With Cinco de Mayo being this past weekend, I had a great opportunity for the next installment of my Global Eats project. This seemed as good of a time as any to cook the dishes I picked out for Mexico.
I have long been fascinated with Mexico from its history to its people and culture to its cuisine. In fact, Mexican is my second favorite type of cuisine, only beat by the food of my heritage (Italian).
Cinco de Mayo has turned into a rather controversial holiday celebrated in the United States. Many people in the US mistakenly think Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day. It is actually the celebration of the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 during the Franco-Mexican War. This battle was a success, but the French later came back with more troops and even instilled a “monarch” in Mexico for a brief period.
Cinco de Mayo really isn’t celebrated in Mexico, at least not like they are in the US. What began as a celebration for Mexican-Americans has turned in to a rager where primarily white Americans get trashed on Margaritas without understanding the history behind the holiday. It is also a time where a lot of disrespect of Mexican culture and people takes place, including non-Mexican mockingly wearing sombreros and fake mustaches.
This doesn’t mean you can’t “celebrate” the holiday if you aren’t Mexican. However, there are more respectful ways to celebrate the holiday that honor and uplift Mexican culture without appropriating it. For me, that was by cooking some traditional Mexican recipes and supporting Mexican-owed businesses, such as restaurants or markets.
In preparation for meal, I sourced many of my ingredients from a local Latin Foods Market in Rockville, MD. I was able to get quality and authentic ingredients I can’t find at my primary supermarket, like dried guajillo and ancho peppers, and queso freso. These are ingredients that make a huge difference in Mexican cooking, so I wanted to make these dishes properly.
On the menu for my Cinco de Mayo meal were enchiladas rojas (red enchiladas), homemade salsa, and flan for dessert. Chris and Andrew were coming over to enjoy this meal with me, and I knew they’d appreciate it just as much as I would.
Enchiladas are one of my favorite Mexican dishes. There is just something special about meat and/or cheese wrapped in a corn tortilla and smothered in sauce. I have tried so many different enchilada sauces from salsa roja to salsa verde to salsa queso. When I eat out at Mexican restaurant, there is a high chance that I end up getting enchiladas. The enchiladas sauces are what bring this dish alive.
In my family, my mom makes these really good chicken enchiladas that were one of my favorite dinners as a kid. However, they are nowhere close to being authentic, especially the version that uses Campbell’s cream of chicken soup to make the sauce. They are, however, absolutely delicious.
I have long wanted to make an authentic enchilada recipe, and I found a great one from Mexico in my Kitchen. I tried my best to use authentic recipes from Mexicans for this meal. This enchilada recipe came from a Mexican food blogger.
The most extensive part of this recipe is making the red enchilada sauce, but even that is relatively easy to follow if you have all the proper ingredients. The hardest part about making a recipe like this might be sourcing the peppers (depending on where you live). I found the guajillo and ancho peppers I needed at a local Latin Market. These peppers made such a rich and flavorful enchilada sauce.
This was my first time working with dried peppers that need re-hydrated. It is neat to see how these peppers can be brought back to life just with some hot water. The enchiladas were actually the last part of the meal I made. So, Chris and Andrew arrived as I was just about to make my sauce. They came at the right time, because I did need assistance in assembling the enchiladas. Two hands can only do so much.
Okay, so they did mangle a couple of them, but they actually did a pretty good job filling and rolling the fragile corn tortillas while I prepared each tortilla.
I got some queso fresco to garnish the enchiladas. I was going to chop up some white onion as an extra garnish, but the store didn’t have any white onion. I liked them just with the cheese and a little bit of salsa on the side.
I would never say that I can make enchiladas as good as Mexicans, but this blogger did write a beautiful recipe that turned out so well. The sauce was absolutely divine, bursting with flavor. The queso fresco was an excellent touch. I know I did not use as many garnishes as the original recipe, but there was something about the simplicity of enchiladas topped with cheese that appealed to me. My favorite part was definitely the sauce, and I will likely be making it again very soon with the extra peppers I have.
