During the holidays, Mexican cuisine offers a wide assortment of warm, cozy dishes. With a delicious blend of Spanish and Mesoamerican influences, traditional hispanic foods are sure to inspire a festive meal. Here are two of the most popular traditional Mexican dishes during the holidays: tamales and menudo.
Tamales verdes. Ordering tamales by the distinctive color of the sauce that laces the masa is the norm, with the verde (green) leading the way in popularity. The bright, herbal and spicy mix of tomatillo and green chilies pair up with chicken or pork to create the most popular tamal, whether it comes wrapped in corn or plantain.
Tamales de mole. Some places refer to this type as rojo (red), but there are regions that make a clear distinction between the mole tamal and other red salsa-based styles. Chicken is the most common protein for this one.
Tamales de rajas. Long strips of fiery chilies mixed with some melty cheese make this style a popular item in Central Mexico. Hotness can range from mild to volcanic, depending on the type of chile, so tread carefully.
Tamales de frijol. Pureed beans and cheese fill these tamales, delicious on their own or paired with some type of mole sauce. The states of Puebla and Morelos are good places to get them at their best.
"Tamaladas, communal gatherings created for the making of tamales, went from occurring for the purpose of honoring, for example, The Earth Goddess Tonanztin to celebrating Coatlaxopeuh or La Virgen of Guadalupe. The same goes for other deities, seasons, moon phases, and Indigenous spiritual events that now correspond with mostly Catholic celebrations and holidays as we see in Las Posadas, Christmas Eve, and el Dia de Los Reyes."
Even though tamales have undergone drastic changes, they are still a centerpiece of our cuisine because there is also a heavy community component to getting the dish on the table. There is ritual and community that plays into the process of making tamales that feed an entire group of people using nourishing and humble ingredients carefully filled, wrapped, and cooked. It's truly a dish that notes care and love since it can be a long process to make tamales.
As we all know, tamales take hours of work, even when many people are involved. Preparing the different fillings is one job, making the masa and preparing the husks is another. And once all of that is done, the real work begins. Smearing the masa and fillings, wrapping them up and putting them in the olla in a way that allows them to steam and not spill, then waiting patiently for them to be ready. It brings everyone into the kitchen and makes each bite taste so much better because you know how much work it took to cook each one. This is likely why they continue to be a staple during special times of the year rather than a regular weekly meal because of the amount of work it takes to prepare such an intricate dish.
Whether or not we realize it, we all continue to keep and honor the ancient tamal tradition passed down by our ancestors. If we do, it will continue to keep both our bodies and community connections alive.
Menudo is a traditional Mexican spicy soup that, as we mentioned above, is very similar to pozole, another traditional spicy soup from Mexican cuisine that uses hominy as a key ingredient. The big difference between these two soups is the meat that they use. While pork and chicken are commonly used to make pozole, menudo uses tripe, which is the stomach lining of the cow with a chewy texture very similar to that of sautéed calamari. It is a very traditional and quite popular dish, menudo is prepared in many ways, with every restaurant and family giving it their touch.
However, there are two main types of menudo, which are Rojo and Blanco. Menudo Rojo is the most popular one, and it uses dried chiles to add spice to it. Menudo Blanco, on the other hand, doesn’t include dried chile nor pepper either, although some might add a bit of jalapeño to give it a bit of flavor. In some cases, chefs might add pig’s feet or sheep stomach instead of beef tripe.
Whenever you decide to have menudo, we need to make sure you eat it properly. To begin with, since menudo tends to be served and family gatherings, the best way to enjoy a plate is by having our friends or family join us, too. Then, make sure you have as many garnishes as you can. For example, cilantro, onion, and lime are a must. Add radish to get an interesting texture, and don’t forget the avocado for extra flavor. As a side, try to have tortillas or tostadas, although some also like to have bolillos and dip them in the soup.
This is a meal that is traditionally served at family gatherings and celebrations, so menudo can go perfectly for holidays and any type of gathering specially during cold times. You can usually have it during the whole year, especially if your whole family is getting together to celebrate. There is no right time to have menudo, and you can eat it any day of the year. Keep in mind that, among Mexican culture, menudo and pozole have a reputation of being the ultimate hangover cure. So, if you had a night of heavy drinking, having a plate of menudo will get you back on your feet.
Find everything you need to make these delicious dishes here or at an Albertsons Market near you.