Introduction to Mexican Food
Corn, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables are staples in the native Mexican diet. In fact, hundreds of years ago meat was quite scarce. It was the Spanish conquistadores who introduced cattle, goats, sheep, chickens and pigs to the Mexican landscape. The introduction of these animals also led to the introduction of cheese-making too.
Today, Mexican food is considered one of the most varied in the world and there are many cooking styles for preparing Mexican foods. Cookbooks are filled with recipes for soups, stews, casseroles, and beautiful fresh salads. Grilling and BBQ also make regular appearances in these cookbooks.
While corn and beans remain the staples, fresh peppers and spices are used liberally to give the cuisine vibrant flavors. In the United States, the spiciness of Mexican food varies depending where you live. In the South and West, a spicier Tex-Mex style is popular. Moving further to the North and East, the spices tend to migrate to the milder side.
Though spiciness plays a role in the robust flavor of Mexican food, the use of fresh traditional ingredients also provides a delicious rainbow of healthy flavors.
The staple ingredients for Mexican cooking:
• Beans (Black, Kidney, Pinto)
• Tomatoes and Tomatillos
• Limes and Oranges
Herbs and Spices in Mexican Cooking:
Mexican food is filled with flavor and the most common spice is the chile pepper. Other commonly used herbs and spices include:
• Cocoa or Mexican Chocolate
Chile Pepper Guide
Whether you enjoy spicy or mild flavors, there is a chile pepper for you. The spiciness of peppers is rated using the Scoville Scale. This scale measures the amount of capsaicin in the pepper. Along with packing heat and spice, capsaicin has antioxidants that can help a variety of health concerns. Here’s a guide to the most common peppers found in Mexican cooking:
Sweet Bell Pepper: This is a very mild, sweet pepper available in a variety of colors – red, orange, yellow and purple. Green bell peppers are an immature variety and are bitter compared to the other colors. Bell peppers are great for kabobs, stir-fries, salads and stuffed with rice and vegetables. Scoville Rating = 0.
Anaheim Chile Pepper: Commonly referred to as a “Green Chile” or “Chile Verde” Approximately 5 inches long and ripen from greenish-yellow, to orange-yellow to red. Anaheim peppers are popular in salsas and are available canned in the Mexican Food section at the market. Scoville Rating – 500 – 1,000.
Poblano Chile Pepper: The poblano is about 4 inches long and dark green. They are the perfect size and heat to use in Chile Rellenos, a popular Mexican stuffed pepper dish. Poblanos are very good roasted and added to stews and casseroles. Red and dried Poblano peppers are called Ancho peppers. Scoville rating -1,000 – 2,000
Hatch Chile Pepper: A native to the USA, Hatch chile peppers are grown and harvested in the Hatch Valley, New Mexico. Hatch chiles are a main staple in the southwest. Roast Hatch peppers and add to stews, main dishes, or stuff them with rice and cheese. Scoville Rating 1,000 – 2,500.
Jalapeño Chile Pepper: Almost everyone knows this spicy, little pepper! They are usually harvested when they are green and are about 4-6 inches long. Use jalapeño peppers in small quantities to add zip to any dish. Jalapeño peppers are also available in jars and cans in the Mexican section of food markets. Scoville Rating 2,500 – 8,000.
Chipotle Chile Pepper: This is not a unique pepper variety, but it is a roasted jalapeño pepper. Chipotle offers a delicious spice and smokiness to Mexican dishes. They are available canned (commonly packed in Adobo Sauce). Scoville Rating 2,500 – 8,000.
Roasting a poblano chile pepper
Chiles roasted over an open flame, or in the oven, impart a delicious smoky flavor to many dishes.
Gas Stove: Turn a burner on high and place the chile on the burner. Use long handled tongs to turn the pepper until it is evenly charred (black skin) on all sides. Place the pepper in a plastic bag and seal the bag.
Oven: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place pepper a cookie sheet and roast for about 4-5 minutes until the skins blister. Watch carefully so it does not burn. Place the roasted peppers in a plastic bag and seal the bag.
Clean and peel: After 10 minutes, remove the pepper from the bag and wash off the skin under cool water. Slice the pepper open. Discard stem core, seeds and stringy veins.
TINIEST GOURMET – MEXI-VEGGIE CHILE STEW
This terrific vegetable stew is made with popular Mexican vegetables and a hint of green chiles. Green chiles are the perfect “first” chile pepper to introduce. They have a gentle, mild flavor. While you can puree this recipe to a smooth texture, it’s perfect as a stage 3 food with a slightly chunky texture.
