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« MANSAF: THE PRIDE OF JORDANIAN CUISINE by Habeeb Salloum | Main | No longer accepting comments »

May 09, 2006



                                             by Habeeb Salloum
    From the border of Mexico to the Arctic Circle 'Let's go and have a fajita' is now almost as common among the teenage crowd as 'let's go for a hamburger' .  The words of a traveller who wrote, "Mexican food excites the passion, seduces the body, then sends one into ecstasy" are now becoming a reality in North America. 
    Mexican dishes, complex, delicious and rich, still rest firmly on their Aztec and Maya origins - once one of the most varied and exotic cuisines on the globe. The cooking of that country, one of the oldest in the world whose history goes back some 5000 years, is spreading like wild fire from the northern borders of Mexico to the Arctic Circle. Besides fajitas, empanades, enchiladas, tacos, tamales, toastadas and tortillas, are now to be found throughout the Americas.
    It is said that Montezuma, the last Aztec ruler, selected his daily meals from some 300 exotically prepared foods and, no doubt, from among these were a good number of vegetarian dishes.  In fact, the central core of the indigenous kitchen included, besides chillies and tomatoes, corn, beans and squash - called by some food writers `the holy threesome'.  Even though, in our times, most Mexican foods are served with meat, there are numerous delightful vegetable dishes in that country, with roots that go back to pre-Columbian times.  Some still carry their Indian names like mole, a series of well-known sauces , deriving their name from the Aztec molli.


     When the Conquistadors landed in the New World, they brought along their foods like almonds, chickpeas, olives and rice, along with their tasty dishes, much of which was inherited from Spain's Moorish past.  In the subsequent centuries, these were combined with the victuals of the Aztec and Mayas and, later on, inter-fused with the cuisines of a large European immigrant population to produce an exciting and sophisticated Mexican kitchen.
    In the main, what made this scrumptious and colourful cuisine possible were the numerous edible plants, cultivated by the Americas' indigenous peoples, which were unknown to the pre- Columbus European.  At least 61 varieties of peppers from the fiery hot to the very sweet, all species of pumpkins and squash, allspice, avocados, blackberries, blueberries, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, cocoa, corn, guava, papaya, peanuts, pecans, pineapples, potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, vanilla, and all types of beans except broad beans were some of the new foods Cortez found when he set foot in Mexico. 
    As the years rolled by, these were not only to form the basis of the Mexican cuisine, but to enrich the tables of the world.  One can imagine how poor our kitchens would be without avocados, beans, corn, peanuts, peppers, pineapples, potatoes, tomatoes or the innumerable products of cocoa.  Most of these edibles are now on the daily menu of every country in the world, forming the heart of many gourmet vegetarian dishes. 
    The following few recipes, utilizing, in the main, these vegetables first grown in the Americas, will give one an insight into how much Mexico has contributed to the kitchens of the world:

Salsa Mexicana - Mexican Salsa
Serves as a side dish about 8

    A whole series of salsas are served with most Mexican sumptuous feasts.  A few are somewhat mild, but the vast majority are fiery hot.  This version is the mild category and can be served with all types of entrées.

2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1 medium sweet red pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium hot pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
4 tablespoons chopped green olives
1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Thoroughly combine all ingredients, then serve.



Guacamole - Avocado Dip
Serves as a side dish for about 8

Versions of this dish predate New World history.  Guacamole is believed to have been first eaten by the Mayans.

2 medium sized avocados
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 medium sized tomatoes, finely chopped
4 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
l/8  teaspoon cayenne

    Pit and peel avocados, then, in a-mixing bowl, mash with lemon juice. (Reserve one pit.) Stir in remaining ingredients then place on a serving platter.  Bury the reserved pit in the middle, then refrigerate until time to serve.

    Note: To remove the pit from the avocado, cut lengthwise all around, then gently lift with the knife one half of the avocado to expose the pit, which then can be easily removed.

Sopa de Frijoles - Bean Soup
Serves about 8

    Beans have been one of the mainstays of the Mexican kitchen since the earliest of the indigenous civilizations, remaining as a preferred food on the daily menu until our times.  Mexicans feel that no meal is complete without beans.

1 1/2 cups kidney beans, soaked overnight and drained
10 cups water 1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium hot pepper, finely chopped
6 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon pepper

    Place beans and water in a pot, then bring to boil.  Cover, then cook over medium heat for 1 hour.  Add remaining ingredients, then re-cover and cook for another hour or until beans are very soft, adding more water if necessary.
    Allow to cool, then purée.  Return to pot and re-heat, adding water to the desired consistency.

Gazpacho de Aguacate - Avocado Cold Soup
Serves 6

    The Aztecs believed that the avocado had aphrodisiac qualities. They named it ahacatl, meaning green testicle because they believed that it not only resembled a testicle but aroused sexual passion as well.

3 medium sized tomatoes, chopped
1 medium sized cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 large sweet pepper, chopped
1 small hot pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 large avocado, peeled and finely chopped, then mixed with 4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

    Place all ingredients, except avocado and coriander leaves, in a blender and blend until vegetables liquify.  Transfer to a serving bowl, then stir in avocado.  Refrigerate for 1 hour, then decorate with coriander leaves and serve. 

