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EatNopales

egFoodblog: EatNopales

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SobaAddict.... tough act to follow.

Since I am not a particularly prolific Egullet poster, although I think the length of my posts might have some notoriety, I am going to start with an intro that should give you some perspective on my food background & style.

My parents were born & raised in the municipality Union de San Antonio which lies in Los Altos de Jalisco (the Highland region of Jalisco state which is one of Mexico's foremost dairy capitals)... where they grew, raised, hunted, caught & prepared from scratch almost everything they ate from Corn Tortillas to Cheese, Jocoque (similar to Greek or Lebanese Yogurt), and freshly butchered proteins. Read more about the culinary traditions of my parents' hometowns at:

As most probably know, Mexico was site of the first national scale adoption of "The Green Revolution" where subsidized petrochemical based farming created massive gluts of food & encouraged one of the world's great mass migrations from farms to big cities. In 1960 my dad's family became part of that exodus landing in Naucalpan, a sparsely populated rural farming area 15 miles north west of Mexico City's historic center. For 10 years, my dad (as the oldest male sibling in the family) built a dairy business that grew to 200 head of cattle & 2 trucks to distribute the milk that my dad, three brothers & Abuelo milked by hand everyday.

By 1970 Naucalpan was a densely populated, caotic industrial suburb with running water, paved streets & electricity; my dad's family sold the dairy business and got into grocery retail. That same year my mom moved to Mexico City for allergy treatments where she lived near the Centro Historic with her grand uncle Jose & his wife Lola - a native of the Mexico City area who grew up speaking Nahautl (the language of the Aztecs) as her primary language... remember her she was instrumental in my growing culinary interest.

A few years later my parents met in one of many get togethers of people from Union de San Antonio [most migrants to Mexico City formed very strong bonds with people from their hometowns with the same degree of "nationalism" & ethnic pride you might see among Russian, Sicilian or Polish immigrants in New York City etc., ]. A few years later they married, had me & opened up a Puesto de Licuados a market stall selling Licuados [Mex style Smoothies], Aguad Frescas, Fresh Cut Fruit, Eskimales (Milk Shakes) and in the cold months the Mexico City tradition of raw eggs with a Xerez shooter (Mexican Sherry Wine).

Success in the Licuados business enabled them to purchase outright a unit in a high rise in the Azcapotzalco district where they shared the fourth floor with families from Monterrey, Sinaloa & Puebla. The houswives apparently got along well and would take turns cooking dinners at each others apartments.. this was the first time my mom was really exposed to gastronomic traditions of other States... she picked up a few dishes but largely stuck to the cuisine she learned growing up.. however, her stories of these "exotic" dishes are something I would treasure & learn from later on.

After losing their lease to a redevelopment effort, and a few other investment missteps they decided to come to the United States where [other relatives claimed] money grows on trees. I was months from turning five when the BIG move from Mexico City to East L.A. occurred. My earliest memories of living in L.A were a bit troubling... I started all-English kindergarden knowing only a few words, my parents were perpetually anxious about INS raids and money was not quite abundant. But the worst of my earliest memories was they day we went to forage Cactus paddles in the hills around Dodger Stadium... I was pouting, bratty and wanted the earth to grumble & swallow me up. Life is funny that way... now I think there is nothing cooler than going around town foraging for "undesirable" foods.

From a culinary perspective, the move to L.A. really didn't impact my parents all that much. I remember going with dad to shop at Grand Central Market, although small in scale, really could be any mercado in Mexico City. My parents, like most Mexicans (particularly those from rural areas) never cook from recipes.. they have a couple dozen main dishes they rotate amongst; every trip to a market resulted in an instant calculus, balancing price against freshness & quality.... they would buy the least expensive among the quality ingredients available (which was often whatever was in its peak season).. and adjusted their cooking techniques to the ingredients.

Growing up in East L.A. it was very easy to develop a sort of ethnocentrism about food.. the best regarded Mexican eateries were within a 5 mile radius of our home.. Carnitas Uruapan which butchered their own pigs & cooked every part of the swine in copper kettles the right way, El Tepeyac (not the famous burrito place) served Jalisco style dishes that attracted people from all over the city, La Chapalita had the best carne asada tacos & tortas in the city, La Parrilla was THE place in town for parrilladas (assorted meats & vegetables served on tabletop grills with real mezquite charcoal, hand patted tortillas & all the fixings).. we also had fantastic Cochinita Pibil as well.

