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Taco USA

From Tamale Kings and Chili Queens to frozen margaritas and Taco Bell. We look at the rise of Mexican food in the USA. The whole enchilada.

Diners eat at a Taco Bell in San Jose, California. (AP)

Diners eat at a Taco Bell in San Jose, California. (AP)

It may be hard to believe these days, when it seems there’s a Mexican food outlet on every corner, but there was a time not so very long ago when most Americans had no idea what a burrito was.  When tacos were exotic.  When mole was a mystery.  Salsa  was a dance.

Today, America is Mexican food country.  From the early days of “chili queens” who cooked up vats of “con carne” in Texas, to “tamale men” who traveled the country, Mexican food has taken over.

This hour, On Point:  we talk with Gustavo Arellano about how Mexican food conquered America.  The whole enchilada.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Gustavo Arellano, editor-in-chief of the OC Weekly, where he writes the “¡Ask a Mexican!” column.  His new book is “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.”

Illiana de la Vega, chef and instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, where she is a specialist in Mexican and Latin Cuisines. Former chef and owner at El Naranjo, an internationally acclaimed restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico specializing in Southern Mexican cuisine, and at El Naranjo Mobile, a food truck in Austin, Texas which the Food Network called the “best Mexican restaurant in Austin.”

From Tom’s Reading List

LA Weekly You might suspect Gustavo Arellano, the brain and wit behind the popular syndicated and OC Weekly column ¡Ask a Mexican!, as one of those Mexican food sticklers who bristles at ideas of yellow nacho cheese, the chimichonga, the chicken fajita pita, enchilada combination plates and Taco Bell’s 50th anniversary festivities. Yes, Arellano admits to having once been fanatical about authenticity. But he’s reformed.

Food Network Acclaimed chef Iliana de la Vega serves up authentic Oaxacan cuisine at her El Naranjo mobile trailer in Austin, Texas.

Excerpt: “Taco USA”

[Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.]

Excerpted from
TACO USA by Gustavo Arellano. Copyright © 2012 by Gustavo Arellano.
Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster,
Inc.

Playlist

“Hot Tamale Man” — Arthur Collins

“La Malagueña” — Miguel Aceves Mejia

“La Cumbia del Mole” — Lila Downs

 

Real Mexican Recipes by Iliana de la Vega

“Salsa Verde con Aguacate” **
Serves 1½ cups

  • 2 chile jalapeños or to taste, stems removed
  • 10 tomatillos, husks removed, washed and quartered
  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • 1 slice of a white onion
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro including soft stems
  • 1 small avocado, peeled and seed removed
  • salt to taste
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender jar, add salt to taste, blend until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing into the sauce, and refrigerate.

“Salsa Pico de gallo” (Fresh mexican sauce) **
Serves 6

  • 4 tbsp diced white onion
  • 1 tbsp Chile jalapeño, diced or to taste
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 3 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Lime juice, to taste
  • Salt to taste
  1. Mix all the ingredients, salt and lime juice to taste.

“Salsa Molcajeteada” **
Serves 1 cup

  • 1 medium chile jalapeno
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • salt, to taste
  1. Dry roast the chile, tomatoes and unpeeled garlic, for 8 min approximately. Peel the garlic, tomatoes and chile, remove stem from the chile and cut it in half.
  2. In a molcajete or mortar and pestle, make a paste with the garlic and salt, add the jalapeño, work until is almost a paste, add tomatoes and continue working until smooth, check salt.

