A taste of Mexico


Tamarindo Tea

5 quarts water

1 lb tamarind

4 quarts ice cubes

3 cups sugar

juice of 3 large limes

Boil the tamarinds for ½ hour in 2 quarts water. Strain and press into sieve.

Mash the ice with the sugar. Add the tamarind liquid, the lime juice, and the rest of the water. Serve cold over more ice.

Pozole, or Mexican Chicken Soup.

This recipe is for 12 people with hearty appetites. The original calls for hominy. You can substitute 2 lbs. diced potatoes, mixed root vegetables, diced squash, or 2 cups cooked rice added at the last minute.
I’ve divided the cooking into Steps 1 and 2—you do Step 1, the chicken broth, ahead of time in order to have time to defat it. In the cooking class, we used chicken breasts only, so there was no deboning or defatting, and the chicken browned along with the chilis and the mirepoix. It’s more economical to buy a whole chicken, and more flavourful. Make the chicken broth ahead of time so that you can defat the broth before adding the mirepoix and the chilis. Remove and discard the chicken skin and bones. Reserve the chicken meat in the fridge overnight.  Refrigerate the stock and next morning skim off the fat.
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 chicken or hen, of about 3 pounds
4 litres water
2 cups onion, chopped coarsely
1 cup carrot, chopped coarsely
1 cup celery, chopped coarsely
6 tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
1-2 dried poblano peppers (called guajillo in Spanish—dark red, not hot, seeds removed.)
1 tsp. cumin, dried
1 tsp. oregano, dried
1 tsp anise seed, dried
8 Roma tomatoes, in quarters
1 lb hominy, or equal amount diced potatoes, other root veg, or rice.
salt to taste

Step 1
Make a mirepoix of the onion, celery, garlic and carrot.Brown the chicken and the chilis all over in the oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and 3 litres of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about 50 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the pot and cool sufficiently to remove the skin and bones if you’ve cooked a whole chicken. Puree in a blender the broth and mirepoix.
In a separate pot, roast the oregano, anise seed and cumin over medium dry heat for 5-8 minutes, stirring all the time to make sure the herbs don’t burn. Add the tomatoes and continue to stir over medium heat until the skins begin to separate from the tomatoes. Add 1 litre of water and simmer 20 minutes. Puree in a blender, cooling first.
Return the pureed mixture to the pot, along with the chicken, chopped. Add the pureed chicken broth and mirepoix. Add the hominy or potato or rice, and simmer until the latter is cooked. Serve with sour cream and if available, chopped epazote. If none available, add chopped parsley, mint and lime zest.

Using Chilis

The most confusing thing about chilis is the range of peppers available.  Here’s a partial name list for fresh and dry pepper equivalents:


The next confusing thing is the heat, which varies enormously. The dried guajillo (Anaheim) peppers we found in the market in Zihuatenajo are mild and quite fresh compared to those I located at Simply Delicious in Vernon, the only place I could find them at all. These are much stronger than those we used in my Mexican cooking class—so strong that I’ve only used one in this recipe, whereas we used eight in the class. After testing one bit that had some membrane left in it, I had to gulp down a whole glass of milk to calm my burning mouth.

Removing membrane and seeds is the key to cooling down the chili taste, but with some dried chilis removing the membrane is impossible.
Be very careful also when using chili powders or chili spice. Many varieties, especially those in little plastic bags, do not tell you what kind of peppers are ground in them. The habanero chili powder at Crescendo for instance is very very fiery. This is great when you want the heat, but for adobo sauce you want gentle evanescent heat, barely perceptible. I’ve substituted a very delicious chili spice powder I found at Simply Delicious in Vernon, mixed with lime zest. The mix contains oregano, cumin, cloves and salt as well as ground chilis. Taste a little powder on your tongue before using it.

Always test peppers before adding them to a recipe. Be careful. Once the pepper is in your dish, you cannot get rid of the heat. Add one pepper or teaspoon of chili powder at a time, until you have the flavour and heat required. Keep a glass of milk handy, and keep your fingers away from eyes or nose after handling peppers.

