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This is my first post on E-Gullet, so I am going to start with a short one. Some of you might know me as the former Eat_Nopal on Chowhound... cheers! To the rest of you.. I am the guy who likes to eat cactus...at your service. You can also get to know me through my Mex music channel on You Tube.

Where to start? Ah yes... Flexitarianism - a term growing in popularity used primarily to describe quasi vegetarians... people who are primarily vegetarian but might also consume fish, poultry and even the occassional burger or steak. When I first heard the term, I immediately saw the parallels to the culinary traditions of Mesoamerica & post-contact Mexico.. the more I thought about, the more I thought about the relevance of native Mexican culinary traditions as a cuisine of the future.

How about a quick survey of Mexican culinary traditions? About 8,000 years ago there was a substantial change in global climate that wiped out many big game species, and provided the impetus for discovering agriculture and developing a radically new way of life. Evidence found at the Coxcatlan cave system in the Tehuacan Valley (Puebla, Mexico) suggests that semi-nomadic peoples were making significant progress towards agriculture by 5,000 BC with evidence of squash / pumpkin / zucchini (Cucurbita Pepo) cultivation. Around the same time these ancient peoples discovered a grass that bore a thumb size "fruit".. it had a tough fiberous skin but if you can get through it the flesh was sweet & satisfying. Over the next couple of years the people of the area figure out that cooking it with ground limestone helped release the thick fiber skin... and with experimentation, developed cultivars that posessed its modern proportions with sizeable grains... maize (corn) agriculture was mastered and it became the foundation of civilization.


Now, its important to keep in mind that Mexico is the world's 4th most bio diverse country on the planet add in Guatemala, Honduras & El Salvador.. and you have a mind boggling diversity of edible plants. Over thousands of years of experimenting by these ancient agricultural masters, working with thousands of different plants there was a quasi universal consensus that growing Corn, Beans & Squash together along with a few other companion plants such as chiles, edible weeds & other grains (known as the Milpa-Solar system) was the best possible use of land & human resources. Open up a Burpee's book on gardening and you will confirm that in effect those three plants are among the very highest yielding of all plants. Create an ecosystem where they all help each other flourish & defend against pests, and you have a foodsystem that is pure genius and challenges yields obtained by the most intensively managed factory farms. In fact, if yield consideration goes beyond $ and volume obtained and looks at nutrient quality & variety of foods produced, the millenary Milpa-Solar is a substantially superior food producing system.




In many respects, Mexico's foodways remain largely intact even after contact. The ancient people's of Mexico were able to establish advanced civilizations on a largely vegetarian foundation of corn, beans, pumpkin seeds, avocado, wild greens & chiles. This combination of foods maximized land resources while providing a near perfect combination of essential proteins & oils, vitamins (including the vital B vitamins & Calcium that are both made available by cooking the dried corn kernels with ground limestone).. this base was supplemented primarily with freshwater fish, langostines, frogs, wild fowl, as well as bird eggs (turkey, pheasant & quail) and on special occassions the flesh of domesticated birds (Turkey & Duck) & wild game. In fact, Mesoamerican religions regulated the frequency & quantity of meat (defined as the flesh of larger, land based animals) consumption. For example, Aztec commoners only consumed Turkey, Deer or Xoloscuintle in small quantitites (special breed of domesticated canines that are reputed to taste like veal) on religious holidays (every 20th day)... where their consumption was meant to represent human flesh sacrificed to the Gods. Today, add rice & wheat to the pantry, produce & spices from abroad, plus modest quantities of Chicken flesh, Pork fat & dairy products to the daily diet, plus more substantial quantities of beef, pork & seafood for special occassions and we find the spirit of contemporary Mexican foodways is in pretty close alignment with that of ancient Mexico. To sum it up another way... ancient Mexicans were the quintessential flexitarians.. and so are contemporary Mexicans.

Ancient Mexican foodways as a cuisine of the future:

1) Growing interest in the Flexitarian / Quasi Vegetarian diet

I have many friends who have adopted quasi vegetarian diets for health, for its more favorable impact on the environment, animal rights issues etc., But it pains me to know people who will eat meals consisting of garden salad & bag of chips; pastry & coffee, pizza & trendy juice, veggie sandwich & vegetable soup, baked potato & garden salad etc., I know young otherwise vital people who have the skin color & apperance of a drug addict just because they have a very distorted view of vegetarianism. And those that are getting sufficient nutrients are doing it by consuming supplements & highly processed foods that have NO tradition among any human culture (vegan cheese & fake meat patties... really? is this any better than just eating CAFO meats?) In this case, Mexican cuisine provides a proven, millenary system that not only meets ethical & healh objectives... but IS DELICIOUS with a great variety of flavors & textures developed over centuries of passionate, food enthusiasts.

