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Archive for Food Facts – Food History

RECIPE: Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp

May 10th is National Shrimp Day.

We could easily be happy with plate of boiled jumbo shrimp, a lemon wedge and a bit of seafood sauce.

But this recipe for bacon-wrapped shrimp, sent to us by Zatarain’s, wins the nostalgia vote.

It took us back decades to our parent’ cocktail parties, when bacon-wrapped shrimp and bacon-wrapped dates, or a rumkai—were de rigeur.

Those with more basic tastes drank bourbon or scotch on the rocks. Few people were home mixologists Drinks of whiskey mixed with club soda or ginger ale were served on the rocks in highball (tall) or lowball (short, a.k.a. rocks) glasses.

There was no American craft beer in those days, or even wine (except for gourmets who drank it as apéritifs and with meals at European restaurants). No one had even had a tequila drink, unless they’d been to Mexico.

And there was no National Shrimp Day.

But we have it all now. So, we’re turning on the broiler and making a pile of bacon-wrapped shrimp. Who’s in?

RECIPE: ZESTY BACON WRAPPED SHRIMP

In New Orleans, cooks add a Creole spin to this retro shrimp appetizer. You can prepare it in the morning and pop it in the oven later in the day. Find more shrimp at McCormick.com/Zatarains.

You can have it as an appetizer, or make a dinner of it. Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes.

Ingredients For 8 Two-Piece Appetizer Servings
—Or—
2-3 Dinner Servings

  • 16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined, tails left on
  • 16 slices bacon
  • Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning
  •    

    Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp

    Zatarain's Creole Seasoning

    [1] Bacon-wrapped shrimp from Zatarain’s. [2] Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning; photo courtesy Flour On My Face, who uses it in a Crockpot Jambalaya recipe.

     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 450°F. Line baking pan with foil and place flat baking rack in the pan.

    2. WRAP each shrimp with 1 slice of bacon, lightly sprinkle with Creole seasoning and place the shrimp on the rack, seasoning side down. Sprinkle all the tops with the seasoning as well. Let stand 15 minutes

    3. BAKE 15 to 20 minutes or until the bacon is crisp around the edges and the shrimp turn pink. Serve warm.

     

    Angels On Horseback

    Devils On Horseback

    Rumaki

    The predecessors of bacon-wrapped shrimp: [3] Angels On Horseback, bacon-wrapped oysters. Here’s a recipe from the Wealden Times. [4] Devils On Horseback. Here’s a recipe from Martha Stewart Living. [5] Rumaki, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. Here’s a recipe from Goldilocks Kitchen.

     

    RECIPE: CREOLE SEASONING

    If you don’t have Creole seasoning, it’s easy to make your own. This recipe makes much more than you need for the chicken salad, but you can cut it down or use the extra in other recipes, from eggs to burgers.
     
    Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup paprika
  • 3 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon granulated onion
  • 4 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 4 teaspoons granulated garlic
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE all the spices in a bowl, and stir to combine.

    2. STORE in an airtight container away from light and heat, but use as quickly as possible.
     
     
    WHAT ELSE TO MAKE WITH CREOLE SEASONING

  • Use it as a general seasoning for dips, fish, ketchup, mayonnaise, popcorn, poultry, rice, soup, vinaigrette—even spicy yogurt!
  • Andouille Sausage Pizza
  • Cajun Chicken Salad
  • Gumbalaya (a mash-up of gumbo and jambalaya)
  • Gumbo
  • Jambalaya
  • Hazelnut-Crusted Sea Bass
  • Steamed Mussels
  •  
     
    THE HISTORY OF BACON-WRAPPED SHRIMP

    Nineteenth-century Britain saw the rise in popularity of an appetizer called Angels On Horseback: skewered broiled oysters wrapped in bacon and “riding on slivers of toast.” It was also called Oysters And Bacon and yes, Pigs in Blankets, a recipe now known as mini sausages wrapped in pastry.

    “It’s an excellent lesson in how words, like recipes, change meaning over time,” says etymologist John Ayto in An A to Z of Food and Drink [source].

    The recipe is first documented in the 1888 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

    Devils On Horseback, a later recipe, substituted stuffed prunes for the oysters.

    Fast forward to the other side of the pond. Other foods began to be wrapped in bacon: scallops, shrimp, even stuffed olives and pineapple chunks.

