La Cocina Mexicana: Many Cultures, One Cuisine

La Cocina Mexicana: Many Cultures, One Cuisine

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After thirty years of leading culinary tours throughout Mexico, Marilyn Tausend teams up with Mexican chef and regional cooking authority Ricardo Muñoz Zurita to describe how the cultures of many profoundly different peoples combined to produce the unmistakable flavors of Mexican food. Weaving engrossing personal narrative with a broad selection of recipes, the authors show how the culinary heritage of indigenous groups, Europeans, and Africans coalesced into one of the world’s most celebrated cuisines.

Cooks from a variety of cultures share recipes and stories that provide a glimpse into the preparation of both daily and festive foods. Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|In a Maya village in Yucatán, cochinita de pibil is made with the native peccary instead of pig. Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|In Mexico City, a savory chile poblano is wrapped in puff-pastry. On Oaxaca’s coast, families of African heritage share their way of cooking the local seafood. The book includes a range of recipes, from the delectably familiar to the intriguingly unusual.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520261112
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 10/22/2012
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Marilyn Tausend is the author of Cocina de la Familia: More than 200 Authentic Recipes from Mexican-American Home Kitchens (winner of the IACP Julia Child Award for the Best American Cookbook of 1998), Mexico the Beautiful, Savoring Mexico, and Mexican. Ricardo Muñoz Zurita is the author of the acclaimed Diccionario Enciclopédico de Gastronomía Mexicana, soon to be published in English, in addition to numerous Mexican cookbooks.

Read an Excerpt

La Cocina Mexicana

Many Cultures, One Cuisine

By Marilyn Tausend, Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, Ignacio Urquiza


Copyright © 2012 Marilyn Tausend
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95416-8



Salsas and Condiments

Recipes can be assembled in many different ways for a cookbook. I chose to begin with the indispensable salsas, as bowls of different salsas are the first thing you find on every table when you sit down to eat. They may be red with tomatoes or green and tangy with tomatillos, and there is usually a variety from which to choose. The salsas may be made with only raw ingredients, simmered, or sometimes just quickly fried. All but a few will include chiles, fresh or dried. Intense flavor is essential to a salsa, and the ability of the chile to bite back is what infuses a salsa with spirit. Some salsas, such as the incendiary Salsa de Chile Habanero (page 39), are even made with just chiles, their heat untempered by tomatoes or tomatillos.

Although now many cooks in Mexico use a blender to prepare their salsas, the molcajete is still favored for rustic salsas with a rough, chunky texture and for guacamole.

You will also find a handful of important condiments here, accompaniments to some of Mexico's traditional dishes. For example, it is hard to imagine eating the Yucatán's cochinita pibil (page 149) without shredded marinated cabbage, or quesadillas (page 58) without guacamole.


When asked what ingredient distinguishes Mexican food from other cuisines, the hot, spicy chile is invariably mentioned first. Although it is true that some chiles are quite incendiary, the heat may be muted in others. Indeed, chiles vary widely not only in their pungency, aroma, and flavor but also in their color and size. A subtle flavor difference is usually the reason a cook will select one chile over another or a combination of several different chiles to arrive at the desired sazón, or taste. Thai, Indian, and Asian dishes can also be extremely fiery, but they are prepared with a relatively limited array of different chiles, usually Asian cultivars of Mexican chiles.

Chiles cross-pollinate liberally, and many growers are now producing, either by design or by chance, chiles with different characteristics. I especially see and taste this with jalapeños, which most consumers apparently prefer big and with muted heat.

It is also perplexing to discover that the same chiles may have different names depending on the region in Mexico where they are found. This same situation often exists in the United States. For example, the Mexican grower of chiles poblanos on the West Coast may be from a family in Michoacán where the same chile is routinely called a pasilla. This can be confusing for a shopper looking for a fresh, fat green chile at the local supermarket and finding a skinny, almostblack dried chile with the same name. My suggestion is to go by the characteristic description of the chile, not the label.


CHILACA This long, narrow brownish green chile with a rounded, blunt end from central Mexico has a slightly fruity flavor and may be quite picante. It is the fresh form of the chile pasilla and is seldom found in U.S. markets.

