Twice As Mexican: Charro Beans

Twice As Mexican: Charro Beans

Charro beans are one of Mexico’s most appreciated dishes. Charros, or traditional Mexican horsemen, bequeathed their name to the plate.

The charro figure goes back to the 19th-century rural noblemen who raised cattle in ranches. Charros had a set of values, including bravery, fraternal sentiments and honor. They have always been very proud of their clothing, including big, decorated sombreros.

Charros became an emblem of Mexico in the 20th century. Beans are one of Mexico’s most important crops. So, Mexicans consider charro beans to have a double Mexican heritage; they are “twice as Mexican.”

Working in a land that experienced periods of intense heat and drought, charros sometimes had to improvise at mealtimes. Legend has it that they once mixed leftover vegetables, spices, peppers and beans into a stew that had to feed a whole ranch. This dish came to be known as charro beans.

To prepare charro beans, Mexicans cook together kidney beans, peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, sausages, bacon, chorizo, ham and pork rinds. Some people add other types of cold cuts. These days, it is easier to prepare the dish in a slow cooker.

 

Charro beans are served as a side dish to tacos, along with a Sidral Mundet soda, a very Mexican meal. *** Un plato de frijoles charros se sirve con tacos y un Sidral Mundet, una delicia muy mexicana. (Sidral Mundet/Unsplash)

“Charro beans are a dish that is, as people say, hearty,” said Gilberto Lara Ochoa, a gastronomy graduate from the Universidad de Oriente, in Veracruz. “Having so many ingredients, charro beans are considered an entrée with a very intense flavor. Depending on whether you add avocado leaf or cilantro, the flavor will be more intense.”

Through trade and travel, the charro bean recipe spread throughout the country, and today different states serve variations of the stew. In Jalisco, people let it dry and top the dish with salsa ranchera (made with tomato, chili and onion.) In the center of the country, Mexicans enjoy their beans with broth and serve them as a side dish with carne asada or tacos.

Chorizo and other meats are cut into slices or cubes and added to charro beans, giving them their unique flavor. *** El chorizo y otros tipos de puerco se cortan en rebanadas o cubos y se agregan a los frijoles charros, para darles su sabor único. (Shawn Olivier Boivin Blanchard/Unsplash)

“I usually make them for meetings or parties. It is a stew that adapts very well to [different] meat cold cuts,” said Guadalupe Ramírez Jácome, a housewife based in the city of Boca del Río, Veracruz. “However, I also add pork rinds. My friends really like that I serve them as a starter before carne asada. People get a little full, and they don’t just eat meat.”

Cooks from the Coahuila area in northern Mexico do not prepare their charro beans with kidney beans, but instead with mayflower beans. Meanwhile, in Monterrey, people use canary beans. In addition to the original ingredients, they add pork skins, which they consider the dish’s outstanding element.

All the varieties bear witness to how essential charro beans are to Mexican cuisine.

“It is one of the favorite dishes of all Mexicans,” said Lara Ochoa, and Mexicans all over the country might agree.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Carlin Becker and Melanie Slone.)

 



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Pomegranates Play Pivotal Role In Patriotic Mexican Dish

Pomegranates Play Pivotal Role In Patriotic Mexican Dish

Chiles en nogada is an iconic Mexican dish, and pomegranate seeds are essential in its recipe.

Chiles en nogada is a quintessential part of Mexican identity, because, when served, it features the colors of the Mexican flag: green (poblano chiles); white (creamy salsa); and red (pomegranates). Mexicans traditionally enjoy chiles en nogada in September, the month their country celebrates its independence from Spain. They love this dish because it blends the poblano pepper’s spice and a sweet twist brought by the mix of nuts and pomegranate.

“Without question, I could say that pomegranates are highly remembered because of this dish,” said Mariano Escamilla Duran, a professional chef in Veracruz, Mexico. “Their color contributes a lot when it comes to serving chiles en nogada. The dish wouldn’t be the same without the seeds on top of the pepper dipped in cream, in addition to their peculiar flavor.”

“Pomegranates are a very rich fruit in every way. However, Mexicans consider them seasonal fruits. Their consumption is low and the season to find them is very short,” he said. “A kilo may cost between 40 and 50 pesos ($2 to $2.50).”

Mexicans can buy pomegranates from August to October. As ubiquitous as pomegranates may be in Mexico, they are not endemic to this country, but the Middle East.

People already enjoyed pomegranates in ancient Persia, now Iran. Phoenicians transported them in trips through the Mediterranean, seeking after them so much that they almost made the fruit extinct in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Southern Europe.