    Another variation, bacon-wrapped chicken liver—rumaki—appeared. The first known reference of rumaki is on the 1941 menu of the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Palm Springs, California.

     
    Rumaki were skewered water chestnuts and chicken livers, wrapped in bacon and marinated in soy sauce and ginger or brown sugar prior to broiling.

    The restaurant was founded in 1934, and was the beginning of the tiki craze in the U.S.

    Tiki restaurants—an American “interpretation” of Polynesian food and decor—featured a selection of different bites as faux-Hawaiian pupu (hors d’oeuvre).

    A flaming pupu platter of mixed “Polynesian” hors d’oeuvres was a sensation that trickled down to home preparations.

    So where’s the bacon-wrapped shrimp? So far, there’s a missing link.

    We did find a reference to shrimp skewered with a chestnut and a piece of green onion. It isn’t a stretch to think that someone added a bacon wrap…and that the recipe devolved to just the shrimp and bacon.

     
    CAJUN VS. CREOLE: THE DIFFERENCE

    Cajun and Creole are not the same, although people removed from Louisiana often use them without distinction.

  • Creole referred to people who were born to settlers in French Colonial Louisiana, specifically in New Orleans. In the 18th century, Creoles were the descendants of the French and Spanish upper class that ruled the city.
  • Cajuns, on the other hand, emigrated from the Acadia region of Canada, which consisted of present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. They settled in the swampy region of Louisiana that is today known as Acadiana. Their name in French, les Acadians, became shortened in the vernacular to Cajun.
  • Some people think of Creole cuisine as “city food” and Cajun cuisine as “country food.” But to eyeball a dish and tell its provenance, here’s a simple trick: Creole cuisine uses tomatoes and Cajun food typically does not. That’s how to quickly distinguish a Cajun gumbo or jambalaya from a Creole gumbo or jambalaya.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Mostarda, A Sweet-Hot Italian Condiment

    Mostarda di Cremona

    Mostarda di Cremona

    Mostarda

    Mostarda Bolognese

    Mostarda di Mantova

    [1] The classic: mostarda di cremona. Here’s a recipe to make your own from The Spruce). [2] A cremona close-up (photo courtesy Cucina Corriere. [3] Mostarda vicentina has a jam-like consistency, losing the physical beauty of other mostardas (photo courtesy Buonissimo). [4] Mostarda di mantova, made from apples, pears and quince (photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese).

     

    Years ago, on a trip to Italy, we first came across mostarda di frutta, mostarda for short.

    A sweet-and-hot, fruit-and-mustard condiment from the north of Italy, it’s our go-to condiment with Italian cheeses, and some other nationalities on the cheese board. We offer more uses below.

    Think of mostarda as a mustardy fruit chutney—although mostarda uses mostly candied fruits. (The Italian word for mustard in the English-language issenape).

    Candied whole small fruits or larger pieces of fruit are beautifully suspended in a clear syrup flavored with mustard oil. It’s clear and doesn’t cloud the syrup. Home recipes often use mustard powder mixed into white wine.

    Some mostarda is lovely to look at, like part of a still life painting. It is cooked slowly (often over three days) to maintain the natural bright colors of the fruit, and the perfect texture.

    Buy jars as gifts for your foodie friends.

    The origin of the word comes from a Latin term of the Middle Ages, mustum ardens, “grape juice [must] that burns,” a term first used in the Middle Ages by French monks, for the mustard they made (the history of mustard).

    It burns because of the addition of crushed mustard seeds. Once crushed, the seeds release the fiery mustard oil that gives the mustard condiment its flavor.

    THE HISTORY OF MOSTARDA

    From the Middle Ages forward, man has sought ways to enjoy the fruits that are scarce in winter, at least through the celebrations of Christmas.

    Mostarda is a food born from the need to preserve fruits for the off-season. Originally, the fruits were preserved in mosto (grape must*), unfermented grape juice that has been reduced to a syrup.

    Mostarda’s origins date back to the honey and mustard condiments of ancient Rome. Grape must (freshly pressed grape juice) was mixed with ground mustard seeds and honey to create a sweet mustard. Later, fruit was added.

    Recipes for “modern” mostarda, dating from the 13th century, call for the use of grape must. The first written document “Fruit Mostarda for festive season” dates to 1393 and is attributed to Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan [source].

