The Thanksgiving Turkey Comes From Mexico

Sacred to the Mayas, and enjoyed at banquets by the Aztecs, the Guajolote (Melagris gallopavo) is our Thanksgiving turkey.  It was domesticated in Mexico and the Américas  before the arrival of the Spaniards.  The name is from the nahuatl word, “huexólotl,” which translates as “big monster” (hueyi = big;  xólot = monster), due to its size, plumage and “snood” that hangs from its beak and that  engorges with blood and extends to hang down over the beak when the male is strutting.

The Mexicas (Native, indigenous Mexicans) related the bird to the God Tezcatlipoca and to the gods of the sun and of life. The bird is really important to our history, heritage and culinary culture.  Oh, right–it’s delicious!

This recipe is for smoking the turkey, a practice that goes back thousands of years and reminds us that:

A) The habit of cooking and eating turkey predates us by centuries and
B) The bird came from Mexico and is native to this land, América.

mapCaboMexico2I’ve placed a dot on the location of Coba, Mexico, near Cancún.  This is where archeologists have found the earliest evidence of turkey remains. They are dated 100 BCE-100 CE. From there the turkey went north and populated North America, evidence of the vibrant trade and communication withiin the region pre-1400’s. By the time the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, we had domesticated turkeys not just in Mexico but also in what is now the US New Mexico and Texas. Thereafter the turkey, wild and domesticated, populated the whole of the US and some of Canada.

RECIPE (If you don’t have time to brine the turkey, smoking it will still be great tasting)turkeysmokbrdersml

To prepare the turkey for smoking, this is what I used to make the
3 gallons warm water
1 lb salt
12 ounces light brown sugar
1 Tbs onion powder
1 Tbs garlic powder
Stir until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved then let the brine cool down completely.
1.  I used a syringe to inject some of the brine into the meat. the total amount of brine should be 10% of the weight of the turkey.  Here’s the math for a 15 lb turkey.
15 X 16 ounces = 240 ounces
240 ounces X .10 = 24 ounces of brine. (FYI: One fluid ounce of water weights exactly 1 ounce)
2.  Using a plastic or stainless steel container, submerge the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for 3 days. The container was too heavy and large for my refrigerator so I partially filled a large ice chest with ice and a little water and set the container in it.  Closing the ice chest, the temperature is maintained at a safe 37-39 degrees F
3. After the third day, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it thouroughly with fresh water, pat dry and place in the fridge, uncovered, for 16 hours until a pellicle forms on the skin.  This tacky glaze will help absorb smoke and keep in the moisture.  I hate to say this but in the interest of efficiency, omit this step if you don’t have time to do this or if there’s no room in the fridge.
4. Smoke the turkey in Pecan wood at 185 F for about 6-8 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.

Let me know how it turns out if you decide to smoke for Thanksgiving.  ¡Feliz Día de Dar Gracias!

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Chile Con Queso Soufflé

One of the recipes that I especially like in my book, “Truly Texas Mexican,” is Chile Con Queso. But you will be surprised to learn that my recipe (page 67 in the book) is not the “Queso” dish that is served in many restaurants that distinguish their food by using the term,”Tex-Mex.”

I use Poblano chiles, crema Mexicana, and Queso Chihuhua, so it’s more like the Chile Con Queso of family-owned Mexican restaurants all over central, south Texas and northeastern Mexico. We are abundantly blessed with so many variations, and they all depend on a judicious selection of chile, onions, properly sautéed before combining with fresh tomato and American or Cheddar or other cheese.  Sometimes seasonings and other flavorings are added, and I’ve enjoyed all of the variations

Among my favorites are the recipes of Texas Mexican family-owned restaurants like Matt’s El Rancho, Mi Tierra, El Chico, El Tiempo, Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen, Los Barrios, and so many more (I realize that every time a make a list, I have regrets because absolutely in this case I’ve left out important and delicious ones–disculpas).  There is no end to the creativity that can go into a Chile Con Queso.

