My love affair with Mexican food began at an early age. As a young child, for a special treat, Friday or Saturday night my parents would take me and my sister to Olvera Street for dinner.
At that time, in addition to the many restaurants and stores selling sombreros, ponchos and other tourist treasures, there were tiny free-standing stalls with older Latin men blowing glass into animal figurines. I was fascinated with this magic: How did they take a glass tube, apply heat and breath and create animals?
On every visit, after dinner, we would take a walk down the street and I got to select a glass animal to add to my collection. (I started collecting beautiful things at an early age.) The street was so long to a little girl, that I never made it to the end.
The thing I remember most about those evenings was my father patiently and methodically spreading soft butter on a warm tortilla, filling it with Spanish rice, rolling it up and handing it to me to enjoy.
I remember how the melted butter dripped down my hand, as I ate this deliciousness. I was a picky eater as a child but perfectly content with these tortillas and rice. Whenever I hear little kids request totally plain pasta noodles with butter, I am reminded of this. I don’t know why but little kids seem to like things plain. I have a theory, but that’s for another time.
So my introduction to Mexican food started early. As I got older, my family continued to dine at Mexican restaurants, no longer at Olvera Street. I graduated to enchiladas (cheese or chicken) and, of course, guacamole and chips.
It never occurred to my Mom (who cooked all the time) to make this food at home. I suspect it wouldn’t have tasted as good to us and held the same meaning. Fast forward to my many food adventures and my desire to cook all types of food — and you have my version of a Mexican Fiesta.
- Traditionally, Mexican food is made with lard, mine isn’t.
- Traditionally, Mexican food is fairly heavy — mine isn’t.
- Traditionally, Mexican food has very few vegetables. Mine is loaded with vegetables.
The one Mexican culinary tradition I fully embrace is loads of flavor and different levels of heat and spice.
The beauty of this menu and these recipes is that you can tweak the menu to suit your taste, your budget, your guests and your preference. You can simplify the menu or incorporate some readymade components. Readymade salsas, pico de gallo, even guacamole are available everywhere.
I prefer homemade as I like to stay away from food with lots of added sugar and chemical preservatives. So if you want to use readymade items, read the labels and taste everything. If store-bought mango salsa doesn’t taste good alone, it won’t enhance your food. You don’t have to make the entire menu to have a great party. You can pick enchiladas or tacos. You can substitute shredded chicken for the crab in the enchiladas. You can add any shredded or diced protein to the tacos. If you don’t like cilantro, don’t use it. How about Italian parsley, chives or chopped green scallions instead? If your budget doesn’t include tequila, serve icy cold Mexican beer and soda. If you don’t have Kahlua and don’t want to buy a bottle or don’t want alcohol in the brownies, feel free to omit it.
Make these recipes your own and enjoy!
A NOTE: I didn’t know it at the time but Olvera Street was known as “the birthplace of Los Angeles”. It is home to the oldest building in Los Angeles.
Olvera Street still exists as a pedestrian only street which hosts restaurants and shops. It is now a major tourist attraction with more than two million visitors a year.
If you’re visiting Los Angeles, check it out: www.olvera-street.com.