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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!

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.

Tonight's dinner is a delicious family favorite, Fideo. I grew up with this flavorful coiled vermicelli stewed with tomatoes, onions and garlic.
2 roma tomatoes, diced (or 4 oz canned tomato sauce--Hunts!)
small white onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
8 black peppercorns
1/8 tspn or slightly less cumin
1/2 lb fideo( coiled vermicelli), broken a bit (ok, in my picture tonight I used homemade pasta I had leftover from the night before, but vermicelli, fideo, is the traditional dish)
5 cups water
2 Tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
4 eggs


in a large saute pan heat the oil and saute the onion until translucent.
In a separate skillet toast the vermicelli slightly in a bit of oil.
In a molcajete mash the black pepper, garlic and the cumin into a fine paste. Use any mortar and pestle or small food processor if you don't have a molcajete.
Add a few tablespoons of water to the paste and then pour it into the onions.
Add the tomatoes or tomato sauce and the rest of the water and bring to a boil.
Add the toasted vermicelli and cook uncovered until done and the broth is reduced.
Hard boil the eggs, slice them and place them atop the cooked fideo. I grew up with the eggs being optional, but some families include the eggs religiously.

¡Buen provecho y acuérdate de tu familia!

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.

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