In addition, my parents worked their rural connections to score ingredients unattainable to most Angelenos. We had a number of relatives working on dairy farms in Tulare... they would sometimes visit on Sundays arriving in the mid morning with aluminum canisters filled with freshly squeezed, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk. My parents would drink it straight whilie moaning & groaning (I HATE warm milk), then they would make Queso Fresco, Panela (much more to my liking). One of my dad's cousins was a goat dealer.. able to deliver young kid for roasting over mezquite, or pastured mature goat for Birria. Another relative would score suckling pigs... there was a quail hunter etc., etc.,

Understandably I thought I knew everything about Mexican cuisine. Fast forward almost decade.. we got our green cards (thanks to the Reagan-Simpson-Rodino amnesty) and I made my first trip back to Mexico City as a curious, very hungy 13 year old. It took me exactly 3 meals to realize I didn't know jack about Mexican cusine... every single day of every trip back I learn something new. I estimate that I have consumed well over 1,000 homecooked or restaurant meals in Mexico City, Puebla, Veracruz, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Michoacan etc.. I have rarely eaten the same thing twice, and I feel like I am just starting to hit my stride understanding the cuisine.

After two decades of living in the Mexican centric cocoon that is East L.A. and traveling back to Mexico every chance I had; I graduated college... moved to West L.A. experienced a bit of culture shock & integrated to mainstream American society. Shortly there after I discovered Sushi, Indian, Dim Sum, Thai, Italian, Provencal, German, Brazilian and other cuisines.. went through that period of exhileration & amazement. But the more I learn about other cusines, the more it helps appreciate some new facet of Mexican cuisine and with every year I fall more in love with it.

My cooking approach is deeply rooted in the 8,000 year culinary history of Mexico yet at the same time modern & pragmatic. As is the whimsical nature of a life... we spend so many years wanting to be different than our parents but in the end we begrudgingly become them. Like them I forage for ingredients, grow some stuff and shop around for great deals flexibily adjusting my dishes to whatever is available... the only difference is that they stuck to 20 - 30 dishes they grew up with... no matter how in love I might be with Mexican cuisine.. I am not from Union de San Antonio.. I haven't plowed & seeded its land... I am something a bit different than my parents... I have cookbooks, cooking shows & recipes as a guide.

I am a bit put off by food that is overly architected... I like food that is earthy and looks like food not modern sculpture. I stick to organic, local & seasonal food as much as possible.... I like meals that have a deep story.. but I also love to make crap up from leftovers, odds & ends.

Enough meaningless drivel.. my throat is dry... it is time for some mezcal.

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This is exciting - i love mexican cuisine and mescal!! Looking forward to see what is in store this week!

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I was really hoping you would be the blogger! Your first post is already amazing, and I will be eagerly reading this blog everyday!

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Looking forward to this very much. Mexican (and "Mexican") food is one of my first loves, and The Art of Mexican Cooking was one of my first cookbooks. The more I learn about Mexican food (or any particular cuisine, really), the more I realize how much I don't know. This is one of the things that makes cooking an endlessly fascinating enterprise.

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Perhaps I'll become a convert and find Mexican food that I actually like! Looking forward to this blog.

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Really, really looking forward to this...the infinite nature of Mexican cuisine is very exciting to me, and there are few things I love more than trying different regional dishes. Awesome!

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I Lurve Mexican food, it was a cuisine I sorely missed the years I lived in Southwestern Ontario. Looking forward to your blog.

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Thanks everybody.... I hope I didn't over hype myself :shock:

Let me start you with my working conditions (I must admit my overlords have been good to me)

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Our gardens (we recently went through a bumper crop of Zucchinis and some Persian Cukes, Lemon Cukes, Snap Peas, Kale, Red Leaf Lettuce, Delicata Squash and a few other things). A bit of advice to parents with young kids... train your kids that all food is poisonous unless adults pick them & perform a magical incantation... I say this because we never got to harvest any Snap Peas for a meal... my 4 1/2 year old would spot the little pods as soon as they were a few inches long, pick out the peas & then give the shell to the 2 year old to munch on. Similarly the 2 year old flocks to a ripe tomato like a little magnet... on a recent day she had upwards of 5 tomatoes... you think that is adorable? You be the one changing the diapers.

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And now my cookbooks & magazines

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Edited by EatNopales (log)

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As I mentioned in the intro post, my parents grew up making Jocoque from their own fresh milk.. there several types of Jocoque from Fresco (Fresh) to Seco ("Dry") categorized according to their density it can be thin & soupy (particularly when its still warm), medium density is essential Fage... and then "Dry" is like the Labanese Lebneh.

A quick Google Image Search gives you an idea of what Mexicans (and other Latinos) do with Jocoque (savory & sweet applications):

http://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&hl=en&source=hp&biw=1600&bih=799&q=jocoque&gbv=2&oq=jocoque&aq=f&aqi=g2&aql=&gs_sm=e&gs_upl=1880l3362l0l3599l7l7l0l2l2l0l147l552l2.3l5l0

My parents use it extensively.. as a stuffing for tacos, topping for pasta & chilaquiles, soup thickener, salsa thickener... and they blend with Almibar (thick fruit based syrups) to make homemade fruity Yogurt. In fact, my parents never bought flavored yogurt when I was growing up.... always plain.

