#26 | Mexican Today
New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens
By Pati Jinich
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery By the Book Podcast, with me Suzy Chase.
Pati Jinich: I'm speaking in my native cookbook Mexican Today.
Suzy Chase: As I flipped through Mexican Today it became clear to me how many threads there are in the colorful tapestry we call Mexican food. Tell us a little bit about your new cookbook.
Pati Jinich: Mexican Today is how I feel about Mexican cooking scene as it stands today. So there are two veins running through the cookbook. There's the traditional recipes, the recipes that continue to be passed on from generation to generation since centuries ago that I have so much respect to and they're fabulous. But there's also new spins and new ways of using Mexican ingredients and trying Mexican flavors so you have both the traditional and the modern. I feel like that is what is going on south of the border but also north of the border. So it's a reflection of where Mexican food stands today and I think it breaks a lot of myths. Many people think of Mexican food as difficult to make or having fifty ingredients, and most of Mexican food, at least it's food that we Mexicans eat in their kitchens is easy, accessible, home style, very good for sitting down on a Wednesday night and putting it together in an hour or so.
Suzy Chase: So there is a misconception that Mexican food is laborious. For an example, tell us how easy it is to make tortillas at home.
Pati Jinich: It is very easy because it used to be that in order to make corn tortillas you needed to take your corn, dry it, shave it off the cob, and then you had to soak it with straight lime for 24 to 48 hours, then peel the hard head off and then grind it into [masa 00:02:21]. But also you can find [masa harina 00:02:24] which makes it as easy as mixing the corn flour for the masa with water. So you really have masa in ten seconds. And to make the tortillas all you need is a [certain 00:02:39] that will heat it can be [inaudible 00:02:42], it can be a [inaudible 00:02:44], it can be a skillet [inaudible 00:02:47] but if you don't want to make corn tortillas at home you can also find [inaudible 00:02:52] tortillas at the store because there's more and more brands there. Trying to cater to a growing demand.
Suzy Chase: I know most of us have an idea about Mexican food very cheesy, lots of beef, pork, etc. Can you talk about how the Mexican diet was predominantly vegetarian before the Spanish arrived?
Pati Jinich: Yes, absolutely, so before the Spanish arrived, here we're talking before the 1500's, the main diet was based mostly on vegetables, foods grains, lots of seeds. And once the Spanish arrived, they're the ones who brought the pork and the lard, and the cows and the milk [inaudible 00:03:35] and of course the inter marriage of lady Mexican and European, but Mex traditional is food today but there's a universe of dishes and sauces that are very healthy and have seeds and plants and food base.
Suzy Chase: How does the cuisine change let's say in northern Mexico versus southern Mexico?
Pati Jinich: So that is one fascinating question Suzy because I think regional Mexican food is as much and distinct as say when you think about Italian food. In Mexico some people say there's five different regional cuisines. Some people say there are as many as there are states. But some people like me say there are countless because even within the states, say Michoacan, four five very different regional cuisines within the state. Now, generally speaking, the food from the north of Mexico tends to have a lot of meat. There's a lot of cattle, a lot of ranches, a lot of milk and cheese and [inaudible 00:04:51], lots of milk cultured products.
And instead of using corn tortillas the north uses [inaudible 00:04:59] tortillas a lot more. And gigantic flour tortillas, so it's really an adventure when you travel throughout Mexico and you're eating the food, there's some pillars that stand and withhold no matter where you go in Mexico, there's going to be salsa, there's going to be tacos, there's going to be enchiladas, there's going to be beans and lots of vegetables but the personality of the food radically changes.
Suzy Chase: Let's talk about poblanos. An easy pepper to find at every grocery store. What are some different ways to cook them?
Pati Jinich: Oh my gosh, so many things you can do with poblanos. I think poblanos are my favorite fresh chile. For many reasons, one of them being that the chile poblano really shows how chiles are not only ingredients that are going to give you heat or spice. Chiles are vegetables with a ton of personality and the poblano chile you can use it to, you can stuff it, you can make poblanos chile, you can use it as a vegetable when you turn them into ], you can puree them and turn the puree of the poblano chile with cream of milk into most of dishes. There, for the vitamin C and vitamin A, they're just an incredible ingredient. Now they do need a little bit of roasting just like red bell peppers for Italian cooking, poblano chiles are usually roasted and peeled before using, and that brings about their inner virtues.
Most of their flavor, their personality comes out, so it's one fascinating ingredient that I'm sure is going to become a staple in most kitchens here in the US.
Suzy Chase: Now when you roast a poblano is there anytime when it gets too black? Cause I find the blacker it gets the easier it is to peel.
Pati Jinich: Yes, so usually I'd say I use the metaphor of the s'mores. When you're charring or roasting marshmallows for s'mores you want the outside to be charred and practically to go almost black, but you still want the inside to be transformed but you don't want it burned. So what you want when you're roasting or charring the poblanos is for the outside and the skin to be completely charred, almost entirely black. And that when you're roasting it under the burner, 10 minutes does it. You can also use the grill, but you know the chiles are ready when all of the skin is almost black or charred and when it doesn't look fresh anymore. It has to be cooked and the skin has to be very, very soft. And then you put them inside of a plastic bag or in a bowl and cover them with plastic wrap, and that makes the roasted chile sweat. And the moment you take them out, yeah, but only for 10 minutes or so, and when you take them out of the bag, you can take the entire skin of the chile off in one swipe. It's that easy.
