Mexico, like most countries, has great regional variation in its cuisine. (I, of course, ignored this while choosing recipes.) In general, corn, rice, and beans are widely used. Common seasonings include chile peppers, cumin, and oregano. Many dishes consist of some sort of grain (flour or corn tortillas, or cornmeal batter called masa) filled with some combination of beans, meat, vegetables, cheese, and sauces. Sauces tend to be flavorful rather than blindingly spicy. Chocolate was first grown by the Aztecs, and was originally not sweetened. Even today, "Mexican" hot chocolate is bitter and spicy rather than sweet.
I'm pretty sure I decided it was time to make Mexican food because I found ancho chile powder at Penzey's (for those who are unaware, I'm afraid of chiles. I know I'll have to get over it at some point, but for now I like my paste, and was thrilled to find the right kind in powder form!). Since it was Sunday lunch in a packed weekend, I decided to make it a relatively simple meal: chicken with mole sauce and Mexican rice. Aside for the chicken needing to be poached and shredded to make it delicious, and deciding to make enchiladas instead of just plain chicken, it wasn't too bad. The mole sauce was sweeter than I had imagined it would be, and possibly could have used more chile powder (or - perish the thought - actual peppers), but I really liked it. The chicken was flavorful and delicious, and I loved the enchiladas. I'll definitely be making more, although probably with different fillings and sauces. The rice was, I thought, the weak link in the meal. I don't think it was quite done and I definitely didn't salt it enough while it was cooking; also, I used basmati instead of regular white rice because that's what I happened to have laying around and I don't eat so much rice on a regular basis that I want to have tons of different packages in my cupboard. But all in all, I enjoyed the meal and the leftovers.
Mexican Shredded Chicken
4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or however much you want, really)
some combination of water and chicken broth
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each dried marjoram, thyme, and oregano
1/2 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
Put the chicken in the put with the other ingredients. Pour in water and chicken broth until just covered, then bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 7 minutes, then let cool in the broth for 30 minutes to an hour. Shred with two forks and use the broth for other purposes (like the rice).
Chocolate Mole Sauce
5 dried ancho dried chiles (or in my case, a bunch of ancho chile powder. I didn't really measure.)
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 small onion, chopped
1-2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup raisins or diced prunes
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ teaspoon each: cinnamon, ground cloves, dried oregano, powdered cumin, ground coriander, ground anise seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
freshly ground pepper
1 cup water (or more, as needed)
1 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
In a small skillet, sauté onion in vegetable oil until soft and translucent. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Add spices and herbs and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, being careful not to let them burn.
In a blender (I used a stick blender), grind together the almonds, cooked onions, tomatoes, spices, raisins or prunes, sesame seeds, salt, pepper, and water. Puree until smooth.
Swipe some mole sauce on a tortilla, spread it around. Put it sauce down in a baking dish. Spread some more sauce on it along with chicken, cheese, and any other toppings you might like. Roll it up. Repeat until baking dish is full. Spoon mole sauce and any additional toppings on top, then sprinkle with cheese. Bake ~20 minutes at ~375.
1 cup uncooked rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cold water
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon (or substitute 2 cups broth for the water)
¼ cup tomato sauce
Roma tomato, chopped into 8 pieces (I skipped this)
1 teaspoon cumin powder (or seeds crushed into powder)
1 chili pepper, sliced lengthwise (or in my case, some ancho chile powder)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the rice and stir until it browns.
Add the garlic when the rice is nearly browned. Add the water, then the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Cover, with a small air escape, and turn the heat down to medium low.
Cook the rice for 20 to 30 minutes but check after 20 to see if it is ready.
You do not need to stir the rice or lift the lid while it cooks. It is ready when the rice is fluffy, all the water is gone, and the grains are split open (because of the browning).