¡Felices fiestas patrias!

Felices fiestas patrias to all our friends celebrating Mexican Independence Day in Mexico and beyond!

About a year ago, I did a photo essay and wrote about exploring Mexico for a photography magazine based in Singapore. It occurred to me that I’d never shared it here so I thought it was fitting to do so today. It includes photos I’ve taken on travels to Mexico City, Teotihuacán, Cancún and Aguascalientes.

Here’s an excerpt:

Mexico is my home away from home. Every corner I turn, every meal I eat and every new place I explore is a source of inspiration to me. And I never go anywhere without a camera so I can be sure to capture every experience I come across, see and feel. From the moment the plane approaches the runway and I can see the vibrant colours of the homes below to the lush, jungle-like vegetation I’ve admired in places such as Cancun and Huatulco, Mexico always takes my breath away and has me fumbling for my camera before I even touch the ground.
I’ve laid down in dirt, sand, and on a world-famous soccer field to get a shot. I’ve climbed high above the 1968 Olympic stadium and to the top of Aztec pyramids toting my cameras for an eagle’s eye view, and into the ocean, carrying my camera high above my head until the tide receded enough to safely photograph marine life. But usually the biggest thrill comes from the simplest of things: family and friends.
As we celebrate Mexican Independence Day this year in our home, we hope you’re doing the same with friends and family wherever you may be. We’ll be celebrating by eating plenty of Mexican antojitos. And of course, we’ll be watching El Grito tonight and probably tweeting about it too. If you’d like to watch El Grito from past years, click on the El Grito tag at the bottom of this post.

VIVA MÉXICO!

Celebrate Mexico Every Day

September 16th, Mexican Independence Day, has come and gone, but the celebration of Mexico isn’t really over just yet.

Tomorrow, November 20th, Mexico will celebrate the centennial of its Revolution. This year has been filled with special events all over the world honoring these two important anniversaries in Mexican history.

But there are many everyday reasons to celebrate Mexico, too: the diverse flora and fauna; beautiful ecosystems spanning every kind of terrain from jungles and deserts; the incredible food with worldly influences ranging from pre-Hispanic cultures to European, Asian and beyond; the kind and generous people; the abundance of historical and World Heritage sites… I could probably go on listing the things I love about Mexico for days. I can’t wait to one day have children to teach them all the things we love so much about the country where their papá was born and raised.

In the news in the U.S., Mexico is often painted as a violent, turbulent place and seldom are the positive things about the country and the culture shared in the mainstream media. But to me, Mexico is so much more than what they show on the news. Here on The Other Side of The Tortilla, I choose to focus on the positive aspects of Mexico and Mexican culture because it is what I feel in my heart. It is a mission here to both connect Mexicans at home and abroad to their culture via stories about family and food – two of the most important aspects of the culture – as well as educate those who are not Mexican about traveling the country, absorbing the rich culture and experiencing the incomparable cuisine.

This week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded Mexican cuisine the status as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity at a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya. This is big news in Tortillalandia and you can definitely expect to read more about it here soon. In the meantime, check out the Conservatorio de la Cultura Gastronómica Mexicana to learn more about the organization that submitted the proposal that was approved by UNESCO. I’m excited to see that the world is finally acknowledging the importance of Mexican cuisine and it’s even more special that the status is being awarded during the bicentennial year.

From November 29-December 10, Mexico will also be hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also know as COP16/CMP6) in Cancun. I was delighted to hear that the conference will be planting around 10,000 trees and bushes in Cancun as part of their way of giving back to the city for hosting. I’m very excited to see all the sustainability efforts being implemented during the conference, as environmental sustainability and caring for the natural resources of the area are very important to the local habitat. The Riviera Maya has much to offer in terms of natural beauty, historic landmarks and world-class culture and food. In fact, the ruins at Tulum are one of my favorite gems in that area because they incorporate both the lush vegetation and the incredible building skills of a civilization that is not physically present, but still lives on in the heart of Mexican history.

I encourage you to follow along with the conference and check out the resources on their website as Mexico steps into the limelight to become part of the solution, bridging the gap between the developed and developing worlds and educating others on how to preserve our beautiful natural spaces and reduce our carbon footprints for generations to come.

I plan to continue celebrating the magic of the Bicentenario through the rest of 2010 and well into the future. I’ll be visiting Mexico for most of the month of December and into early January so you can count on a daily serving of whatever I’m up to, all laid out here in stories, photos and video every day while I’m there. Ven conmigo and subscribe via email or RSS so you don’t miss out on the fun!

