they were familiar, "pepper."   They also called the South American natives "Indians," but that's another story.

Both Chile and Pepper are used in Carne Guisada, ground in a Molcajete together with garlic and cumin. (hmmm I'm already at the Yum!!!  stage!! ) This TexMex stewed beef dish is aromatic and its flavor profile is wonderfully contrasted. The flavor profile of a dish consists of the identifiable taste, odor, chemical feeling (hot capsicum) and aftertaste.  molcajetesml.jpgIn my opinion, achieving the correct flavor profile of Carne Guisada depends entirely on what you grind in your Molcajete.  The following recipe is my family's variation and of course I love it, but you can refine it according to your taste.  Just remember that the focus should be on your Molcajete: the mixture of ingredients to include cumin, garlic and BOTH pepper and chiles. 

Recipe ( serves 4)
1 1/2 lb round steak
1 large White Onion, sliced
2 Tbsp Canola Oil
2 1/2 cups water, approximately
1 Chile Serrano, sliced
2 dried Chile de Arbol
15 Black Pepper corns
2 Garlic Cloves, peeled and sliced
1/4 tspn cumin seeds
1 1/2 tspn salt

1.  Cut the round steak into 1/2 or 3/4 inch cube
2.  In a dutch oven or deep skillet, heat 1 Tbsp Canola oil and brown the meat on high heat, then remove.
3.  Using 1/2 cup of the water, deglaze and set the liquid aside.
3.  Add to the skillet 1 Tbsp Canola oil and sweat the onions on low heat until they are soft.
4   While the onions are cooking, grind the chiles, pepper, garlic, cumin and salt in the molcajete to achieve a very fine paste.  Add a little water to allow you to scrape the paste away from the molcajete. (See picture above)
5.  Add the meat to the onions, also the molcajete paste, the deglazing liquid and the rest of the water.  The water should just cover the meat, so adjust accordingly.
6. Simmer at slightly below a full boil, about 200oF, covered, for about one hour.  At this heat level the beef collagen changes into gelatin and renders the beef both soft and  flavorful. If the heat is too high, the beef will be tough. Remove the cover during the last fifteen minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

I served it with green beans baked slowly in an Achiote, orange and jalapeño sauce.  Here it is.
CarneGuisadasml.jpgLet me know how this recipe turns out for you.  ¡Buen Provecho!

Gazpacho, "de rigueur"

Gazpacho is a must in this Texas heat
I bought tomatoes from the Atkinson Family Farm, a 4th generation family farm. Hurray!  Jeni, wife of grandson, Bob, sold them to me.  Jeni, here's the gazpacho recipe I promised.

To make a good Gazpacho I think it helps to observe boundaries that are imposed by the terroir of Andalucia.andaluciamap.jpg Within these boundaries Gazpacho has as many variations as there are Spaniards with opinions. 
The terroir of Andalucía in Southern Spain, occupied by Arabs for 700 years, includes its climate, makeup of the soil and the naturalized products therein.  The region has a climate similar to northern Africa so of course the soup must be cold to help relieve the intense heat of the region.  "De rigueur" are only those ingredients that are readily available in the Andalucia terroir: olive oil, wine vinegar, cucumbers, onion, stale bread and garlic.  The principal ingredients of the soup are or of course Mexican: Tomato and Chile. These were naturalized into the terroir sometime in the early 1500's by the Andalucians who by that time had learned to cultivate the Mexican tomatoes and Chiles (bell pepper or pimentón) that Christopher Columbus brought back with him.  But keep in mind that Gazpacho is not Mexican, so out of bounds are cilantro, very hot chile and those ingredients which would normally be flagged as part of the Mexican flavor profiles. Gazpacho is a European/Arab take on Mexican ingredients.
This recipe makes a complex, soothing and highly refreshing soup.  The taste is clear, with all the ingredients blending and not competing. I omit the strong onion flavor altogether.  I also omit the bread because I blend it A LOT, emulsifying the oil, to achieve  body and creaminess.  