One of the reasons their Licuados business was so successful was their fresh fruit flavored "Cremas de" (a Mexican term that includes Mousse and any thick, creamy sweet dessert) based on a Fage density Jocoque & overripe fruits* Their stall was in a traditional mercado which had a gazillion fruit competitors & no refrigeration... after 2 PM all the mature fruit was put on clearance to make room for next day's shipment... and that is when my parents would shop to make their almibars of whatever was intoxicatingly sweet & cheap.

Fast forward to my modern Sonoma County wine country suburbs lifestyle, Fage is basically a food group in our omnivore but veggie heavy household (I shoot to eat animal flesh only 1 meal every two days that is how I feel my best, and is consistent with how people in Mexico have eaten for the last 8,000 years... my wife who is of Northern European ancestry tends to feel better if she eats lean proteins a bit more frequently with less reliance on grains & legumes... so we negotiate a bit, although we both eat lots of dairy... and btw she does more of the cooking than I do.

So Fage is a staple... and so is homemade Chocolate sauce

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As a result my 4 year old daughter & wife's favorite breakfast is Chocolate Fage

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Whearas my 2 year old prefers her Fage with Cajeta (Goat Milk Dulce de Leche that is famously made in Celaya, Guanajuato)... my parents region also made Cow milk Cajeta so it was something that was always in our pantry. Oh yeah.. some Chocolate flavored Mini Shredded Wheats thrown in for some crunch & fiber.

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Well I hate to disappoint but my typical weekday breakfast is cereal, coffee & a banana.. weekends are a different story but unless I post something different that is what I had for breakfast.

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As you can see from the picture we are regular Trader Joe's shoppers. Now I know most foodies like tearing Trader Joe's apart... but remember how my parents always shop for the least expensive among high quality items? Well that is TJ's to me, a place to purchase cereals, snacks, breads, flour, olive oil, organic milk, eggs & cheese etc. that is almost always made with all natural ingredients, often organic, at prices that are below the crappy super market packaged food prices.

I do get the criticism, we tend to shop elsewhere for produce, meat, seafood etc., but we are proud to be regular Trader Joe's shoppers.

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I am so looking forward to a week of ultimate Mexican (and other) foods, showcased in your lovely home and garden. Your kitchen is lovely and your garden is something I envy.

Having "discovered" Mexican food when I was first transplanted to the San Fernando Valley in 1952 (to spend a year with my dad), I have since been an enthusiastic fan and I have enjoyed your posts in various threads since you first signed on last year.

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Great start to the week! I also love Trader Joe's...the only problem I have there is that I tend to spend more money because I always find something new I want to try!

Are those tomatoes or tomatillos? Because something with salsa verde sounds pretty tasty...

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Thank you for the intro post. I completely relate to your cactus paddle story. For me it was harvesting the honey from our hives. I surely had a sour and irritated expression on my face during the entire two day process of hauling the full and heavy frames up the hill to the garage, cutting off the caps, cranking the extractor handle, and then the even more sticky mess of straining and bottling. Poor me I thought. Now a wave of nostalgia rolls over me and I smile when I see a few hives in a vacant lot in the city.

Your garden looks lush and prolific; a great experience for the kids. I remember planting celery one year and having one of my son's friends refuse to believe it was really truly celery. "But what are all those leaves? You mean you can grow this at home?" His taste buds finally convinced him when I snapped off a piece and smeared it with peanut butter.

Looking forward to lunch. They look like tomatoes to me. Beautiful.

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Just able to get online today. Wonderful blog so far. What I expected it to be...full of interesting information. Thanks. EatNopales.

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Beautiful story Heidi. I think for me it was more than just the effort foraging.. but with the intensely anti Mexican immigrant environment (the third generation Mexican-Americans who were then the majority in East L.A. were the worst of the Anti-Mexican bigots... part of the meme on Cheech Marin's Born in East L.A.) and the very real INS raids etc., something in my subconscious was well as subconscious as pimply faced junior high school kid at the first dance.

BTW... you are right they are tomatoes, here is another hint:

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Our homegrown fried Green Tomatoes crusted with Huatli (Amaranth seed) & grated Pecorino Romano, served over warm Quinoa tossed in Ponzu, poached Cage Free egg, roasted Poblano-Oregano Indio-Fage salsa, cherry tomatoe's from a friend's garden.

As you may know Amarant is one of Mexico's ancient grains, native the area around Mexico City it was a VERY important food for the Aztecs & other Mexica (Meh-she-kah) peoples. According to the Spanish chronicler Bernal Diaz del Castillo.. the Aztecs popped the Amaranth & combined with Red Prickly Pear syrup into a sort of ancient Rice Krispy treat fashioned into sculptures of Huitzilopotchli (the Mexica war god) on the religious days devoted to that deity.