  • Grape must, called must for short, is the young, unfermented juice of wine grapes. Among other uses (in saba and vin cotto, for starters), it is mixed with ground mustard seeds to make mustard.
  • Subsequently, the condiment mostarda was made by candying the fruits and adding mustard oil to create sweet heat. Both the sugar to candy the fruits and the mustard oil were preservatives.
  • And by the way, mostarda became a Christmas tradition, traditionally eaten with creamy, slightly sweet mascarpone cheese.
  •  
    Beginning in the 16th century, newly-affordable sugar replaced the must to candy the fruits, then mustard was added [source]. The oldest known recipe prepared with fruit, mustard and sugar, without the grape must, was found in 17th century Belgium.

    From that point on, cookbooks began to include mostarda as a main ingredient. By the 19th century there were some 93 different varieties.

    The sweet heat went really well with boiled meats. Initially, mostarda was the served with bollito misto, a plate of mixed boiled meats that’s a specialty of northern Italian cuisine (there’s more below about uses for mostarda).

    TYPES OF MOSTARDA

    According to legend, mostarda was invented by chance in medieval times. In an apothecary shop, a piece of melon fell unnoticed into a barrel filled with honey.

    When it was later discovered, the melon was still as delicious as if it had been freshly picked (honey, which is virtually moisture-free, is an excellent preservative) [source].

    Mostarda itself takes on different ingredients in different regions, incorporating local fruits—whatever is plentiful in the region. Raisins, nuts and other ingredients can be added.

    As one source notes, almost every town in the Po valley has its own recipe.

    There are many, many mostarda recipes, from grape and fig (uva e ficchi) to vegetable mustards (also candied) modern recipes with non-Italian ingredients, from cardamom pods to pineapple and pumpkin.

    Here are some of the most famous, named for the areas where they originated.

  • Mostarda bolognese is made from apples, oranges, pears, plums and quince. In the area of Bologna, it is used to flavor the classic dish of boiled pork and cooked sausages, as well as to fill tarts and in other sweets.
  • Mostarda di carpi, from a town in the Emilia-Romagna region. It still uses red grape must in its recipe, along with oranges, pears, quince and sweet apples,
  • Mostarda di cremona also called mostarda cremonese, is the classic recipe, made with several different kinds of fruits (the makers choice among apricots, cherries, figs, peaches, pears, quinces and tangerines). It is the most commercially available style.
  • Mostarda di mantova, also called mostarda mantovana and mostarda di mele campanine, is made from tart= green apples called mele campanine (singular mela campanina) and pears or quince.
  •  

  • Mostarda veneziana, from the Venice region, is made with fresh quince pulp (a minimum of 36% pure pulp), and candied fruits (apricots, clementines, figs, white pears, yellow cherries). It is intentionally grainy/sugary.
  • Mostarda vicentina, from the town of Vicenza in the Veneto region, is characterized by a jam-like consistency and the use of quince (mele cotogne) as its main ingredient. During the Christmas holidays, it is eaten with spoonfuls with mascarpone.
  • Mostarda di voghera, in the Lombardy region of Italy, has documentation from 1397, when Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti requested “mostarda de fructa cum la senavra.” The recipe can include apples, apricots, candied orange peel, cherries, clementines, figs, lemon, melon and pears.
  • Mostarda siciliana is made with orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and often, toasted chopped almonds.
  • Dalmatian mostarda, made in Croatia across the Adriatic Sea from Venice, is a simpler recipe, made with quinces and honey.
  •  

    WAYS TO USE MOSTARDA

    Any discussion starts with bollito misto a fundamental part of Northern Italian cuisine. It’s a one-pot meal, Italian comfort food.

    The boiled meats vary by region, and a very elaborate presentation can include seven kinds of meat and fowl, seven vegetables and seven condiments.

    The meats can include beef brisket, beef cheeks, calf’s tongue, chicken or capon (or turkey), cotechino sausage, pork shank, sweet Italian sausage, veal shank—slowly boiled in a large pot with carrots, celery, onions and potatoes.

    The cooked cooked meats are sliced, placed on a platter and served with mostarda—or, for those seeking a different flavor profile, with a green herb sauce (salsa verde). The savory broth that remains in the pot can then be turned into soup.

    Why not plan a dinner party, with a multi-mostarda tasting?

