I was born in Mexico, to a Mexican mother and an American father. We came to the States to stay when I was around one year old, so I've spent over 99% of my life in the USA [EDIT: My husband the professor informed me it's more like 97%]. We only went back to visit Mexico a handful of times, and I remember my motherland with a sort of fuzzy nostalgia.
It's definitely not the Mexico of today that you see on the news. My Mexico is a child's Mexico, with bright bugambilia flowers and tissue paper kites, rope swings in the summer and exquisite Christmas lights in the winter. It smells of bollios warm from the oven, car exhaust, and my grandmother's powdery perfume. It's making your cousins cry because you broke the Christmas pinata on your first swing, since you didn't realize it was made of clay and not paper mache. It's being chased by your aunt's posse of viscious poodles in your uncle's mechanic shop. It's watching your baby brother throw a fit in the lobby of the National Musuem of Anthropology, and pretending you don't know him. It's hearing both your parents speaking Spanish to everyone, not just amongst yourselves when you're at home. It's comforting and strange, familiar and alien. It's beautiful and dangerous and a secret part of you that no kids in your class at home know anything about.
Even as an adult, I almost feel like it's a sort of secret identity, a quiet other half that I don't tap into very much. I have been trying to lately, and what better occassion than Mexico's Independence Day on September 16?
It felt extra-important to commemorate La Independencia this year, since 2010 marked both the bicentennial of Mexico's independence from Spain and a century since the Mexican Revolution.
Since I'm not very big on crowds, a more personal celebration was in order. I decided to throw a little dinner party, just for my husband, my good friend, and the aforementioned baby brother who is not really a baby anymore.
Now, beyond the odd dish of enchiladas or batch of salsa, I've never tried any serious Mexican cooking on my own. My Mama gave me a gorgeous cookbook years ago, Frida's Fiestas, Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo, and I'd been itching for an excuse to break it in.
The menu consisted of Red Mole, White Rice, and Flan from the cookbook, supplemented with a green salad and roasted tomato salsa. Simple enough, right?
Now I know why traditional Mexican cooks spend all friggin' day in the kitchen. I thought it would take me about three hours to whip up this meal.
It took me six. With lots of help.
That doesn't count the hours I spent going to grocery stores, little Latino markets, and the farmer's market in search of all the ingredients. Who knew it would take me three tries to find both dried ancho chiles and guajillo chiles for the mole sauce? Not to mention, the failed quest my brother and I went on to find one little herb called acuyo. AKA heirba santa. AKA oja santa. AKA unicorn hair, 'cause it was just as impossible to find!
Regardless of the acuyo fail, it was still a grand old time. With Chavela Vargas and Pedro Infante serenading us from my new laptop, my brother and I broke in my new molcajete with a batch of Roasted Tomato Salsa.
It's super-easy to make. Just grill a bunch of small tomatoes (I used zebra tomatoes from the farmer's market), garlic cloves (not pictured) and serrano chiles on a comal or frying pan.
When they're starting to char and peel, and they feel soft and squishy when you squeeze them with kitchen tongs, toss 'em in your molcajete (or food processor). Be sure to remove the stems from the chiles. Add some freshly chopped cilantro, and a few dashes of salt to taste. Mush it all up real good.
Transfer it to a glass or earthenware bowl (I swear it tastes better than plastic), and let it sit in the fridge to cool and let the flavors "marry." Or just eat it warm out of the molcajete. It's awesome that way, too.
There's more to this, but I've already rambled on enough for one post. Next time: my Flan-tastic dessert and why you NEED to watch the mole while it cooks...
[The culinary adventure continues here...]