2) Slow Food / Sustainable Foodways

As mentioned earlier, Ancient Mexican foodways provide a comprehensive, sustainable footprint with yields that surpass intensive, factory farming.. and these are some of the best tasting ingredients on the planet not tasteless varieties engineered to survive modern transport. In addition, they form an essential part of one the most delicious cuisines on the planet... one that has thousands of very compelling dishes.. many of which transcend with sublime, delicate, nuanced sauces.. others which provide bold flavors that will capture just about anyone.

3) Climate Change & Petrochemical Exhuastion

Lets say you have no ethical, slow food or sustainability aspirations that can be met through the ancient Mexican culinary traditions I still think you (or your descendants) will have no choice but adopt some of these traditions.

First, whether its caused or exacerbated by human activities or part of the planet's long term climate cycles.. climate change is inevitable. Ocean levels have been much higher than they are today, and will return to previous levels (maybe even higher), places that are dry will get dryer, places that are wet will get deluges, places with mild climate may become much more extreme. Many things in general will change.. but one constant when sea levels rise... less land mass. Some unknown quantity of agricultural land will be lost & you will see a greater emphasis on high yield plants. Further, with water becoming scarce in many places.. edible cacti like Nopales and other drought resistant plants will become even more essential. You may argue.. but scientist will develop varietals that are drought resistant. Very true.. but they are likely to be tasteless & culinarily inferior than their cousins. Wheras these Mexican foods have already been vetted from a gustatory perspective... remember they are the products of one of the very most biodiverse places on earth with no shortage of diverse plants. Further, Mexico also presents us with the unique case of having relatively poor soils & not having much arable land to start with... a very mountainous country. So you have plants that taste great, have great yields and proven to flourish with very sub-optimal resources.

Second, even if you don't think fossil fuels & petrochemicals are causing / exarcebating global warming.. they have a very undeniable side effect. Little more than 50 years after the "Green Revolution" we find the world's scarce water resources highly polluted with synthetic pesticides, and in most cases intensive, modern farming promotes soil erosion... whether in the U.S., Mexico, India, China or Brazil ground water depletion, pollution & soil erosion is a HUGE problem that is getting worse and if something doesn't change we are going to face epic famines & disease. Anybody driven California's famed Central Valley recently? Dust bowl is the first description that comes to mind. Similarly dust storms are becoming a huge problem in Beijing. And in Mexico, soil erosion is one of the main culprits for one of the world's largest peace time emigration of people probably in the history of mankind. That status quo is simply not sustainably... changes are inevitable & iminent and Mexico's ancient foodways are bound to become more relevant.



4) The Milpa Method could potentially end malnutrition in much of Sub-saharan Africa

As many of you might know much of sub-saharan Africa is reliant on Corn grown with foreign multinational GMO seeds, imported fertilizer & pesticides. Even in communities with sufficient caloric intake, malnutrition is the norm. If foreign NGOs shared the insights of the Milpa system, simply adding Beans to African corn fields would provide a complete protein vastly improving well being AND reducing the amount of cash they must use to import fertilizer. Unfortunately, business interests have not historically been aligned to make this happen. But more than ever, UN officials, ethnobotanists & agronomists are making the case for organic, companion planting as the solution to feed sub-saharan Africa.



Have I earned your attention? If you are still reading this, then we can get to the most important thing... La Gula, Le Gule.. the Gullet (geez Englis is not a pretty language is it?)... chow, food, cuisine, gastronomy. The purpose of this thread is to discuss the greatest dishes, recipes & meals of contemporary, colonial & ancient Mexico through the prism of Flexitarian cuisine as outline in the introduction. Or put differently, lets document 1001 fabulous ways to combine corn, seeds & nuts, legumes, chiles, greens with small quantities of animal flesh and seasonal produce in ways that meet our highest sensoral & gastronomic aspirations.