The enchiladas came together fairly quick, which was good because the salsa felt like it took forever. When I have made salsa in the past, it has been a raw salsa where you through all the ingredients into the food processor and blend. This salsa had a lot of work that went into it, but it was the recipe I waned to use. I wanted a good smoky salsa. Smoky salsas are my favorite because the flavors are so rich, and they don’t taste like raw tomato. That is my biggest complaint about salsa is when it tastes too much like tomato. I want to taste the garlic, onion, peppers, and citrus more than I taste the tomato.
When I went searching for salsa recipes, I quickly landed on one that seemed intriguing. I will admit that this does not come directly from a Mexican cook or blogger. The recipe was in a cookbook called Not Your Mama’s Canning Book, but was slightly adapted by the food blog Foodie Crush. She labels the recipe as “authentic,” though I am not sure the history of the source of the recipe. Once I found the recipe, I decided to go with it. The ingredients list looked to include very Mexican ingredients, and it would embody the smokiness I wanted. I am sure there are plenty of good recipes for salsa out there from true Mexican cooks though, and I will be checking out those recipes.
I got home from the Latin Market and got right to work on the salsa. Not only did I need to re-hydrate the guajillo peppers, but I had to broil the other vegetables. Then, everything gets put through the blender before cooking the salsa on the stovetop. I felt a bit pressure for time, so I tried to work as quickly as possible.
For future reference, this is more like a day long affair, since the salsa also needs to sit and cool. With that said, this salsa can be made in a pinch if necessary, but it won’t be cooled down to serve. At best, you can “chill” it in the fridge to get it closer to room temperature and not just hot off the stove. (FYI, that is exactly what I did).
I have to admit that I greatly enjoyed this salsa, and so did Chris and Andrew. I even sent them home with a container of this smoky salsa. This was a very good salsa recipe, and it made my apartment smell like smoky peppers and garlic (which was quite a joy). I was doing laundry later that night, and every time I walked back inside I was smacked in the face by those glorious smells.
If I have one complaint for this recipe it would be that it is a little too acidic. I think that a whole cup of lime juice is way too much. I felt like I was being punched in the face by citrus. If I make this recipe again, I will probably cut the lime juice in half. I want to be able to taste the other ingredients in a more balanced way.
As for the flan, the dessert was the first item I made for this meal. I made it in the morning so it would have time to properly chill in the fridge. I have to admit that I was terrified to tackle this Mexican dessert. I had never successfully made a custard before. I had only tried twice before in my entire life, but they were both disasters.
I had actually tried to make a flan in high school for my Spanish class. That didn’t work out so well. Most recently, I tried to make a stove-top custard for a Martha Stewart pie recipe for Thanksgiving. That was also a failure because I didn’t cook it long enough. I wanted to give this whole custard thing another try.
I had a little bump trying to make this recipe. I made the caramel topping and poured it into my pan to allow it to cool. I realized that I was missing an ingredient I needed for the custard. So, I ran out of the apartment a disheveled mess and bought a can of sweetened condensed milk. I also don’t have a flan mold, so I just used a 9 inch round cake pan to make this dessert.
I followed the recipe (which originates from a Mexican woman) put the flan in the oven, and crossed my fingers that I didn’t mess it up. When I took the flan out of the oven, it looked promising, but with flan, you really can’t know if it is a success until you are ready to serve.
After it had been chilling for several hours, I pulled the flan out of the fridge to serve. I flipped that flan onto a plate and it came out perfectly with a nice caramel glaze on top. I almost couldn’t believe it. I finally made a successful custard, and it was a pretty one.
I think it is safe to say that we enjoyed the flan. I liked that this recipe had an orange flavor to it with orange zest and freshly squeezed orange juice. There was a nice orange flavor without it being over-powering. I might try just vanilla the next time.
The custard itself was thick and creamy. Flan is different from a standard custard because it is creamier and slightly sweeter due to the heavy cream and sweetened condense milk. That is what makes it so delectable. Now I know that I can make a custard properly, I see some flans in my future.
I was rather proud of how everything turned out. I know that my friends will eat just about anything I make, but I really wanted this meal to turn out well. I wanted to pay a proper homage to Mexican cuisine. Is this the same as a Mexican abuela’s cooking? Certainly not, but I believe I made a respectable version. This even gave me more of an appreciation for Mexican cooking, as I can see how much love and care goes into Mexican dishes. This “trip” to Mexico is one I will not soon forget. I want to continue to learn more about Mexican cuisine and cooking.