A Week of Traditional Mexican Dinners from Cookbook Author Mely Martínez
Twelve years ago Mely Martínez started her food blog, Mexico in My Kitchen, because she wanted to pass down traditional Mexican recipes to her son and his future partner. What she ended up creating was a community full of devoted readers and cooks from all over the country. “I feel like I have so many children now,” she says.
After years of blogging and many moves around the United States and in Mexico, Mely’s first cookbook was published this past September. The Mexican Home Kitchen is a collection of everyday recipes you’d find in Mexican households — and it’s Kitchn’s pick for our Cookbook Club this December! I recently talked with Mely about reader favorite recipes from her cookbook, her go-to grocery store for Mexican ingredients in Texas, and the five recipes she makes on an average weeknight.
What is it like to finally have your book out in the world?
It’s something that I have always wanted to do — even before I had the blog. It means a lot to me and also to my family because they knew how much I wanted to write a book. It’s a big accomplishment.
How did you decide which recipes to include in your cookbook? There’s obviously so much diversity in Mexican cooking, and you talk a lot about that on your blog and in your book.
I wanted to add so many recipes, but we only had limited space. It was a very hard decision. The recipes selected are the most visited by the readers [on my blog], and also the recipes you will find any given day in a Mexican home.
You started your blog 12 years ago because you wanted to pass down your recipes to your son and his future partner. Why was that important to you?
Food is so important in our Mexican culture, and I didn’t want that to get lost with the next generation. Every celebration we have is around food, and many celebrations have a specific meal — like with Easter, Day of the Dead, and Christmas. I only have one son and by the time I started the blog, he was a teenager and we were living in Washington, D.C.. It’s a very multicultural place, and it made me wonder: Who is he going to marry? What country is that person going to be from? And is she going to like cooking? My husband and I wanted to pass down that part of our culture. There is a lot of influence from Tex-Mex food and we didn’t want it to mix with Mexican food.
Have there been any reader favorite recipes from your book?
The noodle soup, sopa de fideo, is one of the recipes that I have seen a lot of people cooking. Another one is a pork dish called asado de puerco; it’s a pork stew made with dried peppers. And pozole is a favorite, too.
What are some other dishes you grew up with in Tampico?
My mom used to make entomadas. You dip tortillas in a tomato sauce and then you fold it and load it with a lot of queso fresco and a little chopped onions. Kids love that. It’s really tasty.
You first moved to America when you were 31. What was grocery shopping like?
When we first moved, it was hard to find Mexican ingredients. We lived in Ohio, and used to drive six hours to Chicago to buy ingredients. There were dried peppers, and fresh corn masa — I was so happy. We bought a lot to store for six months in the freezer.
Things are different now. Things that we couldn’t find before, now you can find — and every day there are more and more things. You can find even huitlacoche, a corn fungus, in some places of the United States. You can find fresh avocado leaves. Some things that are even hard to find in Mexico, you can find them here now.
What have you been cooking this past year?
I’m cooking more comfort food. There are some foods that when you eat it, they make you happy for a little while and you kind of forget what’s going on outside in the world. I’ve made bistec a la Mexicana, meatball soup, and I often make picadillo (that is ground beef cooked with potatoes and carrots). Also milanesa, steak that is breaded and then fried. Lately, I even made tamales. We cook tamales for special occasions mostly — for Christmas and the Day of the Dead.
Where do you grocery shop in Dallas?
Kroger is my everyday supermarket because it’s five minutes away from my home. It’s where I buy the basics like eggs, milk, bread, and flowers.
But the place that I go to buy the ingredients to cook Mexican food is 45 minutes away in Irving, Texas: It’s called Saver’s Cost Plus. They have huge selections of very hard-to-find ingredients, like bitter orange to make cochinita pibil. They are always bringing things that are in season in Mexico. For example, for Easter they have all the nopales and cactus leaves. They also have everything to make Christmas fruit punch, like ponche de navideo: hibiscus flower, tamarind pods, sugarcane, apples.
They also have a large butcher in the back. Besides having the cuts that we use to make soups, like the ones to make the milanesa that is a very special thin cutlet of beef, they also have other things to make really flavorful pozole. You can buy pieces of the head of the pig, you can buy tripe.
What are the five ingredients that you will always have in your kitchen?
The first three ingredients in every Mexican home is onions, tomatoes, and serrano or jalapeños peppers. Those three, and then vegetable oil and black pepper. And of course, tortillas! We wouldn’t live without tortillas.
Do you make your own tortilla? Or do you usually buy?
I make flour tortillas, but I buy [corn tortillas] because there are really good selections in Irving, Texas. The Hispanic population is huge, so there are some good tortillerias. I usually don’t buy tortillas from a regular American supermarket. Maybe I will buy La Banderita, and if I could find the brand El Milagro, I would buy it in a store. Other brands taste weird to me — I find that they taste sort of sweet.
What are some of the tools that you use the most in your kitchen?
My Wüsthof chef’s knife is the main thing. Also, a good nonstick frying pan — I usually buy the $30 Tramontina brand from Costco. And then my Vitamix blender. A blender is key in Mexican cooking because we make a lot of salsas.
What’s inspiring you in your kitchen right now?
Mostly the readers, because I’m always thinking what they are doing in the kitchen. They don’t have too much time, they have the kids in the house, and some of them are working from home and that must be very overwhelming. I try to make recipes that are easy, with fewer ingredients, and that taste really good. I don’t want them to feel frustrated. I feel like they are counting on me and I can’t fail them. I want people to feel that they succeeded in cooking something.
A Week of Dinners with Mely Martínez
Chicken Soup (Caldo de Pollo)
Chicken soup is a dish that needs no introduction. In Mexico, just like in other countries, it is often served when you want a cozy meal to warm you up. This soup can be customized to the cook’s liking, adding whatever vegetables they prefer or have available in their area.
Get the recipe: Chicken Soup (Caldo de Pollo) from Mexico in My Kitchen
Bistec a la Mexicana
Bistec a la Mexicana is an easy meal to prepare. It consists of beef tips cooked in a rich sauce made with tomatoes, onion, garlic, and serrano peppers that pairs divinely with the tender meat. Dishes are called a la Mexicana when they use a combination of tomatoes, peppers, and onions, because their colors represent those of the Mexican flag (green, white, and red). What I love about this recipe is that it only requires a few ingredients and a short amount of time to make.
Get the recipe: Bistec a la Mexicana
Entomatadas are corn tortillas that are stuffed with cheese, folded (or rolled), and covered in a tomato sauce. This is the type of dish that is beautiful due to its simplicity. What makes this recipe extra special for me is that it was one of the dishes that my mom would always make for my siblings and I when we were growing up.
Get the recipe: Entomatadas
These enchiladas are filled with chicken, then bathed in a creamy salsa verde and covered with cheese, before being baked in the oven. The melted Swiss cheese on top is what sets these enchiladas apart from others, which are usually garnished with crumbled cheeses. A beautiful and decadent dish, these enchiladas verdes are also known in Mexico by the name of Enchiladas Suizas, meaning “Swiss Enchiladas.”
Get the recipe: Enchiladas Verdes
Picadillo is prepared in many Latin American countries with several variations, but in essence, it is a comfort food made with ground beef, a tomato sauce, and vegetables. It is an incredibly flexible dish, and you can change the ingredients to make a picadillo you can call your own. Picadillo is also used as a filling for gorditas and burritos and as a topping for sopes. My son even likes to make sandwiches with picadillo, almost like Sloppy Joes! This dish is definitely an all-star when it comes to quick, comforting, home-style meals.
Get the recipe: Picadillo from Mexico in My Kitchen