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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Words borrowed from Nahuatl

Totopo (totopo)
Totopo is an action that comes from the Nahuatl word totopotchtli= to fry or to toast

Chia (chia seeds)
Chia comes from the Nahuatl chiyan and it is a plant from the family salvia Hispanica that was cultivated by the Aztecs in pre-Hispanic times and it was so valued that it was given as an anual tribute from the people to the rulers. This plant has blue leaves with edible seeds and it is related to mint

Chocolate (chocolate)
Chocolate comes from the Nahuatl xococlatl or chocolatl which would be derived from xococ=bitter and atl=water (with an irregular change of x >ch). However the word socolatl does not appears in Nahuatl language until the 18th century. This was a foamy drink made with cacao beans, drank only by the emperors.

Chayote (chayote)
chayote comes from the Nahuatl word chayotol

Epazote (epazote)
Epazote sometimes mispronounced ipasote or ypasote is devived from the Nahuatl epazotl. Epazote is a leaf vegetable and a herb with a pungent flavor that is hard to describe.

Mezcal (mezcal)
Mezcal comes from the Nahuatl mexcalmetl=maguey. Maguey grows in many parts of Mexico and it was the conquistadors who began experimenting with the maguey plant to find a way to make a distilled mash. The result is mezcal

Nopal (nopal)
Nopal is a word that comes from the Nahuatl word nopalli=for the pads

An Ancient language but very much alive

Chipotle, avocado, chia, tortilla, totopos? what do these words mean?

To understand what these words mean and where did they come from? we have to first know the language they came from.

Nahuatl has been spoken in Central Mexico since at least the seventh century AD. It was the language of the Aztecs who dominated what is now Central Mexico during the last postclassic period of Mesoamerican Chronology. During the preceding century and a half, the expansion and influence of the Aztec Empire had led to the variety spoken by the residents of Tenochtitlan becoming a prestige language in Mesoamerica. With the introduction of the Latin alphabet. Nahuatl also became a literary language and many chronicles, grammars, works of poetry, administrative documents and codices were written in the 16th and 17th centuries. This early literary language based on the Tenochtitlan variety has been labeled classical Nahuatl and is among the most studied and best documented languages of the Americas.

Many words from Nahuatl have been borrowed into Spanish and thence have diffused into hunderds of other languages. Most of these loanwords denote things indigenous to Central Mexico which the Spanish heard mentioned for the first time by their Nahuatl names. English words of Nahuatl origin include. "Avocado", "chilli", "coyote", and "Tomato".

Lets explore some of these words.
Aguacate (Avocado)

Aguacate comes from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl ('testicle' in reference to the shape of the fruit) and atl=agua, water

Guacamole (guacamole)

Guacamole comes from the Nahuatl word ahuacamolli. Ahuacatl+ molli=sauce,stew, porridge, so the word guacamole means 'avocado soup'

Jitomate (tomato)

Jitomate comes from the Nahuatl word xictli=belly botton and tomatl, tomahuac=something fat, thick and corpulent

Huitlacoche, cuitlacoche, cuiclacoche, guitlacoche (corn smut)
Cuitlacochtli comes from the Nahuatl words (cuitlatl=excrement or "rear end" and cochtli "sleeping" from cochini="to sleep"), thus giving a combined meanig "sleeping excrement" or "corn excrement" meaning part of the vegetable that did not survived, instead it went asleep.

Chipotle, chilpocle (chipotle pepper)

Chilpoctli or xipoctli comes from the Nahuatl words chil=pepper and pectli=smoke (smoked pepper)

Tortilla (tortilla)

Tlaxcalli,tlaxcallan comes from the Nahuatl word which means ('cooked bread or bread house') tla=a thing or something; xcalli=cooked, boiled "the cooked" name given to the tortilla

Saturday, October 30, 2010


To us Mexicans the day of the dead is a celebration in which we bond with the souls of the people that we love and have left before us. To us THE DAY OF THE DEAD is a celebration of family and life. It is a tradition of pre-hispanic origins and was celebrated by the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas.

The United Nations Educational, scientific and Cultural organization has declared this festivity "patrimonio cultural intangible de la humanidad" (intangible cultural heritage) and it is now the most celebrated Hispanic festivity the world over.

