Living in California, especially in a city such as Oakland that has such a diverse population, and therefore such diverse culinary options, one can begin take it for granted. After living here, you might start to expect that a Mexican Restaurant is actually Mexican, and even worse, that they would have specialties of a region. This is getting to the point of no return. You might then expect that a menu would be more than tacos, burritos (not really Mexican), quesadillas and the stereotypical Taco Bell-like food that many Americans take for "Mexican". If you get to this point, as I have, there is only one way to go, and that is straight to a good regional restaurant.
REAL Mexican food is refined, tasty, classic, seasonal and very regional. Much like any estabished country with large geographical distances between population bases, Mexico has evolved differently in different regions, and their cuisine has evolved along with them.
The dishes below are regional (mole verde) and nationwide (beans and nopales). As with any recipe handed down from generation to generation with each cook adding their own twist, I have added some twists of my own. I tweaked a few recipes that I have made in the past, and the results were quite nice.Recipe: Pollo en Mole Verde de Pepita
This is a classic dish from the old Aztec tradition of using pumpkin seeds as a thickening agent for stews. It is from the region of Mexico City and the surroundings, and is a great meal the first day, and even better the second.
1 chicken, cut up and skinned, or 6 legs, cut up and skinned
1 cup of hulled raw pumpkin seeds, unsalted
1 cup of chicken broth
1 1/2 lbs of tomatillos, husked, washed and cooked until color change
1 small white onion, chopped finely.
2 cloves of garlic
2 jalapeno peppers
a few sprigs of epazote
a handfull of cilantro (5-6 sprigs)
a few arugula leaves, radish leaves, romaine lettuce leaves , or spinach (optional)
pinch of cumin seeds
pinch of black peppercorns
Over medium high heat, heat a large saute pan and add cooking oil. Place chicken into dish, cooking each side, just enough to brown each piece. Set aside. Saute onions until they begin to brown and place into blender along with tomatillos, garlic, and chiles. Blend until smooth. Using either an oven or a saute pan, dry toast the pumpkin seeds, but do not brown them, adding the cumin seeds and the peppercorns when they are nearly finished. Grind pumpkin seed mixture either in a mortar/pestle or in a spice grinder until finely ground. Replace large saute pan over medium heat. With a small amount of oil, slowly saute pumpkin seed mixture with a small amount of the broth to make a paste. Saute for 1-2 minutes stirring constantly. Add blended ingrediants to pan and bring to simmer, adding remaining broth, tasting for salt. Add chicken and cover pot, leaving at a simmer for 35-40 minutes. If chicken is not very tender, continue to cook to desired tenderness. Serve with good corn tortillas.Recipe : Nopales con Queso
Nopales are a cactus that grows wild throughout Mexico. They are a common breakfast dish, and are often prepared boiled and served at room temperature. They have the ability to control blood sugar and are particularly good for diabetics.
2 Lbs of prepared Nopales (you can often find them in a bag, ready to cook)
Boil nopales for 30 minutes in slightly saled water. Rinse and add to a bowl with desired ingrediants.
Leave at room temperature or refrigerate for 30 minutes. Add queso as desired.Recipe: Frijoles Negros
There are about 10 million recipes for black beans. I think that the epazote adds a special flavor that cannot be replicated, but is not necessary for the dish.
1 1/2 cups of cleaned, rinsed and picked through black beans
3 cups of water
1/2 white onion
1 clove of garlic
pinch of cumin
a few springs of epazote
a few sprigs of cilantro
Boil beans with onions, garlic and cumin, leave at simmer until cooked, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Add epazote and cilantro 10 minutes prior to taking off of stove. Sprinkle with cheese if desired.