One of America’s most favored ethnic cuisines is obviously 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 significant portion of their foods. They were plentiful and easily stored. Gradually, a number of fresh ingredients have been added over the years, in addition to chicken, beef, pork and seafood, to delight the palates of most everyone, from fast food to Del Taco catering menu, and everything in between. However the basics which we adore the most still top our hit parade. So let’s check out the whole enchilada:
Around 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, these were often carried by warriors, hunters and travelers as a kind of meal on the go. Early tamales were often loaded with turkey,frog, flamingo, axolotl (salamander), gopher or rabbit (would I make that up?). Homemade tamales are still a tradition at Christmas in Mexican homes, along with their preparation is labor-intensive and time-consuming, usually steamed in their husk but an important part of the holiday meal.
Enchiladas go as far back to Mayan times, perhaps earlier, when the technique of rolling corn tortillas around other foods made for easy meals. Inside the lake region from the Valley of Mexico, the individuals traditionally ate corn tortillas folded or rolled around small fish. As we know them now, enchiladas are still corn tortillas rolled around a filling, including various meats, cheese, beans, potatoes, vegetables or 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, such as béchamel, that was based on Swiss immigrants in Mexico who produced cream and cheese.
Burritos are also rolled tortillas but made from wheat, stuffed with rice, beans and meat, called ‘coçito’ in the Yucatán and ‘taco’ in Mexico City. Burritos could have been created when in war, easily transported and eaten on the run, primarily through the Mexican/American strife from the early 1900s. As they are enclosed and simply eaten standing upright, they create great street food.
Quesadillas are a flat circle of cooked corn tortilla, warmed to soften it enough to get folded in two, and then typically loaded with Oaxaca cheese (queso Oaxaca), a stringy Mexican cheese. They originated in central and southern parts of Mexico and will also contain chicken or shrimp.
Arriving late at the party, chimichangas made their look in 1946 thanks to Woody Johnson, founder of Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen, who claims he invented them when he put some burritos in to a deep fryer as an experiment at his original Phoenix restaurant Woody’s El Nido. The name means “trinket” loosely translated.
For those cooks who would like to re-create their most favorite dishes in the home, you may want to include these basics on the shopping list:
Rice – brown, spicy or plain, a fantastic accompaniment
Beans – both refried pinto beans and black beans
Salsa – a large number of combinations, both cooked and fresh
Avocados – either sliced or mashed with tomatoes and spices to get a tantalizing and delicious guacamole
Red or verde (green) sauces to squirt on the top or drown your chosen 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 favorite fast food and chain restaurants, like Taco Bell, Del Taco catering menu, Chipotle, El Torito and Acapulco’s, frequently the best Mexican foods are available in small, family owned shops, or even in emdzgy area also known as “Old Town” which is often a delightful mixture of restaurants and street vendors, all serving up our favorites. Buen apetito.