GÜERO Any relatively long, light-colored chile, usually pale yellow or pale green, may be called a güero, or "blond" chile. The name most commonly refers to a chile about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide, with a pointed end. It can vary from mild to quite hot, depending on the cultivar. The yellow banana or Fresno chile in the United States is a good choice in recipes calling for güero.

HABANERO A cultivar of Capsicum chinense, this small, green, lanternshaped chile is extremely hot, has a distinctive flavor, and turns orange and red as it matures. Considered native to Cuba and the Yucatán Peninsula, it is now found in markets throughout Mexico and the United States.

JALAPEÑO This short (2 to 3 inches long), rather plump green chile, named for Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz, is used primarily in salsas or pickled (en escabeche) and occasionally stuffed. These chiles can be quite hot, though they have been interbred so much that the zing is vanishing, especially in the larger chiles. Mature red peppers (cuaresmeños) are sometimes available, though most of them are smoke-dried for marketing as chiles chipotles.

MANZANO An unusual small, fleshy green chile (a cultivar of C. pubescens) with large ebony seeds that may turn red or on some plants yellow-orange when mature. It has an explosive heat but with a balancing fruity flavor that is addictive to people living in the cool highlands of Mexico where it grows.

PIQUÍN Sometimes spelled pequín, this very tiny chile packs a great deal of heat. There are at least twenty-two different varieties of these orange-red chiles, with almost as many names: usually max or amaxito in Yucatán and in Tabasco, chiltepín in the northern border states, and variations of these names throughout the rest of the country. The dried chiles are usually ground and used as a seasoning.

POBLANO This large, roughly triangular blackish green chile, named for the state of Puebla, has a delicious flavor that varies in heat. It is the most common chile for stuffing and is often cut into strips, or rajas.

SERRANO Small, bright, and shiny, this green chile with a somewhat pointed tip has a grasslike flavor and is quite picante. It is commonly used in salsas or pickled (en escabeche).


ancho A household staple, this wide-shouldered, wrinkled chile is the dried form of the poblano. Deep reddish brown and about 5 inches long, it smells a bit like prunes and has a rather fruity taste that can vary in heat. The ancho is widely used in sauces and for stuffing.

ÁRBOL Although its name means "tree," this short (about 3 inches long), skinny reddish orange chile is not grown on a tree. Because of its fiery flavor, it is typically used in salsas or ground into a powder for a condiment.

CASCABEL When this small, round, shiny red chile is shaken, it sounds like a rattle, or cascabel. Its nutty, rather hot flavor makes it a favorite for table salsas.

CHIPOTLE MECO This leathery, short (about 2½ inches long) reddish tan chipotle is the smoked-dried form of the ripened jalapeño. It is very versatile and can be pickled, stuffed, and used to flavor cooked sauces for such dishes as shrimp and meatballs.

CHIPOTLE ROJO A small, deep red chile with a distinctive smoky fragrance, this chipotle is usually canned, either in adobo sauce (en adobo) or in vinegar (en vinagre). It is commonly used in salsas and is sometimes stuffed.

GUAJILLO This long, pointed brick red chile is sometimes referred to as the "mischievous chile," as its heat can vary widely, though it always carries a tangy bite. Along with the ancho, it is one of the most commonly used dried chiles. Its sharp flavor is often detected in enchiladas.

MORA In some regions, this small, very hot smoke-dried jalapeño is called simply chipotle, or more often chipotle mora for its deep mulberry color. It is often canned in adobo sauce as chiles chipotles en adobo.

MORITA Usually quite picante, these small, typically triangular-shaped smoke-dried chiles are said to be the last picking of ripe jalapeños.

MULATO The dark version of the chile ancho, the mulato has deep, almost-black skin and a hint of chocolate flavor. If you tear the chile open and hold a piece of the skin up to the light, you should not see any red color. It is prized as an ingredient in dark moles, such as mole poblano.

PASILLA This is the dried form of the chile chilaca, and like the chilaca, it is long and narrow. It has puckered brownish black skin and a complex, rich flavor that can be quite picante. It is primarily used in moles, adobos, and other cooked sauces, and sometimes for salsas or in strips (rajas) as a garnish. It is called pasilla de México in Oaxaca and chile negro in Michoacán, Baja California, and in some western states of the United States.