The day of the dead celebration in Mexico can be traced back to indigenous cultures. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2,500 to 3,00 years. In pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals that symbolize death and rebirth.
The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the god known as "The Lady of the Dead" corresponding to the modern "La Catrina"
In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honours children and infants, whereas deceased adults are celebrated November 2. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1 as "Dia de los Inocentes" (Day of the innocents) but also as "Dia de los Angelitos" (Day of the little angels) and November 2 as dia de los muertos or dia de los difuntos (Day of the Dead)

The adults souls will begin arriving at their loved ones homes anytime of the night of the 31. All saints` day is for the "Angelitos" or little infants, it is on this day that their souls return to be our guests. In many places people confuse Halloween with the Day of the Dead because of the calendar overlap.

People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars containing their favourite foods and beverages as well as photos and memorabilia of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls. so that the souls will hear the prayers and comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations will often take humorous tones as people remember funny facts and stories of the deceased.
People often go to cemeteries to clean grave yards and decorate them with ofrendas ("Offerings") it is common to see graves decorated with Mexican orange marigolds called cempasuchitl, originally called cempoalxochitl. Nahuatl for (twenty flowers), it is also called "The flower of the dead" and it is thought that its scent attracts souls of the dead to the offerings, the paths to the graveyards are covered with the petals of these flowers to guide the souls
The most common offerings to attract spirits are: Marigolds, beverages like tequila, mezcal y atole (it is thought that the word "spirits" as in wine and spirits had its origins here.)

Pan de muerto (Bread of the dead)
sugar skulls with the name of the departed written across its forehead
and the deceased favourite foods, music, and things the loved one was close to.
The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the departed. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the `spiritual essence` of the ofrendas food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, it is believed that the food lacks nutritional value.

I consider this festivity appealing because of the combination of art, culture, food and folk. It is not intended to be a morbid celebration at all, but a celebration of Life itself.

The Mayans and the Aztecs considered this life to be nothing but a dream, and when we die is when we truly awake and are able to enjoy. Given the situation we are in at the moment, climate changes, the quality of life and all the chaos and atrocities happening here on this big blue ball of clay, I do not think it would be such a bad idea to wake up somewhere else where we can truly enjoy ourselves, but that`s just me.


Friday, September 10, 2010


Morita chile
The morita chile is a small, dried, smoked chile. triangular in shape with a smooth shiny, mulberry-coloured skin. An average one is 2.5 cm (1 inch) long. It is hot and should be used with discretion. it is sometimes available here in Toronto ( Kensington market). As far as I know (not quiet sure). Moritas are the last picking of the serrano crop.
The chile is either toasted lightly and blended with other ingredients or soaked in boiling water until soft, but veins and seeds are not removed


The chipotle chile (as it is known colloquially) or chilpocle is the jalapeno chile ripened and smoke-dried, as its Nahuatl name (chil, chile; pectli, smoke) suggests. It is a leathery and wrinkled with a sweet-smokey smell. it is actually a darkish brown color highlighted with golden brown ridges. The size of an average chipotle and this depends on the crop is (6.5 cm) long 2 1/2 inches and 1 inch wide at its widest part.

canned chipotles in adobo sauce are a popular condiment, and in this form they can be used in most dishes where chipotles are called for. the plain dried and smoked ones can be used for pickling to flavor soups and pasta dishes, or soaked and ground with other ingredients in a sauce for meatballs, shrimp or meat. They are extremely hot and are available dried or canned in adobo sauce here in Toronto (kensington market)


This chile is always used with the veins and seeds.

For sauces it (not the canned one) is often soften and then put to soak before being blended with other ingredients. the soaking time depends on how dried it is but usually from 15 to 30 minutes is average

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dried chiles, General information

in this section I will describe some of the most commonly used dried chiles in Mexico, Characteristics, uses and preparation.
Drying chiles is a well known method (at least in Mexico), of preserving chiles, and it is a method that is probably unacceptable anywhere else..
There are two important steps when dealing with the preparation of the fleshy chiles like anchos. mulatos, and pasillas for thick moles, they should not be soaked for long periods of time, or their flavor will be left in the soaking water.
Second, Never attempt to skin the chiles once they have been soaked, the skin provides flavor, color and texture (acting as a thickener agent)

What I recommend when it comes to choosing and storing dried chiles is that you should always buy chiles that are loose, so you can see what you are getting. A dried chile should be dry but flexible at the same time, if the chile is too dry it will be hard and crumbly and this translates to more time soaking in water and only after that you will be able to remove the seeds and veins. If you try to clean them before soaking they will crumble in your hands.
Avoid chiles with transparent patches of skin; a fruit fly has been at work and eaten the flesh from the skin. It has probably also laid eggs inside and in time, with the right conditions, little grubs will hatch out.
Your dry chiles can last for years when stored properly. I recommend storing them in a cool, dry place, your fridge or freezer are great options as well.This will prevent insects from getting at them, but no matter where you store them always open one up and see if it has any traces of mildew. if this is the case throw it out or better yet, burn it in the oven, then dispose of it.

