Tag Archives: Mexican

Want to Know Where Ingredients in a Recipe Originated? Try This.

For the past few weeks I’ve been corresponding with Wilfried Hou Je Bek who has an interesting off-beat blog called Cryptoforestry. He’s been developing some nifty tools that might be of interest to many readers of this blog. (They’re available on twitter (@socialfiction) too).

The first allows you to map where the ingredients in a given recipe originated. Here’s a map of the origin of the ingredients in mole.


And now he’s moved on to another tool, the ingredient spectrum.   Take several versions of a recipe and enter the ingredients to find the spectrum of ingredients that people have used.

Wilfried is the first to admit that these tools are far from perfect. But they’re huge fun and, more important, a potentially incredibly useful tool for the food historian.

EDIT.  Wilfried’s working on these tools.  I’ve removed the broken link to the ingredient spectrum. So go straight to his blog where you’ll find his latest ruminations.


Is the fresh the enemy of good canned food?

There’s that wise old saw that the best is the enemy of the good.  And I’ve been wondering recently if the drumbeat that fresh vegetables (and other foods) are the best, the very best, isn’t perhaps the reason for what seems to me to be the so-so quality of many canned foods in American grocery stores.

In Mexico (and when I was in Spain too) I loved many of the canned goods. People served them proudly on any occasion.

Canned broad beans

Habas Extra Finos (tiny broad beans in olive oil). La Europea.

On returning from a trip or on a night when a cold or an overload of work made me reluctant to cook or to go out to a restaurant, they were a godsend.

Quality canned goods

Alubias. Spain Gourmet

Open three glass jars: two tall ones, one of white beans, another of red peppers, and a squatter one of tuna.  A couple of minutes later, the tuna and beans were arranged on one plate, the red peppers on another.  If they were available, a bit of chopped onion went on the beans, a sprinkle of fresh cheese, or an anchovy or two, or a smidgen of chopped garlic and a little olive oil went on the peppers.  Dinner was served de la lata (from the jar).

I was delighted to see that Jeff Koehler, in his lovely and very well received book, Spain, devotes two pages to las latas (tinned delicacies).  Lovely pea-sized broad beans in oil, fine spears of asparagus, the peppers I mentioned, artichoke hearts, and clams, sardines, squid, cockles, mussels, anchovies, along with pickled partridge and chestnuts in syrup.

You can find those (or their equivalents) in the United States but it takes a hunt.  In Mexico I could get them in any of the deli chains such as Europea (thanks to refugees from the Spanish Civil War who contributed so much to Mexican life) but even in my local Walmart. Not all of these were the very finest artisanally canned goods that Jeff talks about but they were of uniformly high quality.

So I can only assume there isn’t much of a market for fine canned goods.

May be that will change. With Lou Amdur of Lou’s Provisions and Wine,   Russ Parsons at the Los Angeles Times just conducted a sardine tasting that picked out the better quality sardines available. And I was delighted today to see that Luigi Guarino of Agricultural Biodiversity posted on the canned goods of Poland, commenting on their unusual vegetable soups and berry juices.

Polish canned goods

Polish juice, blackcurrant by the look of it. Luigi Guarino.

So, questions. What are the good quality canned goods in the United States?  And what are your favorite canned goods from elsewhere? And what would you like to see more widely available?


Agua Fresca 21: Agua de Viernes de Dolores

Can I really have been blogging for more than three years?  In that time I have moved from the colonial town of Guanajuato in central Mexico to the huge metropolis of Mexico City.  It’s almost like moving from one country to another.  There are so many provincial customs that are muted here, particularly in old-established middle class areas like the one I live in.

One of them is the celebration of Viernes de Dolores, the Friday before Holy Week. Although officially this day is in memory of the many sorrows of the Virgin Mary, in Guanajuato it’s one of the biggest festivals of the year with the streets full of flower sellers.  The politicians take advantage of the throngs to breakfast in the town square and greet all their constituents. And householders create special altars outside their front doors, with images of the Virgin, pots of fresh sprouting wheat, cut paper, white cloth, aromatic flowers and herbs.



Here you can see fresh chamomile and gold-painted bread rolls (bolillos) and oranges.




One of the lovely customs is the preparation of a special drink, almost a liquid salad, for the day.  I thought I would re-post this old piece about it. People offer family, friends and passersby water ices (nieves) and this agua.  It’s often made in huge containers such as clean, five gallon paint cans or tamale steamers.  But here’s a small scale version for an ordinary water pitcher.



Begin by grinding up a raw beetroot with a little water in a blender.  Some people just chop it but that does not give such a vivid color.

Then chop into 1/4 inch cubes a cup of strawberries, half a small papaya, half a small cantelope, a couple of oranges, and a couple of bananas.



Then finely shred half an iceberg lettuce.   Half fill your pitcher with water and stir in half a cup of sugar until dissolved.  Strain  the beetroot water into the pitcher.  Then add the lettuce and the fruit and stir until mixed.



Of course as you can see, the fruits float to the top so give it a good stir before serving.  It should be neither very sweet nor very acid, the flavors coming from the ingredients.   You don’t need a spoon but there’s nothing to prevent you using one if you want to.

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