One of America’s most favored ethnic cuisines is unquestionably Mexican. Just how far we have come from those hard, crisp tacos and lard-laden refried beans. Going back to the Mayan culture circa 1500 BC, corn and beans have formed the foundation of original Mexican foods and still comprise a major portion of their foods. They were plentiful and easily stored. Gradually, a number of fresh ingredients have been added over the years, along with chicken, beef, pork and seafood, to delight the palates of most everyone, from fast food to Deltaco, and everything in between. But the basics which we adore probably the most still top our hit parade. So let’s check out the whole enchilada:
As soon as 5000 BC, possibly 7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history. the tamale (or “tamal”) is corn masa, individually wrapped in a corn husk and was the perfect portable food. Sort of your early fast convenience food, they were often carried by warriors, hunters and travelers as a sort of meal on the go. Early tamales were often filled with turkey,frog, flamingo, axolotl (salamander), gopher or rabbit (would I make that up?). Homemade tamales remain a tradition at Christmas in Mexican homes, and their preparation is labor-intensive and time-consuming, usually steamed within their husk but an essential part from the holiday meal.
Enchiladas go as far back to Mayan times, perhaps earlier, when the practice of rolling corn tortillas around other foods made for easy meals. In the lake region from the Valley of Mexico, the folks traditionally ate corn tortillas folded or rolled around small fish. As we know them now, enchiladas continue to be corn tortillas rolled around a filling, including various meats, cheese, beans, potatoes, vegetables or perhaps a combination and engrossed in a chili pepper sauce, topped with cheese.
In a class itself, Enchiladas suizas (Swiss-style) are topped with a cream-based white sauce, like béchamel, which was produced from Swiss immigrants in Mexico who produced cream and cheese.
Burritos can also be rolled tortillas but made from wheat, filled with rice, beans and meat, called ‘coçito’ in the Yucatán and ‘taco’ in Mexico City. Burritos may have been created in times of war, easily transported and eaten on the run, primarily during the Mexican/American strife of the early 1900s. As they are enclosed and easily eaten standing upright, they can make great street food.
Quesadillas really are a flat circle of cooked corn tortilla, warmed to soften it enough to get folded in half, and then typically loaded with Oaxaca cheese (queso Oaxaca), a stringy Mexican cheese. They originated in central and southern regions of Mexico and can also contain chicken or shrimp.
Arriving late in the party, chimichangas made their look in 1946 because of Woody Johnson, founder of Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen, who claims he invented them as he put some burritos right into a deep fryer as being an experiment at his original Phoenix restaurant Woody’s El Nido. The name means “trinket” loosely translated.
For anyone cooks who would like to re-create their preferred dishes in your own home, you might like to include these basics on your shopping list:
Rice – brown, spicy or plain, an excellent accompaniment
Beans – both refried pinto beans and black beans
Salsa – lots of combinations, both cooked and fresh
Avocados – either sliced or mashed with tomatoes and spices for a tantalizing and delicious guacamole
Red or verde (green) sauces to squirt on the top or drown your preferred dish
Corn, white or wheat flour tortillas
Assorted peppers and chiles, both spicy and mild
Cheese (queso) usually crumbled or shredded blends, the most famous is cotija and anejo, even (drumroll) Velveeta now offers Mexican and pepper-flavored cheese blends
Tortilla chips for dipping
Although most towns and cities host the most popular fast food and chain restaurants, like Taco Bell, Del Taco restaurant, Chipotle, El Torito and Acapulco’s, frequently the best Mexican foods may be found in small, family owned shops, or in emdzgy area often called “Old Town” which can be a wonderful mix of restaurants and street vendors, all serving up our favorites. Buen apetito.