The olive oil is present in the taste, but it is a background.
Recipe  Makes one quart


2 lbs tomatoes,  diced.  This is 6 cups
1/4 lb bell pepper (I used red) diced.  This is 1 cup
1/4 lb cucumber, peeled and diced.  This is 3/4 cup
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 fl oz red wine vinegar
4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil, Spanish if possible
1 1/2 Teaspoon kosher salt

1.  Wash all the fruits. I scrub them in a strong solution of salt water, then rinse them.
2. Just place all the ingredients in a blender and churn away until the puree is creamy.  So creamy in fact that it almost looks like a cream-based soup. You may have to do this in batches.
3.  Chill in the fridge for a day so that the flavors blend.
4.  And its ready. Very simple to make. Stir vigorously before serving and garnish with croutons and small cucumber dice.
¡Buen Provecho!

Leave me a comment and let me know how this turns out for you.

Mole Poblano Travels well to Texas

Mole Poblano may not be commonplace in Texas nor just south of the Rio Grande but from time to time you get to taste the rich, complex sauce when perhaps newly arrived friends from Puebla, Mexico make it. Aromatic spices, roasted nuts, seeds, Chiles!molespicesml.jpg     Or you taste it at a wedding because a Texas family uses that old recipe a travelling friend shared with them generations ago.

 CaminoReal.gifI think mole is becoming more available in Texas and Northern Mexico because of digital media and travel.  Travel routes connecting today's Texas, Northern Mexico and Southern Mexico date back to the Texas Indians prior to the 1400's.   The Mexico-US "Camino Real" of the Spaniards, was built upon one of these routes. These ancient routes enabled our native ancestors to learn about each other's cuisines (types of chiles, corn, cooking utensils, pottery, types of beans). With today's digital media I can blog.  I think this accelerated sharing will increase the presence of Mole Poblano on our tables here in Texas and Northern Mexico.

Following is the recipe for the Mole Poblano.  I find it's easier to learn to make it if you think of the types or groups of ingredients as you would an instrument section in a symphony orchestra.  If each group is to  bring its special character and tone to the sauce, the ingredients must be well prepared prior to blending.
14 Black Peppercorns
5 Cloves, whole
1 stick of Mexican canela, 3 inch
1/2 tsp Coriander Seeds
1/2 tsp Anise seeds
These aromatics are to be fried in a bare minimum of Canola oil to the point when they begin to release their aroma.
20 Almonds
2 oz. Pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup Brown Sesame seeds
Chile seeds from the cleaned chiles below.
1 Corn Tortilla, stale
These are to be fried in a small amount of canola oil, each separately, to the point of golden.  NOTE, the pumpkin seeds turn bitter if over-cooked so be attentive.
1 White Onion, halved
3 Garlic cloves, unpeeled
4 Roma tomatoes, quartered
6 Tomatillos, quartered
3 tsp Black Raisins,
The tomatoes are to be fried in a small amount of canola oil in high heat to caramelize the starches, and the raisins are plumped, also in the oil.moleongarlsml.jpg The onion and garlic are to be roasted in a cast iron skillet or comal.  Black spots and softness will tell you that they are ready.  Peel off the skin from the garlic after it is cooked.
These are the main attraction in this sumptuous sauce.mulattoanchosml.jpg
8 Mulatto chiles
5 Ancho chiles
6 Pasilla chiles
2 Chipotle chiles
Wipe them clean, seed and devein them.  Reserve the chile seeds for sauteeing as described.
Use 5 oz. Mexican chocolate.  Don't use plain cacao.  The Mexican chocolate has the necessary sugar and additional canela flavor.
Additional sugar and salt will be added at the very end of the process to fine tune the taste of this gastronomic symphony.


