Recently in TexMex Category

In Texas gaucamole is omnipresent.  There are as many recipes as there are bragging-prone machos. avocadosdark.jpg I myself not being one to brag,, Ahem.., my recipe is based on 3 simple rules.
1.    Purchase them Green and Hard. 
Rodolfo Fernandez is the top Avocado expert in our region.  For many years he provided the best-tasting avocados to Mexican restaurants throughout San Antonio.  I follow his advice.  At the produce section, purchase Haas aguacates while they are still green and very firm. Store them in a bag, plastic or paper, and wait two days, maybe three, at which time they'll begin to ripen and soften.  It is then that they are at their peak of flavor. There is no substitute for this direct, natural taste.  You'll say, wow.
2.  No Masks.
The fresh, full flavor of the avocado takes nicely to complementary seasonings and accompaniments but be judicious. At all costs do not mask the texture or flavor of the aguacate.
3.  Use a Molcajete. 
In the recipe below I explain how the foundational flavor is developed in a molcajete.

Avocado is aguacate in Spanish and aguacate is derived from the original Nahuatl name, "Ahucacahuitl."
The name appears in early writings, MesoAmerican hieroglyphs, documenting that the Avocado is native to Puebla, Mexico.  Here is an original glyph of anglyphaguactown.jpg avocado tree linked to the place where the tree originates, the town of "Ahuacatlán." (1)  The earliest remains of avocado consumption, 8,000-7,000 BCE, have been found in a cave in what is currently Coxcatlán in the state of Puebla, Mexico.  From there the little lush fruit travelled and developed.  There are three botanical types of avocados, Mexican, Guatemalan and Antillean. mapmexavocado.jpgThis map (2) lists where the origins of each of the types may have developed. Notice that the Mexican avocado is within the current TexMex area.
So enjoy this recipe knowing, again, that for millenia our land has nurtured us with delicious fruits and wonderful cooks.  Hmmmmm!

Recipe: serves 6 -- thanks to Chef Roberto Santibañez whom I met in San Antonio and on whose book this is based. 

2 Haas avocados
1/2 Tbsp Green Serrano chile, sliced
1/2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 tspn white onion, small dice
1 tspn salt
1/4 cup tomato, small dice
2 Tbsp white onion, small dice
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

1.  Using a molcajete, make a fine paste of the onion, chile, cilantro and salt.
Here molchileverdesml.jpgis wheremolchilehandsml.jpg I mentioned that you can develop the flavor direction that your guacamole will take.  You may add other seasonings to the molcajete, but keep in mind that you are following many years of tradition.  Make sure your variations are culturally relevant, enticing to the palette, and not just vacuously trendy.
2.  Dice the avocado and add to the molcajete, scraping and folding to make sure the avocado is covered with the seasonings. 
3.  Add the remaining tomato, cilantro and onion.
4.  Serve immediately with crispy corn tortilla chips.

Guacamole con Frutas (3)  Serves 6 
2 Haas avocadosavocadograpsml.jpg
3/4 cup fresh mango, small cubes
10 red seedles grapes, halved
10 green seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 Tbsp Green Serrano chile, sliced.  Note:  I like to add more chile than this because I love the sweet fruit taste with the serrano flavor.  But start with this amount and then see if you want to increase the serrano flavor.
1/4 cup tomato, small dice
1 tspn salt

1.  Make the molcajete paste as above, of course there is no cilantro.
2. After combining the avocados with the molcajete paste, fold in the fruits. 
3.  Adjust the salt. Garnish with additional pomegranate and serve with crispy corn tortilla chips.

Buen provecho, TexMex!

(1) HISTORIA DEL AGUACATE EN MÉXICO, Salvador Sánchez Colín, Pedro Mijares Oviedo, Luis López-López, Alejandro F. Barrientos-Priego.

(2) HISTORIA DEL AGUACATE EN MÉXICO, Salvador Sánchez Colín, Pedro Mijares Oviedo, Luis López-López, Alejandro F. Barrientos-Priego.