Chile de arbol
Many people may think that the chile de arbol comes from a tree as its name implies but from a tall plant. It ripens from a gree to a bright red and retains its color qhen dried. It is a long, smoth-skinned, thin chile with an average length of 8 centimeters (3 inches) and it is very hot.
This chile is mostly used for table sauces in some occasions it will be blended with other more fleshy chiles for meat stews. It is available here in Toronto in Kensington market.


Never, ever clean the veins and seeds of this chile, it is supposed to be hot, you can either (tatemar) toast the chiles on a hot comal or cast iron skillet, turning them constantly until it is lightly browned and crisp or heat a little bit of oil, add the chiles and fry until lightly browned and crisp. Do not soak. Place it in the jar of a blender or follow the recipe instructions.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cooking with black beans and other beans

Black beans

Each type of bean has its special flavor and quality. I think that the best way of cooking beans is doing what Mexicans do. Cook them in a simple way. Use an earthenware if you have one, flavor them with lard and a little bit of white onion and no more! use epazote for black beans

Timing your beans.

Never soak beans in water the night before. Black beans will lose some of their color and soaked beans lose their vitamins and mineral properties

Always clean your beans from any debris and rinse them on your hand under cold running water to remove any traces of dirt

Always start your beans in hot water, bring this to a simmer, then cover and cook them for about 3 hours maybe more, cook them until they are very soft. 2 1/2 hours should be enough time for the other varieties. It is difficult to be precise. (much will depend on the age of the beans, how long they have been stored, and if they have dried out too much) Add salt and cook for another half hour or until the beans are completely soft


The fresh leaves, or a whole stem with leaves, are used extensively in the cooking of central and southern Mexico. It is indispensable for black beans, tortilla soup and other brothy soups, quezadillas and in many other recipes. Never use dry epazote

Epazote is available in Kensington Market and in some other markets here in Toronto

Pork lard

Pork lard is extensively used in Mexico and still preferred by many traditional cooks, especially for moles, for tamales and for antojitos. it gives food a distinctive taste and it is a favorite one in my kitchen

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Queen of Mexican condiments

They are reminiscent of our ancestors cooking, and can be: Fresh, zesty and spicy; sometimes fiery, tangy, smoky and complex in flavors, and of different textures and colors. It is the most common condiment throughout Mexico; I am talking of course about the ubiquitous salsa found in every household, every restaurant, every fonda and every taco stand from the North to the South of Mexico. Some of them have had some slight changes to them, some are from the sixteenth century and still remain the same. Salsa will always be there sitting patiently on the tables adorning them with their earthy colors and aromas, waiting to be degustated by the humblest of diners to the proudest connoisseurs. There are two types of salsas in Mexican cooking salsas made with fresh chiles and salsas made with dried chiles, and those are divided in four basic salsas. Salsa cruda (raw salsa), where the ingredients are blended or mashed in a molcajete and served like that. The fresh chopped tomato-chile-cilantro "relish" known as pico de gallo or "salsa Mexicana"; the thin vinegary very spicy chile sauces, and the ones that are typically made with cooked tomatoes or green tomatoes also known as green tomatillos and fresh or dried chiles. My preference are the cooked salsas, because they are the more versatile of the three. I compare them to cooking with fish, the possibilities are endless, these salsas use the great variety of chiles and have a wide range of flavours. They keep well. This salsa is the perfect condiment when added to a freshly made tortilla with a piece of roasted pork and a thick slice of avocado.

Cooked or roasted salsas are divided in two categories

The first are based on fresh chiles and roasted tomatoes these salsas are specifically developed for small fresh chiles (serranos or jalapenos), or for large fresh chiles (poblanos)

On second place we have the salsas based on dried chiles. All these salsas rely on tomatoes or tomatillos and sometimes a combination of the two

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

To brown or not to brown. That is the question.

Enzymic or (Enzymatic) browning is a chemical process involving, poliphenol oxidase or other enzymes that create melanins, resulting in a brown color. Enzymic Browning is an important color reaction in food, vegetables and seafood.