    Over time, mostarda became a broad-purpose condiment.

    The heat of mostarda varies by producer. In general, however, it needs a hearty food that can show off both the sweet and the heat.

    Serve mostarda with:

  • Eggs: omelets, sliced egg sandwich on crusty toast.
  • Cheeses: as a condiment on a cheese board, or drizzled over individually plated slices or scoops of mascarpone or ricotta. In Italy, gorgonzola and stracchino are popular.
  • Meats: any boiled, braised, broiled, roasted or smoked, from chicken and turkey to ham, pork loin and beef brisket and sausages.
  • Up-condimenting: added to a dip base or mayonnaise for a more complex flavor.
  • Salume and other charcuterie).
  • Sandwiches: grilled vegetables, Italian cold cuts, porchetta, roast beef, strong cheeses.
  •  
    You can find many mostarda recipes online, and can purchase it in specialty food stores and Italian markets. You can also buy it online.

    Don’t be put off by the high price for a small jar. If you look at the ingredients in the recipe, you’ll see it as a bargain.

    Let us know how you like it.

    Discover the world of mustard in our Mustard Glossary.

    PHOTO CAPTIONS

    [5] Bollito misto, a dish often served with mustard (photo courtesy Cucina Italiana).

    [6] Add a ramekin of mostarda to a cheese and/or charcuterie board (photo courtesy Good Eggs).

    [7] A delicious appetizer or snack: bruschetta with prosciutto, burrata and pear mostarda (photo courtesy Davio’s Boston).

     

    Bollito Misto

    Cheese Board

    Prosciutto Burrata Bruschetta

     

      

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    RECIPE: Rosewater Raspberry Meringues

    Raspberry Rosewater Meringues

    Bowl Of Raspberries

    Nielsen Massey Rosewater

    [1] Raspberries combine with rosewater in these pretty-in-pink meringues from Chef Ingrid Hoffmann. [2] Fresh raspberries from Driscoll’s Berries. [3] There are many uses for rosewater, in both food and beverages, and toiletries. Here’s a recipe for iced chai latte with rosemary from All Day I Dream Of Food.

     

    We so enjoyed the red wine meringue cookies we made for Valentine’s Day that we decided to make another pink, flavored meringue for Mother’s Day.

    This recipe, from Chef Ingrid Hoffmann, combines fresh raspberries with rosewater (also spelled rose water).

    WHAT IS ROSEWATER?

    Since ancient times, roses have been used nutritionally, medicinally, for religious purposes, and to make cosmetics, and as a source of perfume. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Phoenicians considered their large public rose gardens to be as important as as orchards and wheat fields [source].

    Culinary rose water is believed to have been first created in Persia during the Sasanian dynasty (224 to 651 C.E.). It was a by-product of producing rose oil (attar of roses) for perfume.

    It can be made at home, simply by steeping rose petals in water; and is available commercially. Here’s a recipe to make your own. If you’re making it to consume (as opposed to a skin refreshener), use organic roses.

    You can buy a bottle in any Middle Eastern or Indian grocery, or online.

    In the Middle East and eastward to India and Pakistan, rosewater is used in, among other preparations:

  • Beverages: jallab (a fruit syrup mixed with still or sparkling water), lassi (a yogurt-based drink from India), lemonade, milk, tea, and also added directly into a glass of water.
  • Desserts: baklava, cookies and other baked goods; ice cream and sorbet; rice pudding.
  • Sweets: gumdrops, marzipan, nougat, Turkish delight.
  • Wine substitute: in Halal cooking.
  •  
    Rosewater was used extensively by both American and European bakers until the 19th century, when vanilla extract became more readily available became.

    Rosewater is an ingredient in Waverly Jumbles, baked doughnut said to be a favorite of James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States (1817 to 1825).

    Today it is used by cooks around the world. For example, in Mexico it is used to flavor shave ice; in Yorkshire, England, it is still used in one of the area’s best-loved dishes, Yorkshire Curd Tart.

    You can add it to iced tea, iced coffee, smoothies and soft drinks; or make a Rose Martini.

    Needless to say, if you buy a bottle to make these meringues, you won’t have any trouble finishing the bottle.
     
