Buen Provecho!

2013 July 2013 Living in Mexico Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the July 2013 Edition

There are many different experiences to be noted about buying groceries in Manzanillo. I won’t write about where, as I have already shared the best places to shop for groceries in a previous article. I thought that I would share some of our experiences having tried and tasted so many of the basic foods.

Now some would say an onion is an onion, and so would I. But I have discovered that the white onions in Manzanillo are incredibly mild, sweet and tasty. As a matter of fact you can chop them easily without the usual eruption of tears. Onions for me tend to be harsh on the digestive tract but not these yummy babies; I add them to almost everything: stews, soups, stir fries, oven roasts and salads. And I can happily tell you that I have not experienced the otherwise typical roster of symptoms.

sweet Vidalia onions
fresh salsa with cilantro

In Canada, we rely a great deal on importation of many foods, so in the case of spices for example, I have not been a big fan of cilantro. This is because I always used the dried spices version of this spice especially during winter season when local market garden growers are out of season.

Cooking in Mexico commonly includes the use of cilantro but it is fresh. The taste difference is incomparable. I am now an avid fan of fresh cilantro. Again it is sweet and fresh tasting. Every single type of fresh salsa that is served at your local Manzanillo restaurants includes chopped fresh cilantro (and those fabulous onions) and I have evolved an excellent quick salsa in my Manzanillo kitchen that wouldn’t be the same without fresh cilantro.

Have you found yourself only wanting half a banana instead of a whole one? Then the other half banana lies around for tomorrow. Our house keeper in Manzanillo is also our daily Spanish tutor on all things about the house. She calls the tiny bananas we buy ‘platanitos’ which I think means tiny banana (platano). These clusters of tiny bananas which are about a third the size of one regular banana are really wonderful. They are a little sweeter and slightly more flavorful than the large bananas and we are constantly snacking on them, slicing one onto cereal or into our yogurt or ice-cream.

If you like bananas you’ll love these little guys.

Tiny bananas (platanitos as the locals call them)

I must admit that I have not tried some of the fruits and veggies in the markets because frankly, I don’t know what they are or how to prepare them. But we’re beginning to enjoy a few items that we were unfamiliar with such as a vegetable called chayote. Chayote looks like a green pear with a puckered bottom. It was served to me with the side vegetables at a restaurant one time and so I tasted and enjoyed a very mild and firm ‘squash type’ vegetable, still slightly firm and bathed in butter. It was very good and we have been cooking these at home ever since. Just chop or slice and steam or stir-fry with butter or however you enjoy your fresh veggies. There is no need to peel the skin.

Chayote Squash

To my great delight I have found a wonderful selection of ground coffees in all of the major super markets. There was a time when a preference for decaffeinated coffees could not be satisfied, they were simply not available. If you are ordering coffee in a restaurant there are many who do not serve decaf but will offer ‘Sanka’ in single serve coffee packets with a mug of boiling water. For me, not so good but I do enjoy any brand of ‘high’ test or ‘low’ test coffees at home.

I have always been a lemon lover. However, in spite of this wonderful fruit being a major export of Mexico we have had difficulty finding them when shopping. Instead we have found mountains of limes. Lime juice is another of those staples that shows up at the tables of restaurants and homes in Mexico and we have become certifiably addicted to them ourselves. Lime juice forms the basis of many dishes again like salsas and it is simply delicious squeezed over fish dishes and steaming vegetables. And of course you can find this staple in Margaritas, topping a cool beer or popped in your mouth after a shot of tequila!! (….er so I’m told….)

Lemons and limes

I thought I knew what vanilla was until I tried the real vanilla produced in Mexico. That quite expensive artificial stuff they provide back in Canada is simply that – artificial. We are spoiled rotten now by the amazingly rich flavor of the real vanilla. We have found a brand we like called ‘Orlando’ but I also tried a small unknown name from Wal-Mart and it turned out to be just as good.

Aromatic vanilla beans and flower

Although you will find imported brands from the U.S., Arabia or Colombia you cannot go wrong by supporting the local economy and purchasing the Mexican brands. Delicious!I like to put a capful with my coffee grounds when I am brewing a pot of coffee. It is truly wonderful! I now have a list of people I bring gifts of vanilla back to each spring. This year I forgot about ourselves thinking we had plenty. Turns out we did not and I ended up calling one of those friends to see if they had any vanilla left and thank goodness they were able to share part of the gift I had given them. We usually buy vanilla by the one liter bottles.

OK! Tortilla Soup fans, or it’s other name Aztec Soup, you are going to be thrilled with this bit of news if you haven’t discovered it already! It is a favorite dish that we make for ourselves and friends in our Manzanillo kitchen.

This is a short cut to a delicious version of this very popular dish. One day, while perusing the grocery aisles and translating the Spanish labels, lo and behold I see in the soup products ‘Sopa de Tortilla’ under the Campbell’s Soup label. Sure enough, it’s the flavor we all crave.

We’ve even wondered about sneaking some cans home in our suitcases but of course weight is an issue. But while you are there in Manzanillo enjoy this: heat the Tortilla soup according to instructions; we add peeled shrimp or chicken chunks for a meal in a bowl. Throw in a handful or two of tortilla strips (commonly found in the bakery sections). Then when ladling the soup into soup bowls and while it is still hot, sprinkle on any kind of grated cheese (we like the white cheeses), throw on a dollop of sour cream and top with a few chunks of ripe avocado and serve. We have prepared this for friends and received rave reviews. By the time you sit down and put your spoon in the bowl, the cheese has softened and stretches onto your spoon! Enjoy!

I could share more at this point, but I’ll save it for some other time. I’m off to the kitchen. Happy cooking in Manzanillo.

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