[Note: This is an English version of an earlier posting I wrote in Spanish.]
Table spread with pozole, taquitos and a jug of limonade with chia.
During my time in Mexico, my host mom, Clara exposed me to a vast array of Mexican cuisine. Every day, it was something new — and she was always inventing new recipes. Here are some of the tasty items she whipped up in her kitchen during the six weeks I stayed in her home.
Juices and shakes (jugos, aguas and licuados)
Clara made numerous aguas – refreshing drinks of water mixed with the juice of tuna (cactus fruit), granada (pomegranate), carambola (star fruit), or limón (lime) sometimes with chia (a small seed). In the mornings, she often made freshly squeezed jugos or juices of mandarinas (oranges) or of toronja (grapefruit). And for the evening cena (or light dinner), she would sometimes make delicious licuados (or milk shakes) with strawberry or banana blended in. Mmm!
Soups (sopas, caldos and cremas)
There was also a great variety of soups. They included sopa con fideos (a tomato-based soup with short noodles), sopa milpa (a soup made of squash blossoms, corn and zucchini), crema de elote (cream of corn), sopa de lentejas (lentil soup), pozole (a soup of pork, pig’s feet and HUGE corn kernels/hominy), crema de chayote (cream of chayote), sopa de verduras (vegetable soup), sopa de espinacas con huevos (spinach and egg soup), sopa de tortillas (tortilla soup), sopa de cebolla (French onion soup). You can view Clara’s tortilla soup recipe in English or in Spanish.
Snacks (antojitos or tapas)
Sopes - my favorite antojito
A Mexican mom wouldn’t be worth her salt if she didn’t also know how to churn out some antojitos, or snacks meant to satisfy a craving (antojo). These corn-based icons of Mexican food can be found everywhere, on the streets, outside of subway stations. Although technically, they’re considered appetizers, they can be quite filling, almost a meal in themselves. My hands-down favorite antojito was sopes, thick round tortillas with pinched edges, layered with yummy toppings, such as beans, meat, salsa, lettuce, etc. I loved the substantial, crunchy-but-soft-inside texture of the masa (corn-flour) base.
Other common antojitos included chilaquiles (a popular breakfast dish using leftover tortillas and salsas), taquitos (fried tacos with de slow-cooked lamb, chicken or potatoes as filling), enchiladas of various fillings covered with green salsa. My host mom also experimented once with tacos sudados (“sweaty tacos”) or tacos de canasta (“tacos of the basket”), which I later discovered is a very popular street food around Mexico City. The tortillas are filled with spicy chicken or mashed potatoes and then placed in a cloth-covered basket, which keeps them warm and steamy!
Main entrees (guisados or platos fuertes)
This is where Clara would become really inventive. She’d throw together pollo con mango (chicken with mango) and make the best chiles rellenos I’d ever tasted (chiles poblanos filled with meat, almonds, apple, and plantains). Other yummy concoctions included tinga de pollo (a spicy chicken with chipotle), wild rice with almonds, cheese-filled squash blossoms, and an assortment of dishes made with nopales (chopped cactus paddles). Related link: You can view a video of me learning to de-thorn a cactus paddle in Mexico City in this posting.
Pastries and Desserts (postres, dulces)
Dinners were lighter than they are in the United States, and often a good time for some sweets. These sweets or pastries would sometimes carry over into the morning desayuno (or breakfast). My absolute favorite, bringing back memories of a marmalade my own mom would make when I was young, was Clara’s homemade guava jam (or mermelada de guayaba) spread over any kind of bread. Clara and her granddaughters one night also made an incredible banana-nut bread or pan de plátano that was to-die-for! Other desserts included buñuelos (fried discs of flour sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon) and empanadas filled with a corn-based custard (maizcena).
Clara was always willing to share her recipes and answer questions about ingredients. She taught me and my fellow house guest Emily how to make salsa roja (of tomatoes) and salsa verde (of tomatillos) in my last week. Three of Clara’s sisters also came over during my last two days in Cuernavaca and cooked up a storm. They introduced me to three kinds of chayote (including one huge, fuzzy one) and huitlacoche, a kind of corn smut, frequently used as a filling for quesadillas. (It’s tastier than it looks or sounds!)
Food related expressions:
Below are some food-related expressions I picked up in Clara’s kitchen.
¡Qué rico(a)! / ¡Está riquísimo(a)! How delicious! / It’s delicious!
Estoy satisfecho(a). I’m satisfied.
Estoy muy lleno(a). I’m really full.
Está para chuparse los dedos. It’s finger-licking good!
Ya te puedes casar. (The food is so good…) Now you can get married.
Ya te puedes volver a casar. (The food is so good that if you are already married…) Now, you can get married again.
Se dice que los mexicanos están hechos de maíz porque comen mucho maíz. They say Mexicans are made of corn because they eat so much of it.
Se cree que alguien es ajonjolí de todos los moles. (Literally: He/She thinks that he/she is the sesame seed of all moles). It’s a way of referring to someone who appears everywhere or wants to know about what’s going on everywhere.
Para que quiero más agruras si con el mole me basta. (Literal translation: Why should I want more heartburn, if I’ve already had enough from the mole.) Why should I ask for more trouble than I’ve already got.
Note: Mole is a blend of many spices and ground sesame seeds, and can be quite heavy. You can view some pictures of mole in a slideshow in this posting.