    RECIPE: ROSEWATER RASPBERRY MERINGUES

    Ingredients For 5 Dozen Meringues

  • Cooking spray
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons raspberry-flavored gelatin powder (e.g., Jell-O)
  • ½ teaspoon rosewater
  • ¼ teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  •  
    Preparation

    1. POSITION the racks in the upper third and center of the oven and preheat to 250°F. Spray 2 large baking sheets with cooking spray (to help secure the parchment) and line the sheets with parchment paper.

    2. WHIP the egg whites and salt together in a large, grease-free bowl with an electric hand mixer set on high speed, until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the sugar and raspberry gelatin powder and beat until the mixture forms stiff, shiny peaks. Fold in the rosewater and vinegar.

    3. TRANSFER the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch-wide star tip. Spacing them about 1 inch apart, pipe 1-inch-wide meringues onto the lined baking sheets. Bake until the meringues look set, about 1 hour.

    4. TURN off the oven and let the meringues completely cool and dry in the oven. Carefully lift the meringues off the parchment and store them in an airtight container. These are fragile cookies, so don’t pack them tightly. We protect each layer with wax paper or parchment.
     
    THE HISTORY OF MERINGUES

    Some sources say that that meringue was invented in the Swiss village of Meiringen in the 18th century, and subsequently improved by an Italian chef named Gasparini.

    Not all experts agree: The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, states that the French word is of unknown* origin.

    The one fact we can hang on to is that the name of the confection called meringue first appeared in print in Chef François Massialot’s seminal 1691 cookbook, available in translation as The court and country cook….

    The word meringue first appeared in English in 1706 in an English translation of Massialot’s book.

    Two considerably earlier 17th-century English manuscript books of recipes give instructions for confections that are recognizable as meringue. One is called “white biskit bread,” found in a book of recipes started in 1604 by Lady Elinor Poole Fettiplace (1570-c.1647) of Gloucestershire.

    The other recipe, called “pets,” is in the manuscript of collected recipes written by Lady Rachel Fane (c. 1612–1680) of Knole, Kent. Slowly-baked meringues are still referred to as pets in the Loire region of France (the reference appears to be their light fluffiness, perhaps like a kitten?).

    Meringues were traditionally shaped between two large spoons, as is often still done at home today. Meringue piped through a pastry bag was introduced by the great French chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833—he preferred to be called Antonin), the founder of the concept of haute cuisine.

    He also invented modern mayonnaise, éclairs, Strawberries Romanov, and other icons of French cuisine. Even though he wasn’t in on the beginning, he perfected the end.

    ________________
    *Contenders from include 1700 on include, from the Walloon dialect, maringue, shepherd’s loaf; marinde, food for the town of Meiringen (Bern canton, Switzerland), is completely lacking. None of the others sounds right, either. By default, we like the Latin merenda, the feminine gerund of merere to merit, since who doesn’t merit a delicious confection? But as our mother often said: “Who cares; let’s eat!”
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Éclair Party

    Decorated Eclairs

    Decorated Eclairs

    Cake Decoratijg Pen

    [1] Eclairs decorated by pastry great Johnny Iuzzini for Le Meridien hotels. [2] Decorated eclairs by Master Pastry Chef Michel Richard at Pomme Palais in New York Palace Hotel. [3] The Dsmile decorating pen makes it easy to decorate with designs or writing.

     

    Éclairs are a special-occasion pastry. Only sugar-avoiders would turn down the opportunity to enjoy them.

    Yet, the elongated pastry with the shiny chocolate or caramel top can be even more exciting. Just look at the photos, to see what great pastry chefs do with them.

    While it takes some skill to make attractive éclairs, its pretty easy to decorate ones you purchase. You’ll find the classic chocolate and caramel toppings, but may also find a rainbow of colors and flavors: coffee, currant (pink), dulce de leche, lemon, mango, matcha, pistachio, raspberry

    You can make a DIY party of it. You can make it a Mother’s Day (or other celebration) event.

    DECORATIONS

  • Chocolate batons, curls, disks, lentils, broken bar pieces (check out the selection at Paris Gourmet)
  • Chocolate Crispearls
  • Coconut
  • Gold, silver or multicolor dragées
  • Edible flowers
  • Mini icing flowers
  • Nuts of choice (we like pistachios and sliced almonds) or candied pecans
  • Piping bags of frosting (very thin tips)
  • Raspberries, blueberries or other small fruits
  • Sprinkles, especially gold sprinkles
  • Sugar diamonds
  • Sugar pearls
  • Wild card ingredients, like candied peel, chile flakes, curry powder, maple bacon, toffee bits, pieces of meringues or other cookies
  •  
    FIXATIVES

    Since the glaze (shiny icing) on top of the éclair will be set, you need a bit of something to adhere the decorations, plus utensils or squeeze bottles to dab them on.

