May 3, 2013
Cinco de Mayo, as celebrated in the United States, shares some similarities to St. Patrick’s Day: a mainstream marketing fiasco that’s evolved out of an authentic celebration of cultural heritage. The typical Cinco de Mayo is a day of eating tacos and drinking margaritas. But, just like you won’t find corned beef and green beer in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, you won’t find ground beef tacos, nachos and frozen margaritas in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo.
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day; it celebrates the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, which came after Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Mexican-American War and the Mexican Civil War. In our neighbor to the south, the holiday is mainly celebrated in the region of Puebla, and mostly in the state’s capital city of the same name.
But what America’s Cinco de Mayo misses is the traditional food of Mexico, named to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a recognition given to only one other cuisine (French). And, nachos with refried beans, cheese wiz and jalapenos is nowhere on the list or in the country. Taco Bell has even tried opening up in Mexico but each time has failed, simply because no one will eat there.
What makes traditional Mexican fare worthy of such a distinction? You won’t find cumin soaked ground beef hard shell tacos topped with iceberg and cheddar. But, you will find lamb barbacoa that has been smoked underground in banana leaves or carnitas topped with queso fresco, pickled onions and homemade salsa verde wrapped in a warm homemade corn tortilla that has been ever so lightly heated on a comal. And Puebla, just so happens to be considered by many, including Rick Bayless and Mark Bittman, as the gastronomic capital of Mexico.
Before Spanish explorers and immigrants swarmed Mexico, Puebla was already a culinary capital. The sacred town of Cholula known for its great pre-Colombian pyramid was also home to pre-Columbian street food. In this ancient city, vendors would set up outside the pyramid to feed those who came to worship.
After arriving in Puebla, the Spanish settled close to Cholula and created what is known today as the city of Puebla. Religion was a major aspect of Spanish conquest and convents and monasteries were set up across the city. Spanish nuns invented many of Puebla and Mexico’s most cherished dishes in these convents by integrating old world traditions with new world ingredients.
With that history in mind, here are three famous dishes from Puebla to try this Cinco de Mayo.
1) Mole Poblano
Mole Poblano may be the most consumed dish in Puebla for Cinco de Mayo. But, what is mole (accent on the second syllable, as in guacamole)? There are two origin stories to the word mole. The first is that mole is the Spanish translation of the Aztec or Nahuatl word for sauce, mulli. The second is that mole comes from the Spanish word moler, which means to grind. Whichever story you want to believe, mole is a sauce made from ground up ingredients and comes in all colors and consistencies, but the thick dark mole poblano has made its mark on the international gastronomic world.
Legend has it that mole poblano was first created in the kitchen of the Santa Rosa convent in Puebla by Sor Andrea de la Asunción in the late seventeenth century. According to The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist, Sor Andrea de la Asunción is said to have prepared it for don Tomás Antonio de la Cerda y Aragón, the new viceroy of Spain. This dish is the ultimate combination of old and new world ingredients and cooking practices. This sauce can be somewhat daunting by the long laundry list of ingredients that requires various preparations. But, after one taste of this mole, all the roasting and toasting will be worth it.
Chalupas, an iconic Poblano street food, have a resemblance to tostadas and are the perfect antojito for any Cinco de Mayo celebration. To put it simply, chalupas are fried thick tortillas topped with salsa, shredded meat, chopped onion and sometimes queso fresco.
There are two versions to the history of chalupas. The first is that it gets its name from baskets. According to All About Puebla,
Chalupas date back to Colonial times, when Spanish settlers spent a good part of their days washing clothes by the Almoloya (San Francisco) River. It’s said that the women carried everything to the river in big baskets made of wood called chalupas, after which they’d rush home and quickly fry up corn tortillas in lard, top them with salsa, shredded beef or pork, and chopped onion – and call it dinner.
The second is that they are named after the Aztec boats (chalupas) used in the ancient city of Tenochtitlan.
3) Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en nogada is an iconic dish of Mexico. It is said to have been invented in the convent of Santa Monica for Agustin de Iturbide‘s visit to Puebla in 1821. Agustín de Iturbide was Mexico’s first emperor after Mexico won independence from Spain. He was served chiles en nogada in Puebla while traveling back to Mexico City from Veracruz after signing the Treaty of Cordoba, which gave Mexico its independence.
The dish signifies Mexico’s independence and is made up of the colors of the Mexican flag; red, white and green. The flavors are just as colorful as the ingredients. The sweet, savory, picadillo stuffed poblano pepper dipped in egg batter, fried, and topped with a rich walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds and parsley is something you will not regret. Though it is more traditionally made for Mexico’s Independence Day, it is one of Puebla’s most cherished dishes.
March 15, 2013
It’s hard to think of St. Patrick’s Day without glittered shamrocks, green beer, leprechauns, and of course, corned beef and cabbage. Yet, if you went to Ireland on St. Paddy’s Day, you would not find any of these things except maybe the glittered shamrocks. To begin with, leprechauns are not jolly, friendly cereal box characters, but mischievous nasty little fellows. And, just as much as the Irish would not pollute their beer with green dye, they would not eat corned beef, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. So why around the world, especially in the US, is corned beef and cabbage synonymous with St. Paddy’s Day?
The unpopularity of corned beef in Ireland comes from its relationship with beef in general. From early on, cattle in Ireland were not used for their meat but for their strength in the fields, for their milk and for the dairy products produced. In Gaelic Ireland, cows were a symbol of wealth and a sacred animal. Because of their sacred association, they were only killed for their meat if the cows were too old to work or produce milk. So, beef was not even a part of the diet for the majority of the population. Only the wealthy few were able to eat the meat on a celebration or festival. During these early times, the beef was “salted” to be preserved. The first salted beef in Ireland was actually not made with salt but with sea ash, the product of burning seaweed. The 12th century poem Aislinge Meic Con Glinne shows that salted beef was eaten by the kings. This poem is one of the greatest parodies in the Irish language and pokes fun at the diet of King Cathal mac Finguine, an early Irish King who has a demon of gluttony stuck in his throat.
Wheatlet, son of Milklet,
Son of juicy Bacon,
Is mine own name.
Is the man’s
That bears my bag.
Haunch of Mutton
Is my dog’s name,
Of lovely leaps.
Lard my wife,
Across the kale-top
Cheese-curds, my daughter,
Goes around the spit,
Fair is her fame.
Corned Beef, my son,
Whose mantle shines
Over a big tail.
As the poem mentions, juicy bacon or pork was also eaten. Pigs were the most prevalent animal bred only to be eaten; fom ancient times to today, it earned the reputation as the most eaten meat in Ireland.
The Irish diet and way of life stayed pretty much the same for centuries until England conquered most of the country. The British were the ones who changed the sacred cow into a commodity, fueled beef production, and introduced the potato. The British had been a beef eating culture since the invasion of the Roman armies. England had to outsource to Ireland, Scotland and eventually North America to satisfy the growing palate of their people. As Jeremy Rifkin writes in his book, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, “so beef-driven was England that it became the first nation in the world to identify with a beef symbol. From the outset of the colonial era, the “roast beef” became synonymous with the well-fed British aristocracy and middle class.”
Herds of cattle were exported by the tens of thousands each year from Ireland to England. But, the Cattle Acts of 1663 and 1667 were what fueled the Irish corned beef industry. These acts prohibited the export of live cattle to England, which drastically flooded the Irish market and lowered the cost of meat available for salted beef production. The British invented the term “corned beef” in the 17th century to describe the size of the salt crystals used to cure the meat, the size of corn kernels. After the Cattle Acts, salt was the main reason Ireland became the hub for corned beef. Ireland’s salt tax was almost 1/10 that of England’s and could import the highest quality at an inexpensive price. With the large quantities of cattle and high quality of salt, Irish corned beef was the best on the market. It didn’t take long for Ireland to be supplying Europe and the Americas with its wares. But, this corned beef was much different than what we call corned beef today. With the meat being cured with salt the size of corn kernels, the taste was much more salt than beef.