Without Mexico, my life would be a lot less picante, verdad? And to me, life without a little spice is boring so I’m proud to say that Mexico is my home away from home.

If you missed the espectáculo, check out this video below for a glimpse of how the bicentenario was celebrated in Mexico City’s zócalo. To learn more about Mexico’s rich history and the events still to come in 2010, check out the Bicentennial websites in Spanish and English.

YouTube Preview Image

200 AÑOS DE SER ORGULLOSAMENTE MEXICANOS

  • HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE MEXICO EVERY DAY?
The photos in this post were provided by the government of Mexico through Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.
Ogilvy is working with the government of Mexico as a communications partner to help promote Mexico worldwide as a global business partner and unrivaled tourist destination. To accomplish this, they are working with writers like me to provide interesting information, additional facts, economic information, and new perspectives about the country to a range of interested audiences. The words and opinions here are my own.

Classic guacamole recipe

mi papel picado bicentenario

¡Feliz Día de la Independencia, México!

Did you watch the Grito last night?

In my house, we hung papel picado and waved our Mexican flag as we watched the celebration starting in Mexico City’s zócalo. My heart was filled with emotion seeing the zócalo, where I have stood in awe many times, brimming with people from all corners of Mexico to celebrate the bicentennial of Independence from Spain and 100 years since the Revolution.

If you missed the Grito, the shout of independence honoring Mexico’s national heroes, you can watch it here:

If you want to watch last year’s Grito and attempt a very traditional Independence Day recipe, you can check out the chiles en nogada I made and posted last year here on The Other Side of The Tortilla…. 

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CHILES EN NOGADA

ChileEnNogada

chile en nogada

Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day—a statement that usually surprises my non-Mexican friends. Every September, I practically go on a two-week blitz campaign to educate my friends about the real Mexican Independence Day.

The celebration technically begins on September 15th, La Noche del Grito. People all over Mexico gather in their town squares and many watch on television as the clock strikes eleven and the president shouts “Viva Mexico,” and the crowd echoes back the same. “Viva la independencia!”

It’s a grand display of national pride; much like the Fourth of July with the fireworks, parades and parties. I always love watching it on TV, seeing the zócalo in Mexico City filled to the brim with people.

This year, I was standing in my living room with a hand full of queso fresco as I watched El Grito. I was in the middle of making a special sauce, and just as the clock struck eleven, I was about to put the cheese into the blender with milk and walnuts. I didn’t want to miss the big moment, so there I was, cheese in hand, watching my TV and trying not to drip on the floor.

If you’ve never seen El Grito before, here’s your chance:

For 2009, I decided to make my own chiles en nogada, a very typical (and somewhat labor intensive) dish served around this time of year that showcases the colors of the Mexican flag. When I told my suegra my plans weeks before, she asked if I’d be able to find all the ingredients. I had to go to a few stores in order to get everything, and actually, the only ingredient that was difficult to find was a decent-looking pomegranate.

This recipe is from a traditional Spanish-language cookbook by Susanna Palazuelos I received as a gift from my suegra a few years ago, and is adapted to our liking. The original recipe calls for some ingredients I don’t care for so I adjusted portions and some substitutions, but the core of the recipe is still the same. The results were excellent and I even shared some with a few Mexican friends here in Chicago who had never before tasted this very traditional dish.

Walnuts WEB

nueces

RECETA:

  • 10 chiles poblanos
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 pomegranate, seeds reserved
  • A few sprigs of parsley to decorate each chile

NOGADA

  • 1 ½ cup walnut halves
  • 1 ¼ cup milk (2% or whole; you will use 1 cup of the milk to soak the walnuts)
  • 1 ½ cup Mexican cream (crema de leche espesa)
  • 10-12 ounces of queso fresco
  • 2-3 tbsp cane sugar
  • a big pinch of salt