Following the call of creativity, I used my “Chile Con Queso” recipe to make a soufflé, re-purposing the ingredients and flavors. It’s a recipe for the experienced cook, and I offer it as an example of how strongly Mexican ingredients and culinary aesthetics influence fine dining all over the world.  Chef Iliana De La Vega says in a recent interview that “fine dining is not about white tablecloths and fancy china, it’s about taste.” And Mexican taste and ingredients are influential and delicious.
Of course it’s French, but it’s also Mexican, the two cuisines having been combined ever since French people stepped onto our soil.  The Poblano flavor is mixed with the delicate crema Mexicana and the robust Chihuahua cheese.  If you love to cook, you’ll love this recipe.

SoufflePoblanoQuesoThe bottom of the soufflé dish is layered with a thin tomato and onion “fondo” (“fond” in French). To my taste, this makes it a respectful variation on the traditional Mexican Chile Con Queso dish.

Recipe (makes one 9″ souffle, serves 4)

For online sites and print publications that use this recipe, and others on my blog, please let me know and use the attributiion: “Excerpted with permission from”

1/2 cup white onion, small dice
1 medium ripe tomato, diced
1/2 Tbs Canola oil
3/4 cup Queso Chihuahua, shredded
1/2 cup Milk
1/2 cup Crema Mexicana
1 Green Chile Poblano
2 Tbs Butter
2 Tbs Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
3 Egg Yolks
5 Egg Whites
1 pinch Cream of Tartar
Butter to coat the soufflé dish

Preheat oven to 375° F
1. To make the “fondo”: Heat the Canola oil in  non-stick skillet over low-medium heat, then add the tomato and the onion. Cook slowly until the juices from the tomato evaporate and the onion is translucent.
2.  Grease a 9″ soufflé dish with butter and sprinkle the bottom with the cooked onion and tomato.  This layer will caramelize and form a flavorful “fond” at the base of the soufflé.  Set aside until ready to be filled.
3. Place the green chile poblano under a broiler and char the skin on all sides, turning the chile as needed. After all surfaces of the Poblano chile are charred, place it in a paper bag so it cools down and sweats.  This’ll take about 15 minutes but you can leave it in the bag for several hours if you have to.PoblanoSouffleOven
4. Place the cooled Poblano chile on a cutting board and, with your fingers, peel off all of the skin. The skin will peel off easily because sweating in the bag releases the skin.  Make a slit along one side, lengthwise, and remove all of the seeds and the stem.
5.  Place the peeled, de-seeded chile in a blender and add 1/2 cup milk and salt. Blend until completely smooth.  Set aside.
6.  In a saucepan, heat the butter and flour over medium heat, stirring to combine, for about 2 minutes.  The mixture will turn a golden color (not brown).  Remove the saucepan from the heat.
7. Add the Poblano chile purée to the flour mixture, all the while whisking so that the mixture stays smooth with no lumps.  Then add the Crema Mexicana and whisk until smooth.  Finally, add the cheese and 3 egg yolks, and whisk briskly, making sure that the mixtures stays velvety smooth.  Set aside
8. In a bowl, add the egg whites, pinch of cream of tartar, and beat until you have firm peaks.
9. With a spatula, add about 3/4 cup of the stiff egg whites to the Poblano/cheese mixture and incorporate it, folding gently to make the whole thing lighter.  Then add the Poblano/cheese mixture to the egg whites and fold together thoroughly, gently. A good way is to slice the center with the spatula and scrape the bottom outward, folding the sides over the center and repeating.
10. Pour the mixture into the buttered soufflé dish and bake for 22-25, until the soufflé has risen and the top is a deep golden brown.

Serve immediately, making sure that each serving includes the tomato and onion “fondo.”

Please send me your comments and which wine or Mezcal you served with it.

¡Buen Provecho!



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Huevos A La Mexicana – Mexican Egg Scramble

Not only is this a quick breakfast for those weekdays when you want to hit the road in a good mood, but it’s got protein, complex carbs and lots of vitamins. It’s a Mexican celebration.HuevosALaMexicana

All of the ingredients in this breakfast were enjoyed in Texas before the1500s: eggs, tomato, chile, onion, corn, oil and salt.  Among these, onion is of interest because it, like salt, appears everywhere on the planet, unlike chiles, tomatoes and corn which are original and native to Mexico.  Archaeological evidence of onions dating back 9,000 years was found in a cave located north of Del Rio, Hinds Cave.  The scientific name of onion is “allium,” and the one specific to Texas here is “allium drummondii,” pictured here.

