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A guide to using spices in Mexican cooking Karen Hursh Graber

Chicken with caramelized onions and nutmeg
© Karen Hursh Graber, 2014
As we settle into the crisp autumn months and adapt cooking techniques and ingredients to the change of seasons, it seems like a good time to look at the use of spices in the Mexican kitchen. Besides providing great depth of flavor, spices have both a warming and anti-inflammatory effect on the body, making them tasty and healthy additions to fall dishes.

But what exactly are spices and how are they different from herbs? The variety of fresh herbs used in Mexican cooking has been explored in some depth... read more

Mexican anise cookies: Galletas de anis Karen Hursh Graber

Anise is a favorite flavor in Mexico, especially in cookies. Traditional bakers use lard, good old porky fat, but butter works well. Please don't use margarine or vegetable shortening for these delicio... read more

Mexican rice with aromatic spices: Arroz con especias aromáticas Karen Hursh Graber

A couple of teaspoons of aromatic spices do wonders to perk up plain white rice. So do the Mexican techniques of frying the rice first, and using broth instead of water. Cumin and coriander work well t... read more

Mexican chicken with caramelized onions and nutmeg: Pollo con cebolla y nuez moscada Karen Hursh Graber

Mexican chicken with caramelized onions and nutmeg © Karen Hursh Graber, 2014 This recipe for Mexican chicken with caramelized onions and nutmeg, adapted from Marge Poole's 1,000 Mexican Recipes, ... read more

Mexican chicken and allspice stew: Chilpozontle Karen Hursh Graber

A specialty of the Puebla mountain town of Zacapoaxtla, this Mexican dish uses allspice leaves as well as berries in a savory chicken stew. If you can't get allspice leaves, fresh bay leaves work well.... read more

Preserving Mexico's summer fruit: Sweet and spicy jams and jellies Karen Hursh Graber

Mexican peach jam with chipotle
© Karen Hursh Graber, 2014
As the time for the ripest summer fruit draws to a close, now is the time to capture the season's ephemeral flavor in a jar. Actually, several jars, because the mountains of fruit piled up in Mexico's markets now are too appealing to resist..

Technically, jam is a rustic preserve, a cohesive mixture of fruit and sugar, whereas marmalade has pieces of fruit suspended in jelly. In Spanish, one word mermelada — is used for both, which is much easier than explaining the difference... read more

Mexican pear and ancho chile jam: Mermelada de pera y chile ancho Karen Hursh Graber

This jam is perfect to make as late summer turns into fall. In Cholula, the September feast of the Virgin de los Remedios finds the plaza filled with fruit vendors selling huge stacks of pears from the... read more

Mexican peach chipotle jam: Mermelada de durazno y chipotle Karen Hursh Graber

This Mexican peach chipotle jam is so easy to make with canned chipotles in adobo sauce, and good with any kind of bread, grilled pork or poultry, or cheese and crackers. Ingredients 2 ½ pound... read more

Mexican cactus fruit jam: Mermelada de xoconostle Karen Hursh Graber

These Mexican cactus fruits are always available in larger mercados in Central Mexico, because they are used in mole de olla. If you don't see them, ask. They make a delicious jam. Do yourself a big fa... read more

Mexican tomatillo jam: Mermelada de tomate verde Karen Hursh Graber

Tomatillos have a high pectin content, so this recipe makes a nice, thick jam, with the tangy flavor of citrus rind. Mexican tomatillo jam is especially good with grilled chicken. Ingredients 1... read more

Mexican apricot jalapeño jelly: Jalea de chabacano y jalapeno Karen Hursh Graber

An unlikely combination? You be the judge, as you liven up your morning toast, or spread this Mexican apricot jalapeño jelly on cream cheese with crackers. Ingredients 5 cups peeled, chopped a... read more

Mexican empanadas: Portable pockets of flavor Karen Hursh Graber

Mexican empanadas de picadillo, or seasoned
It would be difficult to think of a food more versatile than the empanada except, of course, the taco. Both consist of a dough-based wrapper around a filling, and both can hold a huge variety of ingredients within. But while the taco has its roots in the indigenous Mexican culinary tradition, the empanada was an import from both Spain and, in the form of Hidalgo's pastes, from Cornwall... read more