Enzymic browning is beneficial for:

Developing flavor in tea (Here the reaction is incorrectly called "fermentation")
Developing color and flavor in fruits such as figs and raisins

Enzymic browning is detrimental to:

Fresh fruits and vegetables, in particular apples and potatoes
Seafood such as shrimp

Enzymic browning is usually controlled with chemicals, or by destroying the responsible chemicals with heat. Blanching to destroy the enzymes is commonly used to preserve color in vegetables. Lemon juice and other acids are used to preserve color in fruits, particularly apples, by lowering the ph and removing the coper cofactor necessary for the enzyme to function

Non-enzymic browning

Non-enzymatic browning, or oxidative, browning is a chemical process that produces a brown color in foods without the activity of enzymes. Melanins and other chemicals are responsible for the brown color. The two main forms of non-enzymatic browning are caramelizing and the Maillard reaction. Both vary in reaction rate as a function of water activity.

Caramelizing is the oxidation of sugar. it is used extensively in cooking for the result of nutty flavor and brown color. as the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released producing the characteristic brown color

The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring the addition of heat. The sugar interacts with the amino acid, producing a variety of odours and flavors. The Maillard reaction is the basis of the flavouring industry, since the type of amino acid involved determines the resulting flavor. It also produces toast

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A hot Mexican

You might think I am talking about me, but this is not the right site for that so I rather talk about a real "hot Mexican" I know. El chile (chili pepper)

Here in Toronto, Canada. The popularity of Mexican cuisine is flourishing rapidly and so is the arrival to Kensington Market of more and more Mexican produce and products, mainly from the states. We can now find a variety of chiles both frescos and secos (fresh and dry)as well as many other goodies. The Mexican market is still growing here and so is the Mexican community. Soon we will be able to find a greater selection of hard or impossible to find ingredients

I will be giving a brief description of the chiles as I include them in my recipes.

Make sure that there is no deterioration in the form of wrinkles, dark patches, mold or softness.
if you are not going to use them right away, wrap them in two layers of paper towel and then in a plastic bap; in this way they will not dry out. Even then they will not last long, a week in average without loosing flavour and texture.

I believe that jalapenos are perhaps the best-known chile outside of Mexico since much of the crop is pickled and canned. there is a great variety of this chile, but their shape is unmistakable; like an elongated, blunt triangle varying from mid to dark green, some with dark patches on them, other with a vertical brown line as if they were wearing striped pants. The chile jalapeno is called by different names depending on the type and season in which they are harvested or just the local usage: chile gordo in Veracruz, chilchote in the Sierra de Puebla, or tomachile in old cookbooks, cuaresmeno in Central Mexico. An average chile jalapeno is 2 1/2 inches long and just under 1 inch wide; it can range from hot to very hot it measures 2,500- 10,00 Scoville units, it is used either in its mature but green stage or when fully ripened and red in color.

Good-quality jalapeno pepper should be firm to the touch, smooth-skinned and have green solid coloring, the stem should be bright green. Dry lines they are not a blemish. They are sings of mature pepper and indicate hotness.

Avoid product that is soft, bruised, has wrinkled skin or spots of mold. When dull and wrinkled, they have lost their fresh flavor or crisp texture

Jalapeno peppers are available year-round

The jalapeno gets its name from Xalapa, a town in Veracruz Mexico, where it has been grown for centuries.

A chipotle, is just a jalapeno that has been smoked and cooked in adobo sauce

If you don`t like the heat in peppers but like the raw taste of them. Remove the veins and the seeds will take away some of the heat

The name serrano or verde for this chile seems to be in general use throughout Mexico with the minor exception of the Sierra de Puebla, where it is often referred to as tampiqueno.

It is a small mid to dark green chile, depending on the variety of seed used, that ripens to bright red. The new varieties tend toward a lighter color and larger size about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. while the chile serrano tends to be a darker green, more pointed at the tip, and smaller in size, an average one being 1 to 1 1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide
they all have shinny smooth skin and can range from hot to very hot. They are generally preferred for fresh or cooked sauces in their mature but green stage, they are still used when very ripe and red.

Because you don`t have to char, steam or core this thin-skinned chile, just cut it into thin slices and mince it, it is the fastest one to use for salsas. The flavor is bright and biting with a delayed fuse

Serrano chile is smaller and hotter than jalapeno. The serrano life`s cycle resembles a leaf`s: these small, skinny, pointy chiles are about five times hotter than jalapenos

Thick flesh do not dry well. Crisp, fresh flavor. It is one of the hottest peppers commonly available here in Toronto, with a Scoville heat units of 7,000-25,000

Most common uses are table sauces, guacamole, relishes, vegetable dishes, seasoning and garnish

The word serrano comes from the Spanish "serranias" meaning "foothills", the serrano is believed to have originated in the foothills of Puebla in Mexico.

tips for making the best guacamole

Guacamole was made by the Aztecs as early as the 15oos. The name comes from the Aztec dialect via Nahuatl ahuacamolli, from ahuacatl (avocado) plus molli (sauce).