Allium Drummondii - Photo courtesy of: Texas Beyond History, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin

These are called “A La Mexicana” because the combination of these three ingredients are classic in Mexican cuisine and also because they are the colors are of the Mexican flag, “verde, blanco y colorado!”

Recipe (Serves 2)
5 eggs (I often discard one or two of the egg yolks)
1/4 cup onion, small dice
1/4 cup green chile (Serrano, Jalapeño, Poblano), small dice
1/4 cup fresh tomato, small dice
1 Tablespoon Canola oil
Salt to taste
1.  In a skillet, heat the Canola oil over medium heat and add the onions and chile, and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the tomato and cook for 1 minute.
3.  Add the eggs and salt,  and scramble vigorously, combining all of the ingredients until the eggs are cooked. Adjust the salt.

Serve with corn tortillas, preferably freshly made, recipe here.

Enjoy your breakfast!

Resources:  Allium Drummondii – Photo courtesy of: Texas Beyond History, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin

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Working man/woman’s Dinner

Here’s a Crock Pot beef dish that you can assemble before your workday and it will be ready by the time you get home.  There are many unheralded culinary creations of working class people that rarely get the type of recognition given to expensive restaurant dishes.  “Cucina Povera” and “French Country Cooking” are now esteemed, so here in Texas, I like to take a closer look at the everyday home.  I love to eat in restaurants, but also to give attention to the art of of everyday home cuisine.

It’s about technique, and being resourceful with whatever you’ve got available, so that you end up with homestyle artful eating.  If you don’t have all of the herbs in this recipe, you can leave some of them out–except for the black pepper and beef stock/broth.  In this dish, the hard part is browning the meat and vegetables before they go in the crockpot.  If you don’t have time to prepare, omit all the browning steps, and just throw the ingredients into the crock-pot. Plug it in and depart.

ropastBeef with cauliflowerRecipe  (serves 4)

3 lb Boneless Chuck Roast
2 Tablespoon Canola oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Medium White Onion, peeled, coarse chop
1/2 Small Carrot, coarse chop
4″ Celery Rib, coarse chop
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
2 quarts Beef Stock or Beef Broth
1 Hoja De Laurel (laurel leaf)
2  Sprigs Fresh Parsley
1/4 cup Fresh Parsley, minced
4 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
8 Black Peppercorns
3 Tablespoons All Purpose Wheat Flour
2 Tablespoons Butter

1.   In a large skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon oil to the point that you see it begin to have waves and shimmer (not smoking) and brown the vegetables so that they have some brown and black spots. Add the tomato paste and brown that too, stirring well to blend it with the vegetables.  Add 1/2 cup of the beef stock and scrape the pan to dislodge all of the brown bits–you’ll see that the bottom of the skillet is scraped clean.  Empty everything into the crock pot.
2.  In the same skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon oil, bring it to the point of shimmering and brown the chuck roast on all sides.  Place the roast in the crock pot.
3.  Add 1 quart of the beef stock to the skillet and scrape the bottom to remove all the brown bits.  Bring the liquid to a rolling boil, then add it to the crock pot, along with the laurel leaf, parsley, thyme and black peppercorns.  Cover and set to cook on high.
4.  After 8 hours or so, remove the meat and place it on a platter and keep it warm.
5.  Empty the liquid into a large saucepan, add the remaining quart of beef stock and boil it until it is reduced by half.  Strain it so that all the vegetables and herbs are removed. Return the liquid to the saucepan and simmer bring to a simmer.  NOTE: With a ladle or large spoon, carefully skim off and discard the film of fat that has formed on top.
6.  In a heat-resistant bowl or a small saucepan, place the flour and butter, then add 1 cup of the hot, reduced, strained liquid.  Stir with a spoon until all the flower is dissolved and there are no lumps.
7.  Pour the dissolved flour solution back into the saucepan, stirring briskly all the while (you can use a whisk if you like), making sure there are no lumps and that the gravy is smooth.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Adjust the salt.

