Cooking Like A Mexican

Chiles toreados
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

Last February 5th, we Mexicans celebrated our Constitution Day. If I had been on the ball, you would have seen this very important date in your windshield, not in your rear view mirror.

The Constitution of the United Mexican States was drafted in Santiago de Queretaro, in the state of Queretaro, during the Mexican Revolution. Well, that doesn’t narrow down the date much as the war raged on for at least 10 years, (the end was a little hazy), but the constitution was approved by the Constitutional Congress February 5, 1917.  It is the successor to the Constitucion of 1857, and assorted earlier Mexican constitutions. This one has been amended more than 400 times in the first 100 years.

But, does our Constitution address Mexican food? No. But help me out here, I’m headed somewhere, just not sure where. Oh! Everyone in Mexico is free to eat whatever they like. And, the chili is an important symbol of our country. Chili is a fruit that was originated in México. Before you pop off those cards and letters, you should know chili is thefruitflowering plants. Vegetables, on the other hand, are parts of plants like leaves and roots. Another clue: vegetablestypically don't have seeds, whilefruits, like chiliand tomatoes as well as pears and apples, do.

Chiles first showed themselves 6,700 years ago and it its name comes from the Nahuatl Language “Chilli” that has no translation language. All varieties of chilies have been part of the Mexican diet since then, all varieties, including the bell peppers and they all are rich in vitamin C.

The first chiles were brought to Spain in 1493 by a physician on Columbus’ second voyage to the West Indies. He first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494. From Europe, chilies spread rapidly to India, China, and Japan. In Europe, they first were grown in the monastery gardens of Spain and Portugal as botanical curiosities, but the monks experimented with their culinary potential and discovered that their pungency offered an inexpensive substitute for black peppercorns, which were so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries.

The Chiles are indispensable in Mexican cuisine. Cultivated and consumed since ancient times there are recipes that were created then that are still in use today. Mexican natives believed that Chiles had medicinal and nutritional properties, and today nutritionists have confirmed this.
There are hundreds of types of many sizes, colors and shapes. Consumption may be fresh or dried. It is an essential ingredient of the dishes of Mexico, and is called "King of Mexican cuisine."

Different varieties have different levels of heat. The heat is from the chemical capsaicin, which is in the seeds and the white ribs inside the fruit. What we call “heat” or “fire” of the chile is known in the industry as the pungency level. The pungency is the result of both the plant’s genetics and the environment in which it grows. Although plant breeders can produce a chili with a certain amount of relative heat by varying water amounts and temperature levels, genetic control is not yet fully understood.

There is a scale to measure the hot in the chile. This scale was created by Wilbur Scoville who developed the Scoville Organoleptic Test in 1912. This consists in a chile extract solution, which is diluted in sugared water until the hot cannot be detected by a committee of examiners, usually five. The degree of dilution of the extract gives its measure on the scale. Thus a sweet pepper, containing no capsaicin, has zero on the Scoville scale, the habanero chile, which is one of the hottest has a level of 300,000 or more. This indicates that the chile extract was diluted 300,000 times before capsaicin was undetectable. The weakness of this method lies in its vagueness, because the test is subject to human subjectivity, but hey! This is good to know. Next time you are in distress from eating chile, drink a glass of water with lots of sugar!

Today what is used to measure hot in chile is the quantitative analysis. The most common is chromatography. However, it has kept the name of the unit of measurementin Scoville honor.

Also the degree of spicy in any pepper can be inaccurate, because the spices themselves have variations, which can change by a factor of 10 or even more, depending on the crop, weather, or crop land (this is especially true in habaneros).

Anyways in Mexican cuisine, chiles are used in many, many ways; to cook salsas, to spread on your tacos, in stews, and we fill them with other ingredients such as chiles rellenos. Or we just bite them raw. Yeah, you Gringos can’t do that, I don’t know why, but you can’t take it.

Our recipe today is simple, very common and goes awesome with a good steak. It is called “chiles toreados” and I am sure you are going to love them. And remember, if you are not a “hot” lover, remove the seeds before cooking or in the worst case scenario; have a glass of sugared water handy!

Ingredients:

2 tablespoon of oil

10 Serrano chiles

4 tablespoons of Maggie sauce

4 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 regular white onion

2 limes

Salt to taste.

 

Procedure:

Slice the onion thinly and if you are going to remove the seeds now is the time, and slice he chiles too. If not don’t slice the chiles.

Heat a pan and pour the oil, then add the onion slices, the chiles, the sauces, lemon juice and salt. Saute everything until the chiles skin look a little bit burned. Put a lid on it and keep on cooking for 2 or 3 more minutes. And they are ready!

Alejandra