Beyond The Taco

Get Ready, Chicago! In Mexico`s Regions Lurks A New Wealth Of Traditional Cuisine

Let Mexico`s Cuisine Flavor Your Kitchen

July 16, 1987|By Judy Hevrdejs.

-- Bajio: This region just north of Mexico City includes Guanajuato, Queretaro and San Luis Potosi. Rich in colonial history, the area also has farmland and some wine growing regions. Classic dishes from this region include puchero (a meat and vegetable stew), fiambre potosino (a match of cold meats, vegetables and vinaigrette) as well as pozole. Cajeta, the ubiquitous sweet sauce of Mexico, is from this region. Sweetened and caramelized goat`s milk, cajeta comes from the town of Celaya and shows up in crepes, atop fruit, on bread, etc.

-- Central Region: Mexico City and the country`s culinary heart, the town of Puebla, is included in this region. The cooking of this region is influenced as much by the Aztec heritage as it is by the number of convents that were located here decades ago. Credit the Aztecs with the techniques for mixiotes and mole (mo-LAY); credit the nuns for developing so many intricate variations on each dish. (Alicia Gironella De`Angeli, head of a Mexico City-based culinary organization, calls the cooking ``Baroque.``) Mole poblano, created by the Roman Catholic sisters in the town of Puebla, ranks among Mexico`s classics. So does chiles en nogado, another creation of the sisters made by stuffing chile peppers with a ground meat mixture then saucing in a cream and walnut sauce. Besides these dishes, here is where the cooks make menudo (a tripe stew-soup), manchamanteles, the sandwiches called tortas and cook with, among hundreds of other ingredients, the tuna (fruit from the cactus), rompope (a fragrant eggnog-like drink) and huitlacoche (the fungus that grows on corn and tastes like mushroom duxelles mixed with truffles).

-- The South: Oaxaca (WHA-ha-kah) and Chiapas make up this region of mountains, coasts and jungles, which is rich in the Indian heritage of the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, among others. Banana leaves, a wrapper that breathes so that foods cook without the addition of fat and without developing a mushy steamed surface, is used here with meats and fowl as well as for wrapping tamales. Tortillas often are flattened to the size of dinner plates. Dishes may be spiked with a bit of the fiery liquor called mezcal. The chihuacle chile makes the moles pitch black, though the region boasts red, brown and yellow moles as well. Smoky chipotle chiles show up in many recipes. Classic dishes include a chicken broth-based soup of vegetables with little dumplings of cornmeal masa (dough) and those moles, among others.

-- Yucatan: The peninsula, filled with jungles and jutting into the Caribbean, includes the states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche. Besides the influence of the Caribbean (seafood, black beans), the most predominant influence is that of the Mayan Indians who developed pib cooking (lining a pit with fiery stones, adding fragrant leaves then wrapped foods for roasting). The most popular meats include venison and pheasant. Chile xcatiks and achiote (ground annatto seed) are among the major seasonings, often worked up into the seasoning paste called recado. Classic dishes include pan de cazon

(tortillas layered with refried black beans, a chile-tomato sauce and shark).

-- Veracruz: The states in this region bordering the Gulf of Mexico include Veracruz and Tabasco. The character of this region is often compared to New Orleans or San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fish and seafood are predominant; the common regional preparation is a la veracruzano (with a sauce of olives, capers, tomatoes and onion). Salpicon is prepared with crab.


When you decide to satisfy your appetite for manchamanteles or pozole, here are some cookbooks that spotlight Mexico`s regional cuisines:

``Authentic Mexican,`` by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless (William Morrow and Co., $24.95). Excellent cooking directions with some unusual recipes.

``Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico,`` by Diana Kennedy (Harper & Row, $17). Fabulous flavors characterize recipes in this cookbook, one of the first to address Mexico`s regional fare.

``The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking,`` by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (M. Evans and Co. Inc., $6.95, paperback). A straightforward approach and easy-to- understand recipes.

``The Taste of Mexico,`` by Patricia Quintana (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35). Organized by regions, the book boasts beautiful pictures and some unusual recipes.

The following grocers carry both fresh and processed food from Mexico and usually have fresh, tortillas available early in the day:

Armando`s Finer Foods, 2627-2639 S. Kedzie, 927-6688.

El Guero No. 3, 4025 N. Sheridan Rd., 528-8560.

LaCasa Del Pueblo, 1810 S. Blue Island Ave., 421-4640.

La Justicia, 3644 W. 26th St., 277-8120, and 3435 W. 26th St., 521-1593.

Los Amigos Supermarket, 117-123 N. Broadway, Melrose Park, 343-4794.

Tortilleria Gonzalez, 821 Tenth St., North Chicago, 473-1199.

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