Cooking Like A Mexican



If Michoacan is "the soul of Mexico," as it has often been called, then its food is Mexico's soul food. Few other places in the country can claim such a profound and long-lasting indigenous influence on their regional cuisine. This western state, part of the Bajio region located north and west of Mexico City, has retained its culinary roots for over a millennium.

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To understand how this happened is to realize the strength and unity of the Purépecha people that inhabit a large portion of the state. An astounding 38 different indigenous languages are spoken in Michoacan, and the oldest continuous civilization there is that of the Purépecha, dating back 1,000 years.

The dish I write about today is called atapakua, which was often served at funerals; it was said that this dish would warm the heart. Atapakua is a salsa similar to mole, because it is full of potent flavors and many aromas. But there are not as many ingredients in atapakua as in a mole, and it doesn’t have sweet notes.

This salsa is used in a very particular way; a vegetable “soup” is made and then mixed with the atapakua. There is no meat needed unless it’s for a celebration. In the Purepechan language, atapakua means “nutritious and spicy stew that sustains life.” This salsa requires patience because there are many steps.


4 ancho peppers

3 guajillo peppers

3 tomatoes

1 serrano pepper

1/2 onion

2 garlic cloves with skin

2 coriander sprigs

2 spearmint sprigs

1.7 oz maize dough (you can buy this at the tortilla store)

3 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 tablespoon salt


In a pan over medium heat, roast four ancho peppers and three guajillo peppers for about two minutes, until all sides are lightly roasted. Turn them regularly with tongs to roast evenly. Transfer the roasted chiles from the pan to a bowl. Cover the peppers with boiling water and leave them soaking for about seven minutes, until they are soft.

While the peppers are soaking, roast one serrano pepper, the onion and garlic for about two minutes, then add three tomatoes and roast an additional five minutes, until all their sides are moderately roasted, turning regularly with the tongs. Transfer everything but the garlic cloves to a blender. Remove the garlic cloves, let cool and peel. Add to blender and blend everything until smooth. Set aside.

Check that the soaked chiles have softened. Once they are soft, remove them from the bowl and remove all the seeds.

In the blender, combine the softened peppers, coriander, spearmint and one cup of chicken stock. Blend until smooth and reserve. In a bowl, combine the maize dough and one cup of hot water. Stir until the dough has dissolved; then set aside.

To cook the salsa, heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in the first mixture that was blended and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to low heat and cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Strain the maize dough mixture and add to the saucepan, along with two cups chicken stock and 1/2 tablespoon salt. Add in the second mixture that was blended and stir together. Cook the atapakua for about 20 minutes, until it thickens a little and acquires an intense red color; stir occasionally.

To serve, have some precooked vegetables, like zucchini, mushrooms, green beans and corn on the husk, in a bowl with a little bit of the water they were cooked in. Spoon in the atapakua, and enjoy.