It’s hard to think of Mexico without images of cactus plants. From landscapes to murals, to paintings, photos, plays, songs… and namely to the Mexican flag! Mexico’s coat of arms has an eagle eating a snake triumphantly standing on a cactus plant. As legend goes, that sign led the Aztecs to their promised land, Tenochtitlán.
Whenever it starts pouring down rain in late Spring, I hanker for huitlacoche. A true Mexican delicacy, also called cuitlacoche, it is a form of fungus, similar to some mushrooms, that grows on fresh corn. In the Mexican rainy season, which starts in April (some say March…) and ends sometime in September (some say October…), you can find huitlacoche at its peak.
Squash blossoms are considered a true delicacy in Mexican cuisine. Available in rainy months, they fly out of the markets as soon as they are set on the floor mats and stands. No wonder they are such a hot selling ingredient: They are gorgeous looking, with orange and green Fall colors, a velvety texture, a meaty and crunchy bite and a delicate and exuberant flavor.
Huauzontles, also called Huazontles or Cuazontles, are a native plant to Mexico. Their scientific name is Chenopodium nuttalliae. Huauzontles gave a very thick main stem, oval leaves -that aren’t eaten- and thinner stems filled with edible green flowers that resemble broccoli or rapini, but are much more smaller and delicate.
Chayote, also called chayote squash (it is from the squash family), choko, vegetable pear, mirliton and christophene, is a beautiful pear like shaped vegetable. Ironically, it has a texture similar to a pear that isn’t ripe, but less grainy. Yet the chayotes isn’t wholly sweet, it just has a sweet hint, barely a whisper, really. Its flavor is more neutral, like a cross between a pear and a cucumber… and zucchini. Well, you just have to give them a try.
Although they are widely available in the US, I don’t think I have met more than a couple people here who use fresh tomatillos in their cooking. It may be partly because people are not familiar with them or how to cook them, but…. they are not an appealing ingredient as far as looks go with the first impression! But let me tell you why you should definitely give them a try.
I think the most commonly used zucchini in Mexican cooking is either what in Mexico is called the calabacita italiana, or Itailian zucchini, or the calabacita bola or round squash, which is similar to the Italian but rounder and smaller and used a lot in French cooking. Italian zucchini is different from the regular green zucchini found in most US stores, in that the later is large, thick and has a uniform dark green color.
Jícamas are one of the many Mexican ingredients that luckily, have become readily available outside of the country. Also known as Mexican yams or turnips, they are also a root vegetable. But they are far from the latter in flavor, texture or cooking uses.