  • Caramel sauce or dulce de leche
  • Chocolate spread
  • Fudge sauce
  • Hazelnut spread (like Nutella)
  • Icing
  •  
    You can give everyone the gift of a cake decorating pen (under $10), which makes it easy to write and decorate with icing. The icing also serves to affix other decorations.

    ÉCLAIR HISTORY

    An elongated, finger-shaped pastry made of pâte à choux (puff pastry), filled with whipped cream or custard and topped with a glacé icing (glaze), the éclair originated in France around the turn of the 19th century.

     
    Éclair is the French word for lightning. Food historians believe that the pastry received its name because it glistens when coated with the glaze. We might suggest that it is because they are so popular that they disappear as quickly as lightning.

    The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word “éclair” in the English language to the second half of the 19th century: 1861. In the U.S., the first printed recipe for éclairs appears even later, in the 1884 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln (later editions were under the auspices of Fanny Farmer).

    Many food historians speculate that éclairs were first made by Marie-Antoine Carême (1874-1833).

    This brilliant man, cast out to make his own way at the age of 10 by his impoverished family, became the first “celebrity chef,” working for luminaries: Charles, Prince Talleyrand, the French ambassador to Britain; the future George IV of England; Emperor Alexander I of Russia and Baron James de Rothschild.

    The elite clamored for invitations to dinners cooked by Carême.

    He is considered to be the founder and architect of French haute cuisine; an innovator of cuisine, both visually (he studied architectural to create amazing presentations) and functionally (modern mayonnaise, for example). He also was an enormously popular cookbook author—an big achievement for a boy who had no education, yet taught himself to read and write.

    We can only dream…and live vicariously by reading his biography.

      

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    RECIPE: Fried Egg Quesadilla & Quesadilla History

    We don’t know what Chef Ingrid Hoffmann is making for Cinco de Mayo, but we’re breakfasting on our adaptation of her Fried Egg Quesadillas.

    A simple Mexican snack food. A basic Quesadilla are a Mexican snack food: a turnover (photo #1) made with an uncooked tortilla and a variety of fillings—beans, cheese, meats, potatoes, then folded and toasted on a hot griddle (comal) or fried.

    Regional variations abound.

  • In the northern states, it can be filled simply, with strips of Chihuahua cheese (queso Chihuahua—photo #3), a soft white cheese made in braids, balls or rounds and similar to mild white cheddar or Monterey Jack—all good melters.
  • The cheese originated in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. (Interestingly, in Chihuahua, where it originated, it is called queso menonita after the Mennonite community that first produced it.)
  • In central Mexico, the preference is for braided Oaxaca cheese (photo #4), some leaves of fresh epazote, and strips of peeled chile poblano.
  • A favorite filling is potato and chorizo; the “deluxe” versions contain sautéed squash blossoms or huitlachoche, the highly-esteemed corn blossom fungus.
  •  
    RECIPE: FRIED EGG & AVOCADO QUESADILLAS

    Ingredients For 2 Servings

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large whole-grain tortillas
  • 1 ripe Hass avocado, peeled, seeded and mashed
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts or pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Optional: ½ jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)
  • Optional: 1/2 cup grated cheese
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional garnishes: crema (sour cream), salsa
  •  
    Preparation

    There are more complex tortilla recipes, including a “sandwich” style with a top and bottom tortilla, cut into wedges (photo #2).

    It can be served with sides of crema (sour cream), guacamole or salsa for customization.

    This recipe (photo #1) is a much quicker version.

    1. BRUSH a small nonstick skillet with the oil and heat over medium heat.

    2. ADD the eggs one at a time and cook sunny side up about 2 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer to a plate. While the eggs are cooking…

    3. WARM the tortillas in a separate, hot skillet (no oil needed).

    4. ASSEMBLE: Spread the warm tortilla with half of the mashed avocado, tomatoes, pine nuts, cilantro and jalapeño.

    5. TOP with an egg, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold over and serve.

    If you’re making multiples, quesadillas can be kept warm in 300°F oven on a baking sheet, until ready to serve.
     