(3) Printed in Classic Cuisines of Mexico by Chef Iliana De La Vega, Culinary Institute of America, adapted from Roberto Santibañez and he from Diana Kennedy and María Dolores Torres-Izabal.
Direct, uncomplicated, profuse flavor. I think oftentimes we miss so much by complicating our everyday, wasting time with artifice.  Just look at the beauty of what's around, get real and go with it!
GreenChilesml.jpgWe roast Anaheim chiles then eat them with hot yellow corn tortilla and salt.  There's not a single gourmand who can resist crooning with joy upon biting into this

Recipe?  What recipe? Roast the chiles, add salt and eat them with a yellow corn tortilla!
haha, just kidding.

1. On a comal or cast iron griddle roast the chiles  as shown above until most of the surface is charred. You can use a broiler or an open fire but I find that the extended time that it takes to char on the griddle is just right for cooking the inside of the chile.  There's still texture but it's not firm at all. You don't want to bite into a raw, firm chile.  Let's not get lost in the crudité 80's again!
2. Place them in a paper bag and close tightly so that the steam helps release the skin.
3.  When cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and remove the seeds.
1. In a shallow bowl filled with water, immerse the corn tortillas for about 30 seconds. I assume you have bought a package of yellow corn tortillas. (In a later post we'll be making corn tortillas from masa.)
2. Heat a clean comal or griddle on high until it is quite hot, to the point that if you sprinkle droplets of water they dance on the surface.
3.  Place the re-hydrated tortillas on the griddle and cook for about 10-15 seconds.  The tortillas should char just a little bit but you don't want them to burn.  Turn over with a spatula.
4.  Place strips, rajas, of the chiles on one half of the tortilla, sprinkle with salt, and fold in half. Heat for about 15 seconds, turn it over and heat the other half of the tortilla. This roasts the tortilla and also reheats the chile nicely.

Serve immediately, while they are aromatic and steamy.
Ok, so it is also delicious with cheese.  I recommend two cheeses, good melting Asadero and more delicately flavored Panela.  Both I think are readily available in most grocery stores of the US. I wouldn't use longhorn or cheddar.  Too loud.

Add the cheese after sprinkling the salt on the rajas as indicated above, then fold the tortilla and proceed, also as above. Both cheeses will melt well, but differently.
Here is the Asadero cheese.  It melts completely and is a bit more present in flavor than the panela but still very nice and gentle. Remember that we want to taste the shades of flavor of the chile itself.
anaheimcheesml.jpgAnd below is the Panela cheese.  It's a very different taste and texture.  Cut into small dice, it will melt slightly as you can see.   Oh, my goodness.....toothsome.  Do let me know how you like these.
For Fall socials, this elegant and earthy local canapé will please friends.  The trout is aromatic and complex.  The flavored butter gives a perfect velvety mouth feel companion to the oils and flavor of the fish.
smokedtroutcanapesml.jpgAfter brining and drying the trout, place the fish in a smoker with plenty of space between the pieces so that the smoke can waft about evenly.  Use Pecan wood at 2000F and smoke it for 3 to 4 hours.  The fish must reach an internal temperature of 1500F.  Remove the fish from the heat and cool it down completely, removing all bones and skin.  It will keep refrigerated for several days.  Or you can freeze it for weeks.

Slice the fish into small strips.  Place atop horseradish-buttered rye toast rounds garnished with sliced green olives stuffed with pimiento.  The brininess of the olives is great with this.

Horseradish Butter:

1 stick, 4 ounces, softened unsalted butter
1Tbsp prepared horseradish
3/4 tsp prepared mustard
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp sugar
1/4  tsp fresh lemon juice
After squeezing out excess liquid from the horseradish, blend all the ingredients together well.  The butter can be held, covered tightly, in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the canapés.  Soften the butter a bit after taking it out of the fridge so it will spread easily.

I suggest enjoying it with a crisp dry Riesling.

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.

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!"