Baked chicken with adobo sauce
For 8 people
Most Mexicans buy ready-ade achiote paste. Leslie Savage photo

A delicious sauce based on tomato and orange juice, with just enough heat to keep life interesting.
The original recipe calls for achiote paste, made from annatto seeds, cumin, coriander, allspice and black pepper. Achiote is zesty and intense, but not hot. It’s not available except possibly in Mexican special food shops, so I’ve substituted a chili spice powder mix and lime zest.

Also in the original recipe are guaje seeds, from a long beanlike pod. I’ve never seen these in Canada. Shallots are the substitute.

The orange juice and lime make this very fresh. For the final touch, you half a jalapeno

Guaje pods with their edible, sharp-tasting seeds. Leslie Savage photo

pepper and twist a whole handful of cilantro into a knot, and simmer these in the sauce for 10 minutes, then remove them.

2 ½ to 4 pounds chicken breasts or thighs, or fish filets
2 tbsp sunflower seed or peanut oil

8 whole ripe tomatoes
1 guajillo pepper (dried Anaheim peppers—they are dark red/mahogany colour)
4 sticks cinnamon
2 shallots, finely diced
5 tbsp finely minced garlic
1 tbsp Simply Delicious Mexican Chili Spice Blend
¼  tsp ground allspice
1 tsp lime zest
½ citron balsamic or white vinegar
3 cups orange juice
1 cup dry white wine or white grape juice
1 bunch cilantro
1 jalapeno pepper
Start by removing the seeds and membranes from the dried guajillo pepper. Slice pepper open and scrape out the interior, all the seeds and the stems. The pepper will crumble.
In a thick large pot, heat the oil and throw into it the guajillo pepper, garlic, allspice, the lime zest and the chili spice powder. Stir for a few minutes, being careful that nothing burns.
Add the tomatoes, each cut into four, and sauté a few minutes longer.
Add the orange juice and the vinegar.
Throw in the cinnamon sticks and bring to a boil. After ten minutes remove the cinnamon, then simmer for 30 minutes at low heat.
Remove from heat and cool somewhat. In batches, using a teatowel across the top of the blender under the top, puree the tomato-pepper-orange juice mixture.
Return the puree to the pot
Wash the cilantro and twist the bunch into a knot, or tie with string. Add it to the sauce. Cut the jalapeno pepper into two lengthwise, and throw it into the sauce as well. Bring to a boil again, reduce heat to very low, and simmer for an hour or until sauce is thick. Remove the cilantro and the jalapeno.  Up to this point, the sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated until use.
To bake the chicken, preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly oil baking pans with 2” sides, and put the chicken pieces in the pans. Put on top of each chicken piece about ¼ cup sauce. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until done. (Ovens vary.)
To serve, put on a platter with avocado slices dipped in lime juice, and top with slivered red onion and julienned jalapeno pepper, deseeded and with membranes cut out.  Add rice and lentils, below, and a green salad topped with crumbled fresh feta and roasted pumpkin seeds. Pass the sauce. Serve with tortillas kept warm inside a damp tea towel.
The classic Mexican drink with this is beer.

This chicken adobo dish is delicious. Leslie Savage photo

Mexican Rice and Lentils
4 cups cooked brown or white rice or quinoa

1 cup cooked lentils
2 cups salsa (see below)
Juice of 1 lime

Mix together in a very large skillet with a lid, and keep warm at low heat until you are ready to eat.

1 large tin coarsely chopped tomatoes, drained
1 medium red or sweet onion, fine chopped
1 sweet pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded, membranes removed, finely diced
juice of 1 large lime (1/4 cup)
1 tsp Hawaiian sea salt
3-4 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar or sweetener

Mix all in a bowl and let sit for 20 minutes.
You can substitute other fruit—mango, papaya, peach, apricot, apple or pears for the tomato.