Traditional Mexican Recipes Reflect a Complex Cultural Heritage
The cuisine of Mexico is a mixture of tastes and ingredients that reflect the fascinating history of the country and its people. Originating with the Mesoamerican cuisine that incorporated the abundant staples of corn, peppers, cocoa, avocados and vanilla for thousands of years, the cuisine shifted abruptly with the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s. The invaders and later, their priests, brought with them Spanish cuisine and introduced items such as beef and cheese to the varied native menu.
Though the Spanish preferred the tastes of home, practicality dictated that the new monasteries and convents built across the land supplement their diet with local ingredients. This fusion of European cooking techniques and ingredients of the New World produced the foundation of the traditional Mexican recipes we know today. Before the colonization of the Spanish, very little meat was used in Mexican cooking. The Spanish introduced the technique of frying foods in animal fat, making possible modern favorite recipes such as chile rellenos. This dish combines delectable melted cheese with the subtle spice from a poblano chile, delicate fried batter and a tangy salsa accompaniment.
Traditional Chile Rellenos Recipe
4 poblano chiles
3 cups of an excellent melting cheese, such as Oaxaca, Monterrey Jack or Munster
4 room temperature eggs, separated
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil or traditional lard, for frying
Bottled or homemade salsa, either red or green
Prepare the chiles by starting at the stem end and cutting downward in a straight line the length of the chile, being careful not to cut all the way through. Cut a short line across the top, forming the letter "T." This cut exposes the interior, so you can now remove the inedible core and seeds, and it will also allow for easier stuffing of the chile later. Next, line the chiles on a baking sheet and broil for 8 to 10 minutes, until the skin is charred and peeling.
Place chiles in a plastic bag and allow them to cool. This will help the outer charred skins to loosen, making it easier to remove them. Once they are cool, remove the skins, stuff them with the cheese and set them aside. Whisk the egg yolks until the mixture is light and frothy. Using a mixing stand or hand blender, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold in the egg yolk mixture until just combined. Do not deflate the egg whites.
Heat oil in a pan on the stove; optimal heat is achieved when a small piece of bread placed in the oil is quickly toasted. Using a large spoon, scoop an amount of the whipped egg mixture into the pan, spreading it to roughly the size of a chile. Place a chile on top and then add a second scoop of egg mixture to cover. Flip chile and batter when nicely toasted to cook the second side.
Place the cooked chiles on a plate lined with paper towels and serve hot, garnished with a green or red salsa.
In Mexico, this dish is sometimes served at breakfast, but pairing it with refried beans or rice can make it a hearty vegetarian lunch or dinner.