Mexican cooking - Corn and Chiles

Desert Lil's Delicacies - A DesertUSA Food Feature

Mexican cooking, like other cuisines, is the product of both regional culture and local agriculture. It's also the combination of two worlds -- the Hispanic and the Native American. Mesoamerican indigenous peoples relied on native staples of corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, potatoes and chiles, while the Spanish invaders brought European livestock, cheeses, fruits, and wheat.

foodThe combination of these two culinary legacies evolved into today's Mexican cuisine. The variety of geographical extremes -- lush valleys, tropical jungles, balmy seashores, impenetrable mountains and parched deserts -- accounts for the great differences in local Mexican cuisines.

Export these complex variations north of the border, add a whole new variety of regional differences, from East L.A. to West El Paso, and a whole new cuisine is born -- Mexican American food.

Corn and chiles are the two most characteristic ingredients of this amalgam of Mexican and American foods. There are more than 200 varieties of the chile pepper grown in Mexico, although we usually use only a few here north of the border. We could devote a whole year to the topic of Mexican-American foods, but let's start with some tasty, quick and easy dishes from the cuisine I like to call Des-Mex, Mexican food as served in the deserts of the American Southwest.


Quesadillas Albuquerque
Serves 4

  • 8 large corn tortillas
  • 1 large bunch of spinach (washed, de-stemmed, and chopped)
  • 1 bunch scallions (minced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 2 medium tomatoes (chopped)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese
  • 4 Tbsp ricotta cheese
  • 4 Tbsp fresh cilantro
  • 1 small poblano chile
  • Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

Combine in medium skillet, spinach, onion, tomatoes, garlic, poblano, lemon juice and cumin. Cook about 5 minutes over low heat. Then mix in bowl with the ricotta cheese, cilantro, half the Monterey Jack; season with pepper. Spoon over 4 of the tortillas, topping with remaining Jack cheese, and place remaining tortillas on top. Place quesadillas in frying pan over low heat and cook each side until light brown and cheese melts. Quarter each quesadilla and serve.

Galluping Gazpacho
Serves 4

  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1 med onion (finely chopped)
  • 4 large tomatoes (peeled & finely chopped)
  • 1 large cucumber (seeds removed and finely chopped)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 lime (juice)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro (chopped)
  • Black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Chill 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator. Ladle into in small soup bowls, garnish with cilantro and serve. (Substitute V-8 juice for spicier taste.)

Chiricahua 3-Bean Chili
Serves 6

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 anaheim peppers
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 lg. can tomatoes
  • 1 small can each: kidney, pinto, black beans
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4- lb. cheddar cheese
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 12 corn tortillas

Dice onion, peppers, and garlic cloves, then sauté in large frying pan or pot for 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper and chili powder to ground beef mixing thoroughly, then add meat to pot and fry 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes, and beans, cooking at a low boil for 45 minutes. Dish, top with cheese and cilantro and serve with warm corn tortillas. (Prepare without ground beef for meatless chili.)

Borrego Rebaked Potatoes
Serves 4-8

  • 4 large Idaho potatoes
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 serrano peppers (dried & chopped)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or sour 1/2 & 1/2
  • 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup cheddar cheese
  • Small amount milk
  • Salt & black pepper to taste

Bake potatoes until tender (usually 45 minutes at 400 degrees F in conventional oven; about 4 minutes per potato in microwave). Remove from oven and slice in half lengthwise, setting skins on oven tray. Spoon contents into medium bowl with butter, serranos, sour cream salt and pepper. Whip potatoes with masher and/or electric beater until smooth and creamy (add milk to reach proper consistency). Spoon whipped potatoes into skins, and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Return to 400-degree oven and bake for 10 minutes before garnishing with cilantro and serving. (Olive oil, non-fat yogurt and shredded parmesan can be used as substitute ingredients.)



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