5@5 - The truth about Mexican food
August 24th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Many of us grew up eating out-of-the-can refried goop beans and microwaveable taquitos thinking that was just about it for the culinary traditions on the other side of the border.

With roots in Monterrey, Mexico, Chef Julieta Ballesteros of Crema and Los Feliz knows better than that.

Five Misconceptions about Mexican Cuisine: Julieta Ballesteros

1. Mexican cuisine is ALL tacos, burritos and enchiladas
"People tend to think of Mexican food as just tacos, burritos and enchiladas - lots of cheddar cheese, sour cream and jalapeños. Although some of these dishes do exist in traditional cuisine, that’s definitely not all there is.

Mexican cuisine is one of the most extensive categories in the world. We have an abundance of flavors and complex dishes like moles, pozole, cabrito (baby goat from the Northern regions of Mexico), pork marinated in achiote, sopa de lima (lime soup) from the Yucatan Peninsula, ceviches from Veracruz, salsas made with fresh and dried chile peppers, handmade corn and flour tortillas, tamales, the list goes on!"

2. Mexican cuisine should be cheap
"Often people think that Mexican food should be cheap because in their mind it's simple ingredients like refried beans and tortillas. Again, they're wrong. In fact, a lot of the ingredients that we use in our dishes are delicacies.

For example, huitlacoche, which I use in my soups and quesadillas, is a fungus that grows on corn in specific humidity conditions. Another ingredient often used in Mexican cuisine is squash blossoms, which are only harvested during the summer. The list goes on: from chapulines (grasshoppers), to mamey (a sweet winter fruit) to escamoles (ant larvae that are sautéed in garlic and butter then rolled up in a fresh corn tortilla)."

3. Mexican cuisine is not healthy
"Mexican food is often thought of as being greasy and fatty, however there are several healthy options. A staple one is ceviche. Made with fresh, healthful seafood like red snapper, tuna or octopus and cured with citrus juices and herbs - ceviches are light and refreshing.

We also steam poultry and fish in banana leaves, create salads made with grilled cactus and braise meats to keep the flavor without adding fat."

4. Mexican cuisine is always spicy
"We do love chiles, but Mexican food does not have to be overly spicy. We use chiles to balance and enhance flavors, not to overwhelm the ingredients!

There are several varieties of dried chiles (like pasilla, ancho, mulato, guajillo, arbol, cascabel, etc.) and fresh chiles (such as jalapeño, serrano, habanero, chile guero, etc.) which vary in flavor and spiciness. If they are used in the right amount, they can be combined with even a delicate piece of fish and won't overpower the dish."

5. Tequila is just for shots
"Tequila tends to conjure up memories of late night shots and Cinco do Mayo sombreros - but tequila is more than that! Tequila is aged like many other spirits - blancos rested for less than three months, reposados rested up to one year and añejos rested for more than one year.

There is also mezcal, which has become more and more popular over the past couple of years.

Using different barrels and aging techniques, tequilas can take on different flavors and be as smooth as your favorite whiskey. Pair your sipping tequila with a shot of sangrita (a tomato-based apertif) to follow in Mexican tradition.

Previously - Chef David Suarez busts some more myths about Mexican fare

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Cuisines • Mexican • Think

soundoff (685 Responses)
  1. Ron

    Ceviche is definitely a PERUVIAN dish... NOT mexican. Maybe other countries such as ecuador, mexico, and nicaragua may have their own variations of said dish, but anybody that knows their cultural history knows it is originally a traditional peruvian dish. But definitely a very delicious and healthy choice

    March 20, 2014 at 12:13 pm |
  2. Lopez

    One nice thing about Mexico is the women and their passion (sex) is hotter than their food.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • Cannonfire

      Um, sorry – how do you say "pig" in Spanish?

      September 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
      • lucky mustage

        it saids "marrano" or "pinche marrano"

        October 5, 2014 at 12:39 am |
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