Photo Credit: Melanie Rogers
DECONSTRUCTING MY FAVORITE FOOD
AVOCADOISM AND THE '70S
THE FRUIT THAT DEBUTE AS AN APPLIANCE
I have noticed that the love and hate of avocado appliances depends on one’s age. If you are over 50, you experienced the greenish hue as new and innovative. Under 50, you remember the color as secondhand. Under 30, it's retro cool.
For me, avocados, both as a food and as a kitchen color, conjure up memories of my 1970’s childhood in Southern California. As my Mexican parents watched TV with their American-born children, we were given sneak peeks into TV Land’s Anglo homes. We noticed that Carol Brady, Samantha Stevens and Ann Marie had avocado green appliances in their sterile kitchens.
When my father watched TV with us he would point them out with pride. “You see that? That’s avocado green.” Only he would say it in Spanish.
A “Rear Window” view of the Stevens’ in their kitchen.
See Darren run by the avocado washer and dryer.
Run, Darwood, run!
That Girl went as far as matching her outfit with her oven.
The Brady Bunch kitchen was accented with poppy orange.
Not the popular harvest gold of the day.
Jeannie didn’t cook. She was the internet.
Mary Richard’s kitchen appliances remain a mystery.
Since Mr. Grant paid Mary less than her male counterparts
she had to sell low-end appliances to make ends meet.
Florida Evans was poor. Ergo, no avocado anything.
My parents happily took note as the color caught on in middle-class homes. Only the trend turned into an eerie Stephen King novella. The 'meteor juice' spread through kitchens absorbing everything in its path including walls and shag carpets. By the mid-70’s, entire bathrooms were covered in a putrid green no longer resembling the ripe fruit's fresh glow.
During this same era, Mexican cuisine was losing its identity. Mexican mothers, who always felt out of step in their new country, were convinced that their traditional dishes were not good enough to 'reach the big table.' Most began to incorporate American ingredients, such as processed flour and cheddar cheese, into their recipes. The irony here is that our mother's goal was to create the Mexican dishes being served at American restaurants. As a result, some traditional ingredients began to disappear.
How many times did my siblings whine, “I’m sick of Mexican food. Can we have banquet TV dinners?”
In the early 1980’s, a group of Mexican chefs started the Mexican cuisine renaissance.Their transitional movement served to restore the pre-Hispanic dishes that were quickly fading from memory.
To get back on topic, the purchasing of the avocado green appliances declared that my family had made it to the middle class. Oh, how I loved our avocado green refrigerator from Sears and how the edges were a slightly darker shade. It took my 8-year-old breath away.
On an environmental note, avocado appliances are not green. if you still have an original refrigerator chugging away in your home keep in mind that it uses three to four times the power of today’s models.
The avocado is a fruit that dates back to around 7,000 B.C., and was considered an aphrodisiac by the Aztecs in Mexico. Guacamole was originally made with mashed avocados, chili peppers, tomatoes, onions, and salt. Not much different than today.
The name, “avocado” comes from a Nahuatl (Aztec) word, “ahuácatl” meaning testicle. “Guacamole” derives from “ahuacámolli,” and loosely translates to testicle sauce or soup. The Spanish turned, “ahuacatl” into “aguacate,” which, we in turn, changed to “avocado,” and “ahuacamulli” became “guacamole.”
On a health note, avocados are a good source of folic acid, potassium, vitamin C, phosphorus and antioxidants. It’s low in sugar and diverse in healthy fats like MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids), which help protect your body against heart disease and can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and elevate HDL (good cholesterol).
THE RECIPE GABACHOS WON’T BE EMBARRASSED
TO SERVE TO THIER MEXICAN FRIENDS
Before avocado toast became popular, there was guacamole.
Prep time: only 10 minutes
2 avocados. Since avocados are sold per unit, choose the biggest ones you can find.
½ small red onion, finely minced
1 medium tomato, diced
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
1 clove of minced garlic
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
½ finely minced fresh jalapeño (add seeds for heat)
¼ teaspoon cumin powder (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Place avocado flesh in a medium bowl.
Mash with a fork, or potato masher until slightly lumpy.
Mix in the remaining ingredients and adjust seasoning. I like the burst of flavor, so tend to double the up on jalapeño and garlic.
Guacamole may be served with tortilla chips, but I serve it with nearly every dish I make.
Serves 4, or serves 1, if you’re me
AVOCADO MARGARITA RECIPE
YES, I SAID 'AVOCADO MARGARITA'
1/2 avocado, peeled and pitted
1 cup lime juice (or more)
1/2 cup tequila
1/2 cup Triple Sec
2 tablespoons cilantro
3 cups ice
A pinch of margarita salt
A pinch of chili powder
Place avocado, tequila, liqueur, lime juice and cilantro in a blender. Cover and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses filled with ice and rimmed with chili-lime salt. Garnish with lime and a slice of avocado.
