I’ll begin this post with a disclaimer: I, like many food bloggers, am “cashing in” on Cinco de Mayo this week. Why? Because despite the fact that neither my grandparents, nor my own parents fought in any Mexican army against the French, I find that the way we choose to celebrate a culture in the United States amplifies how I’ve always come to understand my relationship with food. I have often joked that I’m Mexican by way of Milwaukee, which is to say, I’ve always had to straddle the line of retaining my cultural identity and also assimilate to my immediate environment. I know, that’s heavy for a food blog. Perhaps that’s a conversation worth having over a few margaritas.
I was presenting to a group of nutritionists recently who work with a variety of ethnically diverse clients and I wanted to make a point that when it comes to food and getting anyone to be comfortable with new ideas and new concepts, sometimes you just have to start with what’s familiar. A slice of whole wheat bread may be healthy in one person’s eyes, but if you’ve not grown up eating whole wheat bread, but maybe you ate injera instead, does that mean it’s wrong and you have to give that up to live a whole and healthy life? The moral of this story is that food unites us, no matter what, and we should celebrate the ways in which it can bring us together not further divide us. Cinco de Mayo is clearly a marketing holiday in this country, but if in some off chance it allows room for conversation to happen and shines a spotlight on Mexico, the people, the food, the customs, and gets us to take that leap and consider our involvement and the truths of what’s happening in Mexico today, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
I grew up spending summers with my grandmother and family in Laredo, Texas. Some of the highlights of my childhood were traveling to Nuevo Laredo, the bordertown just on the other side, to see, smell, taste, and experience part of where I came from. Back then, there was no fear about violence, drugs, or rampant crime. Today, sadly that narrative has changed. It has been years since my mother has felt safe walking over the bridge that connects the two cities to patronize shop keepers who need the commerce. That is a cruel casualty for both sides. But life is still happening there, and one bad seed does not rot an entire apple. In my experience, some of the strongest images of resiliency I’ve seen have been of Mexican men and women who put their families before themselves, who work by whatever means, who are driven and resourceful, creative and passionate. Like my grandparents, they hope for more for their children. They risk their lives, they live in uncertainty and yet they know the truest meaning of happiness. They live for it everyday. I aspire to have that kind of courage. It comes with a price, but it’s worth it. Sometimes the hardest conversations are the best ones to have, but without an opening, who will come forth to the table first?
- 2 Tablespoons canola oil
- 1.5 cups sweet yellow onion, medium dice ( 1/2 of a large onion)
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 14.5 oz can Mexican style stewed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeded and minced
- 1 pound, 6 oz beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized chunks and cleaned of any sinew
- 1.5 cups hominy, rinsed
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 lime
- 1 jalapeño
- 1 pack yellow corn tortillas
- Warm oil over medium heat in a large stockpot. Saute onion for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden. Add garlic and stir just until fragrant.
- Add remaining ingredients from stewed tomatoes though kosher salt. Simmer on low for at least 2 hours, covered, or until meat is tender and liquid has reduced and thickened.
- Just before serving, stir in chopped cilantro. Serve with warm corn tortillas, chopped onion, lime and jalepeño.