Chiapas style pork empanadas: Empanadas chiapacorceñas Karen Hursh Graber

A juicy pork filling, flavored with spices, makes these substantial Chiapas style pork empanadas a good lunch or late supper dish. Any leftover roast meat would be good here. The dough is traditionally... read more

Veracruz style empanadas with tuna: Volovanes de Minilla Karen Hursh Graber

One of the most famous street snacks of Veracruz, this puff pastry empanada is flavored with the classic Spanish combination of raisins and olives, with the distinctly Veracruz touch of pickled jalape... read more

Yucatan style chaya empanadas: Empanadas de chaya Karen Hursh Graber

Here the chaya, a leafy green used throughout the Yucatan, is incorporated right into the corn dough, a common technique in this region. The chopped hard boiled egg filling is complemented by the chile... read more

Mexican mini chicken chipotle empanadas: Mexican empanaditas de pollo con chipotle Karen Hursh Graber

Chipotle chiles give these chicken empanadas a characteristic taste of Central Mexico. I've made these as Mexican mini empanadas (empanaditas) for a party buffet, and recommend chopping everything very... read more

Mexican pineapple empanadas: Empanadas de piña Karen Hursh Graber

Pineapple seems to be the most common fruit filling for empanadas in Mexico, but guava and apple are frequently used and delicious. The dough for sweet Mexican empanadas usually contains some sugar, bu... read more

Mexican plantain empanadas with picadillo: Empanadas de platano Karen Hursh Graber

This recipe is adapted from Alquímias y Atmósferas del Sabor, by Doña Carmen Titita Ramírez, proprietress of Mexico City's famed El Bajío restaurant. The plantains should be cooked a day in advanc... read more

Going locavore in the mountains of Veracruz Karen Hursh Graber

Although mention of Veracruz usually brings to mind a tropical Gulf Coast climate and an abundance of fish and seafood, the western region of the state is home to a mountain range, a cloud forest, and ... read more

Veracruz guava atole: Atole de guayaba Karen Hursh Graber

Fruit atole is a great morning or late night drink. It can be made with several kinds of fruit, but Veracruz guava atole is my hands-down favorite. The easiest way to remove the seeds is to cut the fru... read more

Mexican enchiladas with peanut sauce: Dobladas de cacahuate Karen Hursh Graber

Mexican enchiladas in peanut sauce from Xico, Veracruz
© Karen Hursh Graber, 2014
Dobladas means "folded," and these tortillas can be filled or not before folding into quarters, bathed in peanut sauce, and sprinkled with cheese.
They are a type of Mexican enchiladas from Veracruz. read more

Mexican black bean soup with masa balls: Sopa de frijoles negros con bolitas de masa Karen Hursh Graber

Mexican black bean soup, with little dumplings called <i>bolitas de masa,</i> or masa balls
© Karen Hursh Graber, 2014
Mexican black bean soup with masa balls is a regional recipe from Veracruz.

It could easily be a whole meal, accompanied by a salad. A nopales salad or a watercress and spinach salad would both be good choices. read more

David Sterling's sautéed chaya with smoked bacon: Chayas fritas / Tsajbil chaay Karen Hursh Graber

Chronicler Diego de Landa mentioned chaya in 1566, when he observed that the leaves were especially delicious when cooked with plenty of bacon. What isn't? Chayas fritas is an excellent side dish; it a... read more

Scrambled eggs with sautéed chaya: Huevos revueltos con chaya / Chay-he Karen Hursh Graber

This is another Yucatecan favorite that makes use of leftovers from the day before. Chayas fritas from the afternoon meal are repurposed for breakfast the next day in this quick yet nourishing dish. S... read more

Mexican tres leches cake with sprinkles: Pastel de tres leches con chispas Karen Hursh Graber

Called chispas, chispitas, or in some places just the English "sprinkles," these colored decorations are fun and festive. They add pizzaz to that favorite Mexican cake — pastel de tres leches. Ingre... read more
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