  1. Fry the chiles on both sides in 2 Tablespoons Canola oil until they begin to blister and change color. Remove the chiles and soak them in hot water for 15 minutes. Drain them and puree in a blender, adding water as needed. The puree should be very smooth.  If there are large, grainy particles, strain through a fine mesh sieve.  Set aside.
  2. Fry the tomatoes and tomatillos in the remaining oil.  
  3. Using 4 tablespoons of the oil, sauté the raisins until they are plump and change color. Remove the raisins, then saute the almonds, pumpkin seeds, tortillas, reserved chile seeds, and sesame seeds. Add more oil, as needed, to sauté the remaining ingredients.
  4. Dry-roast the onion and garlic in a comal or dry skillet over medium heat. Remove the garlic when the skin begins to brown. Remove and discard the skin. Keep turning the onion until it is soft and has black spots on all sides. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. In a small skillet, add enough oil to sauté the black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and anise seeds until fragrant over medium low heat. Remove from heat and set aside.
  6. Blend the dry-roasted vegetables, spices and fried ingredients in batches adding fresh water, as needed, to form a smooth puree. Again, if the particles are large and grainy, strain the puree through a fine mesh sieve.  Set aside.
  7. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry the chile puree, stirring frequently, until it changes color and you can see the bottom of the pan when scraped with a wooden spoon, about 8 minutes. Add the pureed vegetable and spice mixture. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir occasionally until the mole thickens, about 1 hour.
  8. Add approximately 2 cups of water or mild vegetable broth and continue cooking for 30 minutes. The mole should coat the back of a spoon. Add the chocolate pieces and continue cooking, about 10 minutes. Season alternating with salt and sugar.
  9. Serve the Mole poblano as the main ingredient on the plate with either tortillas, tamales blancos or tamales de frijol.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
  10. Note:  The mole will keep in the refrigerated for two weeks.  Frozen it will keep for about two months.AMhandsmoletamal.jpg

I'm serving it here with bean tamales, sprinkled with sesame seeds.  You can also enjoy it with freshly made hot corn tortillas.  
Different from the French "sauce" concept, Mexican mole is not an accompaniment for a meat.  Although it is often served with turkey breast, Mole is always the main character. 

Adapted from Chef Iliana De La Vega and the "Center for Foods of the Americas, Culinary Institute of America."

Horchata is a classic "agua fresca" and also a prime example of how people and food constantly evolve as they define their identity.  A delicious Mexican iced drink of almonds and rice essence, horchata was brought to our region and our people by the Spanish when they came as conquerors.  How did the Spanish learn to make horchata?Horchatasml.jpg  From the Arabs when the Arabs conquered them in Spain during the 8th-13th centuries and made this cool refreshing drink using the tuber, tiger nuts (chufas).  Since tiger nuts are not available in this region, rice and almonds were used and voila a new drink with ancient roots was born.

Every region, from Houston to San Antonio to Oaxaca, has Horchata variations.  Down in Oaxaca the drink is made with rice and almonds and served with a splash of prickly pear puree and cubes of cantaloupe.  Now that's nice!  The Oaxaca recipe follows below.

Here in the TexMex, region, just North and South of the Rio Grande River, the drink is straightforward, leaving out the almonds altogether and using just cinnamon as a seasoning.  The right blending of these ingredients with ice is brilliantly simple, simply brilliant.  Who needs all that other stuff in this heat!

TexMex Horchata
(NOTE: thanks to Melisa Guerra for documenting this and other TexMex recipes in her book, "Dishes From The Wild Horse Desert")
Ingredients  Makes 2 quarts
1/2 cup rice
2 quarts water
2 sticks Canela (Mexican cinammon)
1/2 to 1 cup sugar or to taste

1.  Bring the water, cinammon and rice to a simmer and cook until the rice is just barely tender, about 10-15 minutes
2. Remove the canela and process the rice and water in a blender until the mixture is completely smooth and there are no particles at all.  You may have to do this in small batches.
3.  Pour the mixture into a pitcher and add the sugar according to your taste.
4.  Chill thouroughly,  (at least two hours) and serve over ice. 
You are drinking a unique identity drink of the Arabs, the Spanish and Coahuila Tex-Mex,

