Category Archives: Mexican Food and Drink

Natural Healing–Coriander Cilantro tea

Continuing with my free Herbal Academy Materia Medica Course, I decided to try teas made from the other local herbs I was investigating.  (See Hibiscus Tea, Feverfew Tea)

Coriander, known as cilantro in Mexico, is used in an endless variety of local cuisine.  I love cilantro!  It has such a fresh flavor! I was amazed to discover that not everyone has the same reaction when eating cilantro.  Some people taste soap, metal or dirt instead of freshness.  Apparently, it’s a genetic thing. (See A genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes influences cilantro preference) How unfortunate!

Coriander has quite a number of health benefits.


Coriander seeds contain zinc, which helps with digestion, copper, which is used to produce red blood cells, potassium, which helps control blood pressure and heart rate. They contain bioactives that have antimicrobial, antiepileptic, antidepressant, antimutagenic, anti-inflammatory and anxiety inhibitors.

Coriander seeds have been shown to lower blood sugar, ease Irritable Bowel Syndrome, decrease blood pressure, contain an antibacterial compound that fights Salmonella choleraesuis, thus useful in cases of food poisoning,  lower cholesterol, be useful in treating urinary tract infections, and been shown to prevent neurodegenerative disease when included in diets high in turmeric, pepper, clove, ginger, garlic, cinnamon.

Coriander Seed Tea is recommended for cystitis relief. Simply steep one teaspoon of whole coriander seeds for 5 minutes for each cup. Strain and add honey or sugar.

Cilantro (coriander) leaves are also jammed packed with good stuff.  It’s rich in antioxidants and dietary fiber and is a good source of vitamin K, which helps in building bone mass, vitamin C, and vitamin A.  Cilantro has been shown to bind the heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, lead, and mercury together which helps the body eliminate them altogether.  Cilantro has also been proven to regulate the body’s oxidative defense systems which in turn protects us from oxidative stress. Cilantro has been shown to be as effective as valium in lowering anxiety and improving the quality of the sleep cycle.  Like the seeds, the leaves also lower blood sugar levels and help protect against cardiovascular disease because of its high potassium level.  Cilantro lowers total cholesterol and triglycerides. It can prevent oxidative damage associated with cardiac damage and prevent myocardial infarctions. Cilantro can help prevent colon cancer.

And that’s just the tip of the benefits iceberg!


So in line with my herbal classes, I decided to make cilantro tea. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of fresh leaves per cup.  Steep up to 10 minutes.  Remove leaves.  Add sugar or honey.  I also added a bit of orange peel to the concoction.  

I’ll be honest and say that the taste was ho-hum.  It tasted, well, like cilantro tea.  I think I’ll get all the goodness in solid form like maybe salsa, pico de gallo, on tacos with onion, and so on.  In any form, it’s a tasty part of our Mexican diet and not too difficult to grow.  I’ll post more information once I harvest my first batch this year!


This post was proofread by Grammarly. – Herb Garden Seeds, Growing Kits & Supplies


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Fruits and Vegetables

Did you know that in addition to corn and chocolate being native to Mexico, avocados, peanuts, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and papaya are all Prehispanic delights?

avocado pictograph

Aztec pictograph indicating “the place where avocados grow.”

Avocado is thought to have originated in the state of Puebla. The oldest evidence of avocado use dates to about 10,000 BC, found in a cave located in the town of Coxcatlan. The word avocado comes from the Spanish aguacate which comes from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl which goes back to the proto-Aztecan word *pa:wa. The Nahuatl word also can be translated as testicle.  Since this fruit was considered an aphrodisiac, perhaps because of its similarity to male reproductive organs, young girls were kept indoors during the annual avocado harvest.

Aguacate maduro, pedo seguro.  Ripe avocados–farts for sure!  

Without the avocado, there would be no Guacamole! The name Guacamole comes from the Nahuatl work āhuacamolli which translates as avocado sauce (see Mole).

The tomato also comes from Mexico. The name comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl which translates as “fat water.” The Aztecs cultivated the tomatl and came up with a new species they called xitomatl which translates as “plump thing with a navel.”

A la mejor cocinera se le va un tomate entero.   A whole tomato can escape the best cook. Meaning everyone makes mistakes.

And what would salsa be without the tomato?

The papaya was also a common domesticated fruit in Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish. It was called chichihualtzapotl in Nahuatl which meant zapote nodriza (mothering or nursing zapote.) The papaya had medicinal value to the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The Aztecs applied papaya fruit to their skin for relief from insects bites. Asthma was treated with boiled papaya leaves applied to the chest.


Nine flowers of Mexico

The modern day name for the zapote fruit, papaya, comes from the Mayan word páapay-ya which means zapote jaspeado (marbled or spotted zapote).