Irish corned beef had a stranglehold on the transtlantic trade routes, supplying the French and British navies and the American and French colonies. It was at such a demand that even at war with France, England allowed French ships to stop in Ireland to purchase the corned beef. From a report published by the Dublin Institute of Technology’s School of Culinary Arts and Food Technology:
Anglo-Irish landlords saw exports to France, despite the fact that England and France were at war, as a means of profiting from the Cattle Acts…During the 18th century, wars played a significant role in the growth of exports of Irish beef. These wars were mainly fought at sea and navies had a high demand for Irish salted beef for two reasons, firstly its longevity at sea and secondly its competitive price.
Ironically, the ones producing the corned beef, the Irish people, could not afford beef or corned beef for themselves. When England conquered Ireland, oppressive laws against the native Irish Catholic population began. Their land was confiscated and feudal like plantations were set up. If the Irish could afford any meat at all, salted pork or bacon was consumed. But, what the Irish really relied on was the potato.
By the end of the 18th century, the demand for Irish corned beef began to decline as the North American colonies began producing their own. Over the next 5o years, the glory days of Irish corned beef were over. By 1845, a potato blight broke out in Ireland completely destroying the food source for most of the Irish population, and The Great Famine began. Without help from the British government, the Irish people were forced to work to death, starve or immigrate. About a million people died and another million immigrated on “coffin ships” to the US. To this day, the Irish population is still less than it was before The Great Famine.
In America, the Irish were once again faced with the challenges of prejudice. To make it easier, they settled together in mainly urban areas with the largest numbers in New York City. However, they were making more money then they had in Ireland under British rule. Which brings us back to corned beef. With more money for food, the Irish could afford meat for the first time. But instead of their beloved bacon, the Irish began eating beef. And, the beef they could afford just happened to be corned beef, the thing their great grandparents were famous for.
Yet, the corned beef the Irish immigrants ate was much different than that produced in Ireland 200 years prior. The Irish immigrants almost solely bought their meat from kosher butchers. And what we think of today as Irish corned beef is actually Jewish corned beef thrown into a pot with cabbage and potatoes. The Jewish population in New York City at the time were relatively new immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. The corned beef they made was from brisket, a kosher cut of meat from the front of the cow. Since brisket is a tougher cut, the salting and cooking processes transformed the meat into the extremely tender, flavorful corned beef we know of today.
The Irish may have been drawn to settling near Jewish neighborhoods and shopping at Jewish butchers because their cultures had many parallels. Both groups were scattered across the globe to escape oppression, had a sacred lost homeland, discriminated against in the US, and had a love for the arts. There was an understanding between the two groups, which was a comfort to the newly arriving immigrants. This relationship can be seen in Irish, Irish-American and Jewish-American folklore. It is not a coincidence that James Joyce made the main character of his masterpiece Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, a man born to Jewish and Irish parents. And, as the two Tin Pan Alley songwriters, William Jerome and Jean Schwartz write in their 1912 song, If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews,
On St. Patrick’s Day, Rosinsky pins a shamrock on his coat
There’s a sympathetic feeling between the Blooms and MacAdoos.
The Irish Americans transformed St.Patrick’s Day from a religious feast day to a celebration of their heritage and homeland. With the celebration, came a celebratory meal. In honor of their culture, the immigrants splurged on their neighbor’s flavorful corned beef, which was accompanied by their beloved potato and the most affordable vegetable, cabbage. It didn’t take long for corned beef and cabbage to become associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it was on Lincoln’s mind when he chose the menu for his first Inaugural Luncheon March 4, 1861, which was corned beef, cabbage and potatoes.
