I remember the days before smartphones when my parents would load me and my brothers up into our white, blue velvet interior, Oldsmobile Toronado to make the 2-day trip down south to visit our grandparents. It was always a hot summer, a 24 hour drive to the border, 12 hours to Durango, and a few extra hours here and there so my dad could sleep. This was usually somewhere just outside of Tulsa, and after getting through Border Patrol in Nuevo Laredo. I knew the path in my heart. Mexico was my summer camp.

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I remember the days before smartphones when my parents would load me and my brothers up into our white, blue velvet interior, Oldsmobile Toronado to make the 2-day trip down south to visit our grandparents. It was always a hot summer, a 24 hour drive to the border, 12 hours to Durango, and a few extra hours here and there so my dad could sleep. This was usually somewhere just outside of Tulsa, and after getting through Border Patrol in Nuevo Laredo. I knew the path in my heart. Mexico was my summer camp.

As the in-car map reader, it was my job to make sure we took I South through St. Louis so we could drive over that spectacular bridge that crossed the Mississippi River. I poured over those paper maps, counting the mile markers, noticing the landmarks and exits as we inched our way closer to the motherland.

Era siempre durante el caluroso verano, manejando 24 horas a la frontera, 12 horas a Durango, y algunas horas extra para que mi padre pudiera dormir. This is an exploration of one of the most commonly grown plants in the world and a recipe for it.

In , the US had 96 million acres of land set aside to grow corn; the world had over million acres dedicated to it. The majority of that went to make ethanol fuel for cars that run mostly on gas and to feed cattle that would prefer to eat grass. What can we learn from this plant and its 9,year journey from the Balsas Rio Valley of Southern Mexico to one of the most prolific crops grown on the planet?

The word corn is a misnomer brought over by colonists who did not understand the significance this plant held for the people they encroached on. A misunderstood and exploited plant, maize has developed a bad rap for being a giant monoculture and what made us fat.

Teosinte, the tall grass with stone-like kernels that shatter off the cob, only vaguely resembles a maize stalk as it exists today but this is where the story of maize begins. The farmers who first encountered this wild grass must have been inspired because it took several hundred years to selectively breed teosinte into an edible state. When nixtamalized kernels are intact, we call it hominy. When hominy is ground down into a paste, we call it masa. With masa we make everything.

Con la masa se hace todo. To make nixtamal takes effort and so does growing from a kernel to a 16 ft stalk when all you have is the wind to help move pollen from the tassel above to the silk waiting for it below.

The reciprocity in this exchange of labor between the wind, the earth, and our time, is what makes maize so fulfilling to grow and cook with. The gods first tried mud because they felt people should be made from an earthly material. But they were too shapeless and weak to walk, and so when the rain came, they washed away and disintegrated back into the earth. Then the gods tried making humans out of wood. The wood people were sturdy, they could dance, but they were empty of compassion and love for nature and each other.

They could not care for the Earth because they could not love it. And so with floods, fires, and the resentment of the natural world, the wood people were destroyed too. People made from the light of the sun came next and they were beautiful but too bright. The people of light were ungrateful, felt smarter and more brilliant than the gods who had made them. The people of light came to an end when they began to believe they were gods and stopped believing in their creators.

Through trial and error, the gods learned that the people who could inhabit this earth would have to be humble, compassionate, and full of gratitude for this planet— their home. And so they decided to make humans from masa, a dough made of maize. This meant that the maize people would have to develop an intensely intimate understanding of the life cycle of plants in order to feed themselves. This reciprocity would lead them to understand why seasons change, why tides ebb and flow, how the sun and the moon are involved in this and in growth and harvest.

This massive undertaking, a. It would inspire them to map the stars so that they could track time. To understand time, they would build pyramids to the gods and create myths and rituals out of their observations of the land, to share with each other so that life could continue, and so that future generations would understand the importance of living aligned with the planet that sustains them.

The humble people made of masa flourished and the gods were pleased. Entonces los dioses trataron de hacer humanos de madera. En seguida vinieron la gente hecha de la luz del sol y eran hermosos pero demasiado brillante.

Murieron cuando empezaron a creer que eran dioses y dejaron de creer en sus creadores. Los humildes humanos hechos de masa vivieron y los dioses se complacieron en ellos. This creation story is not a neat mythical summation of how we came to exist. We are governed by the same systems present in the natural world because it made us. Communing with nature, not destroying it ensures our survival. Su salud es intercambiable con nuestra propia salud y necesitamos los unos a los otros para mantenernos.