Pomegranates eventually arrived in the Americas, with the Spaniards bringing them to Mexico in 1769. Soon after, the first crops grew in the central states of Colima, Michoacán and Jalisco.

Thanks to their flavor and color, pomegranates soon became an ingredient of chiles en nogada. Born in Puebla to please Mexican emperor Agustín de Iturbide, chiles en nogada include poblano peppers stuffed with pork meat and fruits, covered with a creamy walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate is used to decorate and sweeten chiles en nogada. *** La granada se usa para adornar y endulzar los chiles en nogada. (Marymar Alvarez Coba/Café Words)

“People do not know all pomegranate’s properties and how good the fruit is for their health,” said Escamilla Durán.

For one thing, pomegranates are an antioxidant. They can contribute to preventing cancer and respiratory diseases, as well as lowering cholesterol and serving as an anti-inflammatory. Drinking its juice is good for kidney health, as it prevents the formation of stones and helps fight infections.

In addition, eating pomegranates increases testosterone levels. So, some people consider them aphrodisiac.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Matthew Hall)

 



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Try Tlayudas, A Giant Delicacy

Try Tlayudas, A Giant Delicacy

Tlayudas are giant corn tortillas topped with different garnishes. Originally from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca,  tlayudas are harder in texture than tortillas.

The name tlayuda comes from the Nahuatl word tlao-li, which means shelled corn, and uda, a suffix that implies abundance. Its name announces its size: a tlayuda will require “shelled corn in abundance.”

Made with a variety of corn traditional to Oaxaca, tlayudas’ diameter can reach 30 to 40 centimeters (roughly 12-15 inches). Despite having a slightly hard consistency, they are not giant tostadas. Tlayudas (also known as clayudas) can even be described as leathery.

To attain this texture, traditional cooks add a tiny amount of salt into the dough and bake them on a comal (a clay griddle). After that, “the tortilla is placed on a burner to brown and crisp,” said Silvia Nicte-Ha, a chef from Veracruz.

Tlayudas can be eaten with many different meat preparations. *** Las tlayudas pueden acompañarse con diversos guisados. (Christian Valera Rebolledo)

Once the tlayudas are ready, Oaxacans keep them in traditional baskets called tenates to preserve their moisture.

Finished tlayudas should be light, semi-brittle, somewhat moist and fresh. Some cooks fold their tlayudas into a quesadilla or empanada shape, and roast them on the embers, giving them a smoky taste.

Topping a tlayuda is an art.

“The most common version is the tortilla spread with lard and topped with cheese or lettuce, roasted jerky, black beans and a very spicy salsa, such as those made with a molcajete (a basalt mortar),” said the chef.

Oaxacans call the lard they spread on tlayudas asiento. Instead of lard, some cooks use pork rind.

The preferred cheese is the so-called quesillo or Oaxaca cheese. Besides jerky, cooks may use chorizo or chicken as the protein topping. But some diners prefer to mix different meats in extra-hearty tlayudas. Other garnishes include guacamole or avocado, tomato and onion.

The assembled tlayudas lay on top of a cooktop just long enough time to get crisp.

Variations in their preparation include adding black, ground or refried beans. Some also use cabbage instead of chopped lettuce.

The salsas used to spice up the tlayudas vary, as well. Oaxaca’s specialty is the agave worm salsa, but some prefer salsas made of green, yellow or pasilla peppers.

There is a unique way to cook tortillas for tlayudas. *** Hay una forma particular de cocinar la tortilla para prepar tlayudas. (Christian Valera Rebolledo)

“It is very common to find tlayudas in tianguis (traditional markets) or street stalls all over the country. Tlayudas are as common as quesadillas or hard tacos,” said the chef.

In Oaxaca’s isthmus of Tehuantepec, cooks serve their tlayudas in the shape of a large, folded taco. In other regions, people enjoy them with chile de agua (a roasted green pepper), roasted green onions, lime, radishes and an aromatic herb called chepiche.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Matthew B. Hall) 

 



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VIDEO: Grubs Up: Iron Man’s Insect Snacks Farm Gets EU Green Light 

VIDEO: Grubs Up: Iron Man’s Insect Snacks Farm Gets EU Green Light 

Paris, France – An insect farming company backed by movie celebrity Robert Downey Jr is about to enter the market to produce food and drinks for human consumption using its mealworm bugs after getting approval from the European Union.

Ÿnsect, the French company that recently raised $435 million from investors said that they were approved by the European Food Safety Authority, which allows them to “formalize its entry into the human food market.”

“The green light from the European Food Safety Authority is a major step forward for the sector, particularly in Europe,” Ÿnsect’s public relations officer Laurene Hug said. “It should pave the way for other opinions, in particular on the consumption of deoiled insect meal, which represents the most promising market for human consumption, particularly in sports nutrition and health.”