Horchata Oaxaqueña (NOTE:  This recipe thanks to Chef Iliana De La Vega of the CIA who tirelessly documents and champions Mexican cuisines)

Ingredients Makes 2 quarts
3/4 Rice, rinsed in a colander
1 cup Almonds, blanched and peeled
1 stick Canela, Mexican cinammon
1 1/2 quart filtered water
3/4 cup simple syrup (you can use agave nectar instead, hmmmm!)
1 cup cubed cantaloupe
1/2 cup pecans pieces
3/4 cup prickly pear puree

1.  Soak the rice, almonds and canela in 3 cups of hot water overnight or for at least 6 hours.
2.  Process the mixture in a blender until completely smooth.
3.  Strain into a pitcher through a fine mesh sieve in order to remove any particles.
4.  Add the simple syrup or the agave nectar according to your taste and chill thoroughly
5.  To serve, place about 1 Tbspn cantaloupe, 1 tspn pecan pieces, and 1 Tbspn of the puree in a tall glass, add ice, then the horchata. Serve with long spoons for stirring.
This will take you to the Northern Sierra Madre mountains of Oaxaca!

Horchata picture credit: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike
Some rights reserved by K. Yasuhara

I thought of this topic after despairing of finding a cooked flour tortilla in local restaurants. Undercooked raw-dough flour tortillas are the staple of Houston TexMex restaurants. I don't think raw wheat flour is part of Tex-Mex cuisine but our restaurateurs obviously do. Certainly no Mexican-American household ever serves raw flour tortillas.
As shown in this Carne con Chile taco, I always fully cook my flour tortillas.

And this brings me to the point: "TexMex" cuisine invites debate and contestation. It has been reviled as a bastardized cuisine and also praised for holding together the identity of Texas natives. The label itself is contested since it describes a cuisine that existed even before Texas and Mexico were geopolitical jurisdictions.

The cuisine has ancient roots (500 BC) and is fully grounded in this cohesive region, terroir, just North and South of the Rio Grande. Over time the various peoples who came to this region had to cook with what was available and to learn cooking techniques from natives. They had to in order to survive. But they also added from their traditions, perhaps ingredients they had brought with them from wherever they emigrated.

I would describe TexMex cuisine as an ancient stalwart tree taking its flavor profile primarily from the land, from all that goes into the "terroir." As it grows over time, various peoples and cultures graft themselves onto it, defining themselves by it, finding nourishment and strength. It is an evolving cuisine certainly with faulty commercialized spots, but with celebratory tones that define our culture.
So in a sense it is natural that TexMex be contested because it represents us, a community in the making. In touch with and exploring our roots but unafraid of changing and adding.

All this said, I'll continue to be riled at not finding a COOKED FLOUR TORTILLA!
¡Ay Dios Mío!

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.

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!

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.

I plan to depart from tradition today as I toast to Bishop St. Patrick and Catholicism. I'm toasting with champagne. Ghastly? Well add a drop or 2 or 3 of Irish Mist liqueur to the bottom of the glass. Taste of clover, heather and herbs.
mark-twain-mustache.jpgI'm with Mark Twain who lambasted the Catholic church in his early years but later was more accepting and understanding yet cool. I like Mark Twain because he is said to have once proclaimed, "Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right."

Kudos to Houston writer/historian Robb Walsh!
I am elated that Houston's soon-to-be-opened Tex-Mex restaurant at the old Tower Theatre, El Real, has Walsh as a partner.TowerElRealwb.jpg He is a lover of Tex-Mex food and has done a big service to this regional cuisine by researching and documenting its evolution from ca.1700's. Kudos to him!! Especially since he's had the temerity to kindly and respectfully critique writers like Diana Kennedy who make Mexico the source and the frame of reference for Tex-Mex.

With a new group of historians like David La Vere (Texas Indians, 2004) it's time now to look at the older, deeper roots of Tex-Mex. Walsh alludes to this need in his introduction to his Tex-Mex Cookbook , "Culinary folklorists now trace Tex-Mex cooking all the way back to the state's Native American peoples...."

