Cooking Like A Mexican

Ceviche or cebiche, Mexican, Peruvian or neither?
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

ceviche.jpg

Ceviche or cebiche, Mexican, Peruvian or neither?

Well, many foods in Latin America are very much alike. Not only do ingredients grow freely through countries, but the native people also moved from one country to another, taking things with them and leaving some others behind, as they were mostly nomads. Food and people travel alike. Ceviche (pronounced say-v- chay) can be made mainly of shrimp and/or fish, and the characteristic way of cooking is through acid, which makes people a little nervous, but there’s nothing to worry about.

In Mexico, ceviche is believed to come from the Philippines, during the merchant routes set by the Spaniards who also had many slaves and mistresses who had different ways of cooking than native peoples in Mexico but had to use local ingredients. Our country has a great variety of fish, and back when Moctezuma was an emperor, he would get fresh fish straight from the coast; fishermen would send it to what is now Mexico City. There was no transportation back then, so there were special messengers who would run with the fish from one point to another.

Fish was not as popular within the lower classes as it was in the palace, but when the slave boats made it to the country, many bay areas were taken by merchants and slaves, as slavery was “illegal” in Mexico (not really, but slaves were incorporated so to speak to society). During this time is when ceviche first appeared, a mixture of cultures as the mixture of races that was happening. This is also the time where a large community of afro Mexicans and Asians settled, with a rough number of around 3,000 people from different backgrounds, mainly African and Asian. From 1565 to 1700, records were not kept in a consistent matter but most information puts Acapulco, in the state of Guerrero as the main port of entry and racial mix. Acapulco was the closest port to Tenochtitlan, nowadays it’s about a two-hour drive from Mexico City.

The main ingredient in most ceviches is lime. Lime was brought to us by … you guessed it! Asia. Loads of the citrus was put in every boat as it was a source of vitamin c, which prevented scurvy - the sailors’ disease. If you know a Mexican, he or she probably put lime on everything; from potato chips to soup, vegetables, beer, seafood, tacos, you name it. How did lime become such a huge part of Mexican gastronomy is a bittersweet story. Ha. It was in 1493 when lime made its first appearance in Aztec land, used first as an ornamental and medicinal plant. Sailors already used it as a preventive for scurvy but the taste and pucker faces made the citrus unappealing for many.

History is quite unclear when it comes to pointing out who discovered lime was a great thing to squeeze over food, but one thing is certain: no other country consumes nearly as much as Mexico. For several decades, since at least the 1950s, Mexico has been the world's largest producer and exporter of limes, and lime oil. The two popular varieties of limes grown in Mexico are the Mexican or Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia) and the Persian lime (Citrus latifolia, simply called "lime" in the U.S.). An average Mexican will consume 7 pounds of citrus a year, and $375 million USD was the sole profit of lime in Mexico in 2015, and in 2017 there was a huge shortage, making it insanely expensive and even then, we refused to stop using it on our food.

Some people have the theory that lime juice helps reduce the heat from chiles, some others say lime is present in Mexican food to help digest fats.

Now that the weather is starting to get a little warmer, I have less and less desire to actually cook something in my house. It’s already hot outside, and then to have to use the stove or oven … I might as well just be standing over a fire. It’s too hot! Here, ceviche is eaten with fried tortillas, known as tostadas or totopos, saltine crackers or tortillas chips. Often when you order ceviche your server will bring you a basket of several of these items, various hot sauce, salt and lime – so that you can adjust the ceviche seasoning to your taste. This dish is something you eat when you are near the beach, do not eat it in a city not close to water. It is often served on the street during the day so do not order it for dinner unless you are in a restaurant as it may have been sitting around all day in the heat. My grandma said that when the sun goes down, no fruit of the sea shall be eaten. 

One of my favorite styles of ceviche is from Colima -yes, I know I might get some hate here, since the Baja has some pretty killer ceviche recipes too, but I am pretty sure you have tried them- and this recipe is quite different. To start, it uses minced fish, almost to the consistency of ground meat. Also, it is on the “dryer” side as the juices are drained before serving.

Ingredients

1lb mahi mahi finely chopped so that it appears like ground meat

¾ cup lime juice

1 cup tomatoes, chopped, excess liquid removed

½ cup red onion, diced

¾ cup carrot, shredded

¾ cup cucumber, chopped remove seeds

2 whole serrano chiles, diced *may use less or more, depending on the heat level you like. Or removed completely and served on the side*

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

½ avocado for garnish

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp Fine sea salt, or more if needed at the end

Instructions

    •    In a large bowl, mix tomatoes, red onion, carrot, cucumber, serrano chiles and oregano.

    •    Add lime juice to ground fish and marinate in the fridge for one hour.

    •    After an hour the fish should appear white, not transparent as it was raw. Drain liquid then squeeze remaining lime juice from fish

    •    Add to vegetable mix. Check the seasoning and add more sea salt, if needed. Add chopped cilantro and garnish with avocado.