Javier Cabral (“The Glutster“) coordinated with La Casita Mexicana chef-owners Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu to organize an epic feast designed to dispel misconceptions about Mexican cuisine. Jaime and Ramiro not only schooled a roomful of bloggers about Mexican cuisine, they also delivered a staggering meal that likely won’t be topped all year, Mexican cuisine or otherwise.
The Jalisco natives filled two tables with indigenous Mexican ingredients, including beans, chilies (roasted and raw), herbs and jarred products. Ramiro delivered a speech about Mexican cuisine, saying, “When people think of Mexican cuisine in L.A., they think of tacos, yellow cheese and sour cream. We never had that.” He went on to explain the impact of Mexican cuisine on global stomachs, listing ingredients that originated in Mexico, including avocado, beans, tomato and 50 kinds of chilies.
Jaime and Ramiro circulated core ingredients, including a bowl of dried chilies – habanero, morita, cascabel, de arbol and guajillo – to name just five. “If you don’t know how to use chilies, your food will become very spicy,” says Ramiro. Jaime and Ramiro clearly know what they’re doing with chilies, as evidenced by a series of chile-laden dishes with balance and complexity.
Tables were loaded with raw (and cooked) ingredients, including two types of tomatillos, fresh-picked herbs and chinto beans, a bean from the Yucatan and Chiapas that looks like jelly beans. The duo dispensed plenty of interesting information, including the fact that people in southern Mexico eat black beans and people in northern Mexico eat white beans.
Jaime and Ramiro passed around epazote, which Aztecs dubbed “skunk weed.” It’s used in soup and other dishes. When Ramiro was young, his grandmother served it in tea to purge bad things. Hoja santa is used in drinks and tamales. Tonight, it was used in fresh tomatillo salsa. They explained that Mexicans immigrated to the States and began to grow Mexican herbs like hoja santa and epazote in community gardens, which is one ingredient pipeline they rely on at La Casita Mexicana.
Our feast began with aguas frescas. The green offering combined alfalfa plucked from the community garden with lemon juice. Refreshing lemonade incorporated chia seeds, which the Aztecs used to sweeten with honey.
Jaime and Ramiro are about two months away from completing “La Magica de Molcajete,” a cookbook featuring over 40 salsas. They made three fresh salsas that will appear in the book. Ramiro made a smoky salsa with tomato, cilantro and Serrano. Jaime made salsa with roasted tomatillo and fresh chile de arbol, plus a crunchy salsa with fresh tomatillo and hoja santa.
Bacalao soup was phenomenal, with luscious chunks of fresh cod, and herbaceous strips of hoja santa.
Queso Azteca utilized four Mexican cheeses – panella, Oaxaca, cotija and queso fresco – plus mushrooms and nopales, all baked in banana leaves until soft. We tucked the cheese in soft corn tortillas the color of the Mexican flag – red, green and white – and topped them with salsa, creating terrific tacos. This is one of the few dishes that’s on the regular menu.
Huitlacoche tamales were packets of masa colored and flavored with relatively mild corn fungus, studded with corn kernels for sweetness.
Minilla – roasted and stuffed jalapeno peppers – surprisingly mild – were draped with onions and filled with flavorful minced tuna, olives, capers and raisins. It was a dish from Veracruz that reminded me of a Spanish tapa.
According to Ramiro, “Every family in Mexico has moles” that incorporate ingredients like pumpkin seeds, beans and cacao, since the Aztecs used cacao. Our mole progression started with enchiladas that were were lavished with three different moles – pepian, Poblano and verde – then sprinkled with crumbled cheese.
March 5, 2010 at 7:09 PM
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April 30, 2009 at 7:13 PM
Hi, nice post. I have been thinking about this issue,so thanks for sharing. I’ll definitely be subscribing to your blog.
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April 29, 2009 at 11:01 PM
[…]  La Casita Mexicana – Bell, CA  Food GPS ” Blog Archive ” La Casita Mexicana (17-Course Feast) ‘ Bell …  Huevos Rancheros: La Casita Mexicana ” CHANFLES!  LA TACO ” La Casita Mexicana ~ […]
April 9, 2009 at 11:59 AM
Hey, thanks for stopping by…and for getting me going with the post! I was going at it at snails pace until you posted yours 🙂
You did a spectacular job covering the feast as well.
to future meals!