Ensalada Pimentos - Red Pepper Salad
Serves from 4 to 6

    Besides tomatoes, the sweet pepper is perhaps one of Mexico's greatest contributions, to the foods of the world.  In addition, the red variety, like tomatoes, is an unequalled decoration vegetable.    

3 large sweet peppers
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

    Roast peppers in the oven until skin is somewhat blistered and blackened. Place in cold water for a minute, then peel and remove seeds.  Slice into strips, then place on a serving platter.
    Combine remaining ingredients then spoon evenly over pepper slices. Allow to stand for a few hours before serving.


Ensalada de Escarola y Tomate y Aguacate - Avocado and Tomato/Endive Salad
Serves about 8

    Avocados are soft as butter when ripe and high in fat content.  However, their fat is easily digestible and this vegetable is free from cholesterol.  In addition, it has a high carbohydrate and protein content, making it an extremely nutritious eatable. Some have called it God's masterpiece in the world of fruit and vegetables while others have described it as a symphony of delights.

2 firm medium avocados, peeled, pitted and diced into 1/4 inch cubes
1 small bunch endives, washed and chopped
2 medium tomatoes, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cup finely chopped green onions
4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

    Place avocados, endives, tomatoes, onions and parsley in a salad bowl, then set aside. Thoroughly combine the remaining ingredients in a small howl.  Pour over vegetables, then toss just before serving.

Esquites - Corn and Coriander Stew
Serves 6 to 8

    For the indigenous peoples of the Americas, corn was the food of the gods - the nucleus of religious ritual and daily life.  The Aztecs and Mayas believed that corn was invented by the great god Quelzalcoatl and thereafter the gods moulded humans from this cereal. Today, even though corn is not the central core of religious belief, it remains, via the tortilla and other corn dishes, the Mexican staff of life.

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium onions, chopped 1 hot pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
4 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with
2 cups water 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

    Heat oil in a saucepan, then sauté onions over medium heat for 8 minutes.  Add hot pepper, garlic and coriander leaves, then sauté for a further few minutes or until onions turn light brown.  Stir in remaining ingredients, except parsley then bring to boil.  Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes or until corn turns tender, adding more water if necessary. 
    Place on a platter then decorate with parsley.  Serve with cooked rice.

Papas Arlequinescas - Potatoes and Spinach
Serves from 6 to 8

    Potatoes originated in South America but it is believed to have come to Europe by way of Mexico.

4 large potatoes, peeled, then cut as for French fries
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons shredded fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne 1/2 cup water
1 10 oz pkg spinach, thoroughly washed and chopped

    In a saucepan stir-fry potatoes until they barely begin to brown.  Add remaining ingredients then stir. Cover, then cook over medium/low heat for 25 minutes or until potatoes are well cooked.  Serve hot or cold.

Hongos Mexicana - Mexican Mushrooms
Serves about 6

    Hongos is the Mexican name for wild mushrooms that grow in abundance throughout the country.  Cultivated mushrooms are usually called champiñones.

4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs mushrooms, thickly sliced, then thoroughly washed
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper cayenne to taste

    Sauté garlic in oil over medium heat for 2 minutes then stir in remaining ingredients.  Sauté until mushrooms are done, but not over cooked.  Serve hot with juice.

    Note: It is important not to use too much cayenne in order not to overwhelm the mushroom flavour.

Acelgas Con Papas y Garbanzos - Swiss Chard With Potatoes and Chickpeas Serves about 8

    Even though acelgas usually means Swiss chard, it could also mean the greens of vegetables like those of mustard, turnips and beets. 

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium hot pepper, finely chopped
4 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt 3/4 teaspoon pepper
1 lb Swiss chard, washed, chopped, then cooked for 10 minutes and drained
2 cups cooked potatoes, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups cooked chickpeas

    Heat oil in a saucepan, then stir-fry over medium heat onions, garlic and hot pepper for 10 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, coriander leaves, salt and pepper, then cook until sauce begins to thicken, stirring once in a while.  Add remaining ingredients, then stir-fry for 3 minutes.  Serve hot or cold.

Calabaza Enmielada -  Sweet Squash Dessert
Serves 6 to 8
When hot out of the oven, this dish is excellent for breakfast.

2 lbs peeled banana squash or similar squash, cut into large pieces
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

    Place squash pieces in the casserole, then spoon the water over them. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves then spread over squash.  Cover, then bake in a 350F oven for 1 hour or until squash turns tender, adding more water if more syrup is desired.  Serve hot with its syrup.


Serving suggestion for guacamole


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What an interesting post. Thanks!



I asked the question for you on the food forum related to this blog

And the answer is no. There isn't even a Spanish langauge compilation of it, let alone English.

You might want to join the forum.

I heard somewhere that Mexico has an extensive vegetarian cuisine developed during the colonial period for the Lenten season. Have the recipes for this season been compiled anywhere (in English)?

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