PICADILLO

  • 1 lb pork loin, cut into a few sections
  • 6 cups water
  • about 1/3 of a white onion (a big slice)
  • 7 cloves of garlic (3 whole, 2 crushed for the pork broth; 2 crushed for the picadillo)
  • 1 bunch of fresh flat parsley, divided (3/4 will go in the broth, ¼ will go in the picadillo)
  • 1 to 1 ½ tbsp salt
  • ¼ cup of vegetable oil
  • ¾ of a cup of white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large red tomato, peeled, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 1-2 apples, peeled and finely chopped (yields about 1 cup)
  • 1 large pear, peeled and finely chopped (yields about ¾ of a cup)
  • 1 large peach, peeled and finely chopped (yields about ½ a cup)
  • ¾ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup almonds, blanched, peeled and finely chopped
Picadillo WEB

picadillo

THE NIGHT BEFORE: Blanch the walnuts for about 5-7 minutes, let cool slightly and peel the skins off. This is the most important part of the recipe not to cheat on, because the skin is bitter. It will take you awhile to do it, but trust me, you don’t want to leave the skins on. Put the skinned walnuts into a measuring cup and cover with 1 cup of milk, cover with saran wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight. It took me about 1 hour from start to finish with prepping the walnuts.

Measure out ¾ of a cup of golden raisins and rehydrate them by covering with water (room temperature). Let them rehydrate overnight. Drain the water in the morning and reserve the rehydrated raisins until you are ready to use them.

DAY OF:
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the walnuts out of the milk and into a blender. Pour about ¾ of the milk into the blender. Discard the rest. Add the Mexican cream, fresh milk, sugar and salt to the blender. Crumble the queso fresco over the ingredients in the blender so it is easier to incorporate (you want the sauce to be completely smooth with no lumps). Blend until very smooth. Pour into a container and refrigerate.

To prepare the relleno, fill a pot with 6 cups of water and add the slice of onion, 3 whole cloves of garlic (peeled but not chopped), 2 cloves of peeled and crushed garlic, the little bunch of parsley and ½ tbsp of salt. Bring to a boil and add the pork loin piece by piece. Allow it to boil gently for about 15 minutes and then let it simmer for about 40  minutes or until the pork is fork-tender. Remove the meat from the broth and let cool a bit. Shred by hand or with a fork and set aside. Reserve about 1 cup of broth. (Use the rest for another recipe like soup if you wish—you just  made pork stock.)

I suggest you chop everything for the picadillo first.

Start with the garlic: crush 2 cloves and add to a large pan. Chop ¾ of a cup of white onion and add to pan. Peel and remove the seeds from the tomato and then finely chop. Set aside in a prep dish. Chop the ¼ of a bunch of parsley left and add  to prep dish with tomatoes.

Peel and finely chop the apple, pear, peach and blanched almonds. Set aside in another prep dish.

Heat your pan on the stove with the ¼ cup of oil. Add the garlic and onion and cook for about 4-5 minutes on medium heat or until the onion is transparent, but be careful not to burn it. Add the chopped tomatoes and parsley (distribute evenly in pan) and let cook for about 5 minutes without stirring it. (That’s why you need to distribute it evenly in the pan.)

Stir the oil, garlic, tomatoes and parsley briefly. Incorporate the rest of the salt (1/2 to 1 tbsp), the apple, pear, peach, raisins and almonds and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the shredded pork loin and the reserved broth. Continue cooking at medium heat for 7-10 minutes or until the fruit has cooked and the mixture looks thickened. Let the picadillo come to room temperature and reserve.

RoastedPoblano WEBRoast the chiles over an open flame and peel them. Make a large cut down the side of each chile, making sure to not break them or rip the skin. (I suggest using latex gloves for the next step.) Using your fingers, carefully remove the seeds from inside the chile and then use the knife to remove any large veins. If you need a full tutorial with step by step instructions on how to roast them, you can reference my post on how to roast poblano chiles.

In a large bowl, dilute 2 tbsp of sea salt and 1 tbsp of white vinegar with water to completely cover the chiles. Let them soak for 40-60 minutes. This will take a little bit of the heat out of them if they are too spicy. After soaking, rinse the chiles with cool water and pat them dry as much as possible with paper towels. With a spoon, add a little bit of the relleno to each chile, being careful not to overfill them.

While the chiles are soaking in the salt, water and vinegar solution, cut the ripe pomegranate and reserve the seeds in a prep dish. To remove the seeds without making a mess, slice the pomegranate with five cuts but don’t slice all the way through. Submerge in a bowl of cool water, pull apart the slices and remove the seeds gently by hand. Rinse gently.

Pour the nogada over the chile filled with picadillo and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on top. Garnish each chile with parsley and serve at room temperature.

semillas de granada

semillas de granada

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