The popularity of corned beef and cabbage never crossed the Atlantic to the homeland. Instead of corned beef and cabbage, the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal eaten in Ireland is lamb or bacon. In fact, many of what we consider St. Patrick’s Day celebrations didn’t make it there until recently. St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivals began in the US. And, until 1970, pubs were closed by law in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. It was originally a day about religion and family. Today in Ireland, thanks to Irish tourism and Guinness, you will find many of the Irish American traditions.
Lastly, if you are looking for a connection to the home country this holiday, there are many other ways to be authentic. Start by calling it St. Patrick’s Day or St. Paddy’s Day. Patty is a girl’s name in Ireland and Paddy is the proper nickname for Patrick. You don’t want to be the Patty in the pub.
August 15, 2012
Julia Child, an American treasure who we have written about many times before, would have turned 100 years old today. Her breakthrough cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, permanently changed how we thought and felt about food. There is perhaps no better way to celebrate her life than to jump in to the kitchen and cook for yourself. As part of the celebration, we turned to some of the biggest names in cooking and asked them:
What dish would you cook to honor Julia today?
Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa:
That’s easy! Her classic chocolate mousse. Julia Child taught an entire generation how to cook – and she had such fun doing it on TV! I will be forever in her debt.
Sara Moulton, chef, cookbook author and television host:
Salade nicoise. I can just hear her saying it with the emphasis on the salade. I’ll make it with canned tuna, yes canned tuna in olive oil, green beans, Julia’s French potato salad, Nicoise olives, ripe summer tomatoes, and involves hard boiled eggs. I will serve it with champagne, a Julia favorite.
Paul Qui, ”Top Chef: Season 9″ winner and executive chef of Uchiko
We just bought a new Coq au Vin style pan by Staub and I love to use it! Braised chicken dishes are just very comforting to me.
Lidia Bastianich, best-selling cookbook author and PBS host:
As Julia was a dear friend of mine, and we cooked together many times in my and Julia’s kitchen alike, I would cook the Sole Meuniere, as it found on French and Italian menus alike.
Patricia Jinich, host of PBS’ “Pati’s Mexican Table“:
One of my favorite recipes from Julia Child, is her French Onion Soup. It symbolizes, and tastes, so much of what Julia Child was able to bring to all of us: the taste, technique and history of another continent’s cuisine and deep down honest, food that can be anyone’s comfort food. And she made it all brilliantly and deliciously accessible.
Amanda Hesser, founder of Food 52 and New York Times food columnist:
Everyone thinks of the recipes in MTAOFC as elaborate affairs but one of my favorite recipes in the book is the very simple Pommes de Terre Sautees (Potatoes Sauteed in Butter). It’s the kind of recipe you think you don’t need a recipe for, but Julia’s method is specific and detailed. She has you use baby potatoes. Make sure you tediously peel them as she instructs you to do. Also, she calls for clarified butter, and don’t take the lazy route, or the potatoes will burn. Julia knew what she was doing. Then you simply brown the potatoes in the butter, season them, and then cover them to cook through. At the end, she has you toss in chopped herbs and some more butter — a signature Julia move. She reminds you to have a hot vegetable dish ready for serving, because if you use a room temperature one, the butter cools on its way to the table. You’ll never saute potatoes any other way.
Ris Lacoste, Chef/Owner, RIS
I would cook Beef Wellington with a delicious red wine sauce.
Rayna Green, curator of Julia’s kitchen at the National Museum of American History:
“Because Julia liked a big piece of meat I would make for her a great, slow-cooked Texas BBQ in her Big Green Egg.”
Sarah Rich, blogger at Smithsonian.com’s Design Decoded, co-founder of the Food Print Project and author of a new book on urban farms:
Very hard question I’d probably answer differently at different times of the day. Right now, I’d say Tarte aux Poires.
To honor Julia, tell us what dish YOU are cooking today below. In the meantime, watch her prepare Crepe Suzette:
Additional reporting conducted by K. Annabelle Smith and Brian Wolly