Peanuts may have been domesticated in Argentina or Bolivia. However, its cultivation in Mexico was well-established before the arrival of the Spanish. Peanuts were called tlalcacahuatl or tlalli auh cacahuatl in Nahuatl which gives us the Mexican Spanish word cacahuate that is used today.

peanut seller

One of our local peanut vendors in Moroleon, GTO

Me vale un reverendo cacahuate.  It’s as important to me as a holy peanut. Meaning it’s not important to me at all.

The oldest pumpkin seed found was in the Guila Naquitz Cave in Oaxaca and dates as far back as 7000 BC.  Squash has been cultivated in the Tehuacan and Oaxaca valleys and in Tamaulipas since 6000-5000 BC. Its cultivation predates the domestication of maize and beans by about 4,000 years. (See Las Tres Hermanas)

Squash was a ritual offering presented in honor of the dead during the month of Miccailhuitontli by the Aztecs and is still considered an appropriate addition to the altar during El Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mexico in the form of calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin).

Sweet potatoes are native plants that are found from the Yucatan on down south to Venezuela. The Maya domesticated the plant at least 5,000 years ago.  In Mexico, sweet potatoes are known as camotes which comes from the Nahuatl word camotli. Camotes enmielados (honeyed sweet potatoes) are yet another specialty food traditionally made and served for El Dia de Los Muertos.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little week-long foray into traditional eats in Mexico as much as I have!  And remember–La vida es un camote agárrese de donde pueda.  Life is a sweet potato.  Hold on to it where you can.


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mole pic

Mole (pronounced moe-lay) comes from the Nahuatl word mōlli (sauce) or chīlmōlli (chile sauce). There are some misconceptions here that mole is only the brown chocolate sauce that in Mexico is called mole poblano. As you will see, mole comes in quite a variety of delicious flavors, all of which have chiles rather than chocolate as the common ingredient.

There are several legends about the origin of mole. One is that the nuns at the Convent of Santa Rosa is Puebla were in a lather about the visit of the archbishop. They rustled up what ingredients they had on hand and dumped it all in a pot to simmer. They killed the old turkey wandering around the yard too. When the archbishop arrived, they served poor ol’ Tom turkey smothered in the sauce made from leftovers. When asked, the nuns declared that they had made “mole” (a mix).

Then there is the legend that the monk Fray Pascual invented the dish, again to serve to the archbishop, or maybe it was the viceroy, there seem to be several versions. While the monk was preparing the meal, a sudden wind knocked over the spices into the pots where the turkey was simmering magically creating mole.

I say, poppycock! Mole predates the Spanish invasion in Mexico. Bernardino de Sahagun writes about mollis being used in a number of indigenous dishes in his work General History of the Things of New Spain. A popular Aztec dishes of the time was the totolmolli (turkey hen or chicken in mole sauce).

Where doubt sets in is in the use of chocolate in the sauce. Both the Aztecs and Mayans considered chocolate sacred. Therefore, it was reserved for the highest level priests and royalty. Thus, to include chocolate in a dish for the common people would have been considered sacrilege. That doesn’t mean that there were NO sauces with chocolate, only that they were not served to those who were not priests or royalty. (See Chocolate) Perhaps Cortes was fortunate enough to be served chocolate mole as he was considered a reincarnation of the god Quetzalcoatl and the recipe got out. We may never know.

Up until recently, mole was the standard dish eaten at celebrations of all social economic classes in Mexico. The expressions Ir a un mole (to go to where there is mole) means to attend a wedding, one of the traditional ceremonies that customarily served mole. Nowadays, the upper classes have stopped preparing and eating it, preferring imported foodstuff to traditional at their parties. This is yet another loss in the ongoing processes of colonization. Language, food, and customs are insidiously being replaced. Women no longer learn the art of cooking mole from their mothers. Mothers no longer teach their daughters.

In a few remaining places, the preparation of mole is still a community event, usually in honor of a patron saint or local holiday. In these communities, each person involved has a part to play in the production, much like the tamaladas that gather to make tamales (See Tamales). There is always one person, usually a woman, who is given the honorary position of molera, the head chef. It is she who makes the final determination on how much of each ingredient is to be used.

That is no easy task. Mole poblano has about 20 different ingredients. Oaxacan moles can have more than 30. Recipes are approximate, variations are practically limitless. But, under the direction of the molera, the ritual of the mole is not lost.

In general, when making mole:

Mole ingredients can be classified into 4 distinct groups–the chiles, sour ingredients (like tomatillos), sweet ingredients (like fruit and sugar) and thickeners (nuts or tortillas). Ingredients are roasted and ground into a powder or paste. This is mixed with water or broth and simmered while being stirred constantly until it thickens. Chocolate, if included, is added at the end of the cooking process. It’s always served over something, meat, poultry, eggs or rice.

