Mexican for non-chowhounds
I'd like to host an informal gathering and serve real Mexican in a place where there isn't really any Mexican. Any thoughts? I want people to enjoy themselves, but I'd also like to introduce them to a different approach to what they may know as Mexican. What do I serve, and how do I get around the no cheese on tacos thing?
I'm not sure what you mean by "How do I get around the no cheese on tacos thing?" Just don't serve it!!?? Better yet, remember that tacos are street food and/or snack food in Mexico, and probably wouldn't be served at a dinner party anyway. I would try getting ahold of a good Mexican cookbook (such as Diana Kennedy's) and trying some of the recipes there. Maybe serve a typical Mexican "comida" (dinner): complete with soup and main course....(although that is admittedly a little ambitious...). One of the many delicious stews or moles would be good too!! Start with a few margaritas or tequila and sangrita (a chaser; look for recipes by googling) and no one will complain!
The key is just a little friendly education....explanations of the dishes, or maybe even printed copies of the recipes to take home.
On a related note: My twin and I had a very successful 16th birthday party in Mexico City when our parents decided to introduce our Mexican friends to what was thought of as "Mexican" back home in California (remember, this was 1970...). We served "make your own" tacos, American-style: complete with fried tortilla shells, seasoned ground beef, lettuce, and yes, cheese. Our Mexican friends loved it, even though many had no idea that was what Americans considered to be "tacos".....
Second the Mexican cookbook idea, but I prefer Rick Bayless's books for their clarity and their more inventive approach to the food. They're fun to read, too.
The hardest part about trying to cook Mexican in the absence of a large Mexican population is finding the groceries. This is another area where Bayless is very helpful - he has recipes for many of the items that most Mexicans buy ready-made, like achiote paste and mole sauces, and good honest advice about substitutions (i.e. he won't say that a substitute is "just as good" as the authentic item, but address the differences frankly).
Actually, soup and an entree doesn't have to be that difficult.
One could easily start with some guacamole and chips (widely found in MX) or queso fundido and tortilla, also widely found. A platter of jicama, cucumber, mango and watermelon all sprinkled with lime juice and chile would just be an upscale presentation of a commonly found street food. Or serve a marisco (seafood cocktail) with shrimp and other seafood in large goblets and saltines. Serve with an assortment of Mexican beers like Modelo Negro, Carta Blanca, Sol, Tecate or Dos Equis.
Mexican soups are so under hearlded, a lot of them aren't very difficult and many of them make a good all-in-one meal. Sopa de Tortilla is an easy choice, so it Sopa de Crema de Cilantro or even Sopa de Tarasca or Sopa de Lentejas. All of these can be made ahead and served out of anything from a crock pot to a tureen.
Follow the soup with a sopa seca such as fideos, which is really just a pasta course, and can be prepared ahead and kept warm. Or, check out the salad recipes in Rick Bayless' book "Everyday Mexican". These aren't exaclty traditional but there are some really great ideas for salads and salad dressings that really come through with a good Mexican flavor profile.
Fire up the grill and do some carne asada, serve it simply with white rice and black beans (Moros y Cristos), good corn tortillas if you can find them and the ubiquitous plate of chopped cilantro, minced white onion and lime wedges. If you can't get good corn tortillas go with a crusty roll/baguette that would be more like the bolillo. You could also marinate some chicken pieces and grill them too to approximate the rostizado (roasted) chicken found in almost every town. (Rick Bayless has a couple of good recipes for this, as does Diana Kennedy).
Set out a variety of tequilas, sangrita (not tomato based) and some Mexican wines if you can find them, as well as Mexican soft drinks or aguas like jamacia, tamarindo, melon, etc.
Almost everything can be prepped or prepared in advance. Go to your local library or book store and check out the books by Diana Kennedy, Susana Trilling and Rick Bayless. See what recipes appeal to you, what recipes have ingredients you can source in your community and which recipes match with your cooking skill level. Good Mexican food depends upon good ingredients as much as anything and while moles can be ambitious and labor intensive, there are also a lot of simple things you can do as well.
Good luck and just have fun with it.
Thanks for all of your suggestions. I think I'll look into both the Bayless and Kennedy books. I've just located the (one!) Mexican food shop in town, so I've picked up some yummy corn tortillas, and a whole lot of other stuff. We probably won't host anything for another couple of weeks, but I'll have lots of reading to do in the meantime. I'll let you all know how it turns out.