The tamarind tree from India produces a fuzzy, pod-shaped fruit with a sticky, earth-colored pulp that has a tart flavor. When mixed with sugar or chile, the pulp is eaten as a snack, but when combined with sweetened water it becomes one of Mexico's favorite beverages to serve with antojitos or grilled meats. The three- to four-inch pods are available in specialty Mexican markets.
Every region of Mexico has its own version of this traditional Lenten dessert. This northern recipe is unusual in that it includes layers of cheese. It is sturdy and nourishing enough to be served as a late supper.
Carne seca -dried beef or beef jerky- was a staple for early California explorers because it provided nourishment and kept indefinitely without refrigeration. Its chewy, salty quality still appeals to some people.
These unusual enchiladas, with red chile ground in the masa, are sold from small stands in the industrial capital of San Luis Potosí. More like a quesadilla in appearance, they are usually served with shredded lettuce and guacamole.
Kiwifruit have been maligned because they were overused in nouvelle cuisine of the seventies. They do have a cool flavor, like a blend of bananas and peaches. All of the commercially produced kiwifruit in the United States comes from California. Kiwis flavored with a dash of Campari make a beautiful green sherbet. You may, if you wish, force the purée through a very fine mesh sieve to remove the tiny seeds, but this is a refinement and not essential.
The authentic quesadilla is made with an uncooked tortilla that is stuffed, folded over and cooked on a comal. Cheese with a sprig of epazote is a classic filling, but popular variations include mushrooms, potatoes with chorizo, or squash flowers; see following recipes. It is important that these be served the moment they are cooked.
Panela is a fresh white cheese known for its versatility. It can be eaten alone as a dessert with slices of "ate" (fruit paste) or in this flavorful way combined with oil and oregano. Queso fresco or a fresh mozzarella that is packaged with its whey can be substituted.
While most table salsas are either fresh or cooked, in this version the flavor of the chiles and tomato is intensified by roasting. Some salsas can be made in a blender, but the texture of this one is much better when made in the traditional molcajete, as it is important that it be chunky, not smooth.
The people in southern Mexico often wrap their tamales in banana leaves instead of corn husks, first wilting the leaves by quickly holding them over a flame or a very hot electric burner. It is said that "the good tamale is known by its wrapper," so try to make a secure and attractive package. Frozen banana leaves from the Philippines can be found in most Asian and Mexican markets.
Teriyaki is good for barbecued chicken, thin steaks and large shrimp, when you want to give them a Polynesian flavor. Food that has been marinated in teriyaki sauce for 2 to 3 hours before grilling develops a rich brown color and takes on a pleasant sweet and salty flavor.