It’s important that those making mole not become angry, otherwise the mole will boil over or spoil.

The paste or powder can be prepared separately and often can be purchased to reduce the steps in making this unique dish.  Interestingly enough, these powders have such a strong scent that they have been registered as explosives at the Mexico City airport. This strong flavoring is the basis of the expression “en su mero mole.” Mole is an acquired taste and to be in your own mole, is similar to the English expression to be or not to be one’s cup of tea.

Below, I’ve provided a link to recipes of a number of mole sauces.

Moles with chocolate

Mole poblano is the most well-known mole. It is considered one of the national dishes of Mexico. It is often served with turkey when prepared for weddings, birthdays and baptisms. During the Christmas holiday season, it is often served over shrimp garnished with rosemary.

Mole coloradito is made to be served over pork, chicken or beef and it is a red brick color. It is a specialty of Oaxaca.

Mole negro also known as mole oaxaqueño is one of 7 distinctive types of mole made in Oaxaca. Mole negro is served with chicken, turkey or pig head. It has up to 34 ingredients and 6 types of chiles. It also has bananas, gingerbread, almonds, peanuts, avocado leaf, cinnamon and chocolate among other ingredients.

Mole xiqueño is the specialty of Xico, a town in the state of Veracruz. It’s a fruity mole with raisins, xoconostle, bananas and nuts in addition to the chocolate.

Moles without chocolate

Chirmole, also known as chilmole or relleno negro is a dark mole and is common in Yucatan.

Huaxmole, also known as guaxmole or mole de guaje is made with guaje seeds, also known as huaxin, cacalas or cascalhuite, which taste like garlic. It was traditionally prepared for holy day festivals and served over goat meat.

Mole de caderas also known as mole de chivo is a specialty of the states Oaxaca and Puebla. It is meant to be served over goats that have been fed large quantities of salt, giving the meat a distinctive flavor. It is traditionally prepared during the annual goat butchering festival, usually sometime between October and December. During the festival, there is a “danza de la matanza” which ends with the sacrificial killing of a male goat. There is also an altar prepared by the butchers who make offerings and prayers so that the goat harvest is at least as good as if not better than the previous year.

Mole Michoacan. This red mole is prepared with pumpkin seeds and they must not have shell nor salt so the final flavor is not altered and is a speciality of Michoacan.

Mole Amarillo is another of the Oaxacan specialties. It gets its yellow color from the yellow chihuacle chile. It’s also seasoned with hoja santa which gives it a licorice flavor.

Mole chichilo from Oaxaca is served with beef and comes in negro (black) and rojo (red) depending on the manner the chiles are prepared. Of the seven specialty moles of Oaxaca, mole rojo is the spices.

Mole prieto, also known as tlilmolli, comes from the state of Tlaxcala. It has traditionally been part of the ritual festivity in honor of the goddess Toci, patron saint of textiles and health. It prehispanic rituals, this mole was served with deer, turkey or Xoloitzcuintle, a Mexican hairless dog bred specifically for food. Nowadays, it is served with pork. During the pre-festival preparations, a bottle of liquor is buried and a cross made of nopales and chilpotle is placed over the spot. This is done to prevent the mole from boiling and spoiling.

Mole verde, yet another mole from Oaxaca, uses green tomatoes, parsley, and green chiles to give it its distinctive herb flavoring. It’s often served over chicken with chayote, green beans, and white beans.

Pipián is a peanut or pumpkin seed sauce served over chicken. It comes in rojo (red) and verde (green). Pipian verde is also made with ajonjoli (sesame seeds) or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Mole tamaulipeco, from the state of Tamaulipas, is served over chicken stuffed with olives. Ingredients include onion, garlic, olives, raisin, tomato, tomatillo, cinnamon, thyme, parsley and capers among others. It’s often served with white rice with chiles and carrots in vinegar.

Mole Soups

Mole de olla is more of a soup rather than a sauce. It is made of xoconostle, squash, green beans, corn, potato, chambarete (beef shank) simmered into a broth of chile guajillo and chile pasilla, seasoned with garlic, onion, and epazote. It is served with pieces of chopped serrano pepper and lemon.

Mole de panza is cow stomach stew, also known as menudo. Mole de panza uses cilantro rather than oregano as seasoning.

Remember to “parece ajonjolí de todos los moles” be like the sesame seed of all moles, involved in everything!


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maya glyph for cacao.jpg

Chocolate, from the Nahuatl word xocolatl meaning bitter water, is a gift from the gods.

