Cooking Like A Mexican

Ezquites
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

“We are what we eat” is a fact. People’s diet pretty much defines how they are and largely where they came from.

Food as one of the basic needs of us all is the engine that moved humanity to develop hundreds of cultivating, curing and preserving techniques, to travel, to settle, to create societies. It is the foundation of commerce along with textiles, which is another basic human need.

Grains play a basic role here. Grains are used in so many ways around the world, from dough and its final products to beverages as coffee, vodka, beer and whisky. The list of uses for grain is just too long.

While all grains like barley, rice, oats, rye and wheat have their roots in the Middle East, (Egypt, Rome, Greece, China, and India), corn has it origin in Mexico. The origin of corn goes back 8,000 years.

Today, corn is the most often produced grain in the world, above even that of wheat and rice. It is believed that maize has grown wild for 12,000 years. However with the passage of time, the technique to plant, harvest, grind and cook maize evolved.
Maize was domesticated about 5,000 years ago.

The technique of working with the maize evolved to such a degree that it not only became Mexican food’s basic ingredient, it became a lifestyle. (Like beans and chiles).

The original word for maize is “Zea Mays” and its meaning is “source of life”.

There are some beautiful legends surrounding maize and the origin of life. The Nahuas knew the maize as “atzintzintil" meaning grain of ant. Legend says that man discovered the maize when they saw an ant taking some grains to the anthill. The grains that the ant was carrying were small and they were not beans nor wheat – they were maize grains. That’s how man discovered maize and it was domesticated.

In the Popol Vuh, (Mayan book), a legend is also told about the creation of man and maize. The legend tells us the gods created man from clay but when it was piled up it fell. Then the gods tried to create man from wood but it was nothing but a mannequin with no animation.

So the gods tried to create man with maize, and it entered the body to mix with the blood and organs giving them strength and life.

Before the arrival of the Spaniards, corn was found from what we know now as Quebec, Canada, to the Southern part of Mexico, through the Caribbean and by the Atlantic coast it expanded to Brazil and Argentina in the 17th century. Along with the migrations of this cereal, new forms were discovered, so today we have more than 300 types of maize. It comes in different colors too: yellow, red, blue, white, and even black.

Mexicans were all over this maize thing, and found many different uses for it, from the plain cob, to tortillas and their many forms, to complete dishes, beverages, and snacks. Corn chips! Popcorn! Car fuel! No, that discovery was recent.

Eating corn as a snack is a very popular Mexican tradition. In every city, village and town you will find corn stands just like you can find hotdog stands in Los Angeles or New York. 

Elotes (cobs) are commonly boiled stuck a wooden stick in its base for you to hold without getting dirty. Kind of like a popsicle. Then it is dressed with mayonnaise, sour cream, or cheese, and depending on the area, chili powder; spicy or not spicy, lemon juice, and salt. These go all together or the mix of your choice.

In these carts you can also find what we call “Ezquites.” This word comes from the nahuatl language, “izquitl” that means “roast in a flat pan.” Basically this snack is corn kernels that have been boiled with a little bit of water, salt, and, “epazote” (a Mexican origin herb used to season), and some other ingredients, depending, again,  on personal taste and region.

If it is true that every cook has their own way of cooking ezquites, but there are two main procedures: Boiled or fried. I would recommend trying both and using different ingredients until you find the perfect blend for your taste.

 

Ingredients:

Corn cobs (either way you decide to cook it, think on one or two pieces per person)

Chopped onion (around one tablespoon per cob)

Chopped jalapeño pepper (the amount is up to you; just don’t forget that jalapeño can be hot. If you want to avoid the heat but still love the flavor of it, slice each chile length wise and remove the seeds)

One epazote sprig per piece of corn.

For serving:

Mayonnaise

Sour cream

Cotija cheese

Chili powder

Lime

Salt

Pepper

ALL TO TASTE

 

Procedure:

Remove the leaves and hair of the corn. Hold the piece with one hand and use a sharp knife to cut off the kernels from top to bottom. Do this carefully and inside of a bowl so you won’t miss kernels. They jump away!

If you are going to boil them: Put the corn kernels in a pot and cover them with water (even better chicken broth), not too much, it is not a soup, just enough to cover them. Add the jalapeño pepper and the chopped onion. Put a lid on it so the steam will help to cook them faster. If you choose to cook Mexican type corn (white) it will take around 30 minutes boiling. If you go for the “sweet corn” (yellow) 10 minutes will be enough. Leave the epazote for the final part, just a few minutes boiling with the rest of the ingredients. To finish, add salt to your taste.

If you decide to fry them just add butter at the beginning, stir constantly to avoid them to stick in the pan, fry everything together; the corn kernels, onion and jalapeño until they are soft, between 20 to 40 minutes depending on the kind of corn. If you think they are too dry, you can add water or chicken broth. Remember, epazote goes last.

Serve the ezquites in small bowls and offer mayonnaise, sour cream, sliced limes, shredded dry cheese as like cotija, chili powder and salt with it.

Make sure to serve them real hot.

If you have leftovers, don’t throw them away, you can add them to rice and they go great as a side dish or on top of salads, or even for scrambled eggs.