Slice the roast and place on a plate with either rice or potatoes and a green vegetable for added vitamins.
Spoon the gravy over the meat and sprinkle with the minced parsley.
In the picture, I served it with riced cauliflower because it has a lower glycemic index than potatoes or rice.

Let me know how this turns out and if it works for you as an everyday type of dinner.




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Tortillas de Harina – AP Flour Tortillas

Our wheat flour tortillas are fluffy and pliant. They are all purpose (AP) wheat flour delicacies, and we switch back and forth between these and corn tortillas, depending on the dish we’re enjoying.
FlourTortillaRawInHand We always use a dash of baking powder, which makes ours different from wheat flour tortillas in other regions of Mexican cuisine.  After listening for many years to heated debates about whether or not to put baking powder in wheat flour tortillas, I have come to believe that the debate is fundamentally about whether one understands that Texas Mexican exists as its own cuisine and it is not an attempt to emulate other regions where Mexican cuisine also thrives.  You can decide for yourself, given the long history of food in our Texas Mexican region.

These tortillas are what I grew up eating.  That’s the way they are done in San Antonio, Uvalde, Raymondvile, Corpus Christ, and all the way down to McAllen, Harlingen, Del Rio, Brownsville and a bit south of the Rio Grande.  If you travel farther south of the Rio Grande, you will see the tortillas thinner, not fluffy, and with more fat.

I use a food processor because it is so much faster. I give precise timing in this recipe because I’ve tested the procedure and it works well.  However, there are so many variables to working with wheat flour that you will have to be attentive and find your way through the process.

There are three things to keep in mind.  First knead the dough thoroughly– put your back into it!  Vigorous kneading changes the structure of the wheat proteins to create strands of gluten that will eventually provide the structure and elasticity in the tortilla. Second, let the dough rest after kneading it. TestalUprightAnd third, make a “testal,” by rotating a ball of dough with your hands while pinching the edges and folding them under to fashion a little round pillow that has an indentation on the underside.  The word “testal” is from the Nahuatl word, “Téxtatl” and refers originally to the ball of corn masa that is used to make corn tortillas.

I  think you will find the learning process worthwhile because these tortillas are really wonderfully soft and delicious.

Recipe (Recipe (makes 1-1/2 dozen)

This recipe is excerpted from the book: “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes” published by Texas Tech University Press

4 cups all-purpose wheat flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup palm oil shortening or other non-hydrogenated shortening
1 cup warm or hot water



1. In a food processor, with the blade attachment, place the dry ingredients and pulse a couple of times.TestalUpsidDown

2. Add the shortening and process until the shortening is completely blended, or about 10 seconds. There will be no granules, but if you squeeze the flour between your fingers, it will stick together.

3. Process again and as you do so, add the water slowly until the flour forms a ball of dough. This will take about 20 seconds.

4. Place the dough in a bowl or cutting board and knead it with gusto for 6 minutes until it is shiny and definitely elastic. Set it aside to rest, covered, for 20 minutes.

5. Divide the dough into 18 balls. Form each ball into a “testal,” a little round pillow with an indentation in the middle as described above. The indentation in the middle and the fat edges will make rolling a snap.

6. Use a “palote”, rolling pin, to roll each round tortilla to a thickness of 1/8 inch.

7. Heat a comal (griddle), ungreased, on high heat, 400°F–450°F. Place a tortilla on the comal and cook for 30 seconds. Turn it over and cook another 30 seconds. Turn yet again and cook each side another 20–30 seconds.  Make sure that the tortilla is completely cooked. We do not eat raw or undercooked dough.

I eat these straight off the comal, sometimes with just a small dab of butter.  My childhood and teenage years rise up as anchoring memories in my palate.

Flour tortilla taco

But, of course, the universe intended that we make tacos!

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Almejas Con Chile Y Tomate, a.k.a., Fettucine Vongole Fra Diavolo

A couple of years ago I posted this recipe and because today the weather in Houston is a bit nippy, I find myself craving a hearty, hot, spicy seafood dish:  Fra Diavolo! Clams and shrimp in tomato and red chile sauce.

