Cooking Like A Mexican

Caldo Tlalpeño
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Here’s hoping you had an awesome Mexican Independence Day, I imagine you had some amazing Mexican food! What? You didn’t even know it was Independent Day? Shame on you.

It has been brought to my attention that Mexican food is complicated or has many steps. OK, so my boss, who doesn’t cook anything with more than three ingredients, brings this to my attention all the time.

The thing is, my dear readers, that Mexican food is slow food. Many times comfort food and our relationship with food is very, very special. Back when haciendas (old Spanish inspired houses, built with many bedrooms as families in those days had many kids) were the norm, only the richer people had one. The kitchen was as large as a regular livingroom is those days, and more than one lady was in there, usually hired from generation to generation. They were almost a part of the family, and in charge of the most important task in the home; cooking.

Talking about food usually makes us a little nostalgic, when we remember our grandparents’ signature dishes, or when we crave mom’s special touch. Most Mexican families have a treasured recipe book which is usually written by a grandmother, and these are often kept safe by the daughters, who rarely share it with sisters in law.

Back to the way Mexican women used to cook in haciendas, let’s keep one thing in mind: the women who worked in the kitchen had nothing else to do but prepare feasts. This was the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the break of dawn, some of these ladies went to the hacienda’s farm, where the foreman would give them fresh eggs, milk, vegetables and fruits, and then they would go to the market to find whatever they didn’t have at the hacienda. The cooking ladies would prepare whatever was in season, there was no being told what to cook, unless it was a special occasion. Of course, they kept in mind what the “patroness” (owners of the hacienda) liked, but they had the main decision on what was on the menu. They would make five meals: breakfast, lunch, the main meal, supper, dinner and something light if anyone would get hungry after hours.

The kitchen was the busiest room in the house, serving one meal while preparing the next. The stove was very different from what we know; for starters, it was fired with coal, not gas until the late 20th century- and had five or six burners, where heavy clay or copper pots and pans laid. Garlic heads were braided and hung on the walls, so were chilis.

Every hacienda kitchen had its metate -a large slab of stone where everything was ground, from mole to corn to make tortillas- a molcajete -similar to a metate but in the shape of a bowl, to make salsas and tortillas by hand. In these kitchens, there was usually a table where the ladies would prep, chop the onions and vegetables, clean the beans before cooking, for example. This is where the relationship would begin, talking about family gossip, heartache, advice, dreams and hopes. The daughters of the patrons were taken to the kitchen to learn, too, even though they did not have to cook, but they also participated in the conversation as the cooks were almost a part of the family. Back in those days, if you did not know how to cook you were not a good marrying option as a woman. 

This has been passed on from generations, and as the way of living has changed -we don’t all have haciendas now- food is special to us. From the prepping to the serving, to the time we spend after eating called sobremesa, it’s a whole affair. Nowadays, we live a life of rushing and street food has become more common, with the typical family meal on Sundays for some families, but it still happens. In the US, you eat around your work schedule, while Mexicans work around our eating schedule. Some may consider Mexican eating habits on a delayed schedule. Not only are our eating patterns different, but our diet as well is also unique. Mexicans generally eat a traditional diet consisting of healthy foods, rich in taste.

This week’s recipe, is one that has many different myths around it, but my favorite involves a Mexican politician and general who fought to defend royalist New Spain and then fought for Mexican independence, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Story goes, that Tlalpan -the biggest of the 16 boroughs (called “delegaciones” in Spanish) of Mexico City- had a huge celebration of their patron saint, where many Mexican celebrities and personalities went, including Santa Anna. He was a big fan of booze and gambling, so he bought a house there to enjoy the borough and have a place to come to after the parties. One morning, he was so hung over he asked the cooking lady to make him a soup that would bring him back to life. The cook threw in everything she had on hand and Caldo Tlalpeño was born- Tlalpeño, from Tlalpan.

Finally, an easy, healthy Mexican dish that is a whole meal! Yes, it’s still more than three ingredients, but it’s the best we Mexicans can do in that department.

Ingredients:

10 cups of water

2 chicken breasts

½ onion

2 garlic cloves

2 big and mature tomatoes

2 carrots chopped in bite size pieces

2 zucchinis chopped in bite size pieces

1 cup of cooked chickpeas

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated cheese to serve (manchego, chihuahua, asadero or whichever is your favorite, I recommend it is a cheese that melts nicely)

Avocado to serve

Chipotle chilis to serve

Lime to serve

Procedure:

Fill a pot, with the 10 cups of water.

Add chicken breasts, onion and garlic and let it cook for twenty or thirty minutes. I would recommend you remove the foam that forms little by little.

 Remove chicken and shred -I just learned that electric mixers shred meats in seconds! -

In the blender, puree tomatoes with a cup of the chicken broth you just made while cooking the chicken, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a few minutes until it turns into a deeper red and thickens a little bit.

Add these to the pot with the chicken broth and the carrots and let it simmer on medium heat for ten or fifteen minutes.

Add the cooked chickpeas, shredded chicken, zucchini and taste to make sure you don’t over or under season.

Serve in bowls and let everyone add as much cheese, avocado, chipotle and lime they want!