• 2 medium zucchini, diced
• ½ cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
• 1 ear corn, kernels cut off cob (or ¾ cup frozen corn)
• 1 Tbsp. canned green chiles
• ¼ cup water
1. Place all the ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pan and turn heat down to medium. Cook for 15 minutes.
2. Pour the vegetable stew into a blender or food processor and pulse to chunky texture. Spoon the Mexi-Veggie Chile Stew into So Easy Storage Trays, Cover and Freeze.
3. When ready to serve, defrost and warm up the cubes. This stew is a delicious vegetable dish. You can also add cooked brown rice or fork-mashed black beans to it before serving.
Toddler Treat: Empanadas
Street food is popular throughout the cities of Mexico. Food vendors sell tacos, tamales, and empanadas. Empanadas are small pastries stuffed with sweet or savory fillings. In Mexico, sweet fillings in empanadas are the most popular. We cut our empanadas pastry into 4 ½-inch circles to make a smaller empanada that is perfect for tiny hands to enjoy.
Banana & Chocolate Filling:
• 1 banana, diced
• ¼ cup chocolate chips
• Juice of ¼ lemon
• Sprinkle of cinnamon
• Powdered sugar
Combine banana, chocolate chips, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside
Cheese & Olive Filling:
• 2 ounces Colby-jack cheese, diced
• 1 Tbsp. small green olives stuffed with pimentos, sliced
• 1 Tsp. cilantro, chopped
Combine cheese, olives and cilantro in a small bowl. Set aside.
• Empanada filling (recipes above)
• 1 sheet of puff pastry
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out puff pastry into a thin layer on a lightly floured surface. Using a 4-5 inch circle cookie cutter, cut pastry into 8 rounds.
Place about 1 Tablespoon of empanada mixture in the middle of one of the pastry rounds. Brush the edges with water and fold in half. Press edges with a fork to seal the edges. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the rest of the pastry rounds and filling.
Bake the empanadas for 15-20 minutes or until they are golden brown.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Dust the Banana & Chocolate Empanadas with powdered sugar when slightly cooled.
Family Meal: Meatless Monday Mexican Fiesta
Broccoli Enchiladas (Protein & Grain)
Aztec Oranges (Fruit)
• 3 cups of broccoli florets
• 1 ½ cups ricotta cheese
• 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
• 1 egg
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• ½ tsp. each of salt, pepper and ground cumin
• 6 whole wheat tortillas
• 1 ½ cups red chile enchilada sauce*
• 1 cup vegetable stock
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Blanch broccoli florets by bringing a pan of water to a boil, add broccoli and cook for 3 minutes. Drain immediately and run under cold water.
3. Place broccoli, ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the cheddar cheese, egg, garlic and cumin in a food processor or blender. Pulse to blend all ingredients (mixture can be chunky or smooth – whichever you prefer).
4. Fill each tortilla with the broccoli mixture and roll them up. Arrange tortilla rolls in an oven-proof dish that is large enough to hold the 6 tortillas rolls in a single layer. Pour the red chile enchilada sauce and the vegetable stock over the tortilla rolls. Top with the remaining cheese.
5. Bake 30 minutes. Let the pan cool for 10 minutes and serve.
*Red chile enchilada sauce is available in the Mexican Food section at a supermarket.
• 2 medium-sized zucchini, diced
• 1 roasted poblano chile (see roasting directions below), diced
• ½ large onion, diced
• 2 ears fresh sweet corn or 1-1/2 cups of frozen corn
• 1 can (15 oz.) black beans
• 2 Tbsp. olive oil
• Salt and fresh pepper, to taste
1. Pour back beans in colander and rinse for 1 minute under cold water.
2. Remove husks from corn and cut kernels off the cobs.
3. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, corn, chile and zucchini. Cover, stirring occasionally, and cook until zucchini and onion is softened, about 10 minutes.
4. Reduce heat to low and gently stir in black beans and continue cooking to heat the black beans about 1-2 minutes.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
• 2 oranges
• ¼ of a lime
• 1 tsp. brown sugar
1. Slice ends and skin off oranges.
2. Holding the orange on its side, slice orange into ¼-inch thick rounds.
3. Place on plate, squeeze lime juice over the oranges and sprinkle with brown sugar. Serve.