Celebrate the great flavors of Mexico


Mexican cuisine is the hottest thing around. Pardon the pun. When I was a child I didn’t know anything about Mexican cuisine. When I was in my 20s, a few Mexican chain restaurants opened in my area. I tasted my first taco on my honeymoon in San Diego in 1972.  Now, I make a food with a Mexican influence at least once a week. 

While my parents wintered in Texas I would visit them and we would always take a trip into Mexico. We would go either to Reynosa or Progresso. There was a restaurant in each town that my parents had visited and knew that the food was good. So we would always go to those. Before we would visit the restaurant we would walk past a shop making tortillas. I enjoyed watching them take the dough and flatten it on the big press. They knew just how much dough to use so they would all pretty much be the same size. One time visiting my parents, we took a tour bus trip to Monterrey, Mexico. We had a great time with wonderful food. 

Some Mexican dishes are very familiar to us: Quesadillas, nachos, guacamole, enchiladas and margaritas. Others are not so familiar: chimichangas, tamales, sopaipillas, picadillo and bolillos.

When you think of Mexican you might think hot, hot, hot. But that isn’t necessarily true. The dish you are making can have a lot of flavor without burning your taste buds off. You can make it hot and spicy, but it all depends on the chili peppers you use. Some can be mild and sweet while others (fresh, dried or canned) can be quite hot. Some chilies have one name if they are fresh and another name if they are dried or smoked. An Ancho chili pepper is a dried poblano. A chipotle chili pepper is a smoked Jalapeno. If you want to control the heat, remove the seeds. They hold a lot of heat. The general rule of thumb is the smaller the chili and the more wrinkles or undulations it has, the hotter it is. So choose wisely. You might want to wear rubber gloves when handling them to protect your skin and be really careful not to rub your eyes!

The following is a list of  those wonderful, flavorful herbs you can find in Mexican food:  Anise seed, basil, bay leaves, chamomile, chives, cilantro, coriander (the seeds of cilantro), cumin, dill, garlic, lemon verbena, marjoram, Mexican oregano, onions, paprika, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, sesame seeds, spearmint and thyme. Most of which can be grown locally. Even if your space is limited you can easily grow your own fresh herbs to add to your culinary delights. Some can even be found in the produce department of your local grocery store. There are hundreds more used in Mexico for medicinal, aromatic and cosmetic purposes.

Salsas are very versatile and have grown in popularity over the past few years. They can be made from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season so you can take advantage of the fresh bounty. They aren’t just for dipping chips in, either. You can sauté chicken and add some salsa on top when you are ready to serve. Use it as a salad or pour some on top of greens. Any grilled meat of fish would be even better with some salsa on top. Try some on top of a grilled burger instead of the other condiments or serve a raspberry salsa with turkey, pork or fish.

And don’t forget herb butters. A cilantro butter gives grilled chicken or fish an easy but distinctive Mexican accent, and a fresh herb dressing does wonders for the simplest lettuce and tomato salad garnish.


2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Lime wedges

Coarse salt

2 cups freshly squeezed lime juice

2 cups tequila, preferably premium

1 cup triple sec or Grand Marnier

Cracked ice cubes

Make simple syrup: Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Simmer, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat; let cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Rub rims of glasses with a lime wedge. Dip rims in a dish of salt.

In a large pitcher, combine lime juice, tequila, and triple sec or Grand Marnier. Add chilled simple syrup and stir to combine. Add ice cubes and serve in prepared glasses.


1 can black eyed peas

1 can black beans

1 can pinto beans

2 cans shoe peg corn (11 ounces each); if you can’t find it, use a can of white and yellow corn

2 ounce can of chopped pimento

1 medium onion (I used a red onion)

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped green pepper (or red or yellow is fine too)

Add all the beans and corn together, drain and rinse well.   Then add the chopped pimento, onion, celery and pepper.

In a small saucepan bring the following ingredients to a boil:

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon water

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup vegetable oil


Cool the sauce and then add it to the bean mixture. Stir well and refrigerate overnight. Serve with tortilla chips. Enjoy!