For starters, they plan to use the ground up Molitor powder to make products for athletes.

 

The mealworm beetle’s larvae are mealworms. Dried yellow mealworm was given the go-ahead and would initially be used as protein supplements for sports persons.

“It will first be in protein energy bars or drinks intended for athletes, for example,” Hug said. “Ÿnsect has already identified the potential of this market by developing ŸnMeal, an ingredient made from deoiled insect protein suitable for human consumption.

According to the press statement, Ÿnsect submitted its Novel Food dossier on these products to the European Food Safety Authority (without request for confidentiality and therefore without five years of data protection, in order to benefit the entire European sector) which showed a much lower allergen profile than for a whole insect.

Allergen profile is an allergy test. “Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is a class of antibody (immune protein) associated with allergic reactions. It is normally found in very small amounts in the blood. This test measures the amount of allergen-specific IgE in the blood to detect an allergy to a particular substance” says labtestsonline.org.

They are now planning to file a similar authorization request with the United States Food and Drug Administration, with a focus on the market for food for athletes.

“Ÿnsect will also file in a few months with the Federal Drug Administration in the United States to address the world’s leading sports and health nutrition market,” reads the statement

Explaining the approval from the European Union’s regulator, the statement reads: “The mealworm, otherwise known as the Molitor beetle, therefore becomes the first insect to receive a positive opinion for human consumption. It is a victory and a key step for the growth of the insect industry, but also and above all for the producers of mealworms. This review shows that the ingredients from Molitor beetles are premium and suitable for human consumption, unlike other insect species used only for animal feed.”

The company describes itself as “the world leader in the natural production of insect protein and fertilizer.”

The beetle larva produced by Ÿnsect. (Ÿnsect/Real Press)

It was founded in 2011 in Paris “by scientists and environmental activists”, and “transforms insects into premium ingredients with high added value for pet food, fish farming and plant nutrition.”

Ÿnsect says that it “offers an ecological, healthy and sustainable solution to meet the growing global demand for protein and plant consumption” and is “protected by 260 patents” which enables it to “raise Molitor beetles on vertical farms with a negative carbon footprint.”

The first production unit in Dole (Jura) in France has been in operation since 2016. Ÿnsect is currently building a second unit, the largest vertical farm in the world, in Amiens (Somme).

There is a school of thought led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is of the view that the world population would increase to nine billion by 2050. Nations around the world will have to find out new and innovative methods to feed these growing billions. Edible insects offer a good alternative.

“They are extremely rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals, and at the same time are highly efficient in converting the food they eat into material that can be consumed by humans” says the world body.

Thailand is the world leader in insect farming, processing and marketing.

However, there are some people who are opposed to this idea of eating insects. Brian Tomasik of reducing-suffering.org says, “Is not necessarily more humane than factory farming of livestock all things considered, and along some dimensions it’s actually worse, because it involves killing vastly more animals per unit of protein.”

(Edited by Shirish Vishnu Shinde and Megha Virendra Choudhary.)



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Mexican Esquites Give a Tasty Twist to Corn

Mexican Esquites Give a Tasty Twist to Corn

Esquites are a delicious corn snack that Mexicans eat as a treat.

Esquites are boiled corn kernels, served in a glass with the broth, butter, cream, lemon and chili powder added.

The ubiquitous street food has a colorful history.

Legend has it that Tlazocihuapilli, a woman who ruled the Xochimilcas in Central Mexico, created esquites. Her legacy includes dishes such as atole (a corn drink) with honey and necuatolli, corn jelly. Tlazocihuapilli also bequeathed Mexicans the tradition of cooking in a corn husk, with which they created their tlapiques, meat or fish cooked in a tamale leaf.

Esquites are a hybrid creation, with pre-Hispanic ingredients — such as corn, epazote and pepper — and others brought to the Americas during the colonial period, including lemon, cheese, cream and mayonnaise.

More than three centuries after the Aztec empire fell, emperor Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife Carlota enjoyed the so-called Odalisque Teeth, the fancy name the aristocracy gave to boiled corn in the style of esquites.

An entrepreneur woman poses next to their child during Romeria 2019 a public fair from the city of Leon celebrating diversity. Esquites (corn in a cup) and a grilled corn in a stick are a popular Mexican snack***Una mujer emprendedora posa junto a su hijo durante la Romería 2019 una feria pública de la ciudad de León que celebra el mundo étnico. Los esquites (maíz en una taza) y el maíz asado en un palito son un bocadillo popular mexicano.  (JV Model, iStock)

“Everyone enjoys them, but few know the term esquite or ezquite comes from izquitl, a word in Nahuatl — the language of the Aztecs — meaning roasted corn,” said Horacio Barradas Meza, a sociologist from the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico.