PUYA This smaller, thinner variety of the chile guajillo is often combined with the guajillo in cooked sauces for extra heat.


Raw Green Tomatillo Salsa

While salsas made from red tomatoes are often on the table, especially in central Mexico, it is the green salsas made with tomates verdes, the smaller, papery husk–wrapped tomatillos of the same nightshade family, that predominate in most of the country. This simple salsa with its tart chile flavor is a surprising accent for any grilled meat.

Makes about 1½ cups

½ pound tomatillos (about 5 or 6), husked, well
rinsed, and roughly chopped
2 chiles serranos, stemmed and roughly
chopped, including seeds
2 tablespoons roughly chopped white onion
1 teaspoon roughly chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, thick stem ends
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste

Starting with the tomatillos, put all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor, then process to a smooth consistency. The salsa should be quite thick, so don't be tempted to add water to thin it. It is best when served right away, but it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.


Cooked Green Chile and Tomatillo Salsa with Avocado

My first taste of this vibrant tomatillo salsa subdued with creamy chunks of avocado and a whiff of garlic was at a small street stand in Santa Clara de Cobre in Michoacán. The few tables on the side of the street were crammed with locals eating tacos filled with carnitas estilo Michoacán (page 63), crispy pieces of pork. When I finally got my carnitas, I did as everyone else did and slathered it with this salsa, a perfect pairing. I find it is equally good with almost any taco or antojito.

Makes about 2 cups

1 pound tomatillos (about 9 or 10), husked
and well rinsed
1 clove garlic, roasted (page 18), then peeled
3 chiles serranos, roasted (page 17), then
¼ cup finely chopped white onion
¼ cup loosely packed, roughly chopped fresh
cilantro, thick stem ends removed
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 large or 2 small ripe Hass avocados, halved,
pitted, peeled, and cubed

Put the tomatillos in a saucepan with water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until quite soft but not falling apart, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain the tomatillos, reserving the water.

Put the tomatillos, garlic, and 1 3 cup of the reserved water in a blender and blend briefly to break up the tomatillos. Add the chiles, seeds and all, and pulse just until the mixture is chunky. Add the onion, cilantro, and salt and pulse just until well blended with a textured consistency. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Pour into a small bowl and stir in the avocado. This salsa will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days; add the avocado just before serving.


Red Jalapeño Chile Salsa

During the forty days of Lent, crimson red chiles jalapeños are so sought after by Catholic worshippers in Mexico City and the surrounding states that they are called the Lenten chiles, or cuaresmeños.

In San Felipe del Progreso, a poor rural village in the state of Mexico, the local Mazahua (a branch of the Otomí people) families work the land year-round raising beans, corn, fava beans, tomatillos, and chiles jalapeños, which they allow to turn red ripe before they harvest them. María Máxima Martínez López told Ricardo that throughout the year, except in the summer rainy season, food is usually difficult to obtain, and freshly made corn tortillas, this salsa, and perhaps a bowl of beans are often the main midday meal. Because there is no nearby mill for grinding the corn for the many tortillas needed for her large family, María grinds it by hand on her metate.

This salsa is unusual not only because it calls for red jalapeños but also because the common final step of frying everything together is skipped and the salsa is served with most of the ingredients raw. If you cannot find red jalapeños, green ones can provide a similar flavor. I often serve the salsa alongside Quesadillas con Queso (page 58) or tacos.

Makes about 2 cups

1 pound tomatillos (about 9 or 10), husked
and well rinsed
2 large red chiles jalapeños
¼ cup roughly chopped white onion
1 large clove garlic
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, thick stem
ends removed

Put the tomatillos, chiles, and onion in a saucepan with water to cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the tomatillos are soft when touched, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain the tomatillos, chiles, and onion. When the chiles are cool enough to handle, remove the stems and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and membranes, then dice finely.

