No one said life was easy, but life in the desert can be especially difficult. If one were to travel back in time to the Prehispanic civilizations of the American deserts and compared them with what was happening in other parts of the continent, like with the Mayas or Incas, one would think that the deserts’ arts, science and traditions were, let’s say, rustic. These characteristics of desert civilizations are very obvious in Chihuahua’s gastronomy. A state in northern Mexico, the food they eat in Chihuahua is not complex nor does it require many ingredients. One gets the feeling that the priority of the person who invented those recipes was the way in which the food was to be transported or stored. This is because, in the desert, food tends to be scant and it tends to go bad really quickly. But just because Chihuahua’s food is rustic and practical doesn’t mean it’s not delicious.
Corn tortillas have been consumed in Mexico since Prehispanic times. In the northern part of the country, a local version of this food was created with wheat flour. The idea of using a flour tortilla to put and transport food, in the form of a burrito, is very logical. As we all know, a burrito and a taco are two very different foods. In the case of burritos, the flour tortilla is a whole package that completely wraps the food, allowing it to be stored or transported. Tacos on the other hand, use the corn tortilla as cutlery to transport the food from plate to mouth. Today, burritos are a staple food in Chihuahua and the presentation is infinite. Basically, every food stand and restaurant has its own way of preparing the flour tortillas for burritos, which later will be stuffed with a myriad of choice of fillings. Currently, burritos are world famous, but you can rest assured that no other burrito can compare to the originals from Chihuahua.
Another staple is similar to beef jerky, where pieces of beef are covered with salt and laid out to dry in the sun. Dehydrated beef rarely goes bad and it can be stored for years, literally. Again, dried beef is not just a practical recipe, it is also a delicacy. People in Chihuahua dip these beef pieces in lime juice and salsa, obtaining an ideal snack. Besides, dried beef can be mashed to be used in delicious dishes like machaca con huevo (scrambled eggs with dried beef) or dried beef broth.
Discada is another way in which natives of Chihuahua challenged the desert, taking advantage of everything they had around them and creating delicious food. Naturally, the farmers of the area envisioned the disks that they used to plow the field as frying pans, so they used them to cook minced meat, chorizo, onion, tomato, jalapeños, sausage and bacon to prepare a greasy and strong flavored dish, discada.
It is obvious that life in the desert these days is less extreme and in the state of Chihuahua a real gourmet cuisine has developed throughout time. The recipes that we have chosen to share with you are but a small sampling of the diverse cuisine this vibrant dessert offers. When local and foreign ingredients fall into the hands of cooks with limited resources, the possibilities are infinite.
Cocido (Beef Soup)
2 qt. water
2 lbs. beef shank with bone and marrow
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch
1 medium onion, sliced thick
2 small tomatoes, cubed
2 stalks celery, cut into 1 inch
2 ears corn, husked and cut into thirds
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 head cabbage, cored and cut into wedges
3 potatoes, quartered
2 zucchinis, cut into 1 inch
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
Sea salt to taste
1. In a Dutch oven, bring the water to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook for approximately 2 hours or until the meat tender; skimming the impurities from the surface.
2. Add the onion, tomatoes, garlic and salt to taste.
3. Add the corn, carrots, cabbage and celery and continue cooking for about 30 minutes.
4. Then add the potatoes and cook for another 20 minutes.
5. Add the zucchini and cook for 10 minutes. Do not overcook as the vegetables will be soggy.
6. Finally, add the cilantro just before removing from heat.
7. Serve with Spanish rice, salsa and corn tortillas.
Botana de Requesón
1 lb. requesón
1 cup tomato, seeded and diced
½ cup onion, diced
3 or 4 jalapeno peppers, diced
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
½ cup olive oil
Salt to taste
In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients folding until well incorporated. Serve with chicarrones or corn chips.
Cuernitos de salami (Salami Crescents)
1 lb. homemade flaky pastry dough OR
1 can (8oz) Pillsbury refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
24 slices salami, thinly sliced and about 2 inches long
2 cups shredded Chihuahua cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. If using homemade pastry dough, roll out the dough to form ten 5”x5” squares. Cut the squares in half to make triangles. If you are using the store bought dough, unroll the can of dough and separate into 8 triangles. Cut each triangle lengthwise into 3 narrow triangles.
3. Place the salami on the shortest end of the triangle and add a pinch of cheese. Starting at the shortest end, roll the dough up to the opposite point.
4. Place the point side down on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown.