Cotija cheese is a salty, slightly acidic, cow’s milk cheese with a strong personality. Named after the city of Cotija in the state of Michoacán, it has been produced in the region for over 400 years. Traditionally, after the dairy cows grazed in the mountain pastures throughout Jalisco and Michoacán during the rainy season…
Maracuyá, also known as passion fruit in English, is one of the many exotic fruits of Mexico. It is grown in the tropical and semi-tropical regions of Mexico, like Oaxaca and the Yucatán Península. It is native to South America, originating in Brazil, and there are different varieties. In Mexico, the yellow- or purple-skinned varieties are the most typical.
Panela is a moist and fresh, mild, and very mellow, cheese. Its texture is very firm and it can be cut into thick slices, broken into smaller pieces easily, or grated for antojos (snacks). In Mexico, this cheese is often used by cooks who want low-fat or healthier options. That doesn’t mean it isn’t irresistible!
Nutmeg is an ingredient that tends to be overlooked in the kitchen. With a fascinating taste that is mildly sweet, somewhat woody, and a bit peppery, it is used mostly for desserts or drinks. A native ingredient from Indonesia, nutmeg comes from an evergreen tree, now planted in more countries, that found its way to Mexico in the years of the Spanish Colony with its vast and intensive trade routes to the East.
Many people think that the vanilla bean originally came from Madagascar, but even though vanilla beans are grown there, they originated and were first cultivated in the lush state of Veracruz, which physically hugs the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, vanilla grown outside of Mexico has to be pollinated by hand, since the only insect that will pollinate it is the stingless Melipona bee, which only lives, and can only survive, in Mexico.
You can make a vanilla bean go a long way. You can extend its exuberant properties and multiply its uses by flavoring other basic ingredients with it. My favorites are salt, sugar, simple syrup, oil and vinegar. In turn, the resulting vanilla salt, vanilla sugar, vanilla syrup, vanilla oil and vanilla vinegar can be used for long periods of time and in so many ways.
I grew up in Mexico City with sweetened condensed milk in my family’s pantry. It is an ingredient that is part of my upbringing, it speaks of home to me. We had it not only for breakfast, dessert, milkshakes, smoothies, snacks and after school treats (drizzled over fresh fruit or spread over Maria cookies).
Corn has been a central part of the Mexican diet and culture since ancient times. Not only is it eaten fresh in its many varieties, its dried kernels are used for an infinity of things, including masa to make everything from tortillas to tamales. It’s husks are also treasured as an ingredient to wrap and cook food in. Tamales, of course, have remained the wrapped and cooked food par excellence in Mexico.
When you don’t care much about something in Mexico, it is very popular to say “me importa un cacahuate” or “me vale un cacahuate.” This translates to something like “I don’t care enough” or “I couldn’t care less,” the word cacahuate being used for that “less or not enough.” That may be in regards to the tiny size of an individual peeled peanut, but ironically, cacahuates or peanuts mean a lot to Mexico and Mexicans.
The pomegranate is such a vivid, vibrant and enticing fruit, that I consider it to be one of the most sensuous ingredients. It has a thick and tough pink-to-reddish skin that comes off as impenetrable. But, break into it, and you will find an overabundance of shiny, ruby red seeds that resemble jewels and have the juiciest crunch.