To kick it off, I would like to discuss a simple dish you might all be familiar with.. Chilaquiles. A quintessential stove top casserole made with leftover tortillas, sauce & toppings has a more elegant & nutritious ancestor with a silly mythology. If you have heard that frankly stupid story about the name being somehow derved from "old hat" please don't repeat it.. it makes no sense. I have read that theory many times... yet no one provides the etymology for this suppossed connection. Instead the most likely origin is the Chilakil of Tabasco which in the native Chontal language means Chile & Egg sauce and is used to name a stove top casserole made with? You guess it... stale tortillas cooked in a type of chile & (primarily) turkey egg baseed custard of sorts. It has another modern descendant known in the Highlands of Jalisco & neighboring Guanajuato as Tortilla Forrada where you take a stale tortilla, dip it in beaten eggs, pan fry quickly.. then either dip in a cooked salsa & folded over leftover vegetables & meat scraps... or simply folded over served with molcajete salsa, chopped salsas, nopalitos, maybe some fried potatoes etc., Its a mostly a variation on a common form... but I find that even people who don't like eggs will like this Crepe like dish in which the eggs can easily be "hidden". Another variation that is more common in Indigenous communities is to make tortillas that have whole grains added to the masa... amaranth seeds, chia seed, maize flowers etc., (very much as described by Spanish conquistadors in Sophie Coe's First Cusines of America)... the result is a tortilla that is not very plyable until you dip it in the beaten eggs & cook on a comal or pan fry.

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Welcome amigo nopales eater! Well, you started off with a bang! You don't need to try and impress us.

Folks, I don't know anyone more knowledgeable and willing to share than this man. A hundred readers when he was on Chowhound... (yet not much respect from the Moderators).

My SO and I are flex eaters of sorts. Particularly when our gardens are producing we eat a high ratio of plants to animals or fish. Flex or "balanced" with a leaning toward small portions of meat or no meat is common for us.

Yesterday we had a Mexican lunch consisting of chicken, avocado, lettuce, raisins, onion, garlic, beans, rice, pure chile sauce and tortillas. It was a fine meal.

My SO says much of it is peasant food though you don't have to be a peasant to appreciate or enjoy it. Many or all of the ingredients of chilaquiles are easily found on the farm. Simple, wholesome food.

Yet, Mexican food can be so complex, sublime and nuanced.

Gracias amigo!

Banished from Chowhound; I like it just fine on eGullet!

If you`re not big enough to lose, you`re not big enough to win! Try this jalapeno, son. It ain't hot...

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EN, welcome aboard. Interesting post as usual.

You know me as DD on CH

Thanks for the welcome DD / kalypso

A bit too short (joke of course!)

I guess I am a flexitarian as I sometimes eat certain fish...

A veggie sandwich and veggie soup sounds good and healthy to me.

I need to re-read the post to get a better understanding.


Lior... I've never had a veggie sandwich & soup in Israel so I will not comment on that. But I can tell you that in Los Angeles, for example, the types of sandwiches dispensed at the "health" food stores might have sprouted wheat bread, a slice of cheese (or worse vegan cheese), some alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, pickles etc., and the veggie soup would be tomato broth based with potatoes, green beans, broccoli etc., As a one-off meal, part of a broader diet full of complete proteins, iron, calcium, B vitamins etc., there is of course nothing wrong with it, in fact it is rich in many nutritious foods. However, some of my friends eat like this on a regular basis.. its not a healthy, sustainable way of eating. You see 30 year-olds that are anemic, far too thin / lack muscle & strength, dangerously low blood pressure etc., Others might not be as unhealthy but you find that they exist on Amino Acid liquid sprays, Iron supplements, multi-vitamins etc., There are two things that bother me about that... 1) Supplements are the antithesis of Slow Food, Terroir, Tradition etc., and 2) Supplements are never as good as the natural thing. People who rely on supplements are missing out on all kinds of other flavanoids & phytochemicals that aren't deemed essential nutrients but seem important to human well being.

It seems to me that various forms of vegetarianism have become popular & hip but kids following these trends don't have a good enough understanding of the nutrition & traditions behind proper vegetarianism. In contrast, I like the idea that we look to cultures with a very long history of vegetarianism & quasi-vegetarianism, where people flourish & have good life spans, to learn how to do vegetarianism & quasi-vegetarianism properly. In no means do I think that ancient Mexican cuisine is the only valid food system to meet all these objectives, there are certainly other vary successful examples such as in the Indian sub-continent, Eastern Africa etc., The point of this thread (and by the way as Scargo & Kalypso know me.. I am just getting started)... is to discuss Mexican cuisine from the prism of Flexitarianism... I want to document the dishes that I prepare at home etc., I have successfully hosted friends to (what I believe are very delicious & even meritorious of haute cuisine designation) vegan Mexican meals using only natural ingredients, so I want to discuss some of these lesser known dishes that are well worthy of multi course meals etc.,

Welcome amigo nopales eater! Well, you started off with a bang! You don't need to try and impress us.

Folks, I don't know anyone more knowledgeable and willing to share than this man. A hundred readers when he was on Chowhound... (yet not much respect from the Moderators).

