Funny, I was just thinking along the same lines as Chris – how the hell do you sum up an entire country’s food in a mere 3-4 paragraphs?!
You can’t. I can’t, anyway, so I thought long and hard about what sets Mexican food apart for me from the rest of the crowd (I had to fight getting up in the middle of the night to make tacos).
Here’s what I came up with:
Mexican food is perhaps one of the most fun, messy foods to eat.
Tacos and tacitos drip hot sauce and juices from pork and chicken, enchilada sauce bursts forth from your entree, and ceviches blot your napkin with lemon or lime juice.
Salsas are perhaps one of the messiest condiments, with the water from the tomato or tomatillo and citrus juices making it sometimes difficult to get on your tortilla chip or breadstick. And when your fajitas, quesadillas and tacos have salsa on them, just know that it might take a few tries to get the hang of it and not have it end up on your shirt front.
The good thing about salsa is it is simple to make an outstanding one as long as you have fresh ingredients on hand, and because you don’t have to cook it, it can be made quickly. The base ingredients include tomatoes or tomatillos, cilantro, onion, garlic, citrus juice and hot peppers. Some pros say salt and pepper too, but I’ve never done that. (Hmm, I’m going to try that next time….) I like to chop and mix it all by hand, but many people use their food processor.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is the making it fresh always trumps a store-bought one. And this way, you can make it as hot or mild as you like. The best way to add heat to your salsa is to remember that:
1. the smaller the chili, the hotter it is
2. add a little at a time and taste as you go
The other thing I’ve learned is, salsas vary in Mexico, depending on the region. Northern Mexico is known for its hearty grilled beef dishes, so you want something vibrant to stand up against the heaviness.
In The Cuisine of Puebla by Karen Hursh Graber, Northern Mexican “Drunken” Salsa is the perfect accompaniment. And she says if you don’t have tequila, an extra 1/4 cup of beer will do just fine.
- 1 mulato chile, seeded and deveined, soaked in hot water until soft, drained
- 3 pasilla chiles, seeded and deveined, soaked in hot water until soft, drained
- 3 large garlic cloves, roasted on a comal or griddle, then peeled
- 1 tablespoon chopped onion
- 3 tomatoes, roasted on a comal or griddle
- ½ cup beer
- 2 tablespoons tequila
- 1/3 cup pineapple juice
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar or piloncillo
- salt to taste
Grind the chiles, garlic, onion and tomato in a molcajete or blender. Add the beer, tequila, pineapple juice and sugar and blend to combine ingredients. Add salt to taste.
Made a few hours ahead of serving, this salsa develops a deeper flavor. Makes 2 cups
If you want to make something from the South, use a smoked jalapeño called Chipotle. The Aztecs who lived in central and southern Mexico from the 14th to 16th Centuries, came up with the idea.
The only other thing I would suggest is a lot of napkins.
You’re going to need ’em.