BAKED AVOCADO WITH EGGS
A stuffed avocado is perfect for breakfast and only takes minutes to make. If you are in a real hurry use your microwave. Serve with salsa and toast.
2 whole eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Halve an avocado and remove the pit. Place one half in a ring of aluminum foil so it stays upright. Brush with olive oil. Crack an egg into the hollow of the avocado. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil for 5 minutes. Serve with a tortilla and an avocado margarita.
AVOCADO'S POETRY CORNER
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole
families shopping at night! Aisles full of
husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies
in the tomatoes!—and you, García Lorca,
what were you doing down by the watermelons?
THE HISTORY OF MASA
AND WHY IT'S STILL CONSIDERED BAD
LUCK TO DROP A TORTILLA
“Tita knew through her own flesh how fire transforms the elements, how a lump of corn flour is changed into a tortilla, how a soul that hasn’t been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless, like a useless ball of corn flour.”—Laura Esquivel
Teosinte grass originally grew in Central America and Mexico during Pre-Columbian times. When the plant was cultivated into corn, several thousand years ago, the kernels were small and resembled the seeds on a wheat stalk. Since maize could be eaten fresh or dried and stored, the domestication of the plant was critical to the early survival of the Aztec, Maya, Inca, and native North Americans.
The Mesoamerican civilization discovered the process of nixtamalization in 3,000 BC. “Nixtamalization” from the Aztec word “nixtamalli,” a combination of the words for ashes and dough, involves cooking and steeping corn in an alkaline solution to soften the kernel’s tough outer layer. After the liquid is drained and the pericarp, or skin, removed, the batch of corn is ground into the dough known as masa. Not only does nixtamalization allow the grain to absorb water quickly and grind more easily, but it also increases the bioavailability of the then-unknown niacin.
The Aztecs revered corn and honored the plants with deities. Per Aztec legend, Quetzalcoatl, the God of civilization, collected precious bones from the underworld and sprinkled them with his blood. He took the sacred bones to Coatlicue, the mother of the gods, who milled them. From the kneaded dough, she created the first two humans.
The gods watched as their fledglings became weak with hunger. While they were trying to figure out how to feed us, Quetzalcoatl noticed a red ant carrying a corn kernel out of a mountain. He turned himself into a black ant, and then went into Tonacatépetl, the Mountain of Our Sustenance. Quetzalcoatl found the hidden corn and brought it back to where the deities lived. The gods chewed the corn and put some of the corn paste into our mouths. And that was our first taste of food.
For thousands of years, maize was considered sacred as it had spiritual and religious significance. From birth, when the umbilical cord would be cut over a maize cob, to death, when a small piece of maize dough was placed in the mouth of the deceased, maize played a central role in the cultures of Mesoamerica.
The Aztecs ate twice daily, with the main meal being served during the hottest time of the day. This mid-afternoon meal consisted of “tlaxcalli” a flat maize bread eaten with sauces and served with whole beans, avocados, squash and fruit.
Pozole, from the Nahuatl “potzolli” which means foamy, is a soup that was served during special occasions and rituals. Hominy boiled with the skin of sacrificed human prisoners was served in communal ceremonies.
For the Spanish conquistadors, the story of masa began in 1519, when Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico. The first mention of corn appears in a second letter from Cortés to King Charles V of Spain. In the letter dated 1520, he wrote, "...maize, in the grain and in the form of bread, preferred in the grain for its flavor to that of the other islands and Terra-firma…”
The Aztecs served the Spaniards “tlaxcalli,” a name they changed to “tortilla” in honor of the “little cake” of their homeland. Other masa-based dishes served were “chīllapītzalli” the Nahuatl words for “chili” and “flute” The dish eventually became known as enchiladas, and “chīlāquilitl” known today as chilaquiles.
At Coyoacán, the Spaniards also enjoyed the “tamalii,” a word they altered to “tamale.” The “wrapped food,” as the Nahuatl name translated, was filled with a variety of meats, seafood, vegetables, insects, worms, fungi, nuts and fruit and wrapped in corn husks or avocado leaves. These portable morsels would prove beneficial for the conquistadors’ future travels.
Corn (batches of tamales and stacks of tortillas) was among the foods taken back to Europe. The plant quickly spread throughout France, Italy, southeastern Europe, and northern Africa. By 1575, corn was making its way into western China, and had become important in the Philippines and the East Indies.
Back in Mexico, Franciscan Friar Bernardino de Sahagun assembled a compendium of all things relating to native history and customs that might be useful for Christianizing the Aztecs. The following is Father Sahagún’s description of a tamale vendor: “He sells meat tamales, turkey meat packets, plain tamales, tamales with chili,…frog tamales, pocket gopher tamales: tasty, tasty, very tasty.”
