Many of the favorite foods and sabores (flavors) traditional in Mexican cuisine (and equally familiar in north of the border cooking) originated right here -- in this part of the new world.
The list of foods the Aztecs were enjoying long before the arrival of the Europeans reads like the contents of most US And American kitchens – especially in those who have come to love some of Mexico’s favorite vegetables.
Early reports written by the Spanish explorers describe markets full of avocados, beans, chocolate, corn, chile, jicama (crunchy, sweet, root vegetable), nopales (prickly pear cactus) pineapple, papaya, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, vanilla, and more – much more.
You’ve heard that the diet of the original residents of the Americas was based on the famed three sisters – beans, corn, and squash, with a generous seasoning of chile. Together, they created a nearly perfect nutritionally-balanced diet.
Aguacate – the Spanish name for avocados (like these on the tree in my garden) – is an Arabic word. Like many other things which originated in Mexico, the name bestowed by the Spanish reflect the history of the time. King Fernando and Queen Isabella sent their explorers out to find new riches to replenish the country’s coffers after the 700-year occupation by the Moors.
(Left:) Those are the jicamas – there in this market shot between the watermelons and the mangos, apples and (undyed) oranges.
Still other wonderful foods vital to the colonial Mexican cuisine came with the Spanish explorers, invaders and the missionary monks who taught the indigenous mestizos to plant orchards of bananas, mangos, apples and citrus fruits and to raise chickens, cattle, pigs, goats and other livestock to balance the turkey and fish available in the new world.
In the new Mexican Kitchen column, Executive Chef Lorraine Russo of La Nueva Posada joins me to share with you some easy to like, and easy to make dishes using many of Mexico’s indigenous foods as we celebrate Mexico’s 200th birthday.
Lorraine recently stumbled upon a recipe for a super simple five-ingredient salad that makes the most of the flavors of Lake Chapala and features a variation of a theme highlighting the colors of the Mexican flag.
Admittedly avocado is a paler shade of green and papaya is a little two orangey to be called red, but nothing could be more simple (or more beautiful) than the combination of the rich, delicious and nutritious avocados, cubes of the giant Mexican papaya with jicama (Mexico’s indigenous sweet and crunchy white root vegetable). All it takes to finish it off is a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette and a little extra crunch from toasted nuts.
MMMMM, now this is a great combination – a couple of tastes of this salad and you’ll be shouting “Viva Mexico” on the September 15-16 Independence Day celebration with a perfect Mexican accent.
PAPAYA – JICAMA SALAD
- 1 medium papaya, peeled and diced
- 1 medium avocado, peeled and diced
- 3/4 cup jicama, peeled and diced
- 2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
- 2 tablespoons low-fat raspberry vinaigrette
Toss the ingredients together just before serving.
Lorraine says she’s thinking it would be just right to sprinkle a small handful of the locally grown (and inexpensive) red raspberries onto each serving – in September or October – just as soon as they come back into season and are plentiful again.
NOTE: This article is designed to give you this great salad recipe and to tease you into reading the full-length article with recipes which will appear in the September 2010 issue of Living at Lake Chapala which celebrates Mexico Bicentennial Anniversary of the call for Independence from Spain on September 15, 1810.
Then, Part Two of this story – along with a whole army of delicious recipes using Mexico’s very traditional and indigenous ingredients will appear in Living at Lake Chapala’s November 2010 issue celebrating the Centennial Anniversary of Mexico’s Revolution which began on November 21, 1910. You’ll want to share in the kitchen fun during both months.