I like to serve this in a huge platter, fettucine mixed all together with the clams, shrimp and the colorful tomato sauce.  It looks delicious and everyone can just dig in and enjoy.  The flavor base for the fresh seafood is made with tomatoes and red chiles.


“Fra Diavolo” is the name of a 19th century Italian opera. The name means “brother devil,” and refers to a real Italian bandit, a thief, Michele Pezza, “whose exploits during the Napoleonic occupation had become so well-known that folk memory ascribed supernatural powers to him”(Letellier, 2011).  His character is fearsome, daring, fiery, outlaw.

It is not clear when or where the Mexican chile was added to the Italian style  tomato sauce, but the “Fra Diavolo” sauce is not of Italian origin.  A cook, probably in NYC, (Fabricant, 1996) added the chiles, liked the fiery spiciness, and named it after that fiery Italian bandit. I don’t like that people have historically linked our chiles to bandits, outlaws, and reprehensible traits, but there it is. I can see that the dish is indeed fiery and piquant.

I use Chile De Arbol because it adds a smoky taste.  If you have to substitute, find a chile that adds smoky flavor, not just heat.

RECIPE (serves 6)

6 cups (1 recipe) hearty tomato sauce in my previous blog.  You can also buy your favorite good tomato sauce in a jar, but  no basil, no mushrooms, none of that stuff, just a straightforward Italian tomato sauce.
1 dried Chile De Arbol, crushed into small bits, including the seeds
2 dozen Littleneck Clams, washed and scrubbed
18 peeled, deveined shrimp, 26/30.  This is 12 ounces by weight.  I like Texas gulf coast shrimp the best but any shrimp will do.
1 lb fettucine

Method: These steps start from the point that the tomato sauce is already made or you are opening a jar of store-bought.

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the fettucine according to the directions.
2. Add the Chile De Arbol flakes to the tomato sauce and bring it to a boil.
3. Add the clams and shrimp, return the sauce to a simmer and cook for 7-8 minutes  or until the clams open up, are cooked and the shrimp, when sliced, is a delicate white color. Overcooking will make the shellfish rubbery.
4. Drain the fettucine and place it in a large platter or bowl. Pour the lush-looking sauce over the hot pasta and serve while it is steaming.

!Gracias a Dios!  Thank goodness for fresh seafood, Italian opera, pasta, tomatoes and chiles!


Letellier, R. I. (2011). Daniel-francois-esprit auber: Fra diavolo. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Fabricant, F. (1996, May 29). Origin of popular lobster fra diavolo bedevils the experts. The New York Times. Retrieved from


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Stereotypes In Food And Film

Stereotypes appear both in food and film.  Sometimes they are employed for humor or satire and at other times they are a pejorative representation of people and places.  In this essay I will describe how  some Tex- Mex  food is stereotypic, how US films depict Mexicans and Mexican Americans stereotypically, and how Chicanos, Mexican Americans, deal with stereotypes in our food and in our on-screen depictions.SombreroMexican

The term, Tex-Mex, applies to restaurant format food with origins in Texas in the early 1900′s. As one walks into most Tex-Mex restaurants, the decor is that of a tourist curio shop: burros/donkeys, sarapes, sombreros and eroticized Latina dancing ladies. TLatinaDancingGirlhe Tex-Mex restaurant format is one that has enjoyed dizzying success: a combination of fat-laden beans, highly seasoned rice, assembly-line corn tortillas and plenty of gooey, industrially processed cheese.

Although not all Tex-Mex food is pejoratively stereotypic, much of it is.  Stereotypes paint those who are culturally distinct and removed from what we know, in flat, one dimensional terms that allow us to escape from having to encounter them as real human beings.  They become the “other.” Every group has stereotypes of the other.  It is one way that we make sense of otherness when we cannot or do not want to make the effort to fully engage in meaningful encounter.  Many pejorative stereotypes are intended to be demeaning but in a covert, “wink, wink” manner, often disguised as humor.SantaRitaCantinaThese stereotypes are implied in the food itself: an inordinate amount of fat, use of chile only for the heat, and inclusion of beans prepared with no reference to taste.  These three characteristics of much Tex-Mex food are based on three pejorative stereotypes and each stereotype has a racial slur associated with it, “greaser” being one of them.  You can guess the other two.  They are as facile and inauthentic as the stereotypic images on the menus that announce them.