Amaranth was banned from Mexico and pursued during the Inquisition due to its religious connotations. Nonetheless, it survived and contemporary Mexicans are very much interested in rescuing & reconstructing foods based on Spanish descriptions.

While I have never heard of Fried Green Tomatoes in Mexico... Mexicans use the technique of egg washing, breading, frying etc., on a huge range of vegetables. Of course everybody is familiar with the cliched Chile Rellenos but people in Mexico do the same technique with Round Zucchini, Cauliflower, Huazontle, Chard & many more.

As to Quinoa... it recently has become a part of my diet, I will explain more on another post. And Ponzu is one of those things like Lime Juice & Escabeche juice that can improve almost any dish.

And the Poached Egg... I kind of chuckle when Fried Quail Eggs or Poached Eggs get trendy and put on everything and then the food bourgeoisie raves about it like its some modern invention. As far as I can tell cultures all over the planet have been doing so for centuries. In Mexico.. adding a fried or poached (ahogado) egg on something is very common.. you will often so the word Montado(a) (mounted) added to the dish name... for example Milanesa Montada would be a paper thin, lean steak cooked Milanese style (eggwash, breadcrumbs, pan fry etc.,) topped with a poached or fried egg. Another phrase sometimes used is "a lo Pobre" (in the poor person's style) for example a Filete a lo Pobre is a kind of Mexican country fried steak (sometimes called Tortitas de Carne or Tortitas de Picadillo) topped with an egg.

As to the Roasted Poblano-Fage sauce... if you clicked on the Jocoque link you will have noted images of chile based sauces thickened with Jocoque. Why use Fage instead of Jocoque? When Fage started showing up at stores in L.A., the only Jocoques I could find readily were the Cacique brand which I dislike because it has stabilizers in it.. so the first time I tried Fage (not really knowing what it was)... it was love at first sight, and our family has become brand loyal now even though I can get decent Jocoque at our local Mexican market (which I will report on later).

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Note... as to the use of Pecorino-Romano... it is not well known, nor obvious but Italian immigrants have been vital to contemporary Mexican cuisine. Those of you who are familiar with Cotija cheese will have heard it describe as the Parmesan of Mexico... actually it is the Montasio of Mexico... it is no coincidence that the town of Cotija in Michoacan is a very close to the town Nueva Italia, founded by Veneto immigrants who made a living selling their regional cheeses at the largest towns surrounding their community. Perhaps, Mexican cheesemakers have made Cotija their own.. but the thread tying Mexican cheeses to Italy I think justifies using Italian surrogates whenever quality (i.e., not Cacique or El Mexicano) Cotija is not readily available.

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EatNopales,

I am enjoying reading your blog.

What do amaranth seeds taste like? And can you please describe their texture? I've never had them.

Thanks!

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EatNopales,

I am enjoying reading your blog.

What do amaranth seeds taste like? And can you please describe their texture? I've never had them.

Thanks!

Thanks!

Well they are nutty, butter & have (what I describe as) popcorn like flavor.

As I mentioned people in Mexico are just starting to rediscover Amaranth and trying to redevelop some recipes. I recently made Amaranth griddled cakes based on Spanish descriptions of Amaranth Tortillas & "sour, very sour tortillas" and researching how Amaranth is prepared in the mountain villages of Tlaxcala (a place that never abandoned Amaranth cultivation & prep)... all indications was to make a porridge, add some eggs & tequesquite (a mineral salt with rising properties extracted from Texcoco lagoon)... the amazing thing was the even after cooking the porridge (1 part amaranth, 2 to 2.5 x water, bring to a boil then simmer for 20 to 25 minutes) it quickly starts developing a yeasty film & starts to sour a bit... so back to "sour, very sour tortillas" I hypothesize that the Amaranth tortillas described by the Spanish were a lot like the Ethiopian injera. But back to your question.. the porridge tastes even more like buttered popcorn (with hints of green corn husk) than the finished cake.

http://egullet.org/p1833995


Edited by EatNopales (log)

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I am a bit put off by food that is overly architected... I like food that is earthy and looks like food not modern sculpture. I stick to organic, local & seasonal food as much as possible.... I like meals that have a deep story.. but I also love to make crap up from leftovers, odds & ends.

Enough meaningless drivel.. my throat is dry... it is time for some mezcal.

I totally agree with you--and Mexican food is my favorite among all the great cuisines of the world. I am eagerly awaiting this blog.

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Your kitchen is exquisite and I like those words from Julia Child above the sink. What are your thoughts on Rick Bayless?

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love that amaranth crust on the tomatoes!

EatNopales, you will forever be the guy who inspired me to make amaranth pancakes. One of the best things I've cooked in a loooong time. Looking forward to the rest of this blog.

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