Tips for preparing guacamole
I highly recommend using a molcajete and tejolote (Mexican Spanish, from Nahuatl mulcazitl). The traditional Mexican version of mortar and pestle.

Molcajetes were used by pre-hispanic Mesoamerican cultures including the Aztec and the Maya. it is carved from vesicular basalt, molcajetes are typically round in shape and supported by three short legs, they are frequently decorated with the carved head of an animal on the outside edge of the bowl, giving the molcajete the appearance of a short, three legged animal. The pig is the most common animal head used for decoration. the matching hand-held tool know as tejolote (Mexican Spanish, from Nahuatl texolotl), is also made of the same basalt material.

In Mexican cooking we use the molcajete to crush and grind spices or to make chile pastes or salsas or the popular guacamole because the rough surface of the stone creates a superb grinding surface that maintains itself over time as tiny bubbles in the basalt are ground down, replenishing the textured surface.
Salsas and guacamole prepared in molcajetes are known to have a distinctive texture, and some also carry a subtle difference in flavor, from those prepared in blenders. I also recommend serving the prepared guacamole in the molcajete, using it as serving dish it makes it taste earthier

Preparing guacamole
Always make a fine paste with the chile, garlic, coriander* and salt, this paste will greatly enhance the flavor of your guacamole.

*Always wash coriander thoroughly and in lots of water. Spin the coriander dry; removing the stems of the coriander is not necessary since these are not bitter nor tough.

Rough chop your coriander, due to its high water content it bruises easily and looses its color and texture

Eat guacamole right after it has being prepared and always serve at room temperature. It does not keep well in the fridge

Stir in tomatoes, never mash them in since doing this will give your dip an undesirable color

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It is fatty with a distinctive and subtle flavor, smooth and has a creamy texture...

A sumptuous description like this, can only fit the description of one of my top ten favourite fruits. I am of course talking about the avocado, an amazing fruit native to Mexico
The avocado (Persea Gratissima or Persea Americana), originated in the state of Puebla, Mexico. The oldest evidence of avocado use was found in a cave located in Coxcatlan, Puebla, Mexico that dates around 10,000 BC. The avocado tree also has a long history of cultivation in Central and South America, a water jar shaped like an avocado, dating to AD 900, was discovered in the pre-incan city of chan-chan
The word "avocado" comes from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl ("testicle", a reference to its shape)Avocados were known by the Aztecs as the "fertility fruit". In some countries of South America, the avocado is known by its Quechua name,Palta. The Nahuatl ahuacatl can be compounded with other words, as in ahuacamolli, meaning "avocado soup or sauce", from which the Mexican Spanish word guacamole derives.
The Spanish brought this fruit to the English. The early Spanish explorers discovered the Aztecs enjoying avocados, but it was long considered a tasteless food.
Avocados can not only be tossed in salads or mashed for dips like the popular guacamole, but are also used alongside a variety of breads, desserts, main dishes and non-culinary creams.

Although the prime season for avocados is late winter/early spring. They are readily available in markets year round

How to choose avocados
A ripe avocado will yield to a gentle pressure when held in the palm of the hand and squeezed. The flesh is typically greenish yellow to golden yellow when ripe. The flesh is prone to enzymatic browning and turns brown quickly after exposure to air. To prevent this, lime or lemon juice can be added to avocados after they are peeled, but a good advice is to use them right before eating them because nothing will stop them from deteriorating

Most common types are:
Bacon, Fuerte, Gwen, Hass, Pinkerton, Reed, and Zutano, with many chefs having particular preference for the Hass variety

Interesting facts of avocados
Avocados are generally served raw, mostly because heat makes the avocado turn bitter so the suggestion is, if you need to cook an avocado do it for a brief period of time only. Prolonged cooking induces a chemical reaction in all the different varieties of avocados that renders the flesh inedible

Both green and dried leaves of the avocado tree can be used for wrapping tamales, or seasoning for barbecues and stews. Dry leaves will keep for several months on a tightly-closed container

The avocado plant was introduced to Indonesia in 1750, Brazil in 1809, the Levant in 1908, and South Africa and Australia in the late 19th century. Since the 15th century the largest producer is Mexico, particularly in Uruapan in the state of Michoacan

Avocados did not become a commercial crop until the early 1900s