Ensalada de Bodas has the beautiful flavor and aroma of Serrano (probably my favorite chile flavor) enveloping the tang of cabbage and radishes.  Surprised that the vinaigrette has rice vinegar? ensaladabodsml3.jpg
Think about the Asian influence in that region.  The salad is from the Baja California and Sonora states in the Northwestern region of Mexico.  The map below shows the two states.  I've adapted, slightly, this recipe which is included in the Chef Iliana De La Vega Mexican regional cuisines course at the Culinary Institute of America.  I love the salad.
Recipe: (makes 6 cups of salad)
6 cups white cabbage, very thinly sliced and thoroughly rinsed
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
2 large Chiles Serranos, thinly sliced
For the Vinaigrette:
1 garlic clove
4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Rice vinegar
1 Tbsp Apple Cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt or to taste

1.  In a bowl, cover the sliced cabbage with warm salted water and let it stand for about 20 minutes or so until it begins to become translucent.  Drain well. Reserve.
2. Mash the garlic into a paste using a garlic press and mix it with the oil, vinegars and salt.
3. Combine the cabbage, sliced radishes and sliced Serrano chiles and add the vinaigrette, tossing to coat thoroughly.
Serve at room temperature.  Let me know how this recipe turns out for you.

See how close to US California are the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora.
Map Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

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.

Together, properly cooked beans and rice are a delicious meal. Together they're also complete, nutritious protein. The recipes below rely on basic, straightforward technique. It's the way families have been cooking them at home for generations. 

Just remember 3 things: Ricesml.jpg

1) Heat develops the flavor. Pay close attention to your fire.

2) No fat. Well, ok you do actually add fat, but very little, to boost the heat. The fat also adds a nice smoothing, mellow mouth feel.  But be judicious and don't hide subtle flavors with fat.

3) Easy on the seasonings.  They are there to enhance, not dominate the flavor.

The rice is fluffy. It has a full taste with just a bit of color from tomatoes, a slight undercurrent of cumin and, most importantly, no heavy fat taste to hide the flavor.  The beans cooked as in the recipe below will have a rich, robust umami taste.

Rice Recipe

(serves 4) 


1 Cup long grain rice

Optional 1 Tbsp Canola oil

2 cups water

1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp black peppercorns

1/2 tsp salt

1 garlic clove

1 small tomato, diced and crushed


1.  In a molcajete make a paste of the cumin, black peppercorns, salt and garlic.

2.  In a deep skillet (add the oil if you like to) cook the rice over medium heat until it begins to take on some color.

3.  Add some of the water to the molcajete to remove all the ingredients and pour into the rice, being careful with the splatter.  Add the crushed tomato and its juice.

4.  Bring the water to a boil, cover and lower the heat to very low.

5.  Cook, covered, for 15 minutes or so until the rice is fully cooked. Try not to remove the cover more than once as you check for doneness.

The rice will be tender, fluffy and gently aromatic of cumin and pepper. 




Beans Recipe (makes 6 cups of beans and broth)


3 cups pinto beans, picked over to remove debris then washed

6 cups water

1/8 peeled white onion

1 peeled garlic clove

1/2 Tbs salt


1.  Nothing to cooking the beans, really.  Just place all the ingredients except the salt in a crockpot and cook for 6 hours or so until they are completely tender. I do this at night and go to sleep. If you want a foolproof method of testing for doneness, hold a couple of the beans in the palm of  your hand and blow on them. If the skin peels off a bit, they're done just right. Thanks to my mother and sisters who kept showing me this. Add the salt and adjust accordingly.

2.  To make "Frijoles Refritos," place the amount of beans you want to cook in a skillet with an equal amount of water and bring to the boiling point.  Turn the heat down and cook on a medium simmer. I cringe at translating the name as "refried beans" because it induces non-spanish speakers to misunderstand and go for heavy fat frying. Eating overly greasy beans is not in our tradition. In a later post  we'll discuss when and how it was that high fat entered Mexican restaurant food in Texas.

