The History of Texas Mexican Cooking

The History of Texas Mexican Cooking

I grew up with my ama’s (mom) Texas Mexican cooking.  Texas Mexican cooking just like Oaxaca Mexican, Puebla Mexican and all the other regional styles of Mexican cooking, is best described as comida casera home-style-cooking.  Enjoyed by Mexican American families today, this unique cuisine has a 12,000 year Texas history and notably in the most recent 500 years, successfully married Texas indigenous ingredients with those from Africa,  the Arab world, Asia and Europe.

In this lecture and Texas Mexican cooking demonstration, I review the archaeological record and oral family history to describe the techniques and ingredients that contribute to the delicious comida casera we enjoy.  I was privileged to make this presentation to the members of The Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI).

It was a privilege because ILI members are artists and arts leaders from across the country (Hawaii, Dakotas, New York, Tennesee, etc.) representing cutting-edge artistic practices that inform our multi-cultural world.  With the help of Rosalia Vargas, a San Antonio-based chef and caterer who specializes in Texas Mexican traditional cooking, I demonstrated the techniques for pumping up the flavors of various chiles by removing the seeds and membranes that contain capsaicin, the chemical that burns the skin.  Chiles are primarly for flavor, not for heat.

I’d love to hear your comments about any of the ideas discussed in this presentation or about any aspect of Texas Mexican cooking. This video was recorded by the host of the ILI event, The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC).

NOTE: I’ve pasted the recipe for Gorditas De Nopalitos Con Camarón the dish that I cooked and that all of us then tasted.  Hope you like it.

Example of Texas Mexican Cooking:
Recipe for Gorditas De Nopalitos Con Camarón

(Adapted from the cookbook, “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”

Ingredients (makes 25 small gorditas or 50 halves)
1 cup fresh shrimp, heads off, peeled, deveined, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup fresh nopales (cactus paddles), 1/4-inch squares (To remove spines from the cactus, cover your working surface with newspaper. Use tongs to hold the cactus paddle with one hand and peel the spines off with the other hand using a potato peeler. Keep the debris  and spines away from any gusts of air, as some spines are so fine that they become airborne. When finished, roll up the newspaper carefully and discard.)
1/4 cup white onion, small dice
1/8 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup cilantro, cut very fine
1/4 pound queso fresco

For the Gorditas
1 pound corn flour (masa harina, not corn meal, which is too coarse)
2-1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup canola oil

For the Chile Paste
1 garlic clove
3 ancho chiles, cleaned, seeded, and deveined
3 guajillo chiles, cleaned, seeded, and deveined
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon salt or to taste

Texas Mexican cooking traditional gorditas with cactus
Texas Mexican cooking traditional gorditas with cactus

For the Gorditas
1. Combine the corn flour, salt, oil, and water in a bowl to make a soft, moist masa. It should be easily pliable. Add more water if needed. Cover with a damp cloth and let stand for 20 minutes.
2. Form the dough into 25 small balls, and then flatten them to half-inch thickness.
3. Place the gorditas on 375°F griddle or comal. After 2 minutes flip them and cook the other side also for 2 minutes. Now that both sides are nice and crunchy, just let each side cook for another 2–3 minutes until the gorditas are golden.

For the Chile Paste
4. To devein the chiles, first lay the chile flat on a cutting board and, using a paring knife, cut a slit lengthwise. Grab the chile with one hand and with the other remove the stem along with the bunch of seeds still attached to it. Open the chile along the slit and remove the remaining seeds and veins.
5. In a large saucepan, cover the cleaned chiles with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the chiles steep for 15 minutes so that they rehydrate and become tender.
6. Drain the chiles, discarding the water. Let the chiles cool a bit, and then place the  chiles in a blender along with the garlic, cumin, and salt. Blend to a very fine paste,  adding 1/2–1 cup water as needed.

For the Shrimp and Nopalitos
7. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat, and cook the cactus squares for 13–15 minutes. Add the onion and cook 2 minutes, stirring. Add 1/3 cup chile paste, 1/4 cup water, and combine well. Cover and cook on low for 5 minutes.
8. Add the shrimp, combine well, cover, and cook for 3 minutes, and then turn off the heat. They are ready to be served.

To Assemble
9. Using a sharp knife and a cutting board, slice each gordita along the middle, making two separate disks and lay each disk flat on a serving tray, golden side down.
10. Place 1/2 tablespoon of the cactus and shrimp mixture on each disk, and then top with a light sprinkle of queso fresco. Finish by adding just a bit of color and aroma with the freshly cut cilantro leaves.

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