A Mexican Feast for my German Family
- how to cook authentic Mexican food abroad
On Saturday, it was my birthday. Because I really wanted to show my family what real Mexican food tastes like, I decided to cook an authentic Mexican dish for the occasion. Where my husband comes from, mole rojo is a traditional birthday lunch, shared with the whole family. I absolutely love this dish, so I decided to cook it for my family. I soon realized that this was a very ambitious endeavour. But the countless hours in the kitchen were worth it. My family really enjoyed the food and were amazed at how delicious authentic Mexican cuisine is.
The first task my husband and I had to master was getting the ingredients. For mole rojo, we needed dried chile ancho, a large Mexican type of chili that is not sold in normal German supermarkets. We also needed corn flour to make tortillas.
“But don’t they sell tortillas in the supermarket?”, my mum asked. Yes, there are some brands that specialize in so-called “Mexican” food and they sell packaged tortilla-style flatbreads. However, none of them are 100% corn flour and none of them taste much like Mexican tortillas. An uncle suggested to use the polenta flour, which is a coarse corn flour sold in most supermarkets. But this flour does not do either, because the corn has not gone through the nixtamalization process, which is the process applied in Mexico to smoothen the shells of the corn grains. Even if you smell a package of polenta and a package of Mexican corn flour, you will immediately note the difference. Mexican corn flour has a very sweet smell.
Finding the ingredients
So how did we get the corn to make our own authentic tortillas? I asked my friend Google, of course. There are some online markets that sell imported food items from Latin America, but prices were quite steep and I was not sure if the goods would arrive on time. So I googled making my own corn flour. I even found a blog post on how to nixtamalize popcorn. Then, I realized that in Stuttgart, there is a little store that sells Latin American food. We went there and they actually had quite a big selection of basic Mexican ingredients, such as several types of dried chilis, Maseca flour and even canned nopal cactus. The flour was ridiculously expensive, but we bought a kilo nonetheless.
We also bought a bag of chile ancho which served as the base for our mole. In the end, we decided to leave out the chile guajillo that we had also bought, because we wanted to keep the dish as mild as possible. I checked various recipes online and drew on several of them to make my own mild but very delicious red mole sauce.
The problem with European blenders
My husband was very sceptical all the time, because in his village, people buy the mole paste from a lady that makes it with her special recipe. They do not believe that it would be possible to make a similarly good sauce yourself. When I asked his mum how to make mole rojo, she just said “You can’t. The lady puts so many ingredients in her sauce, it would be impossible to make it at home.”. However, I was determined to prove them wrong and I succeeded. My husband was really astonished when we tried the paste and it actually tasted like super delicious mole.
When grinding the ingredients in the blender, we had to overcome another obstacle. Apparently, German blenders and Mexican blenders are designed for different purposes. I have an expensive blender from a good brand, but it still struggled a lot with the rather dry paste. Only when we put more liquid into the mix, it did not get stuck anymore. But we could not use it at high power. Even cheap Mexican blenders can handle solid items a lot better. It seems that Mexican blenders were designed and tested for making sauces, whereas German blenders were made for smoothies and soups. Keep that in mind if you want to make a Mexican sauce with a European blender and maybe start only with part of the ingredients.
Hand-making authentic tortillas
After some stirring and a little help with a wooden spoon, we managed to blend our mole and poured it into a pan to fry it. We stored it in the fridge and were happy that the largest part of the work was done. Or so we thought. The next day, we made the tortillas. Although they are always better freshly made, we decided that making them on Saturday would not be possible since the stove would already be occupied with the beans, rice and mole and we would be spending the whole afternoon in the kitchen instead of with the guests.
We did not have a tortilla press, so we improvised a little. We just put freezer bags over two thick wooden cutting boards and used our weight to press the dough between the two boards. It worked really well. Unfortunately, we also did not have a comal, so we used two small pans and were only able to cook two tortillas at a time. This significantly slowed down the process. But after a while, we managed to press really thin tortillas, so the cooking process was faster. We had one non-sticking pan and one old-fashioned iron pan. While many recipe blogs suggest you should not use a Teflon coated pan, we did not notice any difference in the cooking process. Just make sure your tortillas are really thin so they inflate after a few minutes on the heat. And do not add any oil. After all, making tortillas turned out easier but more time consuming than I had thought.
A lot of work, but absolutely worth it!
On the day, we only had to steam the vegetables for your veggie mole (you could also use meat, of course, but I am a vegetarian), cook the arroz rojo and heat the black beans we had made the day before. The tortillas, we heated in the microwave which well and was super fast.
And ready was our Mexican feast. It was time consuming, of course, but less daunting and difficult than I had imagined. And the next day, we had tons of leftovers to enjoy, just after a typical Mexican birthday meal.