Comunicar con la naturaleza, y no destruirla asegura nuestra supervivencia. Somos lo que comemos. Through patience and perseverance, maize became a food staple of the Mesoamerican diet, transforming the nomadic life of hunter-gathers into farm communities capable of building great civilizations that would endure brutal suppression by Spanish colonizers in the 16th century.

Maize traveled far from the riverbed when it left on those tall ships to Europe. It was presented as one gift of many to the Queen of Spain where it would grow in her fields to feed peasants. Peasants that would ultimately become sick with pellagra, a form of malnutrition that can be fatal and most commonly a result of consuming a diet mostly of maize that had not yet been nixtamalized.

It would take them centuries to figure out what was killing and disfiguring their people. Luckily, the plant had other ways of sharing its knowledge with us, with recipes passed down from generations of survivors and warriors.

Recipes such as this one, for pozole. Salsa de chile guajillo y chile ancho: 3 dried chile ancho 3 dried chile guajillo 1 clove of garlic 2 tsp kosher salt. For serving: Limes, cut in squeezable slices Radishes, thinly sliced Cabbage, thinly sliced Fresh or dried oregano White onion, diced Cilantro, destemmed and torn into small bits Tortillas, fresh, hot. Place the pozole kernels in a large stockpot and fill it with water so that it covers the kernels by about 4 inches.

Dissolve the powdered lime in a cup of water and add it to your stock pot with the pozole. Bring to simmer over medium heat and cook the pozole for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, drain the pozole in a colander and have a seat. You can do it with your hands or use a small paring knife.

I prefer using my hands. This can take a while with only one person so get someone to help you and share with them the origins of pozole, how it was once prepared by the Mexica as a ceremonial food made from the bodies of imprisoned people. Eaten communally, it was a way of sharing the bounty of sacrifice. This might lead to a great discussion about indigenous ideas of a collective whole vs. Return the pozole to the stockpot, fill it with clean water again, add the hoja santa, and cook it for another 2 to 3 hours or until it flowers, a little like popcorn.

Meanwhile, add the pork shoulder to another stockpot and fill it with water so that it covers the pork by 4 or 5 inches. Add 3 tbsp Kosher salt and bring the stock to a boil, skimming the foam that will rise to the top during the first few minutes of the boil.

After skimming, reduce the stock to a simmer, add the minced onion, and cook on low for 3 — 4 hours until the meat is very tender. Once the kernels have flowered, drain them, and add them to the pork stock that has about an hour left to cook. To make the guajillo and ancho salsa, bring 4 cups of water to a hard boil. While you wait for the water to boil, clean the dried chilies under water and place them and the garlic clove in a bowl that is big enough to contain the 4 cups of water you are boiling.

Add the boiling water to the chiles, cover with a plate or a stockpot lid and let the chiles sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, drain the chilies and garlic in a colander reserving about a cup of the cooking liquid. Blend until a paste is formed, adding more water to the blender if you need to keep it moving.

Pour the paste through a sieve to remove the seeds and skins. You may have to use the back of a spoon to encourage the chile paste through. Collect as much of the liquid chili salsa as is humanly possible. Taste for seasoning. Ladle the pozole into deep bowls. Make sure to get a good amount of pozole and pork in each serving. Top with 1 tbsp. Top the pozole with fresh onion, radishes, cabbage, a sprinkle of oregano, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.

Serve hot alongside warm tortillas, and bring the toppings, including the guajillo and ancho salsa, within reach so that each person can dress their pozole to their taste and make pork tacos at the table. Yo prefiero utilizar mis manos.

Para hacer la salsa de ancho y guajillo se hierven 4 tazas de agua. Se sirve con tortillas calientes. Acerque todos los recipientes con los ingredientes para sazonar, incluyendo la salsa de guajillo y ancho para que cada persona condimente su pozole al gusto y puedan preparar tacos de puerco en la mesa.

As a child of Mexican immigrants, my inner conflict has always centered on the fact that I am the first generation of my ancestors to be born in this place—ancestors that are both European and Indigenous. Just like the first teosinte grass that sprouted along that riverbed 9, years ago, I traveled far from where my ancestors worked the land and landed right smack in the middle of the corn belt, in Aurora, Illinois.

Perhaps this is why I feel a kinship with this plant and this place. It might be maize that led me here. Luckily, many of us sprouted here at the same time in the Midwest.

Like maize using the wind to cross-pollinate, we are finding ways to work together to shape a new culture that does not obscure or erase our complicated history. And like maize, we bring the wisdom of our ancestors to this place to make it our home.

In this context, an ilbal is a story that helps the reader see the world in a different way.


Historia de la nixtamalización

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González Barrera, de bolero a banquero

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El sabor de las tortillas de nixtamal conquista a Nueva York


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