Among America’s most widely used 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 major 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 many everyone, from fast food to Del Taco breakfast menu, and everything in between. However the basics which we adore probably the most still top our hit parade. So let’s check out the whole enchilada:
As soon 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 the ideal portable food. Sort of your early fast convenience food, these people 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, along with their preparation is labor-intensive and time-consuming, usually steamed within their husk but a significant part of 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 you may know them now, enchiladas continue to be corn tortillas rolled around a filling, including various meats, cheese, beans, potatoes, vegetables or even a combination and covered with a chili pepper sauce, topped with cheese.
In a class by itself, Enchiladas suizas (Swiss-style) are topped using a cream-based white sauce, including béchamel, which was produced from Swiss immigrants in Mexico who produced cream and cheese.
Burritos can also be rolled tortillas but made from wheat, stuffed with rice, beans and/or meat, called ‘coçito’ in the Yucatán and ‘taco’ in Mexico City. Burritos might have been created when in war, easily transported and eaten on the run, primarily during the Mexican/American strife of the early 1900s. Because they are enclosed and simply eaten standing upright, they can make great street food.
Quesadillas really are a flat circle of cooked corn tortilla, warmed to soften it enough to be folded by 50 percent, and after that typically filled with Oaxaca cheese (queso Oaxaca), a stringy Mexican cheese. They originated in central and southern regions of Mexico and can also contain chicken or shrimp.
Arriving late on the party, chimichangas made their appearance in 1946 due to Woody Johnson, founder of Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen, who claims he invented them when 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 anyone cooks who would like to re-create their most favorite dishes in your own home, you might like to include these basics on the list:
Rice – brown, spicy or plain, an excellent 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 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, Deltaco, Chipotle, El Torito and Acapulco’s, frequently the best Mexican foods can be found in small, family owned shops, or perhaps 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.