Cooking Like A Mexican

Antojitos mexicanos
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Cooking-like-a-Mexican.jpg

Antojitos mexicanos

Antojito literally translates to “Little craving," which is a special type of Mexican food, the kind that is sold out on the Street, some dishes in the morning some others at night, and some all day long. Antojitos is what Mexicans eat when we want to fill our stomachs with love.

These dishes are often a little greasy or deep fried or quite heavy for unexperienced eaters, but not all of them have to be. There is a special kind of mock diet, called the Vitamin T diet: Tacos, Tortas, Tlacoyos, Tamales, Tostadas, Tortillas ... not quite the “lose weight diet” you'd expect, but a Mexican joke referring to all delicious antojitos starting with a T.

The main ingredient to these is often maize. Now, I know it’s been widely talked about, but it’s such an important ingredient in Mexican food and so resourceful, there’s no way I can cover all of its marvelous qualities in just one edition. In Mexican cooking, the whole maize is used, from the “hair” to the husk, but today I will talk about the main component: the grains.

Mexicans are the people of the maize. It is said that neither could exist without the other, as it is very hard to imagine Mexican food without maize, maize could have never survived if it wasn’t for Mexican people harvesting, cross-breeding, and planting it. Yup, maize was cross-bred expertly by indigenous Mexican farmers before it was cool –before 7,700 b.C-. 

How maize started existing is unknown, but there are the most beautiful stories, some say it was given to the Mexican people by different animals, other stories say it came directly from the hands of the gods (I must mention that the animals and Gods depend on which region of Mexico the story comes from).

Did you know maize is packed with vitamins and minerals? But, for humans digestive system to properly process it, maize must go under a special procedure called “nixtamalización” the maize is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, washed, hulled (to remove the outer shell of the grain) and ground.

This process, originating in Mexico, is famously known to remove up to 97-100% of aflatoxins from mycotoxin contaminated corn.

Out of 250 species of Maize, 41 are in Mexico and its colors vary from black to white; with blue, purple, yellow, red and orange hues in between. I honestly have no idea how many Mexican dishes come from maize, I can bet the number is in the thousands, but for this editions recipe, Tlacoyos, are made originally from blue maize.

The indigenous name for Tlacoyos or Tlatoyos in Puebla and Tlaxcala (pronounced tla-coh-yohs) comes from náhuatl (Náhuatl refers to the language the people from southern Mexico and Central America, including what the Aztecs spoke). And when they were made, before the Spaniards conquered Mexico, they did not feature cheese, since there were no cows on this continent way back then.

Spaniards first tasted this dish in the great Tlatelolco market. Picture a perfectly organized farmer’s market in an open space, southeast of the Templo Mayor, where Mexico City is now located. A market where the main “coin” was cacao beans, there were special officers making sure all of the market was correctly organized in different sections; where serpents were sold as well as deer meat, which was often used in aristocracy banquets. Medicinal herbs and powders had their section too, where shamans performed rituals and curations. Ceramics, textiles, pigments, minerals, clothing, precious stones and metals, down to a section where women had their own little restaurants, where they sold Tlacoyos. Damn, my culture is amazing: only imagining this makes my heart race.

On with the recipe.

Ingredients:

2 lbs. of maize dough (Maize flour is sold in supermarkets, ask for maseca. Original recipe calls for blue maize, and blue maize flour can also be found in supermarkets but I am not sure if we can find it in Cabo. Regular maseca is fine. Follow the recipe on the package for the dough, but ratio is 2 cups of flour for 1 ½ cups of water).

2 lbs. of cooked black beans.

5 serrano chiles. (Or less, this is your choice)

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.

Salt.

3 cooked nopales (Find them in any supermarket, edible cacti) cut in strips.

½ regular sized onion, cut in juliennes.

1 regular sized tomato, finely chopped.

5 springs of chopped cilantro.

¾ cup “fresh cheese” (also a Mexican ingredient hard to translate, find it like that in supermarkets. Texture is like fetta but the taste is way lighter) remember pre-hispanic Mexico had no cows but it tastes great.

Red salsa to taste.

 

Preparation:

1. Grind the beans with the chiles and pour them in a pan with hot oil. Let them fry in there and dry a little bit into a paste.

2. Make 2 inch balls with the dough and spoon the bean puree in the middle. Fold the sides in to cover the beans making an oval shape. Then, flatten it to get a third-inch oval patty.

3. Cook the patties in a pan or a comal if you have one, until they are crisp on the outside.

4. In a bowl, mix the cacti, onion, tomato and cilantro and place on top of the patty.

5. Sprinkle some cheese and salsa on top, and serve.

That’s it, you now have a prehispanic dish to share with your friends. It might seem surprising, but it’s quite a fresh dish to have when it’s so hot out! Buen provecho!

Oh, and by the way, this can be made vegan, substituting fresh cheese with whatever vegan options you prefer.

Find me at ale.borbolla@gringogazette.com