Cooking Like a Mexican

 Cooking Like a Mexican

BY ALEJANDRA BORBOLLA

In this edition, we’re talking about an ancestral dish, its origins dating back many years before the Spanish set foot on our lands. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most emblematic dishes of Mexican culture. Its recipe was practiced by the Mayans, Aztecs, and Otomis.

It’s known for certain that the Mixiote recipe is centuries old, prepared by the natives of the southern Mexican highlands, an area that includes the Anahuac Valley and the Huasteca Hidalguense, encompassing the states of Querétaro, Hidalgo, Mexico, Morelos, Tlaxcala, and Mexico City, where the rearing of sheep and the cultivation of maguey, the main meat used for this dish, are popular.

The name comes from the Nahuatl “metl,” which means maguey, and “xiotl,” film or membrane of the maguey leaf; it’s the other unique and special ingredient that the recipe calls for, and which many civilizations used by cooking it in steam.

History tells us that the first Spaniards to taste this traditional dish were Duchess Catalina de Aragon and Montealban, along with her husband Don Carlos Arsillaca y Albarrán, at a special banquet prepared by the natives of Huasteca Hidalguense. Its flavor enchanted the Spanish to the point where they made it popular throughout the territory.

The recipe consists of a preparation of chili-marinated meat wrapped in a thin maguey leaf film and cooked by steam. It’s generally made with lamb and mutton, but you can also find it made with beef, chicken, rabbit, or even squirrel. It can be served with potatoes and nopales.

While the original recipe uses the maguey leaf membrane, nowadays, it’s more common to use wax or aluminum paper since the maguey is a protected species, and its commercialization is prohibited.

In Hidalgo, it’s a tradition to accompany this dish with a glass of pulque. Cheers!

Pulque is a traditional Mexican alcoholic beverage with a rich history dating back to pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. It is a milky, slightly foamy drink made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant, particularly the agave or maguey species known as Agave salmiana and Agave atrovirens. The maguey plant has deep cultural and symbolic significance in Mexican history and is often associated with various indigenous rituals and traditions.

To produce pulque, the sap or aguamiel (honey water) is extracted from the core of the mature maguey plant. The aguamiel is collected in large jars and left to ferment naturally through the action of airborne yeasts. This fermentation process typically takes one to two weeks. As it ferments, the aguamiel transforms into pulque, with a characteristic sour and slightly acidic flavor profile.

Pulque has been consumed in Mexico for thousands of years and was regarded as a sacred drink by the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples. It played an important role in various religious ceremonies and was often associated with fertility and the divine. Over time, pulque has remained a significant part of Mexican cultural heritage, and it continues to be produced and consumed in various regions of the country, particularly in central Mexico.

While pulque has historical significance and cultural importance, its popularity has fluctuated over the years. It experienced a resurgence in the early 21st century as part of a revival of interest in traditional Mexican beverages and gastronomy. Today, pulque is enjoyed by many as a unique and authentic Mexican drink, often served in traditional pulquerías, which are establishments specializing in serving pulque and other traditional beverages.

To ensure the original recipe and the Mixiote have its special flavor, it must contain the following herbs: avocado leaf, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and epazote.

Bay leaves have become an essential element when seasoning our typical dishes. In Mexico, it’s considered an ingredient with medicinal and spiritual properties. Thanks to its unmistakable aroma, it has become one of the most powerful natural allies.

In our country, it’s also known as Castilian laurel and was introduced by the Spaniards during the conquest era. It thrives in humid places and is commonly found in Chiapas and the Sierra Gorda of Querétaro.

Its leaves are of a dark green color, although some may have shiny touches and a pointed shape. The tree that gives it life stands six meters tall, and its trunk is as thick as its texture.

In gastronomic uses, bay leaf is a must in soups, barbacoa, broths, menudo, and pozole, as its flavor and aroma complement these delicious dishes.

On the other hand, ailments wouldn’t be relieved in the same way without this plant. In medicine, bay leaf is considered a tonic to treat digestive, joint, and muscular problems, as well as an analgesic for diarrhea, headaches, and chills.

Spirituality doesn’t lag behind, as some consider this species as an esoteric ingredient that can act in the protection and benefit of someone. According to some witches, bay leaf brings fortunate destinies to those who ingest it and entrust themselves to it. Certainly, since ancient Greece, this tree represented glory, honor, divine inspiration, and victory.

Bay leaf can be ingested as an infusion and vaporizing essence. Likewise, ointments, tonics, and other products can be made that will provide instant relief. Its properties are mainly healing, and its leaves can tone the skin, eliminate gases from the digestive tract, and act to the benefit of rheumatic pains.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg of lamb or mutton, cut into small pieces
  • 8 dried guajillo chilies, seeded and deveined
  • 4 dried pasilla chilies, seeded and deveined
  • 4 dried ancho chilies, seeded and deveined
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of thyme
  • 1/2 cup of white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 avocado leaves
  • 2 cups of chicken or beef broth
  • Parchment paper or aluminum foil for wrapping
  • Kitchen twine

Instructions:

  • Begin by soaking the dried chilies in hot water for about 20 minutes until they become soft. Once softened, drain the chilies and blend them with the white vinegar to form a smooth paste.
  • In a large bowl, combine the meat, blended chili paste, chopped onion, minced garlic, dried oregano, thyme, and vegetable oil. Mix thoroughly to ensure the meat is well coated with the marinade. Let it marinate for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight for optimal flavor.
  • Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
  • Cut the parchment paper or aluminum foil into large squares, at least 10 by 10 inches.
  • Place a portion of the marinated meat mixture in the center of each parchment paper or aluminum foil square, adding a bay leaf and an avocado leaf to each portion.
  • Fold the paper or foil over the meat and tie it securely with kitchen twine to create a tightly sealed packet.
  • Arrange the packets in a large baking dish and add the chicken or beef broth. (You can also use plain water, but this tastes better.)
  • Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 2 to 2.5 hours, or until the meat is tender and fully cooked.
  • Once cooked, carefully unwrap the packets, and serve the Mixiote with warm tortillas, rice, and your favorite garnishes such as salsa, chopped onions, and cilantro.

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