We've been looking at Tex-Mex through a young lens that starts with Mexico and Texas, it's a European lens. That gives us a good view, but it's a partial view. It's partial because what we now separate as Southern Texas and Northern Mexico used to be one cohesive, well-traveled and communicated region.

Some scholars have called it the Coahuiltecan region. Perhaps authors of the 1970's would have been better served to forgoe the easy word "Tex-Mex" and choose a more accurate and descriptive one, Coahuiltecan cuisine.*
It is the Coahuiltecan region that gives rise to the cuisine that we now call Tex-Mex. It's flavor profile is characterized by chiles, open fire cooking, stews, small game, corn, beans, fish, shellfish, nopales and eventually wheat flour, milk products and pork.

Its palette derives from the southern and coastal Texas Indians.These Texas Indians eventually became the Mexican peasant class, the Mission Indians and so forth, but they (we) retained and evolved our identity through our food (all cultural identity is evolved and hybridized). Over time, with the birth of these two (Tex,Mex) republics, Texas Indians found themselves separated from their kin. The border crossed them, separated them -- they did not cross the border.

These early Texas Indians are the roots of what we now call Tex-Mex cuisine.
So again, Kudos to Walsh and to the effort that he started to get to a fuller history of our delicious and authentic Tex-Mex, Coahuiltecan, food. I can't wait to taste the food at El Real.

* 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 defined 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.

With André Amaral, Raul Gonzalez and Edú Portillo I'm presenting these three Mexican candies today, 2-5, at ARC Gallery, Winter Street Studios, Houston, "The Candy Shop." threecandiessml.jpgThese 3 Mexican Candies exemplify aspects of the 500-year-encounter between European and Latin American cuisines. Starting at the left and going clockwise they are: Dulce de Camote, Dulce de Leche Quemada and Mazapán.

They are part of the gallery exhibition wherein the paintings and sculptures by my artist colleagues explore nostalgia, community, identiy, pleasure and other aspects of the human eating experience.

Mazapán is native to Latin America

Last night I made this Mexican candy, mazapán, which will be shown and eaten at the upcoming "The Candy Shop." A cousin of marzipan (made with almonds and sugar) which originates in Asia and/or the Middle East, mazapán is distinctly Mexican in that it replaces the almonds with peanuts which are of Latin American origin and adds corn starch which is of course native to Mexico. To maintain the "cacahuate" flavor, it is not cooked.
Adapting, changing and creating something new is a constant in cooking, as it is with culture in general. Making candy is a way of re-making our identity, staying current while deeply rooted.

During my school days at the CIA we had an all too brief discussion about what is Tex-Mex cuisine. My view is to start with the peoples who were first settlers in the region that is generally recognized as the font of Tex-Mex cuisine: central, southwestern and southern Texas. The first settlers arrived in Texas, according to David La Vere, 12,000 years ago. Over time the geographic region around San Antonio, Texas and about 150 miles south of the Rio Grande River became the Coahuilteca region: a communicative place where variouis peoples traded, married, communicated, harvested food and developed a relatively homogenous cuisine. That cuisine is the origin of what we now call Tex-Mex. Some of the elements in this cuisine are pecans, mesquite beans, cactus paddles, prickly pears, river fish, some wild game, beans and corn.
Over time the characteristics of this regional Coahuiltecan cuisine came to be ascribed incorrectly to Texas and Mexico: Tex-Mex. Although it is true that the Coahuiltecan region includes southern Texas and Mexico (northeastern Coahuila, and much of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas), it's orgins pre-date both Texas and Mexico. Yes, before there was Texas, before there was Mexico, there was this region of Coahuiltecan peoples.RioGrandRvrB.gif
Looking at the cuisine in this way gives us a more authentic tracing of the flavors, a more appreciative use of the charring and roasting techniques and a better use of local products. This because ours is a native and cohesive cuisine, not a hyphenated one. So I ask my Tex-Mex chef friends, "what do you think?"


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