Learn more about authentic Mexican food with these recipes from five regions of Mexico, starting in the north and heading south and east.
Nuevo León, Mexico
This recipe for cortadillo norteño comes from the northern State of Nuevo León. It’s a simple beef stew that’s comforting and delicious. Serve it alongside potatoes, chiles toreados, and tortillas for an authentic every day meal.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds beef top sirloin, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 poblano chiles, seeded and chopped
4 serrano chiles, stemmed but whole
6 plum tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
* corn or flour tortillas
In large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat lard or vegetable oil. Add meat and cook until opaque, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add onions, garlic, poblano, and Serrano chiles and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, and cumin and cover the pan while simmering mixture over low heat for 30-40 minutes, making sure it does not dry out. If it does, add a bit of water to maintain a saucy consistency.
Taste and adjust seasonings and serve hot with tortillas.
A northern state to the west of Nuevo León, Durango, serves barbacoa (pronounced bar-bah-COH-ah), which is actually where the word “barbecue” comes from. This style of cooking meat originated in the Caribbean with the Taíno people and became a part of Mexican cuisine. Traditionally meat (a cow head or whole sheep) was wrapped in maguey leaves then cooked on a grill over a cauldron of hot water in a deep pit filled with hot coals. Nowadays “barbacoa” can simply refer to meat that is slow cooked by simultaneously steaming and smoking the meat, resulting in a moist, tender and flavorful meat. This recipe for barabcoa tacos uses a slow cooker for more ease.
2 1/2 pounds bone-in venison trim, shanks, and necks (or duck, turkey, or goose legs or bone-in beef or goat)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice, plus wedges for serving
2 dried chipotle chiles
1 medium onion, chopped, plus more for serving
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 whole cloves, ground
2 dried bay leaves, ground
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cold water as needed
Fresh tortillas (flour or corn), warmed
Store-bought or homemade vinegary hot sauceDIRECTIONS1. Combine the meat, vinegar, lime juice, chipotle chiles, onion, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon in a slow cooker and add enough cold water to cover by about 2 inches. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, until very tender.2. Remove the meat from the pot and let it cool slightly, reserving the liquid. Shred the meat, discarding the bones. Moisten the meat with a few ladlefuls of the reserved braising liquid. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
3. Set the barbacoa on the table in a serving bowl or platter and set out the tortillas, onion, cilantro, limes, salsa, and hot sauce so guests can make their own tacos.
If you’re used to thinking of tacos, this sandwich recipe might not strike you as a typical Mexican dish. Torta ahogada literally means “drowned sandwich” because it gets completely soaked in red dipping sauce made from dried chiles. Less spicy versions of the sandwich, made with a tomato-based sauce, are also available. The bollilo is a traditional type of savory bread baked in a stone oven, similar to a baguette but shorter.
1 1/2 cups of meat such as carnitas or carne asada in bite-size pieces
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 dried arbol chiles (rehydrated in warm water for 20 minutes)
pinch of cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 habanero chile, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon of lard or oil
1. Begin by removing the chiles from the soaking liquid and removing the stems and seeds and chop them coarsely. Heat the lard or oil in a pan, add the onions and cook over low-medium heat until they are translucent. Add the chiles, garlic, habanero, tomatoes and spices and cook for 10-15 more minutes. Let the sauce cool down and blend it until smooth.
2. Cut each bolillo almost in half so that one side is still connected slightly then stuff it with the meat filling.
3. You can either pour all the sauce over the sandwich or dip the sandwich in half way. The authentic way is to smother the sandwich in the sauce, then eat it without hardly getting your fingers messy.
Puebla is a small state east of Jalisco and north of Oaxaca. It’s also the original birthplace of mole – a complex sauce with over 30 ingredients. The sauce has many variations, including sweet, savory, spicy. This diverse sauce can be served over any number of meals, most popularly, enchiladas.
The Oaxaca (pronounced “Wa-ha-ka”) region is home to many eclectic and delicious foods. The local often eat snacks prepared by street vendors and at small traditional markets called antojitos, which means “little craving.” One example is a memela: a round corn base, a little thicker than a tortilla, toasted on a comal (large, flat pan) and topped with beans, quesillo (local stringy, brined cheese), bits of ground pork with spices or eggs, and sauces with varying levels of spiciness.
The Yucatán peninsula in northeast Mexico features cuisine with Asian and Arabic influences as well as the native Mayan cuisines. It’s most famous and representative dish, cochinita pibil, consists of pork prepared with bitter orange and achiote (a traditional condiment), wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in the oven. It’s then served with red onion in lemon juice and sliced habanero pepper.
If you love Mexican food, or if you are interested in learning more about authentic Mexican food, come visit Casa Blanca Mexican Restaurant in Andover, North Andover, Haverhill, or North Billerica, MA.