Cooking Like A Mexican

BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

If you’re like me, you love recipes that feed lots of people for not much money, they make enough for leftovers, and they can be served either as a main dish or a side dish. This issue’s recipe is one of those. And yes! It is traditional Mexican.

We start with the potato. The word papa is a Quechua word meaning tuber. Historians agree that potatoes are native to America, and the only controversy is which part of America. There are two centers of wild potato: one, located in the central region of Mexico, and the other, between the central region of Peru and northwestern Argentina.The cultivated potato has more wild relatives (228) than any other crop. Cultivated potatoes spread in South America through the interconnection of the Andean peoples. In southwestern Mexico all the way to Peru, the first Spanish conquerors saw that the Incas cultivated a strange plant whose fruit grew in the ground:. This was the potato.

cooking.jpgAgriculture was a sacred activity for the Incas who worshipped Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Inti (Sun God). Potatoes were the basis of their diet, and they had a remarkable mastery of this crop. They used terraces on which they placed a foundation of layers of rock and clay (some terraces reached over 7500 feet above sea level.)

The Incas made botanical experiments. They learned to produce a large array of potatoes in small plots of land: white, yellow, purple, and red in various sizes. Even today, in the Urubamba Valley, (which stretches from Machu Picchu to Cusco), there are many of these terraces left. And even more amazing is that many of them are still used by farmers to this day.

The potato traveled to Spain in 1550 and from there spread throughout Europe during the sixteenth century. Initially the potato was despised, as there was no custom of eating roots. Some Europeans believed the tuber was causing leprosy. In Russia they called it “plant of the devil.” Catholics decreed that eating it was a sin since its consumption was not mentioned in the Bible. Others believed they caused flatulence. (Do we have to spell that out for you, Bunky?) Because of all the reasons to avoid this food, its use was limited to livestock and as a decorative plant.

However, some people were interested, including Antoine Augustin Parmentier, a pharmacist in the French army who was a prisoner for three years during the Seven Years War. He survived thanks to the consumption of this tuber. As thanks, Parmentier advised King Louis XVI to encourage the cultivation of potatoes amongt the peasants. A Spanish writer documented that potatoes were better than truffles.

The peasants began to sow potatoes because the rulers forced them to as a way to survive famine, wars and epidemics. But it took two centuries before the potato began to be considered a domestic crop. Eventually, however, this crop covered large areas of land. The farmers realized how practical growing potatoes could be. It only took three or four months until they were ready to harvest. They required less work, which allowed farmers to focus on other tasks. Finally they could be stored for a long time.

With the large-scale cultivation of potatoes, more dishes were created for their use: breads, noodles, soups, stews, and cakes. Potatoes could be baked, roasted, or fried.  Today, with advances in technology, we can enjoy even dehydrated potatoes.

The potato acclimated well to European lands, especially in countries like Germany, Poland, Russia, Ireland and Belgium. In 1750, the potato was already considered a staple throughout the European continent and one of the most important crops of that time. An old legend says that Andean quinoa growers dominated the highland people for many years and wanted to let them die slowly so they decreased food rations. On the verge of death, the poor cried to heaven and God gave them round, fleshy seeds, which, after planting, became beautiful purple clumps that dotted the icy highlands with their flowers. The rulers did not object to the cultivation because they planned to harvest everything themselves. Indeed, when the plants were yellow and the fruit seemed ripe, the oppressors mowed the fields and took everything. Bereaved and dying of hunger, the vanquished asked again for clemency. A voice from above answered, “Remove the earth and take out the fruits, which have hidden there to fool the oppressors and bless the poor.” And so, under the earth were the beautiful potatoes, which were collected and hidden. Each morning the men of the highlands ate a portion of potatoes and soon were strong enough to attack and defeat the oppressors who fled and never again returned.

Currently, the potato plays a substantial role in the economy of many countries and is one of the staples of our Mexican table.

Potato pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of potatoes
  • butter
  • 5 eggs
  • salt to taste
  • cumin to taste
  • oil for frying

 

Preparation:

Cook potatoes in a saucepan with water. Puree. Add butter, cumin and salt.

Form small patties or balls with mashed potato. Set aside.

Separate egg yolks from egg whites. Whisk egg whites until stiff When ready add the yolks and mix well.

Dip pancakes into the egg mixture and fry in hot oil. Drain on a paper towel to remove excess oil.

Serve as a side dish with steak, grilled chicken or fish. Or, you can serve the potato pancakes as a main course with a nice salad on the side. Cheap, tasty and versatile. What more could you ask for? ,