In the Kitchen, Head South

Our youngest loves Mexican food. “Cado” was one of her first words—for the smooth Hass fruit. Along with refried beans, this was her go-to toddler snack.  She believes that the preference traces its origin to a pregnant mother’s obsessive, daily burrito fix—nine months of tortilla-wrapped cravings. Powerful stuff.  I can attest.  When I recall the irresistible allure of the flavors, it seems possible that the intoxicating power of Mexican food might extend into the womb. At least one 12-year-old is convinced.

South-of-the-border cuisine draws on a variety of spices and ingredients that diners find seductive—chocolate, cinnamon, avocado, mango, cumin seed, dried chili peppers, oregano, cilantro leaf, guava, papaya and lime. Tomatoes, corn and beans are basic staples, but Mexican flavors work well with less traditional ones, too—carrots, cabbage, potatoes, leafy greens, even broccoli. Crumble a little queso fresco (fresh cheese) or a dollop of crema (sour cream) on top.  What’s not to adore?  Ready for a broccoli burrito?

Mexican food is the perfect party plan when a range of preferences and dietary restrictions challenge.  Virtually everyone can find something to relish in an expansive taco buffet—even the gluten-free, lactose-intolerant vegetarian. Plus the pickiest toddler will always be drawn to a cheesy quesadilla or a plate of fragrant rice and beans.  Maybe some cubed ‘cado.

Don’t worry if the menu is not strictly authentic. Sauté a few cumin seeds, chopped onion or garlic, and a pinch of chili powder—add just about any fresh produce.  Tuck into a warm tortilla with a squeeze of lime, shredded jack cheese, a sprinkling of cilantro leaves and fresh salsa.  This simple combination never disappoints.  Make it your own. How about that broccoli burrito? You never know.

Recipes for the Week:

Tortilla Soup

Strawberry-Lime Granita

Bean Tacos with Cabbage and Carrot

Quick Tips:

Strawberry salsa:  Sounds crazy, but chop strawberries, cilantro, and a bit of onion.  Mix it all together with a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime.  Add some cubed, peeled mango, avocado or bell pepper if you like.  Serve with tortilla chips.

Broccoli burrito:  Another wacky idea I first experienced 20 years back in Chicago.  Sauté broccoli pieces with shredded carrot, chopped onion and a sprinkling of ground cumin or whole seeds.  Tuck into a tortilla with shredded jack cheese, refried beans, a sprinkling of cilantro and a little spicy salsa.  Surprisingly good.

Mexican dressing:  Mix together ¼ cup olive oil, a teaspoon cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons lime juice, a splash of orange juice, pinch of chili powder, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro.  Serve over crisp lettuce with shredded carrot, cabbage and onion.  Maybe a strawberry or two.  And a little of that queso fresco.

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