“Their recipe varies according to the region, although in central Mexico, it is common to find corn kernels boiled in water with salt and epazote.” Some people boil the kernels with chicken feet, too.

In Hidalgo, a state in central Mexico, cooks fry the kernels in butter or vegetable oil, adding garlic, onion, minced serrano pepper or chile de árbol, epazote leaves, and a pinch of salt.

In both cases, diners enjoy their warmed esquites in a glass with a spoon.

Mexican Esquites

“People can find them in public squares, markets or even on tricycles that sell them on neighborhood streets,” said the sociologist. “Esquites accompany us in almost every celebration.”

Esquites receive different names throughout the country.

People in Puebla and other states from Central-Eastern Mexico call them chileatoles. In the North and Northeast, their name is trolelote, chascas in Aguascalientes, corn kernel in glass in Monterrey, and vasolote in Michoacán.

“People season their esquites to their taste: some use mayonnaise, others cream or both,” said Horacio Barradas. “What esquites will never lack is chili powder. There are two types: a spicy one and a mild one. Chili powder is what makes esquites iconic.”

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel.)

 



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A Grape Country: How Chilean Wines Built Their Reputation

A Grape Country: How Chilean Wines Built Their Reputation

Chile is an ideal country to develop sustainable viticulture. It has a Mediterranean climate with lots of sunshine and little rain, perfect for growing grapes. With a wide range of landscapes — including mountains, deserts, and valleys — Chileans can plant different grape varieties.

In addition, Chile has a long wine production history. So, in this South American country, nature and culture combine in a solid wine tradition.

“Like many other things in Latin America, the history of Chilean wine begins with the arrival of the Spaniards, who introduced the first vines to the valleys around 1550,” said Pablo Ugarte, a Chilean wine specialist and taster.

Early in the colonial period, the Spaniards needed grapes for the wine they used in the Catholic Masses. So, planting them became a priority for the newcomers.

Grapes hang on the vine in Montgras Vineyard, in Santa Cruz, Chile. *** Las uvas cuelgan en el viñedo Montgras, en Santa Cruz, Chile. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“The soil’s characteristics, the temperature, and the waters coming from the rivers were fundamental factors [to establish the first vineyards],” said Ugarte. With those first fields, “the pride of our wine was sown.”

Trans-Atlantic voyages eased trade during the 19th century, allowing goods to reach international markets on a larger scale. It was then that Chilean wines began to captivate international palates. It seemed that Chile had learned well from its European teachers.

 

The 20th century was a time of positive change for Chilean wines. “A period of big changes began in the 1980s. Its objective was to take the wines to the markets they required,” said the taster.

A law regulating wine production helped to secure a stable industry. Besides, farmers incorporated new technologies. As a result, “international producers began to recognize Chilean varieties,” said Ugarte.

Today, Chile is the eighth-largest wine-producing country in the world, with 10,300 hectoliters bottled in 2020. (Topping the list is Italy, with 47,200 hectoliters, followed by France, with 43,900 hectoliters.)

A worker fills a barrel of wine at the Laura Hartwig Vineyard, in Santa Cruz, Chile. *** Un trabajador llena un barril de vino en la viña Laura Hartwig, en Santa Cruz, Chile. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Chileans have planted Pais grape for centuries, but today this variety has a competitive advantage in the red wine market. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, or Syrah are also popular Chilean grapes used in red wines, while Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the preferred varieties for white wines.

The most famous wines in Chile include a red Santa Carolina and a white Sauvignon Blanc Nimbus Estate.

The former has a deep purple shade. It is a full-bodied wine, with a light touch of cedar and an acidic hint establishing a perfect balance with its dense texture and heavy tannins. Chileans use it to accompany red meats or pasta such as pappardelle à la Bolognese.

The Sauvignon Blanc Nimbus Estate is a white wine known for combining acidic notes with tropical and floral tones. It features citrus hints of lime with subtle shades of white pepper and herbs. Its elaborated mix of flavors makes it unique.

Another notable wine is the white Chardonnay Reserva Santa Carolina. With a medium body, every sip has an ideal balance between sweetness and acidity. Chileans drink it while eating oysters, squid, lobsters, or smoked fish.

The ruby-colored Carmenere Cousiño Macul — distinguished by its bright purple rims and an intense black pepper, strawberry, and dried fruit aroma — is popular, too.

Chilean wines also include varieties with plum notes to drink while tasting mature cheese or traditional Chilean dishes such as corn cake.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Matthew B. Hall.)

 



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