When I think of popular, Mexican street food certain flavors come to mind. Of course onion and garlic but also cumin, chipotles, jalapeños, guajillo peppers, cilantro, oregano, lime, and cream. I picture hands throwing fresh tortillas on the grill and stirring stewed meat on the stove, customers lining up behind the register while others stuff tacos and tostadas into their satisfied mouths. Hungry yet?
When Foodbuzz asked for proposals for their 24 meals, 24 hours, 24 blogs event I quickly thought about Mexican food, in particular street food. I admit part of the reason was completely selfish. I love Mexican street food! But the great thing is that a lot of other people feel the same way. At markets, at street carts, in taquerias (taco stands), you name it, I love it and I eat it.
It turns out that Mexican street food is a perfect combination for an informal dinner party. When you eat street food in Mexico it is casual. You can stand, sit, or lean against a bar as you chomp away at your meal. It is a communal event, something that allows you to talk to the people around you, as well as the people serving you your food. That was the goal of this dinner, the informality of enjoying food where you can participate in your meal, make your food the way you like it.
I thought of a menu that really captured all the elements that I love about Mexican street food: fresh, homemade tortillas, intense flavors, lots of toppings, and sauces. The menu has a few of my favorite meals that I enjoy while traveling in Mexico.
Guacamole and chips
Chipotle Beef Taco
Chicken Al Pastor Taco
Spanish Style Taco
Arroz Con Leche (Rice Pudding)
Agua de Jamaica (Chilled Hisbus Tea)
Horchata (Rice Milk)
The first component to a great taco is the tortilla. Tacos in Mexico are usually made from soft flour or corn tortillas, made fresh and warmed on a grill. The tortillas you buy in an open-air market always taste better than the flour tortillas you find in a supermarket. One key ingredient to this tasty carb is the addition of lard. It isn’t the most healthy ingredient (why is it that the healthy ingredients never taste as good?) but it explains the great taste. You can also substitute vegetable shortening or oil for your dough if you have any vegetarians in close proximity, as we did at our dinner party. I’ll be sharing this recipe and a few others in the next couple of weeks.
I made three different kinds of tacos. One was Spanish style beef, made for people who prefer a milder dish. The other two dishes used chipotle and guajillo peppers as the main, flavor ingredients.
Chipotle Beef Taco
Chipotle is a smoke-dried, jalapeño pepper. It adds a lot of heat, as well as a smoky flavor to every dish. Most of the time chipotle peppers are packaged as chipotles en adobo, chipotle peppers soaked in a spicy meat sauce. Many recipes call for chipotles en adobo instead of the dried variety because of the extra flavor in the adobo sauce . You can find chipotle in your local supermarket in the ethnic food aisle, with all the other Goya goodies. I prefer the La Costeña brand, but it tends to be harder to find. Of course you can also make your own chipotles en adobo. Chipotle goes really well with beef or anything for that matter. It is one of my favorite peppers.
Chicken Al Pastor Taco
Tacos al pastor (shepherd style tacos) are typically made with pork on a spit, similar to shwarmas or gyros. Seeing as I don’t have a large spit laying around I decided to adapt the recipe for home cooking and substitute the pork for chicken. The main flavor in Tacos al Pastor is the combination of the guajillo peppers and the pineapple juice. You can also substitute the pineapple juice with crushed pineapples.
Guajillo peppers are not spicy like jalapeños or chipotle peppers. Usually they come dried in a package and you need to boil them in water to soften them up and take out the seeds and veins inside.
Spanish Style Beef Taco
The Spanish style beef is milder because it does not have any hot peppers in the recipe. The main flavor is the pimenton, (Spanish paprika) tomatoes, and onions. Follow the recipe found in the Galicia Chicken Empanadas and use beef instead of chicken.
How To Eat Your Taco
When you eat a taco you have to get your hands dirty, salsa dripping from your fingers kind of dirty. If you don’t dirty your napkin, you are doing something wrong.
Once you choose your meat (beans and grilled vegetables for vegetarians) you are free to put anything you’d like on the taco. I would suggest crumbling some queso fresco (fresh cheese) at the top. Adding cheddar or other orange varieties of cheese are not typically Mexican, but rather an adaptation made in Mexican restaurants in the States. Salsa verde (green sauce) is another popular topping made from green tomatillos, lime, cilantro, jalapeños, and serrano peppers. If you like adding lots of spice you can cut the heat by pouring some cream and squeezing some lime on top.