My SO and I are flex eaters of sorts. Particularly when our gardens are producing we eat a high ratio of plants to animals or fish. Flex or "balanced" with a leaning toward small portions of meat or no meat is common for us.

Yesterday we had a Mexican lunch consisting of chicken, avocado, lettuce, raisins, onion, garlic, beans, rice, pure chile sauce and tortillas. It was a fine meal.

My SO says much of it is peasant food though you don't have to be a peasant to appreciate or enjoy it. Many or all of the ingredients of chilaquiles are easily found on the farm. Simple, wholesome food.

Yet, Mexican food can be so complex, sublime and nuanced.

Gracias amigo!

Gracias amigo... I think we had this conversation on Chowhound some time ago and you know how feel about it. I know that many people hold the term Peasant Food in a very positive light... but not everyone does & I am bothered about how some people use it in a derogatory perspective.

To me Peasant means something very specific.. quasi-slave, crop-sharing arrangements where the family not only depended on a starch for the vast majority of their calories, but in fact there wasn't enough grain left over for satiation so they extended it with the foods the overlords didn't care about weeds etc., But one man's peasant food is another man's luxury... to actual peasants (and yes they still exist around the world) vegetables represent the lowest expression of food... yet in the U.S. & much of Western Europe vegetables are mostly consumed by the most educated, uppper middle class households! Italians hide the fact that they eat dandelion greens, yet our petty bourgeoisie deifies the bourgeoisie farmers who sell them at posh farmer's markets! The same is true in Mexico... I am planning a more comprehensive post on the subject down the road.

I personally don't like throwing around the word Peasant willy nilly because I think its disrespectful to the Peasants that still exist around the world... I don't want to trivialize their reality. Now, I know most people don't mean it in such a way... but I get very annoyed with posts on Chowhound were someone rants about paying good money for Pasta which according to them is Peasant Food... it clearly shows no understanding of history & food to describe something that not long ago was the food of nobility.. and which requires substantial knowledge to create the pasta particularly when the restaurant is making it fresh. To me there is no Peasant Foods (other than the impoverished diets of true Peasants).. there are everyday foods & celebratory foods, foods of a place & time and foods imported across space & time, there are inexpensive foods for a locale that are expensive in others. I can go down to many coastal towns in Mexico and fill my belly for $5 bucks on delicacies of the sea such as abulone, chocolata clams, oysters, tuna cheeks etc., that in a restaurant in New York City would fetch $50.. are they Peasant Foods or not?

By the way anyone interested here are a couple of links:



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Tacos. Lime-treated corn and whatever is available. Hard to make one that's not nutritious.

I just want to reassure you, since you are new here, you dont have to be so brief. Really. Take time, expand your thoughts a little. :wink::raz:

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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As a flexitarian of sorts, I am always looking for new ideas and I love Mexican food. Really looking forward to hearing more.

Thanks.. I hope to not disappoint.

Earlier Scargo and were having a discussion on Facebook regarding Rick Bayless cuisine & origins of peanut salsa. I am a fan of Bayless particularly his 'Mexican Kitchen', and I was able to dine at Topolobampo in 2007. If my dining experience then is typical of his cooking approach, then the term Modern Mexican is definitely misapplied. On said date I enjoyed a variety of traditional ceviches - scallop in "red" ceviche preparation (thin tomato broth, chiles, onion etc.,), shrimp in a "green" prep (thin tomatillo & hoja santa) and a fish in "white" prep (lime juice, onions, cilantro, chiles), followed by a Guacamole with paper thin slices of cucumber & jicama, then duck thighs braised in guasmole (gu-ash-mo-le) etc., all very traditional dishes with haute presentation, paired with European wines etc., All are dishes that have been in the Mexican lexicon for a long time and in my opinion not part of Modern Mexican cuisine which is exemplified by Monica Patino's Ahi Sashimi tostadas, Enrique Olvera's squash blossom "capuccino" or corn esquite gelee etc... or the food of Baja-Med Pizza Company etc.... the Mexicanization of cutting edge global concepts & creation of new concepts all together.

With regards to the Peanut salsa... it is very traditional around Mexico City & southern states such as Guerrero, Veracruz, Puebla, Morelos etc., As well as the more generic Salsa de Semillas (with coarsely ground pumpkin, sunflower, and/or sesame seeds). I will get more into the topic on a future post, for now I want to pause and share a trick which many of you may or not already know.

If for example you want to search interesting ways in which people in Mexico might use something like peanuts or eggplant etc., you can do a Google Advance Search to restrict to websites in the .MX domain. I have attached an image of Advance Search for peanut recipes within Mexico based domains and some interesting dishes that come up on the first page.

