Cooking Like A Mexican

Esquites
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Cooking-Esquites-pic.jpg

“We are what we eat” is certainly a fact. People’s diet defines cultures, races, religion, societies, politics, and art, even.

Food, as one of the basic needs of every single living thing on the planet, is the engine that moved humanity to develop hundreds of cultivating, curing and preserving techniques, to travel, to settle, to create societies. Grains play a basic role here. Grains are used in so many ways around the world, from dough and its final products to beverages such as coffee, vodka, beer and whisky. The list is just too long.

While all grains like barley, rice, oats, rye and wheat have their roots in the Middle East, (Egypt, Rome, Greece, China, and India), corn has it origin in Mexico. The origin of corn goes back 8,000 years.

Today, corn is the most produced grain in the world, above even of wheat and rice.

It is believed that maize has grown wild for 12,000 years. However, with the passage of time the technique to plant, harvest, grind and cook maize evolved until the maize was tamed 5,000 years ago.

The technique of working with the maize evolved to such a degree that it not only became Mexican food’s basic ingredient, it became a lifestyle (just like beans and chile).

The original word for maize was “Zea Mays” and it means “Source of life”. There are some beautiful legends surrounding maize and the origin of life.

The Nahuas knew the maize as “atzintzintil" meaning grain of ant. Its legend says that man discovered the maize when they saw an ant taking some grains to the anthill.

The grains that the ant was carrying were small and they were not beans nor wheat – they were Maize Grains. That’s how man discovered maize and it was domesticated.

In the Popol Vuh (Mayan book) a legend is also told about the creation of man and maize. The legend says that the gods created man from clay but when it was piled up it fell. Due to the failure, they had to get rid of it. Then the gods tried to create man from wood, but it was nothing but a mannequin with no animation, so they had to destroy it. The gods then tried to create man with maize, it entered the body and when mixed with the blood and organs it gave them strength and life.

Before the arrival of the Spaniards, corn was distributed, from its original land along almost all the American continent, reaching the north part of it what we know now as Quebec, Canada, and to the South part of Mexico, through the Caribbean by the Atlantic coast it expanded to Brazil and Argentina in the XVII century. The migrations of this cereal allowed new forms to be developed. Today, there are more than 300 types of it. It has different colors too: yellow, red, blue, white, black, etc.

Like any other ancient culture, Mexicans found several different ways to consume it. From the plain cob to tortillas and their many forms, to complete dishes, beverages, and snacks.

Eating corn as a snack is a very popular Mexican tradition. In every city, village and town you will find corn stands as you can find hotdog stands in Los Angeles or New York. 

Elotes (cobs) are commonly boiled and then stuck a wooden stick for you to hold without getting messy. Then, it is dressed with mayonnaise, sour cream, queso fresco or cotija depending on the area, chili powder, spicy or not spicy, lime juice, and salt.

All together or the mix of your choice. In these carts, you can also find what we call “Esquites”.  This word comes from the nahuatl speech “izquitl” that means “roast in a flat pan”, basically this snack is corn kernels that have been boiled with a little bit of water, salt, and, “epazote” (a Mexican origin herb used to season), and some other stuff.

If it is true that every cook has its own way of cooking ezquites, there are two main procedures: Boiled or fried. I would recommend trying both and using different ingredients until you find the perfect blend for your taste.

 

Ingredients:

White corn cobs (either way you decide to cook it, think on one or two pieces per person)

Chopped onion (around one tablespoon per cob)

Chopped jalapeño pepper (the amount is up to you; just don’t forget that jalapeño can be hot. If you want to avoid the heat but still love the flavor of it, slice each chile lengthwise and remove the seeds)

One epazote sprig per piece of corn.

 

For serving:

Mayonnaise

Sour cream

Cotija cheese

Chili powder

Lime

Salt

Pepper

ALL TO TASTE

 

Procedure:

Remove the leaves and hair of the corn. Hold the piece with one hand and use a sharp knife to cut off the kernels from top to bottom. Do this carefully and inside of a bowl so you won’t miss kernels. They jump away!

If you are going to boil them: Put the corn kernels in a pot and cover them with water (even better chicken broth), not too much, it is not a soup, just enough to cover them. Add the jalapeño pepper and the chopped onion. Put a lid on it so the steam will help to cook them faster. If you choose to cook Mexican type corn (white) it will take around 30 minutes boiling. If you go for the “sweet corn” (yellow) 10 minutes will be enough. Leave the epazote for the final part, just a few minutes boiling with the rest of the ingredients. To finish, add salt to your taste.

If you decide to fry them just add butter at the beginning, stir constantly to avoid them sticking in the pan, fry everything together; the corn kernels, onion and jalapeño until they are soft, between 20 to 40 minutes depending on the kind of corn. If you think they are too dry, you can add water or chicken broth. Remember, epazote goes last.

Serve the “ezquites” in small bowls with mayonnaise, sour cream, sliced limes, shredded dry cheese as like cotija, chili powder and salt.

Make sure to serve them really hot.

If you have leftovers, don’t throw them away, you can add them to rice and they go great as a side dish or on top of salads, or even for scrambled eggs!