Living in Ohio, the closest foreign country is Canada--where I've never been. But my parents both like Mexican food (and no, I've never been to Mexico, either), even though in the beginning of our lives here in Ohio, Taco Bell was the only "Mexican" food around.
As my cousin, Diane, says, "There's Mexican food, and then there's Taco Bell." (She lives in Houston, so she should know about legit Mexican food. You'll spend more time with Diane in a future Food Stories installment.)
For most of my childhood, Dad and I would share tacos and burritos from Taco Bell. When I was in college, I was introduced to the wonder that is Chipotle. I was one of the news editor for the student paper, The Chimes, and Wednesday night was Chimes night, when we edited and laid out the paper for printing that night, so it could be distributed on Thursday morning. Chimes nights were long, and required more sustenance than we'd get out of the Lohman Complex vending machines. So usually a few people would make a run to the Chipotle on Main Street, and bring back bags overflowing with burritos, bols, and chips and guac. Chipotle was editing fuel.
My brother loves Mexican food. Many times when we get together for dinner, it's at a Mexican place by his apartment. WE solve problems and talk about sports over never-ending bowls of chips and salsa and our chosen entrees, which, for me, is usually a fajita or a cheese enchilada.
Mexican food brings memories of family, long nights at the ancient Mac consoles, and my one trip to Texas. It's much more than the chain restaurants we know.
I've tried my hand at a few actual Mexican recipes, and they turn out really well--and they're simple. Here's one of my favorites, from Marcella Valladolid's book Mexican Made Easy.
Garlicky Buttered Baja Shrimp
From Marcella Valladolid
I lb. medium shrimp (15-20 count) in the shell, deveined (You can also make this with peeled shrimp--just omit the step regarding cooking with the shells)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
salt and black pepper
1/4 c. minced white onion
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp. dry white wine
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, or 1 tbsp. dried. (You can also substitute cilantro, if you don't have parsley on hand.)
Peel the shrimp and reserve shells.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and paper. Saute the shrimp until almost fully cooked, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
Add the shrimp shells to the skillet and sauté until they turn pink, about 3 minutes. Discard the shells. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent and the garlic is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scrapping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil for one minute.
Stir in the lime juice and parsley, return the shrimp to the pan, and toss to coat with the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
You can serve these in a tortilla, or just on their own, but they are delicious in a tortilla. Marcella says you can also make a burrito out of them by adding refried beans to a warm flour tortilla and filling with shrimp. You can also use them in a pasta dish--cook some thin pasta and add the shrimp once the pasta is cooked and drained. Top with fresh cilantro and some olive oil.