To cook authentic Mexican, you need ingredients that are authentic Mexican. I am sure you will agree. Reading about traditional Mexican recipes, I was noting down names of a lot of exotic spices, herbs, chillies, cheeses and was wondering where I could find them! I went to our local Whole Foods Market and did find a couple of the ingredients that I was looking for – for instance, dried corn husks for making tamales and also the ancho chillies. But they were a bit expensive! Then last Friday I asked my co-worker and my good friend Monica if she knew of any local Mexican grocers and as it turned out, I had asked the right person! You see..Monica maybe just 24 years old but she has visited about 15 countries! I think that’s where her maturity comes from. Anyways I digress … more about Monica at a later time 🙂 So we ran out at lunch time and Monica took me to this place – a market which probably looked very much like any local market in Mexico.! And this was in the heart of the city in Hartford downtown situated in a nondescript plaza. El Mercado is located on 704, Park street, Hartford, CT.
Once we managed to find a place to park on the busy street, we entered this store (a.k.a market) that looked like it stocked about anything and everything Mexican and or South American! There were hundreds of spices and herbs, variety of chillies and cheeses,exotic fruits like guava, jicama etc. I started gathering things and soon needed a cart to hold all my stuff. I was so glad Monica was with me – to converse with the ‘Spanish only’ speaking staff! My cart got full with spices like Hoja Santos, Mexican Oregano, Epazote and with other things like tomatillo, corn husk, queso fresco.
And last but not least one of my favorite fruits -Guavas – Just $2.99 for a pound! Finally I was done and Monica then walked me around the food stalls within the market that offered typical Mexican and other South American street food – we walked around for a few minutes looking at all the food and unable to decide what to choose since everything looked so good! We finally settled on tostadas, empanadas and some Colombian rice. We also got a side order of sweet fried plantains! The food was really delicious – simple and comforting! The tostadas were a play in textures – crispy shell on the outside topped with mashed black beans and chicken, shredded lettuce and some Mexican crema. The empanadas too were unlike any I had tasted ever – crispy on the outside and filled with a perfectly seasoned meat filling on the inside. These were so good that we had trouble finishing the Colombian rice although that was pretty good too! The sweet fried plantains were a perfect dessert! Yum!
Now for some details on the things I got…
Chile Poblanos: It is also called as chill para rellenar or chillies for stuffing. When ripened and dried, this chili is called Chile Ancho.
Chile Serrano: This chile is small – an average of 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. they can vary between hot and very hot. These chilled can be used in sauces as either raw or ‘as ado’ which means they are slightly charred and then crushed
Chipotles en Adobo: Chipotle chile is the jalapeño chile ripened to a deep red on the plant and then smoke dried. The adobo sauce has a smoky flavor and is made from ancho chillies
Epazote: The name of thous herb means ‘skunk’ and ‘dirty’ and apparently is descriptive of its ‘wild’ taste! This herb has been traditionally used for its medicinal properties – to expel gastrointestinal worms and for flatulence. Available in fresh or dried form.
Hoja Santos: This herb is used mainly in southern Mexico and used to flavor tamales, meat, fish. They are usually used fresh however dried leaves can also be used.
Tomate Verde: A disitinctive and indigenous ingredient in Mexican cooking is the green tomato also called as tomatillo in the US. These are either cooked in water or cooked on a griddle and charred slightly and ground into a sauce or added into other sauces.
OK now that I got so many ingredients, I have some serious cooking to do! So do watch out for my next post! 🙂 Btw, happy Cinco de Mayo. You can learn more about this festival and how it is more popular in the United States than it is in Mexico by reading this article on CNN.!