QUICK GUACAMOLE (The Herbal Home Companion by Theresa Loe)

2 ripe avocados, peeled and pit removed      

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice                                

1/2 onion, finely chopped      

2-4 tablespoons chunky salsa

1 tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro                                  

Salt to taste

Chop the avocados and place in a medium-sized bowl with the lemon juice. Use a fork to mash the avocados. Add the onion, salsa and cilantro. Mix well. Add salt to taste. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


(Makes 12-15 enchiladas. Total time: About 1 1/2 hours)

2 whole chicken breasts                                              


1/2 small onion                                                                        

1 bay leaf                                                                     

8 peppercorns                                                  


1/2 medium onion, chopped                                        

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese                        

4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (1 cup)        

2 (4 ounces) can green chiles                                       

2 (13 ounces) can tomatillos, drained or 4 cups drained canned tomatoes               

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1 1/2 cup whipping cream

2 eggs


1/4 cup oil

12-15 corn tortillas

4 ounces cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded


1 cup dairy sour cream

3 or 4 radishes, sliced

2 cups shredded lettuce

12 ripe olives

Place chicken breasts in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add water to cover, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt to taste. Bring to a boil; reduce heat.

Cover and simmer 45 minutes or until tender. Cool chicken in broth. Drain, reserving broth for another use. Shred chicken with two forks or with your fingers. 

Mix shredded chicken, chopped onion, Parmesan cheese and 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Taste and add salt if needed. Set aside.

In blender or food processor, combine green chiles, tomatillos or tomatoes, cilantro, whipping cream and egg. Blend until smooth.  Add salt to taste. Mix half of this mixture into chicken, blending well.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Heat oil in a small skillet. With tongs, carefully place 1 tortilla at a time in hot oil. Hold in lard 3-5 seconds until softened. Quickly turn tortilla and soften other side, 3-5 seconds. Drain over skillet or on paper towels.

Place 1/3 – 1/2 cup of the chicken mixture on each tortilla, pressing the mixture to make it compact.  Roll tightly and place seam-side down in a 12”x7-1/2” baking dish.

Pour the rest of the chile-cream mixture over enchiladas and sprinkle evenly with 1 cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese.  Bake 2 –30 minutes, or until heated through and bubbly.

For each serving, place 2 enchiladas on a plate and top with about 3 tablespoons sour cream. Place a mound of guacamole over sour cream. Garnish with radish slices. Place 1/2 cup shredded lettuce next to enchiladas, if desired. Place a mound of guacamole on lettuce. Top Guacamole with 1 tablespoon sour cream and 2 ripe olives if desired.


1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ancho chili powder, or other chili powder

1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, preferably low-sodium, drained and rinsed

2/3 cup chicken broth, plus more if needed

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chili powder and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the beans and chicken broth and cook until the beans are warmed through, about 5 minutes. Mash the beans coarsely with the back of a wooden spoon, adding more chicken broth to moisten, if needed. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the cilantro.


3 boxes Near East Spanish Rice mix

Chicken broth to replace water required on box

1 onion, chopped

3 tablespoons butter

1 jar artichoke hearts, quartered and drained

1 small can (10 ounces) red enchilada sauce (mild, medium or hot, which ever you prefer)

2-3 cups frozen corn

2-3 cups frozen peas

1 1/2 cups medium salsa

2-3 cups cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese

Prepare 3 boxes of Near East Spanish Rice mix as per instructions substituting chicken broth for water. Meanwhile sauté onions in butter. Set aside. When rice is cooked, put cooked rice in deep 9 x 13 pan. Top with artichoke hearts, corn and peas, enchilada sauce, onions, and salsa.

Cover with cheddar cheese and bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes.


6 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons brandy

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Dippers: strawberries, bananas, maraschino cherries, pineapple, pound cake, angel food cake, etc.

Combine all the ingredients, except dippers, in the crock pot. Cover and cook on high for 30-40 minutes; then turn to low and cook, covered for 2-4 hours. Serve with dippers.

Donna Frawley is the owner of Frawley’s Fine Herbary and author of “The Herbal Breads Cookbook,” “Our Favorite Recipes.” and “Edible Flowers Book.” She also has her own DVD “Cooking with Herbs” and a weekly newsletter. She can be reached at 989-488-0170, [email protected] or www.frawleysfineherbary.com

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