Suzy Chase: That's a great tip. I've always tried to take it off and I burn my fingers cause I'm doing it while it's still hot.
Pati Jinich: No you have to make them sweat because you put them in a plastic bag or container and they sweat, then the skin on its own gets released from the chile and so you just have to peel it right off. It's very easy.
Suzy Chase: So there are distinct differences in our American regional Mexican dishes. Can you describe a couple of the differences like Tex Mex, how it's different from Baja, or New York Mex?
Pati Jinich: Of course, of course. And I think that is also a fascinating topic and I think it has to do with who are the Mexicans that are establishing there. So for example in New York, most of the Mexicans in New York came from Puebla. Puebla has a very unique regional cuisine. They use a lot of jalapenos and chile ranchos and a lot of spices. It's a little bit of a baroque cuisine, it's really delicious and when poblanos get to New York, then they start mixing their technique and their ingredients with the ingredients of their new home which they grow to love and they grow to get to know, and then you get to have one peculiar style of Mexican cooking which is very different from, say, the food in Los Angeles where you have ... Many Mexicans come from Azteca, so Azteca is more often Mexican food at its best. It's much more simple, a lot of grilled things, a lot of open tacos. And then it mixes with what people find in California. And then as the generations move on, those recipes and those foods keep on getting updated and adapted.
So you have these beautiful, just grows of more and more different kinds of regional Mexican dishes.
Suzy Chase: Congratulations on your two nominations for James Beard Awards and Emmy Awards for your PBS series Patty's Mexican Table going on its fifth season. What's in store for this season?
Pati Jinich: Thank you so much Suzy. When I first heard the news I thought somebody was thanking me. So this season I go to the Yucatan Peninsula. And I really dive into Maya world. In talking about regional cuisine in Mexico, the Yucatan is the most distinct, it's the most unique, because of its geographic isolation historically, and the population, the Yucatan has mostly Maya population, which was very different from the rest of the population when the Spanish arrived. So you combine that the native indigenous groups are very different from the rest of the country and then it has these geographic isolation, and then it has a different geography, it has different foods and vegetables and animals. So the way that Mexican evolved in the Yucatan is really unique. It uses a lot of bitter orange. A lot of charred ingredients. They have their own seasoning concoctions.
And so this season I jump into the Yucatan Peninsula and I go to three different states and it's a lot more travel and on the road and I absolutely adored the production company that I work with because they're very open to being a hundred percent spontaneous, there's nothing scripted, we just know we want to go meet certain cooks or go to certain markets or try and find certain dishes and then they go and explore with me. And I think season five is really an incredible season, I'm very excited about it.
Suzy Chase: Do you think food can bring people together in this crazy political environment?
Pati Jinich: Oh my gosh, a hundred percent Suzy. And I'm so happy that I switched careers from being a political analyst. There's no better place for people to come together. There's no better place. There's no better way for people to understand each other and to admire what each has to bring to the table. I really think that Mexicans and Mexican culture and Mexican cuisine bring a lot to the American table and I think it enriches it in a beautiful way and I think that by sharing, the food we show the links between communities and towns and people, and at the end we are all what we choose to put on our plate. And I think that Mexico and Mexicans bring a lot of flavor to the American table, at least we're bringing more variety and more richness. And what once was the evolution of Italian cooking, I think in the US, I think you can now see it with Mexican food.
Suzy Chase: So Saturday night for dinner, I made your recipe for steak and guacamole tortas on page 75.
Pati Jinich: I love those, tortitos.
Suzy Chase: They were so easy for a weekend meal. Now how did they get the name pepitos?
Pati Jinich: That's a great question, nobody knows. The name Pepe is the endearing way to call anybody whose name is Jose. And you can just imagine how many Joses are in Mexico. So Pepe is for the people who are called Jose, and then pepito is very endearing way to call the Pepes. Some people have tried to come up with the idea that the pepito was invented by a man named Pepito. There is no proof of that, and it's just a torta that had been very popular for decades and decades Suzy, since I was a little girl, it is standard fare in many Mexican [inaudible 00:14:50] and coffee shops. You can find them in a large size, as I make it in my book, or you can find it as a mini size with little mini tiny baguettes. And as you saw it's very easy, you marinate your meat, your re fried beans. And then you just grill your meat or broil it, and then you take your guacamole, the meat, the cheese, the bread, and anybody can customize the pepito as they would like. And it's just, drum up an entire meal in a torta.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web?
Pati Jinich: You can find me on www.pattyjinich.com it's spelled Pati, P-A-T-I. Some people spell it, double T - Y.
Suzy Chase: Thank you Pati, P-A-T-I, so much for coming on Cookery By the Book Podcast.
Pati Jinich: Thank you so much Suzy, thank you for having me on.