In 1845 the Republic of Texas was annexed to the United States and became the 28th state. The country’s borders shifted, but the Mexicans remained in the same spot, along with their food and culture. Taquerias of Tejas, now Texas, grew in popularity and spread throughout the southwest. When Mexico’s revolution of 1848 brought an influx of Mexican refugees to the states, the demand for Mexican food grew.
In 1914 a Midwestern housewife, Bertha Haffner-Ginger, recorded the first masa recipe in English. “California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook” introduced authentic Mexican food to Anglo-Americans.
The tortilla’s least flattering moment occurred in 1938. To make tortillas available to more Americans when El Paso began selling a canned version. Canned tortillas are still manufactured by companies for survivalist rations.
In the 1940s, electric motors powered wet-grain grinders began making masa for the first time. By the 1970s, tortilla-making machines produced hot tortillas every two seconds! Despite mechanization, corn tortillas in Mexico are still far from standardized. They are made from white, yellow, blue, or red corn and are anywhere from two inches to 12 inches in diameter.
Masa is a culinary mainstay of the Mexican culture and is consumed daily by 94 percent of the population, regardless of social class. As one of Mexico’s staples, tortillas constitute more than half the daily calories and protein for the poor.
At some point, Masa's sacred powers morphed into superstition. Some housewives believe that dropping a tortilla on the floor is bad luck and her in-laws will soon pay the wife an unexpected visit. My guess is that the superstition was created by mother-in-laws to keep their son's wife from wasting his food.
CORN TORTILLA BASICS
The tortilla is the perfect food, plate and spoon. Corn tortillas are rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus and provide fiber, protein, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin.
• 2 cups masa harina
• 1 tablespoon avocado oil
• 1 tsp. sea salt
• 1 1/2 cups hot water (more or less) from the tap
• For more supple tortillas add 1 tsp. cornstarch
WITHOUT A TORTILLA PRESS
Mix masa harina and salt in a bowl with your fingers, and then shape into a volcano. Pour hot tap water slowly and knead until it looks like Playdough. If it’s too sticky add more masa harina or if it’s too dry add a bit more water. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into 2 inch balls, about the size of a walnut.
The easiest way to make tortillas without a press is with a pie dish. Place a dough ball between 2 freezer bags. Press masa to about 6 inches diameter and 1/8 inch thick.
When I was in Baja I watched a woman in a kitchen press tortillas with the bottom of a coffee can. She made it look easy. I bought a can of coffee (for authenticity) and tried it when I got home. It wasn’t easy. I went back to the pie plate.
Gently dry the surface of the tortilla by passing the tortilla between your hands a few times before placing on the hot skillet. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side. Wrap in a cloth napkin or kitchen towel to keep warm while you continue cooking remaining tortillas.
WITH A TORTILLA PRESS
The easiest way to make tortillas and keep the masa from sticking is to line a tortilla press with a couple of plastic freezer bags.
Press the dough to about 6 inches diameter and 1/8 inch thick.
FYI, the tortilla press does not work well with flour tortillas, due to the elasticity of gluten.
TORTILLAS CON SAZÓN
Infusing tortillas is surprisingly easy. By replacing the water with a flavored liquid or adding ingredients to the dry masa, you can add complementary flavors to your dishes.
Broth Infused Tortillas -- Substitute beef, chicken or vegetable broth for water.
Garlicky Parmesan Tortillas - Add 3 cloves (roasted or raw) minced garlic and 2 tablespoons of finely grated of parmesan cheese-
Jalapeño & Lime Tortillas -- Add 1 teaspoon minced jalapeño 1/4 cup lime juice
Poblano Chile Tortillas -- Add 2 poblanos, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced
Achiote Tortillas -- Dissolve 2 tablespoons of achiote paste into water
Bell Pepper Tortillas -- Add 1 roasted (red, green or yellow) pepper, peeled, seeded and diced
Sweet Corn Tortillas -- Add tablespoons of sweet raw corn kernels
Cilantro Lime Tortillas -- Add 1 cup cleaned chopped cilantro to blender, then add water up to the 1 1/2 cup water mark
Cannabis Tortillas -- Substitute1 cup marijuana flour (see About Cannabis)
Beet Tortillas -- Add 1- 2 boiled red beets, peeled and pureed
EDIBLE TORTILLA BOUQUET
Pressing fresh flowers changes the tortilla landscape. Squash blossoms, pansies, rose petals, marigolds and hibiscus flowers. Use organic flowers that are free of pesticides. Herbs such as parsley, chives, and cilantro can also be used. Keep in mind that flavors intensify while cooking.
History of Salsa
About Taco Fillings