Grind the tomatillos, chiles, onion, garlic, and salt in a molcajete as María does, or use a blender and blend just until mixed, leaving some texture. Pour into a small serving bowl and stir in the cilantro. Taste and add more salt if needed. This salsa is much better eaten on the day it is made, but it can be kept for a second day in the refrigerator.


Coastal Oaxacan Salsa

The small, burnished copper–skinned chiles costeños from the Costa Chica of northern Oaxaca and southern Guerrero are the favorite for making the rustic, tangy salsa of the region. In the small village of El Ciruelo on the coast of Oaxaca, Antonieta Avila Salinas makes it daily from the chiles her husband grows. Both the dried red costeños and an even smaller bronzy yellow variety, costeño amarillo, can be quite incendiary, so use sparingly. I usually buy these chiles in markets in Oaxaca, but I have seen them in the United States in areas with a sizable concentration of Oaxacan immigrants and online (see Sources).

Chile puya, the smaller form of the chile guajillo, can be substituted. It is equally picante but has a different flavor.

Makes about 1 cup

½ pound tomatillos (about 5 or 6), husked and
well rinsed
2 or 3 chiles costeños or chiles puyas, stems,
seeds, and membranes removed, then
toasted (page 17)
1 clove garlic, cut in half
¼ cup finely chopped white onion
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, thick stem
ends removed
½ teaspoon sea salt

Put the tomatillos and chiles in a small saucepan with water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the tomatillos are very soft, at least 10 minutes. Drain the tomatillos and chiles, reserving the water.

Put the tomatillos and chiles in a blender, add the garlic and cup of the reserved water, and blend until smooth. Pour into a serving bowl and mix in the onion, cilantro, and salt. Taste and add more salt if needed. This salsa can sit for several hours before serving, or it can be kept in the refrigerator for another day. Bring to room temperature before serving.


Fresh Tomato Salsa

Wherever you eat in Mexico, this chunky fresh salsa will usually be found on the counter or on your table. It may be called salsa mexicana, salsa fresca, or pico de gallo, depending on where you are in the country. The name pico de gallo, or "rooster beak salsa," is descriptive of the way the tomatoes are chopped at sharp angles and, I suppose, of the bite of the chile. If you are in or around Guadalajara, however, pico de gallo will not be a salsa at all, but a typical street vendor's snack of jícama, cucumber, melon, or pineapple sprinkled with ground chile.

The salsa is quick and easy to make and can be added to a wide variety of dishes in need of a lift. I have even been known to spoon my pico de gallo on hamburgers, and it is a spirited addition to fried or scrambled eggs.

It is important that the tomatoes be red ripe but still quite firm. The best tomatoes will be the ones you grow yourself or buy from local farmers.

Makes about 2 cups

¾ pound ripe tomatoes (about 2 medium or
6 plum)
1/3 cup finely chopped white onion
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, thick stem
ends removed
2 tablespoons finely chopped chile serrano
(about 1 chile), including seeds
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
¾ teaspoon sea salt

Slice the tomatoes in half vertically and, if you want, scoop out the seeds. (I like the rustic texture of the seeds and leave them in.) Dice into roughly ¼-inch pieces. Scoop into a serving bowl and stir in the onion, cilantro, chile, lime juice, and salt. Taste and add more chile, lime juice, and salt if needed. Let the salsa rest for up to 30 minutes before serving so the flavors will mingle. If keeping for a few hours longer, cover and refrigerate, then drain off any liquid and give the salsa a final toss just before serving.


Excerpted from La Cocina Mexicana by Marilyn Tausend, Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, Ignacio Urquiza. Copyright © 2012 Marilyn Tausend. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Basics of Mexican Cooking
Salsas y Encurtidos • Salsas and Condiments
Botanas, Entremesés y Antojitos • Snacks, Appetizers, and Quick Bites
Caldos y Sopas • Broths and Soups
Platos de Desayuno y Cena Casera • Casual Meals for Breakfast and Supper
Platos Fuertes • Main Dishes
Moles and Pipianes
Chiles Rellenos and Other Regional Specialties
Guarniciónes y Ensaladas • Accompaniments and Salads
Postres • Desserts
Bebidas • Cooling Drinks and Hot Restoratives


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