Legend has it that the god Quetzalcoatl stole and gave the plant that provided a special drink meant only for the gods to his chosen people, the Toltecs. He asked Tlaloc, the rain god, to water this plant and Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility and vegetation, to tend to it. Quetzalcoatl picked the pods, roasted the kernels and taught the Toltec women to grind it to a fine powder. The women mixed it with water and whipped it to a bitter, frothy drink called chocolatl. Such was its sacredness, it could only be enjoyed by the priests and royalty.

When the gods discovered Quetzalcoatl’s theft, they were angry and plotted the destruction of Quetzalcoatl and his people. Quetzalcoatl’s enemy Tezcatlipoca came to earth on a spider’s thread and disguised himself as a pulque vendor. He came across a worried Quetzalcoatl and offered him the drink of happiness, the fermented agave drink. Quetzalcoatl drank until he was drunk. He did the happy, happy joy dance outside his temple. His people didn’t know what to think of his strange antics and lost respect for their god. Eventually, Quetzalcoatl passed out. (See Maguey)

The next morning, Quetzalcoatl woke up with a heavenly hangover. When he realized that his people had abandoned him, he left, heading towards the evening star. He saw that the gods had transformed the chocolatl plant into the agave plant which had intoxicated him. He walked all the way to the sea. Just before he left the shore, he planted the seed that he held in his hand, the seed that he had stolen from the gods. This seed became the cacao plant and the last gift Quetzalcoatl gave to his people.

Or so the story goes.


Blood, maize, and cacao play a hand in the creation of mankind in the story of Ixcacao, a Mayan fertility goddess.

Cacao beans ground to chocolate can be traced back to the Olmec civilization, about 1000 BCE. As the story above illustrates, chocolate was considered just sacred as maize. Mayan artifacts often picture maize and cacao gods together. During rituals that involved the cacao gods, priests would lance their earlobes and cover the cacao with their blood as a tribute to the gods.

reborn as cacao

This is a representation found on the sarcophagus of an 8th-century Mayan ruler, Pakal of Palenque.  It shows Pakal’s mother, Lady Sak K’uk being reborn as a cacao tree.

Even the trees themselves were considered sacred bridges between heaven and earth. In especially holy circumstances, a deceased ruler might even be reborn as a cacao tree.

Cacao was also an important part of the marriage ritual among the Mayan. A man who wished to marry would invite his intended bride’s father to his home. He would serve his future father-in-law a hot chocolate beverage as they discussed the marriage arrangement. The bride price and dowry were often paid in cacao beans as well.

codex nuttall--mextec lord chocolate.jpg

The wedding of Lord 8 Deer Jaguar Claw and Lady 13 Serpent as pictured in the Nuttall Codex.  The bride has poured and served a cup of chocolate to complete the marriage ritual.

The Aztecs collected their tributes from conquered groups in the form of cacao and often used it as a currency. So valuable was the cacao, that one hundred beans could buy a canoe full of fresh water or a turkey hen.

rain god and chocolate

The rain god Chac and the moon goddess IxChel exchanging cacao as depicted in the Madrid Codex.

During rituals to appease Quetzalcoatl, the Aztecs would give the intended sacrifice a gourd full of chocolate mixed with the blood of the previous victim to calm their nerves. Another, less icky drink, made with chocolate called chilate, was believed to give the drinker strength, and thus included in soldiers’ rations, and to have aphrodisiac properties.

The Aztec ruler Moctezuma II, as royalty, often enjoyed the sacred drink. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a foot soldier with Hernan Cortes, wrote his observationsFrom time to time they served him [Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence.”

The Spaniards weren’t overly fond of the frothy, bitter drink. Jose de Acosta described it as

“Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this Chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that “chili”; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.”

chocolate pouring

An Aztec woman pouring chocolate to make it frothy as pictured in the Tudela Codex.  The Aztecs drank their chocolate beverage cold.

Remember, whatever recipe you use, the best chocolate drink is made in a clay olla (pot), mixed with a molinillo, and served in a clay cup.

Chocolate also has its place in Mexican dichos (sayings). After giving birth, a woman “merece el chocolate” (deserves chocolate). It is customary for a new mother to receive a cup of hot chocolate every morning for 40 days to aid in recovery. (See Candlemas) (See Three Kings Day)

One of the most famous Mexican sayings is “estar como agua para chocolate.” Literally, it means to be like water used in preparing chocolate which is HOT. Passionate, angry, boiling over with emotions.

Another expression you might come across is “darle una sopa de su propio chocolate.” Literally, it means to give someone a cup of their own chocolate. Remember, chocolate in Mexico has traditionally been prepared as a drink. It was bitter, not sweet and often used as a remedy for a variety of ailments. So, this expression would be the same as “to give someone a taste of their own medicine”.

Cacao is used as a base for other traditional Mexican delights, like mole.  Stay tuned for more information!

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