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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Old Mexico


If you are going to bother to wear a hat, don't mess around.

What could be better than being at home on a Wednesday evening cooking Mexican food and blasting Vicente Fernández? I was going to put in a link to his Wikipedia article but at this point if you read the crap I write and you don’t know who he is then you just aren’t paying attention. Maybe you have been too busy text messaging about this week’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance to remember who Vicente Fernández is? If this is your case then you are hopeless and I give up. Just don’t blame me when you go to Mexico and people treat you like the ignorant American slob that you are. It’s called cultural literacy and without at least an inkling of knowledge of Vicente Fernández they probably shouldn’t even let you pass through Mexican customs.

OK, I’ll be the first to admit that the food I am making isn’t authentic Mexican cuisine. I am just making a big pot of pinto beans with hot peppers and pork. I am also trying to make up for a recent error I had in the kitchen when I attempted to make a dish with achiote.* I was instructed to grind the seeds in an electric coffee/spice grinder but since I left mine in Seattle I thought that I would just use my trusty mortar and pestle. Unfortunately, the seeds of the achiote are as hard as rocks so I had a very hard time with the dish I made last week. I went to the grocery store where I bought the seeds and asked if they had achiote in powder form. The woman who owns the shop told me that you don’t need to grind the seeds. You can fry them in oil and then just use the rendered oil to cook whatever you had in mind.

I have been shopping in this little store since I move to Ruzafa almost two year ago—how time flies. The owner is really cute and helpful. She’s from the Dominican Republic. When I first went there I was just a gringo who spoke a little Spanish, now I am trading recipes and teaching her about Mexican cooking. It is cool for me to actually experience how my language skills have improved—it helps to slightly offset all of the times when I am completely frustrated with my progress or what I feel is my lack of it. As of late I have been trying to make some new headway in Spanish. For a while I was seriously neglecting my reading which I feel is the best way to forge ahead.

I recently bought some flour tortillas in her shop that were cheap, fresh, and very good which has inspired me to make more Mexican food. Without tortillas that is kind of a difficult task. You can buy good tortillas in the major chain grocery stores here but they are expensive as all get out and I just can’t justify their purchase. Mexican food is peasant food, after all, and I mean that in the best way. When Spanish people ask me what I miss most about my country I tell them that I miss Mexican food. I lack a lot of the basic ingredients here to make some of my favorite dishes, things like pozole and mole. I can make authentic Mexican food if I have all of the basic ingredients. I can’t get chipotle peppers, maíz blanco, corn tortillas, jalapeños, and several other essentials, at least not all the time. It’s not like making Spanish food is such a hardship, but some day I will visit Mexico again and I want to keep my stomach trained for the food.

*A rust colored seed that is harvested from the annatto shrub to produce the Achiote spice. Native to Latin America, Spain, and East India, the Achiote seed is protected by a pod containing 40 to 60 red seeds. The triangular-shaped Achiote seeds are surrounded by a red pulp that is separated from the seeds and pod when they are harvested. The pulp is processed to produce a commercial dying agent while the seeds are dried and made into a rust colored paste that is often used for coloring foods such as rice, smoked fish, butter, or cheese. Cheshire, Edam, Leicester, and Muenster cheeses are commonly colored with the rusty-toned paste to enhance the appearance of the cheese. Also used as a spice for flavoring foods, Annatto seeds provide a sweet and somewhat peppery taste when added to various food dishes.

To prepare the Achiote, place the seeds into the liquid ingredients being prepared or add the seeds to hot water to obtain the color and flavor desired before using the mixture to color rice or as a stock to add flavors to other foods. In addition to foods, this seed and pulp are used to color candies, cosmetics and textiles. Achiote or Achote is the common name for the spice made from this seed in Mexico and Latin America, while in the Philippines the Annatto seed is known as Atsuwete or Acheute and it is also commonly known as Anatta, Annato or Annatto. To store, keep the seeds in an airtight container away from heat.
Thanks to recipetips.com