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Let’s talk Mexican foods, shall we?
By Johanne McInnis

        Hot, hot, hot recipes

        I've never been to Mexico, but I've eaten Mexican foods just about everywhere else.

        Now, I must warn you that some of the restaurants you may think serve traditional Mexican wares don't. They are more Californian, Santa Fe and North American twists. It seems by the time some of the recipes reach us, someone has decided to tone them down, change the flavour so that us "bland people" will tolerate and eat the meals. Is it our dispositions that don't allow us to appreciate the ethnicity of the hot and spicy foods?

        So what did Mexico bring the rest of the world as far as culinary specialties? The Conquest of Mexico in 1521 gave rise t o one of the richest culinary revolutions in history. When the Spanish explorer Cortez and his followers came to the new world in search of fortune, they found a wealth of foods such as chocolate (thank you Mexico!), peanuts, vanilla, beans, squash, avocados, coconuts, corn and tomatoes.

        Quesadillas are one of the mainstays of Mexico's street-side stands, and are considered quintessential Mexican. It turns out that they, like Mexicans themselves, are hybrid creations, half indigenous and half Spanish. The corn tortilla on which quesadillas are based is native American; the cheese, as well as the pork, and/or beef that may accompany the cheese, is Spanish; of the garnish, the hot-sauce made with chili pepper is indigenous. During colonial times, experiment-minded Spanish women and members of Spanish religious orders invented much of today's more sophisticated Mexican gastronomy.

        Nuns pioneered such now-traditional Mexican fare called cajeta and fritter-like buñuelos.

        Also from the colonial period comes such fare as Lomo en adobo (pork loin in a spicy sauce) and of course guacamole (avocado, tomato, onion, chili and coriander). Are you drooling yet, or possibly running to get the pepto bismol?

        Today's variety of food available in Mexico is truly great, with unique dishes for each region as you move from the north to the south, east to west, with many regional styles throughout.

        Beef, chicken and pork dishes are popular throughout the country, and fish is an important item anywhere near Mexico's long pacific and Caribbean coasts. Vegetables of every kind and include the traditional beans, often served with rice. There is also a large variety of salsas and chilies including the very hot habanero common in the south (one of my favourites).

        If there is one food item common to all of Mexico, it would be the corn tortilla. Corn originates from Mexico and is still a main staple of diet there, even though flour is becoming more popular. Anywhere you travel in Mexico you'll find food stands that offer tacos of many varieties, all using the corn tortilla, and corn tortillas are still made fresh daily in stores, bakeries and food stands.

        This week I've included two recipes for you to try. One is somewhat spicy and the other toned down but very tasty. So break out of your bland Canadian shell, throw on a sombrero, invite some of your friends over and cook up a Mexican storm for all.

Pork Chili Verde

2 green peppers, chopped
1 large chili pepper (depending how hot you like it)
1 (16oz) can diced tomatoes
5 cups water
2 tablespoons beef oxo granules
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander
1/2 pound ground pork, chorizo or sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour

* Combine green peppers, onion, chiles, tomatoes, water, bouillon, oregano, cumin and coriander in a large pot. Simmer until peppers are tender.

* In the meantime, cook meat of choice until fully cooked. Drain any grease from pork, and add to chili mixture. Simmer for 20 minutes. Melt butter over medium- low heat. Add flour and whisk in until smooth. Allow to cook for approximately 2 minutes then add to chili and stir until thickened.

* Continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes

Chicken Enchiladas

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
5 whole green chilies, canned
1 (28-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 cup Cheddar and Jack Cheeses, shredded
16 corn tortillas
1 - 1/2 cups salsa

* Coat large sauté pan with oil. Brown chicken over medium heat, allow 7 minutes each side or until no longer pink.

* Sprinkle chicken with cumin, garlic powder and chilli powder. Remove chicken to a platter, allow to cool. Sauté onion and garlic in chicken drippings until tender. Add corn and chiles. Stir well to combine.

Add canned tomatoes, sauté 1 minute.

* Pull chicken breasts apart by hand into shredded strips. Add shredded chicken to sauté pan, combine with vegetables. Dust the mixture with flour to help set.

* Microwave tortillas on high for 30 seconds. This softens them and makes them more pliable. Coat the bottom of 2 (13 by 9-inch) pans with a ladle o f enchilada sauce. Using a large shallow bowl, dip each tortilla in salsa to lightly coat. Spoon 1/4 cup chicken mixture in each tortilla. Fold over filling; place 8 enchiladas in each pan with seam side down. Top with remaining salsa and cheese.

* Bake for 15 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven until cheese melts. Garnish with sour cream and chopped tomatoes before serving.

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Until next time, happy creative cooking!