Sunday, April 04, 2004

Mexican Cooking Tips

Once a year, Macy's department store holds their annual flower show. This year the theme at San Francisco's Union Square store is Colores de Mexico. The store is filled with thousands of colorful azaleas, succulents, bromeliads, orchids, cacti, palm trees and bougainvillea. In additon to the flowers of Mexico, there are also lots of special events--including the flavors of Mexico brought to life by cooking demonstrations given by several Mexican chefs.

Yesterday's demonstration featured guest chef Patricia Quintana, author of 14 cookbooks including "Taste of Mexico" and owner of Izote restaurant in Mexico City. Early in her career, Quintana studied traditional French food with the legendary Paul Bocuse, but she is best known for having spent the last 30 years exploring the heritage and contemporary possibilities of Mexican cuisine.

Here are some of the tidbits Quintana shared:

1. When chopping hot chiles, lightly oil your hands to keep the chile oil from penetrating your skin.

2. Use the whole jalapeno when cooking. Don't remove the seeds and ribs as is often recommended. The jalapenos available today are not nearly as hot as they used to be and there is great flavor to be had in the jalapeno seeds.

3. Likewise do not discard the seeds of the tomato. Much of the flavor and texture of a tomato is in the seeds and the surrounding flesh. Use the whole tomato in recipes. For a garnish only she suggested seeding the tomato and slicing or chopping it.

4. Most dried chiles are known by a different name when fresh. A fresh jalapeno when smoked and dried becomes a chiptole. A dried serrano chile, is a morita and so on.

5. While many of the dishes of Mexico are the same all across the country, the variations are infinite. A tamal or taco is different not just from state to state in Mexico, but also differs within the states from the coastal regions to the mountainous inland.

One of the recipes demonstrated yesterday was Taquitos de Requeson or cheese taquitos and this is how Quintana made them. She crumbled cojito or Mexican farmer's cheese (though I imagine you could substitute a mild feta) and added a tiny bit of chopped jalapeno and chopped onion. She softened corn tortillas in the microwave for a few seconds, then spooned the cheese onto the tortilla. She pressed the cheese to keep it's shape, and then rolled the tortilla up, securing it with a toothpick. While she advocated steaming them in banana leaves which are commonly available here in Asian markets, she steamed them in a foil packed placed in a plastic bag and put in a steamer basket. She steamed them for a few minutes then topped them with a fresh pico de gallo salsa. It's a recipe I can't wait to try.

Colores de Mexico runs from April 2nd through the 17th at Macy's Union Square. For a calendar of events associated with Colores de Mexico, including cooking demonstrations by several other renown chefs, click here.