3. Here's the flavor: Mash the beans with a masher and as you do so notice that the heat at the bottom of the skillet is browning the bean paste. This is the Maillard reaction, a complex change in the molecular structure of the protein in the beans that happens around 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  beanscrapesml.jpgKeep scraping the bottom of the skillet and brown the beans slowly.  Add a little more water if it becomes dry. The color will deepen and the flavor will become rich, hinting of bacon or beef.  The addition of oil to the skillet helps to increase the heat and the browning but you don't need it for flavor.  I don't use any at all, but you can add one Tablespoon of Canola oil if you like.  Keep browning the beans in this way slowly for about 20 minutes. Don't burn them. 

The taste will have depth.

Restaurants usually don't serve beans with such developed and sumptuous flavor because it''s easier (and doesn't require staff training)  to just purée them in a blender and serve. Some fast food places will add some bacon in the cooking for strong flavor.  I can understand having to make those decisions, but to me,  these obvious fixes seem heavy-handed and the outcome is nothing at all like the real thing.  I've worked at restaurants where I've shared this simple technique of cooking beans and it is not at all difficult for the staff.  Radical Eats, one of the restaurants where I worked, now uses this technique for their delicious beans.  It would be both more healthy and more delicious if more Mexican food restaurants served less fat and more bean flavor.

Let me know what you think. 

¡Buen provecho / Bon Appétit!


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!

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.

As appetizers, Summer watermelons can become formal for a dressed-up party.  Here I place them on a thin Jicama wafer.   watermeloncanape.jpgThe filling is spicy guacamole with grapes. A sliver of fried Yucca finishes the canapé with a starchy crunch.   I came across the idea for guacamole with grapes while helping Chef Iliana De La Vega as she taught a course on Mexican Cuisines. She attributes her recipe, "Guacamole con Frutas" to Chef Roberto Santibañez of Rosa Mexicano fame.




1.  Peel the Jicama and slice it into very thin wafers using a mandolin.

2.  Cut the wafers into circles using a 2" fluted cutter. Set aside, keep chilled and covered with a damp cloth.


1. Peel one yucca root and, using a mandolin, make very thin wafers.

2. Cut wafers into strips 1/2" wide and 3" long.

3.  Deep fry in 360 F canola oil until golden.  This will be a few seconds.

4.  Remove from the fryer, place on a wire rack and salt evenly.


3.  Peel a seedless watermelon and cut into  3/4" slices.

4. Using a fluted cutter just slightly smaller than the one used for the jicama, make watermelon rounds.

5.  In each round, scoop out some of the center,  making a smalll  hole that does not cut all the way through.

6.  Set these aside and keep them chilled.


avocadograpes.jpgAVOCADO WITH GRAPES:

1.  In a molcajete,  place 1/2 sliced chile serrano and 1/2 tspn salt.  Grind into a smooth paste.

2.  Add the avocado, sliced into small cubes as shown, and blend thoroughly

3.  Add the grapes and blend again.

  To assemble the canapés, simply spoon the guacamole into each watermelon round, place on the jicama wafer and top with the sliver of fried Yucca. 

Serve immediately and celebrate the TexMex summer!

Thanks for the high interest in these classic TexMex
recipes!  Its heartwarming.

 So this morning I made "Huevos con Chile Verde."   IMG_1820.jpgThe dish uses the combination technique of partially frying (gives form to the eggs) and then poaching in a chile broth (renders the eggs moist and exquisitely flavorful).  It's amazing how such a simple, straightforward combination of ingredients makes for such a complex, bright dish.

My brother, Jimmy, taught me how to make these eggs.  He was very attentive when our mom, Dominga Mora Medrano, cooked them and so learned all the nuances and techniques. I'm so glad he's my brother!!