Films are important conveyors of the stereotypes found in food. “Bronco Billy and the Greaser,” a 1914 film, depicts the deeply held derogatory “greaser” stereotype that I believe is at play in some circles even today.  

“The Bronze Screen,” a 2002 documentary produced and directed by  Nancy De Los Santos, Susan Racho, and Alberto Dominguez, does a masterful job of tracing stereotypes in US films.  From silent movies to urban gang films, stereotypes of the Greaser, the Lazy Mexican, the Latin Lover and the Dark, Eroticized Spitfire Lady are examined.  I find it interesting to find these same images on restaurant menus.

Not all stereotypes are deployed in hateful ways.  They are used in comedy to poke fun and be humorously disrespectful.  The Latino Comedy Project in Austin, Texas is notorius for its use of outrageous stereotypes that poke fun at our own Mexican American community.  Their work raises stereotypes to new, insulting heights, all the while injecting gut-splitting, laughter into difficult political issues like immigration, racism and education. Chicano video it is Luis Valdez who first deployed stereotypes in his El Teatro Campesino productions to keep spirits up and entertain in the picket lines of the United Farmworkers with Cesar Chavez.  The Lazy Mexican, Burros and Beaners found their way onto the stage and later onto video as larger than life stereotypes, turned on their head, deployed to say, let’s not take this too seriously, let’s laugh at ourselves, refresh, renew and take on the fight for human rights.

Besides using stereotypes for humor in films, Chicano filmmakers most often steer clear of them completely and focus instead on depicting the shades and nuances of what it means to be a Mexican American in a complex, modern society.  Laura Varela, Jim Mendiola, Ray Santisteban, Lourdes Portillo, Sylvia Morales are some of the many Chicano filmmakers who present authentic, full-blown stories.


Nopalitos Con Huevo Y Chile Rojo, Chef Yuli Sandoval

The culinary counterparts to Chicano filmmakers are the many small barrio restaurants that serve authentic Texas Mexican food, the type that is enjoyed in Mexican American homes.  Chef Yuli Sandoval, chef/owner of Alex’s Tacos in Seguin, Texas, cooks beans that are slow-roasted to develop flavor. She is adamant that high fat hurts the taste and that it is bad for you. She appreciates the differences in taste and aroma that ancho, guajillo, pasilla and other chiles offer.  This is her Nopalitos con Chile Guajillo dish, certainly a far cry from the greasy dishes served in the curio Tex-Mex restaurants.

In their small restaurants, chefs like Sandoval offer a refreshing twist away from the caricatured, stereotyped food.  In the hands of Chicana, Chicano artists, both food and film offer a delicious and rich aesthetic experience.

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A Texas Mexican Dinner Menu

The Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston

Art + Cuisine
“Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”

(Tickets Online, click here)
September 17, 2015


Ensalada Compuesta De Trucha Ahumada

Pecan Smoked Trout • Yerbaniz-Chipotle Aioli
Frisée • Hoja Santa • Tomato
Crispy Yucca • Lemon-Serrano Vinaigrette

⊕   ⊕  ⊕

Albóndigas De Chile Ancho Con Nopalitos

Chile Ancho Meatballs •  Texas Mexican Oregano Caldito
Cactus Paddles

⊕   ⊕  ⊕

Arroz De Cilantro

Cilantro Rice • Scallions

⊕   ⊕  ⊕

Sopes De Frijol Refritos

Handmade Corn Sopes •  Roasted Pinto Beans
Pico De Gallo • Iceberg Lettuce

⊕   ⊕  ⊕


Baguette • Mexican Canela
Piloncillo Syrup • Cheddar Cheese • Raisins
Pecans • Cilantro



The chef’s menu dinner features the recipes from
“Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”
by Adán Medrano
Published by Texas Tech University Press


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“Hojita” — Mezcal & Hoja Santa Cocktail

I muddle Hoja Santa to add flavors and aromas of licorice, anise and sassafras.


