by Ernest Barteldes
The first time I recall trying Mexican food was back in Fortaleza, when a small restaurant opened in the nightlife district of Praia de Iracema. I remember being fascinated by the recipes and the fact that they used avocado to make a dip – something I had never heard about, since in Brazil the fruit is served as a dessert or in a smoothie. When I relocated to the US in 2000, I often patronized a small restaurant on Staten Island – not your made-for-Americans kind of place, but the real thing where the waitress couldn’t really speak English.
What fascinates me about Mexican dishes is that they are quite unique – Most Latin American dishes (Colombian, Ecuadoran) have some resemblance to each other, since many were adapted from the foods the Spanish colonizers brought to the Americas. Sure, they all have their unique touch, but nothing (except maybe Argentinean or Brazilian) compares to Mexico. I mean, who else adds chocolate to a main course like chicken mole? Their food is very colorful, aromatic and rich, and also retains a lot from the many indigenous recipes created over centuries before the conquistadors came to the continent, and others were blended with the flavors brought from Europe with welcome results.
Just a few blocks from the Staten Island apartment I share with Renata there is a little Mexican tienda that sells tamales exclusively on Sundays. For those who don’t know, tamales are corn cakes that are stuffed with meats, chicken or cheese. These cakes are then wrapped in corn husks and then steamed (Brazil has a similar concoction called pamonha). In fact, corn is one of the main ingredients in Mexican cooking, and is present in many of their dishes. They are quite delicious and very filling – two or three make up a perfect breakfast when served with fruit on the side.
During our recent trip to Mexico, I had the opportunity to try many of these foods at the source. Like I wrote before, our hotel had “thematic” nights at dinner, and when it came the time to celebrate the local culture, we had a feast – with a nice margarita on the side.
From Delicioso, translated from Spanish
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 diced onion (about one cup)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 16-ounce can of diced tomatoes (2 cups)
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 ají chipotle (found in Latin stores) with one tablespoon adobo sauce
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ ounces unsweetened dark chocolate
- 1 1/2 lb. Cooked chicken (I bought fresh and grilled at home)
- ½ cup chopped peanuts (unsalted)
- 1 tbsp orange peel
In a medium saucepan, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, the chipotle pepper with the sauce, the raisins until heated through. Let cool, transfer contents to a blender and let blend until smooth.
Mix the peanut butter, the chicken broth, the chili powder and the cinnamon and add to the blended mix and blend until well mixed. Return the mix to the saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes, stir with a wooden spoon from time to time. Add the chocolate and stir until melted and well blended. Add the reserved chicken and heat through. Serve garnished with the orange peel and chopped peanuts. Side dishes can include rice, beans, guacamole and warm tortillas.