Horchata (rice milk) and agua de jamaica (Hibiscus Water) are sold at taquerias and street carts all over Mexico. Agua de jamaica is really refreshing during a spicy meal and horchata is really refreshing after the meal.
Mexican horchata tastes like liquid rice pudding. While it sounds indulgent, and maybe a little strange, it is in fact pretty light. Think of it as a diet rice pudding. Walking around Mexico City I would stop for agua de jamaica and horchata all the time. As a child I remember not liking the horchata from Spain but I learned that Mexican horchata is different. Spanish horchata and is made from chufa (tiger nuts). I think the Mexican version is much tastier.
Mexican Horchata Recipe
1 cup of white rice
1 liter of water
1 cinnamon stick
1 can evaporated milk (12 fluid ounces or 1.5 cups)
3/4 cup sugar
Leave the rice and cinnamon stick soaking overnight in about 3 cups of water (from the 2 liters). The following day take the water and rice and blend them together in a blender, until it is nice and smooth. Strain the mixture into a large container (larger than two liters). Fill the container with the evaporated milk and the rest of the water. I like to take the rice and cinnamon remains from the strainer and put it in the blender again with some of your milk mixture. Blend it and strain again into your horchata. Add the sugar and mix well. When everything is mixed together, strain the mixture one more time to make sure there aren’t any little rice pieces floating around. You can add more water if you want it to be lighter. Refrigerate and soon you will be ready to serve.
Chilled Hibiscus Tea
Dried hibiscus flowers
Sugar (to taste)
This is super easy to make and the perfect drink to pair with spicy food. All you need to do is brew the hibiscus flowers. I took a big pot of water and poured in a handful of hibiscus. It’s that simple. Add more flowers depending on how much tea you are making. Put as much or as little sugar as you like.
Jug of Spanish Sangria
1/2 jug full of red wine
1/4 jug orange juice
1/4 jug club soda
Couple ounces of brandy (to taste)
Sugar (to taste)
Apple cut in slices
Orange cut in slices
Sangria is great for parties because its simple to make and yummy. It takes about 5 minutes to make which means you can mix it up while your guests are over. My dad used this recipe in his Spanish restaurant and many people really enjoy it.
Who doesn’t like fried dough covered in sugar? Every culture has their variation of fried dough because it tastes THAT good. Whether it’s churros, zeppole, farturas, doughnuts, beignets, jalebi, beaver tails, or funnel cakes, we like to fry dough and cover it in sweet goodness. It also makes for the perfect street food. In Mexico and other Latin American countries, people like to eat churros. You can even find them at street fairs in many big cities in the US, as well as Montreal (as I was very happy to find out).
1 cup water
1/2 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup white flour
Sugar and cinnamon mixture to sprinkle on top
The ingredients for churros are very straightforward and simple. First you boil the water with the sugar and salt. I add a smidgen of extra water in order to make up for the water that evaporates. Take the water off the flame and add the flour. The dough will get hard and very sticky. No worries it is supposed to be that way. Take it out of the pan and let it cool for a couple of minutes. Once the dough cools you can put the dough in a churro maker, or any cake decorator like the one seen below. In a separate pan or deep fryer, you will need to heat oil to about 375 degrees. You know it is hot enough when you put the dough in the pan and there are a significant amount of bubbles. I would use a small piece of dough to test it out first. It should take a couple of minutes for the churro to be ready. When you are finished frying the dough use tongs or a spoon with holes in it to remove the churros from the oil. Put the churros aside and let them cool a bit before you sprinkle on the sugar and cinnamon. (yields about 10 medium sized churros).
For the dipping sauce I used dulce de leche and chocolate, both mentioned in these two posts. At a few outdoors events I’ve seen vendors actually inject churros with dulce de leche. Not a lie. It is a dream come true.
Rice pudding is not exactly street food. I’m sure you can find it somewhere, if you really looked, but it’s definitely not as readily available at a market like a fried churro would be. Nevertheless every Spanish and Mexican grandmother has a recipe for arroz con leche (rice pudding), so I thought it was fitting to include. Also it makes an interesting pair with horchata, the rice milk.
The participants in this Foodbuzz event are my friends and family. We are from around the New York City/ New Jersey area with ethnic backgrounds from all over the globe. Our bunch was from Spain, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Ireland, India, and only a few 1/4 Mexicanos like myself. There is nothing like good food and some good wine to bring a group of people together. The night was bien padre!
There are many more recipes that I will be sharing in the coming weeks. I hope you come back to check more Mexican street food at home. Thanks Foodbuzz for making our meal possible!