“Mole Rojo” **
Serves 16

  • 1 pound tomatoes,
  • 1 large white onion
  • 8 medium garlic cloves unpeeled
  • ½ pound chile ancho,
  • ¼ pound chile guajillo,
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 2 inches Mexican canela
  • 4 tbsp brown sesame seeds
  • 2 ounces pecans
  • 2 ounces peanuts roasted unsalted
  • 1 tbsp dried Oaxacan oregano or marjoram
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1½ chicken broth
  • 7 ounces Mexican chocolate
  • 16 assorted chicken pieces
  • ½ white onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Salt to taste
  1. On a comal or griddle set over medium-high heat dry-roast the tomatoes, onion and unpeeled garlic, the garlic will be ready sooner, when it shows brown spots, remove.
  2. Remove the stems, seeds and veins from the chiles, dry roast them on a dry comal; transfer to soak in hot water no more than 15 minutes. Heat 1.5 tbsp oil on a skillet and sauté the pecans, peanuts, when golden add the sesame seeds, canela, peppercorns, cloves and oregano. Remove from heat.
  3. Transfer the chiles into the blender add enough water to blend; process until smooth, strain; reserve.
  4. Heat remaining oil in a large cazuela (Dutch oven) set over medium low heat and pour the chile puree over the oil, fry for 5-10 min. Blend the remaining prepared ingredients, pass through a sieve. Stir into the chile paste, let the mole reduce, and then add the chicken broth, salt, sugar and chocolate to taste. Let it simmer stirring occasionally until the mole covers the back of a spoon.
  5. To cook the chicken: In a large stockpot bring salted water to a boil, add onion and garlic, when is fast boiling it is time to add the chicken pieces with bones and skins. Reduce the heat to the minimum; let the chicken cook until done (it will be floating on top). Check for doneness, remove and reserve. Strain the broth, reserve to use in the mole.

“Tostadas de Salpicón” (Shredded Beef Tostadas) **
Serves 10

  • 2 lb flank steak, cut in 2 in cubes
  • ½ white onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 potatoes diced and cooked (still firm)
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 Tsp white vinegar
  • 8 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • Ground black pepper and salt to taste
  • 10 romaine lettuce leaves, chiffonnade
  • 6 roma tomatoes diced
  • ½ white onion diced
  • 1 Avocado diced
  • 2 Jalapeños en escabeche chopped, or to taste. optional
  • 20 corn tortillas whole, fried until crispy (tostadas fritas)
  • 1 cup canola oil for frying
  • 1½ cup black bean or pinto bean paste
  1. In a stock pot, place the meat, onion, garlic and salt to taste, cover with water, and bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a gently simmer, until cooked through. The meat should be very tender to be pulled apart with the pressure of a fork. Transfer the meat to a large bowl and shred with the help of two spoons or forks
  2. Place the vinegar, lime juice and salt in a bowl, whisk in the olive oil in a stream, until emulsified, mix in the cilantro, oregano and black pepper.
  3. In a large bowl, place the shredded meat, cooked potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, avocado and chiles if you like, mix in the dressing, taste for salt.
  4. In a medium frying pan, heat the oil, and fry the tortillas on both sides until golden, remove and drain on paper towels.
  5. Warm up the bean paste. Spread 1 tbsp of the bean paste on each tostada, top with salpicon. Serve immediately or the tostadas may get soggy.

“Pasta de Frijol” (Refried Beans) **
Serves 20 as a side dish

  • 4 cups of black or pinto beans
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion halved
  • 4 medium garlic cloves
  • ½ cup of canola oil
  • Salt to taste
  1. Clean the beans, removing stones or dirt. Place in a colander and rinse. Place the beans in a container and cover with water, soak overnight.
  2. Place the beans in a stock pot, add 8 cups of water (at least), oil, ½ onion and 2 garlic cloves. Partially cover with a lid, and simmer over medium low heat. Stir occasionally, until tender, add hot water if needed, it will take like 2 hours approx. Check for water, it might need some more, season with salt..
  3. Note. Cooking the beans in a pressure cooker, reduce the cooking time significantly, about half the time.
  4. Transfer the beans (not liquid) to a food processor, and process until smooth. Reserve
  5. Heat the oil in a large casserole, add the onion and remaining garlic cloves, and let them brown, remove from oil and discard.
  6. Add the pureed beans to the oil and cook the beans until it became a paste that can be spread. Keep warm for using.

** All recipes © Iliana de la Vega

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