I love homemade tostadas smeared with refried beans and sprinkled with diced onion. And everybody loves churros, long cylinders of hot crispy dough fresh out of the fryer, covered with cinnamon sugar and served in a paper bag. Eating Mexican street food is like having a state fair going on year round, and just like at the state fair back home, the best vendors always have the longest lines.
I grew up in the rural North Carolina. We had a huge garden, enough to go a long way towards feeding our family’s nine hungry mouths year round. My husband and I want to do the same here in Mexico and we can’t wait to start canning our own food like my mother did. Like dill pickles. I miss pickles, crunchy little gherkins, popping with dill and garlic. Sigh. Oh, sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah, southern cooking.
Naturally, my cooking repertoire includes a lot of Southern classics like crispy buttermilk fried chicken, fluffy biscuits, potato salad, deviled eggs, pecan pie and coconut cake, all of which turn out perfectly here, but hubby and I are serious foodies. We are both bemused by the fact that it surprises people sometimes that not only that he is a great cook in his own right, but that some of his very favorite dishes are not even Mexican. “People who live in the states don’t eat only American food,” he says, “so why would people in Mexico eat only Mexican food? Not all great food in Mexico is Mexican.
Lots of our favorite dishes are neither American nor Mexican, and just as at home on either table. My hot and spicy Catfish Soup plays very well here in Mexico, except I use a different firm white fish. Lamb in pomegranate sauce needs only minor substitutions, and pistachio crusted stuffed pork loin comes out just as flavorful with Mexican stone fruits. Adjustments are needed for cream sauces because dairy products are different, but my pasta in cream sauce with honey garlic chicken tastes the same as it did with American ingredients.
Mexico has fabulous fresh fruits and vegetables, and the farmer’s markets (mercados) have rows and rows of farmer vendors selling the best of the local harvest, just like back in my agricultural state of North Carolina. Some ingredients are hard to get here, and some are impossible to find, like Russet potatoes and butternut squash. I did hear a rumor that those two items can be found in some parts of Mexico, so if you have them where you are in Mexico, consider yourself lucky. (…and send me some!)
With a little creativity and a few simple substitutions, you can replicate almost any dish from any cuisine, while embracing the wonderful flavors of Mexico. And when it comes to baking, Mexico has some of the best vanilla and chocolate in the world, and as the original source of “Key” limes, Mexican “Key lime pie” is a piece of cake, so to speak.
Even though we prepare meals from all over the world, our comfort foods are rooted in our childhoods. He grew up in rural Mexico and his comfort foods are similar to mine, beans, and cornbread. Well, tortillas in his case. One southern favorite that I’ve adapted with Mexican ingredients is baked beans. You can make this dish with locally sourced bacon available from any neighborhood butcher shop, but after experimenting a few times, I found that the flavor of my memory is better served by chorizo, fresh Mexican sausage, and because ovens are uncommon in Mexico, this recipe is done on the stovetop and finished in a crockpot.
I hardly ever use recipes except for baking so you can never expect exact measurements from me, but here’s my process. Clean, wash, soak, and cook one-half kilo (roughly a pound) of alubia beans (navy beans) with your favorite spices but do NOT add any salt. I use garlic, onion, black pepper, epazote and a pinch of cumin. While the beans are cooking, prepare the other ingredients.
Crumble chorizo into a medium hot cast iron skillet and cook thoroughly on a medium-low flame, about twenty minutes, adding a bit of oil if needed. You’re looking for a chewy texture so it holds up well in the beans. Drain the cooked sausage and set aside. Finely dice a medium white onion, and add to the pan you just used for the chorizo. Cook on a medium flame, stirring occasionally until they are a lovely caramel color.
When the beans are almost done, sweeten them to taste by adding one-half cup to one cup of brown sugar or piloncillo. If you use piloncillo, be sure to grind it as fine as possible. Add a couple of spoons of tomato paste or one cubito of caldo de jitomate. Stir and cook about ten minutes to dissolve the sugar and tomato, then add the sausage and onions. If you have an oven and want to bake this dish, go ahead but I do these in a crock pot on low temperature for an hour or so. Once everything comes together, taste and adjust for salt. The saltiness of the chorizo takes time to manifest against the brown sugar, so don’t salt too early.
These beans are hearty enough to be a meal on their own. Full of sausage and onion, but slightly sweet, even hubby prefers a soft dinner roll with these instead of the traditional tortillas. Enjoy!
Geneva Gurrusquieta, Listener, Thinker, Doer, Writer, Finder, Helper