Recipe (serves 4)


3 Serrano chiles sliced

1/2 tspn salt

1 Tbsp Canola oil

3 eggs

1/2 cup water



      1.  In a molcajete grind the chile and salt into a paste, then add to the water and mix thoroughly.

      2.  Beat the eggs slightly in a bowl.

      3.  In a skillet add the Canola oil and then the eggs. Cook them on very low heat, stirring, until they just begin to set

      4. When the eggs are beginning to set, add the chile broth.

5.      5.  Bring to a boil and cook until most of the water has evaporated, stirring from time to time.  The rule is: SCC (small, creamy curds).

6.     Serve immediately. 

I most often serve these zesty, delicious breakfast eggs with refried beans and flour tortillas.

These breakfast eggs are immersed in fresh Serrano chiles and tomatoes.  My brother, Jimmy, taught me how to make these.  He is a master artist in the kitchen.  He learned the recipe from our mom, Dominga Mora Medrano,  who would make these on weekends.  The dish relies on a technique that involves a combination of par-frying and poaching.  eggschileserrano.jpgThis gives eggs a quick solid form and also a tender texture.

Recipe, serves 4


½ cup white onion, thinly sliced

3 Serrano chiles, thinly sliced

1 ½ cups tomatoes, finely diced

½ tspn salt

1 Tbsp Canola oil

2 cups water

4 eggs

additional oil as need for frying the egss



1.     In a large deep skillet, sauté the onions in the Canola oil until translucent

2.     Add the diced tomatoes and continue cooking on low heat

3.     Place the chile and salt in a molcajete (or blender or mortar & pestle) and grind to a paste.

4.     Add the chile/salt paste and the water  to the onions and tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  The flavors develop quickly into a delicious sauce.  Keep the sauce at a simmer and do not boil

5.     In a nonstick frying pan add just enough oil to cover the bottom. 

6.     Add each egg, one by one, and fry just to the point where the bottom of the egg white is firm.  Then slide the egg into the chile and tomato sauce.  The acid in the tomatos will react with the protein to keep the egg white from toughening and cooking too fast.  The eggs will remain tender and moist.

7.     When all the eggs are immersed in the sauce, gently spoon some of the sauce over the egg yolks to cook them.  Keep the sauce at a very slight simmer and cook until the eggs are done to your liking. 

I serve the eggs with flour tortillas.  !Buen Provecho!

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!

Dulce de Leche Quemada

This morning I made this new recipe for Dulce de Leche Quemada.

I used pecans because they are native to Texas and Northern Mexico so it makes the burnt (quemada) milk and sugar candy more Tejano. You'll see that as the liquid mixture temperature rises slowly to F 234°, a series of complex molecular changes transforms the liquid into a burnt color, solid candy. Hmmmmmm!

These changes are now called the Maillard reaction, interactions of amino acids(milk) with sugars/carbohydrates that produce varied colors and flavors. This is different from caramalization.

Although chemist Louis-Camille Maillard named this process in 1910 for the European scientific community, we were using the technique long before that.

The Aztecs in central Mexico used browning of proteins as a cooking technique, as did the Atakapans,in East Texas.

I think this is the recipe that I will use for the art show, "The Candy Shop." (1)

1 qt. whole milk
1/2 qt. sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract
1/8 tspn baking soda
3/4 cup pecans
simmer slowly, low, for 2- 3 hours until it reaches F 234°

(1) The collaborative art exhibit, "The Candy Shop" featured three visual artists and one chef presenting candy as edible sculpture. The notes: "Eating candy is an artful experience, both visual and flavorful. When biting into Latin American candy the moment is imbued with a long history of cultural encounter between Latin American and European cuisines. I've chosen to cook Mexican candies that demonstrate aspects of that encounter. Over 500 years ago when chocolate, squash, chiles and other food products were first transported from Latin America to Europe, they were consumed dislocated from their native culinary history and people. Not so true today when the manufacture, packaging, advertising and transporting of Latin American candies happen in a globalized and visual media environment. Enjoyment is at the basis and it is personal, since eating candy can also recall memories, foster belonging and preserve identity. Artful eating is important because we become what we eat.
Chef Adan M. Medrano"

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