    THE HISTORY OF MEXICAN COOKING & THE QUESADILLA

    The quesadilla was born in New Spain (what is now Mexico) during colonial times: the period from the arrival of the conquistadors in 1519 to the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, which ended Spanish rule.

       

    Breakfast Quesadilla

    Breakfast Quesadilla

    Queso Chihuaha

    Queso Oaxaca Ball

    [1] Quesadilla, loaded and ready to fold, grab and go (photo courtesy Chef Ingrid Hoffmann). [2] A more formal quesadilla presentation requires a knife and fork, is made between two tortillas and then cut into triangles (photo courtesy Cabot Cheese). [3] Queso chihuahua from Mozzarella Company (photo courtesy iGourmet). [4] Queso oaxaca, braided (photo courtesy Food & Travel Mexico).

     
    For thousands of years, the local cuisine had consisted of the area’s staples: avocados, beans, cacao (available to the rich and famous), chiles, corn (made into a variety of foods, including tortillas), papayas, pineapples, potatoes (which originated in Peru), tomatoes, squash (including pumpkin) and vanilla.

    Dishes included corn pancakes; tamales; tortillas with pounded pastes or wrapped around other foods; all flavored with numerous salsas (sauces), intensely flavored and thickened with seeds and nuts.

    The Spanish brought with them wheat flour and new types of livestock: cattle, chicken (and their eggs), goat, pigs, sheep. Before then, local animal proteins consisted of fish, quail, turkey and a small, barkless dog bred for food, the itzcuintli, a [plump] relative of the chihuahua.

    Cooking oil was scarce until the pigs arrived, yielding lard for frying. Indigenous cooking techniques were limited to baking on a hot griddle, and boiling or steaming in a pot. While olive trees would not grow in New Spain, olive oil arrived by ship from the mother country.

     

    Bean Quesadilla

    Steak Quesadillas

    Lobster Quesadillas

    [5] Basic quesadilla: cheese and beans (here’s the recipe from Taste Of Home). [6] Grilled flank steak tortillas (photo courtesy Kings Ford Charcoal).[7] Going gourmet: lobster quesadillas from Mackenzie Ltd.

     

    The Spanish brought dairying, which produced butter, cheese and milk.

    The sugar cane they planted provided sweetness. Barley, rice and wheat were important new grains. Spices for flavor enhancement included black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and cilantro (the leaves of the coriander plant), cumin, garlic, oregano, and parsley.

    Almonds and other sesame seeds augmented native varieties. Produce additions included apples, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, onions and oranges.

    While grapes, like olive trees, would not grow in the climate, imported raisins became in ingredient in the fusion cuisine—i.e., Mexican cooking.

    (Mind you, the peasant diet was still limited to beans, corn tortillas and locally gathered foods like avocados.)

    While the Spanish could not make wine locally, they did teach the Aztecs how to distill agave, into what was called mezcal.

    The pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica brewed a fermented alcoholic beverage called pulque (think corn based beer). With the barley they brought, the Spanish brewed their home-style beer.

    The development of the cuisine was greatly aided by the arrival of Spanish nuns [source].

    Experimenting with what was available locally, nuns invented much of the more sophisticated Mexican cuisine, including, but hardly limited to:

  • Buñuelos.
  • Cajeta, a type of dulce de leche made with goat’s milk. It is a type of dulce de leche.
  • Chiles rellenos, stuffed with beef, cheese or pork.
  • Escabeche, a variety of marinades for fish.
  • Guacamole (New Spain had the avocados, tomatoes and chiles, but Spain brought the cilantro (the leaves of the coriander plant) and the onions.
  • Mole sauce.
  • Rompope, an eggnog-like drink.
  • Lomo en adobo: pork loin in a spicy sauce. [source]
  •  
    So whence the quintessentially Mexican quesadilla?

    It’s half indigenous, half Spanish.

  • From the New World: the corn tortilla, hot sauce and other salsas.
  • From Spain, the cheese, beef-chicken-pork and the shredded lettuce…as well as the wheat for flour tortillas and the eggs for breakfast quesadillas.
  •  
    And it’s very, very popular, from Mexican street food to restaurant far in Mexico and the U.S.

     

      

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