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The Mexican Diet

by Elaine Sosa

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The Mexican table is filled with an assortment of foodstuffs. Sauces, soups and stews are common and expected, while preparations range from a quick-fry to slow roasting. The following is a list of key elements in the Mexican diet.

Corn: most commonly used for tortillas, the warm, flat rounds which accompany or enhance many a dish. Also used for tacos (tortillas stuffed with chicken, beef, fish or cheese) and tamales (steamed and stuffed with meat or vegetables).

Chilies: used both fresh and dried, it's the white veins and seed pods that are the hottest part and pack a punch. Mexicans like to distinguish between heat and flavor, something that can be lost on the untrained palate. Popular varieties of chilies are jalapeno, poblano, serrano, guajillo, chipotle, pasilla, habanero, ancho, mulato and cascabel.

Beans: they run the gamut from lentils to kidney beans and fava beans and are found in many soups and stews. Small beans are often served refrito (refried in lard, tasty but heavy) or de la olla (boiled and served in a light broth).

Tomatoes: the essential ingredient for a tasty salsa Mexicana and also used in sauces for both fish and beef dishes. Tomatillos are small green tomatoes encased in a stiff husk -- they're more tart and often used for a kicky tomatillo salsa which is laced with spicy chilies.

Fruit: mango, papaya, coconut and pineapple are all eaten fresh as well as used in sauces and desserts. Nopales (prickly pear cactus paddles) are sauteed and eaten as a vegetable of sorts but can also be found sweetened in desserts.

Special ingredients: flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) are used in everything from soups to sauces. Huitlacoche is a small, dark fungus (!) which grows on a corn stalk and is surprisingly creamy and delicious. Crepas de huitlacoche (huitlacoche crepes bathed in a dreamy cheese sauce) are a singularly Mexican treat. Romeritos and epazote are two pungent herbs which add a special zest to fish, beef and chicken dishes. Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are used in sauces, most commonly in pipian, which is used to top many chicken dishes.

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