Albondigas in Peanut broth with Mint

Catarin Chile & Peanut Salsa

Peanut Truffles

In addition to an Ad from someone in Veracruz that sells packaged Peanut Salsas

This is a good way to research Mexican cuisine in greater depth than you are going to find in books. The collective knowledge of Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless, Ricardo Munoz & the D'Angeli's only begins to scratch the surface of everything there is to learn about Mexican cuisine.


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Following up on the Peanut / Cacahuate discussion.

In the U.S. there is a widely held misconception that peanuts are native to Africa. Actually, they originate in the New World... the lower Amazon basins of Bolivia & Paraguay to be specific and were introduced to Mexico / Mesoamerica via ancient trade routes more than a millennium prior to Columbus. It was actually the Portugese who introduced peanuts to Africa, the noble legume which nourishes many of the world's humblest people, was unfortunately used as currency in the slave trade. In the 18th century West African slaves from Senegal brought the peanut with them to the American south and it obviously took off.

Second, when I talk about peanut salsas I want to be clear that I am referring to "uncooked", coursely ground salsas that are used in various styles of tacos from the uber carnivorous pork belly carnitas to Mex style steamed cauliflower (on a future post I will explain the difference between Mex vegetable steaming and the technique more common in the U.S.).

The following link from Culinary Institute of America has a brief history of peanuts in Mexican cooking, and provides a reasonably representative image of a typical Salsa de Cacahuate


The most common approach to this salsa is to combine boiled, skinned tomatoes, roasted guajillo & arbol chiles, freshly roasted peanuts, salt, roasted garlic with a little bit of epazote, most of the peanuts are well ground... you leave about 1/5 fairly coarse for the desired texture.

Of course there are also moles & other sauces with very smooth texture, but for Salsa de Cacahuate people tend to like a thick, full bodied sauce.

The following link has a stylish plating for grilled chicken on the bone with Salsa de Cacahuate


My mouth waters... but this thread is all about Flexitarianism... so here are some good pairings for such sauce:

Roasted or Mex steamed Cauliflower

Roasted Acorn Squash

Hard Boiled Eggs & Chopped Epazote

Tortitas (Fritters) of Plantain or Winter Squash

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Enrique Olvera's squash blossom "capuccino" or corn esquite gelee etc...

You got Rick right. What he does cook, even though it may look contemporary, is really rooted in tradition.

Now, as to that Capuccino de Sopa de Flor de Calabasa...rooted in tradition or not, it is one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. As I understood the concept, the dish was developed to activate all 5 senses, well at least 4 of them, unless it was sizzling soup I don't see how it touches the sense of hearing. Anyway, the soup is presented in a clear double old fashioned glass (or at least it was when I had it). The color is vibrant and really captured the beautiful intense yellow/orange of very fresh squash blossoms. The soup itself was quite delicious and extremely rich. Many Mexican "cream" soups don't really have cream in them at all, that texture and mouthfeel being created by pureeing and straining vegetables. I wondered if this soup was created that way or if it had a decadent infusion of butter. I'd bet on the butter but you never know. The sopa is topped with a coconut foam to act as a counter balance to the richness of the sopa (which it did, along with some nice sweeetness) and it adds visual interest. The foam is garnished with gratings of fresh nutmeg so that when it is presented to the diner, there is an aroma to the soup to activate the sense of smell. And finally the utter richness and velvety texture, coupled with the coconut counterpoint really explodes in the mouth engaging both the sense of taste and touch, as well as ramping up the sense of smell.

I had this dish in 2004 or 05. I had no expectations when the glass with the sopa was set in front of me. Yes, I got some wiffs of nutmeg mingled with faint scents of coco. But I still remember how luxurious the soup felt in my mouth, as well as being surprised at how balanced the flavor was in maintaining the delicacy of the squash blossoms while still having a fairly intense flavor. You can see how well I remember it 5 or 6 years later. I've wanted the recipe for years, not so much so I could make it, but so I could see how it was done. My first thought was that there had to be so much better in the soup to get that degree of texture, richness and mouthfeel. But, Mexican techniques are different and they don't rely on European ingredients and techniques to achieve similar results. As you well know, EN, roux thickened sauces are not common in Mexico. My question was and still is, was the sopa de flor de calabasas portion of the dish created using a blend of European and Mexican ingredients and techniques or Mexican ingredients and European techniques or Mexican ingredients and Mexican techniques. No matter it's origin, it is a very contemporary dish.

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