Among America’s most widely used ethnic cuisines is unquestionably Mexican. Just how far we have come from those hard, crisp tacos and lard-laden refried beans. Dating 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, many different fresh ingredients have been added over time, along with chicken, beef, pork and seafood, to delight the palates of the majority of everyone, from fast food to Del Taco menu, and everything in between. But the basics which we adore the most still top our hit parade. So let’s check out the whole enchilada:
As early 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 an ideal portable food. Kind of your early fast convenience food, these were often carried by warriors, hunters and travelers as a sort 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, and their preparation is labor-intensive and time-consuming, usually steamed inside their husk but a significant part in the holiday meal.
Enchiladas date back to Mayan times, perhaps earlier, when the practice of rolling corn tortillas around other foods made for easy meals. Within the lake region from the Valley of Mexico, the people 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 perhaps a combination and covered with a chili pepper sauce, topped with cheese.
In a class on its own, Enchiladas suizas (Swiss-style) are topped having a cream-based white sauce, such as béchamel, which was produced from Swiss immigrants in Mexico who produced cream and cheese.
Burritos will also be rolled tortillas but made from wheat, stuffed with rice, beans and/or meat, called ‘coçito’ within the Yucatán and ‘taco’ in Mexico City. Burritos may have been created when in war, easily transported and eaten on the run, primarily throughout the Mexican/American strife in the early 1900s. Since they are enclosed and easily eaten standing up, they make great street food.
Quesadillas are a flat circle of cooked corn tortilla, warmed to soften it enough to get folded by 50 percent, and then typically loaded with Oaxaca cheese (queso Oaxaca), a stringy Mexican cheese. They originated in central and southern regions of Mexico and will also contain chicken or shrimp.
Arriving late at the party, chimichangas made their appearance in 1946 thanks to Woody Johnson, founder of Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen, who claims he invented them as he put some burritos into a deep fryer as an experiment at his original Phoenix restaurant Woody’s El Nido. The name means “trinket” loosely translated.
For all those cooks who want to re-create their favorite dishes in the home, you might want to include these basics on your shopping list:
Rice – brown, spicy or plain, a great 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 for any tantalizing and delicious guacamole
Red or verde (green) sauces to squirt at 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 popular is cotija and anejo, even (drumroll) Velveeta now offers Mexican and pepper-flavored cheese blends
Tortilla chips for dipping
Although most cities and towns host the most popular fast food and chain restaurants, like Taco Bell, Del Taco catering menu, Chipotle, El Torito and Acapulco’s, frequently the very best Mexican foods can be found in small, family owned shops, or even in emdzgy area often called “Old Town” which can be a delightful mix of restaurants and street vendors, all serving up our favorites. Buen apetito.