“Hojita” cocktail made with Hoja Santa, native to central Mexico

Native to central and southern Mexico and all of Mesoamerica, this ancient plant is a member of the genus, “piper,” same as the Indian black pepper plant.  It’s used to flavor chocolate, to cook tamales and is added as flavoring to chiles rellenos.  It is the base for a delicious Oaxacan green mole.  The hoja is also used to wrap fish that is then baked.

Here I’ve turned it into a cocktail.  On summer weekends, I muddle the leaves in mezcal or tequila.  It’s aromatic and refreshing.

You may have difficulty finding fresh hoja santa,

Hoja Santa

Hoja Santa plant is the same genus as Black Pepper

so I suggest that you take a cutting from someone who has one in the garden and grow your own.  An Hoja Santa plant is 6 to 7 feet tall and is fairly easy to grow, so long as it has sun and plenty of water.

Recipe: (makes 4 cocktails)

2 Fresh Hoja Santa Leaves
8 ounces Mezcal (or Tequila)
4 ounces Fresh Lime Juice
2 ounces Agave Nectar
Crushed Ice

1.   Cut off the center spine of the hoja santa as shown here with a sharp knife, roll the leaf like a cigar and slice it into thin strips (chiffonade)
2.  Muddle the Hoja Santa in the mezcal (or tequila)
3.  Add the lime juice and agave nectar and mix thoroughly.
4.  Fill old-fashioned glasses with crushed ice and pour the muddled mixture.

I think I’ll order myself an “Hojita” !

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Brussel Sprouts with Serrano and Pecans

BrusselsSproutsSerrano (1)

Guisado De Brussel Sprouts Con Chile Serrano y Nueces

Here’s a prime example of how foods evolve in delicious ways through human migration and cultural crossings. This robust dish augments the unique flavor of the sprouts (make sure you get fresh ones) with two Texas native ingredients, pecans and Serrano chile.  It’s a new twist, for sure, but it just goes to show that culture is always dynamic, creative.French immigrants brought Brussel sprouts with them to Louisianna in the eighteenth century.  From there they spread throughout the US, including Texas.

The French influence in Texas begins earlier than that, on February 20, 1685 when French troops moved into Texas, under the command of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur Cavelier, La Salle.  Navigating through the Gulf Of Mexico, La Salle was in search of the Mississippi but landed instead in Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast.

I can only surmise that soon after the Brussel sprouts arrived in Louisianna in the late 1700s or early 1800s, cooks in Texas started to incorporate them into their dishes.  (I often lament: where were the culinarians among those French immigrants, who could have written down the details about this vegetable, whose origin and travel is steeped in mystery.)

In this dish, the Chile Serrano adds herbal flavor. I love the roasted pecan bits together with the blackened, glazed sprouts.

Recipe (Serves 6)

1 lb Brussel Sprouts, washed, woody stems cut off.  Cut the sprouts into quarters.
1 fresh large Serrano Chile, sliced into paper-thin rounds.  That will be 1 Tbs.
       NOTE: If you taste the Serrano as you are slicing it, and it is very hot (too hot for you) then use only half of the chile and make half-rounds.  That will be 1/2 Tbs.

Chile Serrano Round SlicesSerranoHalvedandSliced













1/2 cup Pecans, sliced into large piecesPecans IN Glass
1 Tbs Canola Oil
3/4 cup Chicken Stock, unsalted
1/2 tsp Salt

1.  In a 12″ non-stick skillet, heat the Canola oil on high heat, add the salt
2.  When the oil becomes wavy and begins to shimmer, (don’t let it smoke), add the Brussel sprouts and pecans and cook for 2 minutes, stirring so that the sprouts and nuts acquire color.
3. Add the chicken stock and cook, keeping the heat on high and stirring for 6-8 minutes until most of the liquid is gone and the sprouts are still firm.
4.  Add the Serrano slices and continue to cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes to blacken the sprouts but without burning them.

Serve hot.
I suggest you serve this dish as part of a buffet, or serve it with grilled fish or venison or roast turkey.

¡Buen provecho!

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