Mexican Cuisine’s Rich History

Traditional foods of Mexico offer rich flavors, brilliant colors and a variety of ingredients, and they don’t deserve the spicy reputation.

Chile Rellenos

Chile Rellenos

iStockphoto.com/Juan Islas

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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – The history of Mexican food is long and distinct. Since before the 1500s, the art of fine Mexican cuisine has been in the making. The foods of Mexico are known for having rich flavors and brilliant colors, and are made from a variety of ingredients. Yet many people shy away from eating Mexican food because they buy into the myth that it is mainly a spicy cuisine.

“When people visit from the United States and try the food here, they are always pleasantly surprised,” says Laurena Martini, executive chef of the Puerto Vallarta Beach Club, a new private boutique resort located on Los Muertos Beach along the Mexican Riviera. “They come in, somehow, believing it is going to be spicy and hard to digest, but they leave loving our food and wondering why it took them so long to discover it.”  

If you have been shying away from trying Mexican foods, now is the time to give it a try. After all, most people like chocolate, and it was first a part of Mexican cuisine. While, over the years, Mexican cuisine has borrowed from other countries around the world, those other countries have also been inspired by the styles and ingredients that Mexico is known for. Today, Mexican food still follows many of its original traditions, including the frequent use of corn, beans, avocado, tomato and tomatillo.

Some of the best-known and most popular Mexican dishes are Oaxaca’s famous black mole, the popular pozole, or chiles rellenos. There are also a variety of tasty salsas, used for topping these dishes. Traditional Mexican food was cooked in ceramic pots or cast-iron skillets over an open fire. Much of the food was either steamed or fried, as it is today.

A trip to the local market is an explosion of sensory experiences where exotic fruit, vegetables, chilies, nuts, meats and seafood are found in stunning displays set up daily by the local vendors. Every state in Mexico has a distinctive cuisine based on climate, traditions and local produce, but, one thing is certain, beans, corn, tortillas and rice staple foods can be found everywhere from the family run “cenadurias” to fine dining restaurants.

The famous black mole sauce of Oaxaca has more than 50 different spices and chilies ground into a paste with dark cocoa beans to create a delicious semi-sweet sauce for chicken or turkey, which is then lightly sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. The stuffed Poblano chilies (chiles rellenos) – lightly coated in egg batter and filled with cheese or meat and deep fried and laden with a tangy tomato and oregano sauce – are a treat that many people love.

Mexican food can easily be prepared at home. If you haven’t tried your hand at making some of their dishes, give these recipes a try.

 

SHRIMP AND MANGO CEVICHE

300 grams (approximately 1 1/3 cups) fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large mango, ripe but firm
1 cucumber, seeds removed
Half red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 small green chili, seeds removed, diced
Half red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Juice of 2 limes and half an orange
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Marinate shrimp in lime juice for 2 hours, drain and combine with rest of ingredients. If you prefer, you can poach shrimp in boiling water, drain, chill, then combine with other ingredients.
Serve chilled with slices of avocado and fresh tostadas or corn chips.

 

GRILLED TOMATILLO SALSA

10 small tomatillos
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
Cilantro
2 dried ‘chiles de arbol,’ also known as Cola de rata, or rats tail, because of their thin long shape (a dried red chili common in most stores)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Place all ingredients in heavy bottom pan or on grill and let them char slightly on the outside, then smash in mortar and pestle or in food processor for chunky consistency. Season to taste and serve with fresh white fish such as Mahi mahi, sea bass or snapper. Also great on quesadillas or with corn chips.

 

CHILES RELLENOS

6 poblano chilies
300 grams (approximately 1 1/3 cups) Oaxaca string cheese or Monterrey Jack cheese, if Oaxaca cheese is unavailable
Flour for dusting chilies
6 raw eggs (separated)
4 cups of Homemade Mexican tomato and oregano salsa
Salsa:
6 ripe tomatoes
1 onion
5 garlic cloves
Epazota herb
Toasted oregano
Cumin
Olive oil
To make salsa: Simmer tomatoes, onion, garlic and a couple sprigs of Epazote herb in chicken stock or water. Once all ingredients are cooked, puree in blender and season with oregano and a touch of cumin. In hot pan, add olive oil and pour in sauce; simmer for another 10 minutes and season to taste.
To prepare chilies: Char chilies on flame and place in bag to sweat; the skin should peel of easily after they have cooled. Peel and seed chilies.
Once peeled and seeded, stuff each chili with cheese and secure with toothpick.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold in egg yolks, season with salt and pepper.
Dredge stuffed chilies in seasoned flour and shake off excess, coat in egg batter and fry in hot oil. Once browned, cheese will be melted in center; remove chili from pan and drain on paper towels, keep in warm oven until all have been fried.
Serve chilies with white rice and cover with tangy tomato-oregano salsa, you can sprinkle with chopped cilantro and rings of pickled red onion and a dollop of sour cream.

 

“Mexican food is delicious, yet unpretentious, it makes you feel like you are eating in a warm inviting home,” Martini says. “I think that is why it is becoming one of the most popular cuisines in the world.”

The Puerto Vallarta Beach Club is a new, completely exclusive and “green” world-class resort. It features one-to-four bedroom rental villas, all with a private pool and house boy, located on a private beach. They provide accommodations for wedding parties, with the weddings held on the property, and all arrangements handled through the resort’s wedding staff. Up to 22 rooms are available, when including sister-resort Villa Verano, a famous resort in its 25th year of business. At the Puerto Vallarta Beach Club, chefs go into each villa on an “on call” basis in order to prepare gourmet meals for the guests.

The Puerto Vallarta Beach Club opened New Year’s 2010. Situated on the beautiful Mexican Riviera, the resort is located on the waterfront property of the well-known Villa Verano, on popular Los Muertos Beach. The new private resort is open to individuals, families, and those planning special events, conferences and weddings. To learn more about the Puerto Vallarta Beach Club, visit the website.