Mexican food doesn’t always get the proper credit it should. Simply, we’ve dumbed down quite a bit of this amazing culture into a mass category. In fact, Mexican cuisine, like many other cultures, is diverse. While we tend to over emphasize quesadillas (veggiedillas if your roommate is a hippie), some truly extraordinary dishes go overlooked. This Cinco de Mayo, think outside the burrito and consider the following:
- Chorizo is a spicy red chile sausage. Mexican chorizo is typically fresh while its Spanish cousin may be dried or aged to improve flavor. If you really enjoy hot Italian sausage, think of chorizo as a version with chiles.
- Mole, a rich tomato chocolate sauce, is usually a dark brown-red color. If done well, its flavor is very developed and the chocolate acts to mellow the acid bite of the tomato just a little. Commonly, you’ll see mole served over enchiladas.
- Queso Fundido includes hot, melted strings of cheese, strips of pepper and chunks of tangy sausage. No further explanation required … right?
- Queso fresco might be a good start if you don’t like to live on the wild side. It is literally ‘fresh’ cheese. White and mild, it’s like mozzarella.
- Pozole or pork and hominy stew might be hard to find. If you like home cooked comfort food, this is a Mexican equivalent.
- Salsa Verde seems a little strange. It’s a green food. Green salsa, in fact. It’s best not to speculate on which combination of greens, but, typically, tomatillos, peppers and cilantro all play a leading role.
Finally, let’s say you are just a burrito man. You simply can’t get yourself out of ordering the same three things. You know who you are. A few tricks you can try at home to bring a little Mexican to any kitchen:
- Roasted veggies add just a touch of smoke while maintaining the integrity of the vegetable. You can dry roast, which means heating a heavy bottom pan and placing the veggies directly into it. The skin will begin to char after 20 minutes. This works for garlic and peppers like jalapenos. Oven roast veggies by placing tomatoes, for example, 6 inches from the broiler in the oven. Give them 10 minutes, then flip over (skin will char.)
- Cumin and chili powder, dried and ground, offer a little safe flavor. Creative cooks have been known to throw them over popcorn with some oregano and salt.
- Chipolte chiles were a craze for a while. Tabasco made a sauce out of them a few years ago, too. They also come in a can with adoba sauce, which is a great way to get familiar with them. Be very careful while adjusting to their fiery heat. One extra dash is enough to send a dish irrevocably over the edge.