Friday, July 18, 2008

Regalos from the Yucatán Peninsula

I first became truly enamoured with the cuisine of the Yucatán Peninsula when I drove across it three years ago. On the peninsula, there are three states, Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo. Aside from Cancún in the latter state, mainstream fast food chains do not predominate the landscape (thank goodness!) and although many restaurants do offer familiar choices, there are so many traditional and regional foods (and drinks) to choose from, why would anyone bother?

Even with Mexican cuisine becoming increasingly popular and available (we are now more open to the idea of adding chocolate to savoury dishes!), there are, however, still some issues with sourcing some of the authentic ingredients. While oregano or thyme are semi-reasonable substitutes for epazote and nopal and tomatillos are now available dried or in tins, it is the flavour of the dried chiles (ok, and the cheese) whose flavour I miss the most when recreating Mexican dishes at home.

Above are a few of my recent aquisitions. The short wrinkled dark chile to the far left of the platter is an ancho chile (a dried poblano) that, of the three, is probably the sweetest by far. Rehydrated and pureed, it lends its earthy flavour and subtle heat to my favourite red rice (arroz rojo de chile ancho).

The two dark rust coloured chiles in the middle of the platter are slightly more pliable and quite thin skinned in comparison to the ancho. They are guajillo chiles and they have a mild to moderate heat brought even more alive with a light toast on a grill plate or comal. This flavour is a perfect ground as an addition to a dry rub for grilled ribs or a pork tenderloin or in a paste for Oaxacan mole.

And finally, the deep dark black red pasjilas (a dried chile chilaca). These are the hottest (medium to hot heat) of the lot. I'm thinking that one of these in a large pot of chilli con carne will layer in a toasted warming complexity to that basic dish or in a paste I'd add to 'charro' beans.

The care package also contained some tamarind and mango lollies, also flavoured with .. you guessed it.. chiles for a subtle sweet heat.

2 comments:

Neen said...

I am also really excited about trying to recreate authentic Mexican dishes at home (not tex-mex!), and took baby steps earlier this week with homemade enchiladas and a tomatillo sauce. I'm looking forward to seeing how you use your chilies!

Mary said...

Hi Neen,
Your lovely enchiladas have now got me craving tomatillo salsa. Hopefully we'll get a chile effort on the grill in the next few days.
Thanks for stopping by la tavola, cheers!