Diversivore periodically launches new thematic features that aim to thoroughly explore a subject through recipes, guides, and articles. This feature is all about Fast and Amazing Mexican Meals – and specifically, two great techniques for putting together incredible and diverse Mexican meals quickly and painlessly. Keep coming back for updates and recipes related to this theme, or subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out on anything new.
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It’s been a long time since I announced a new feature on Diversivore. You can chalk that up to a lot of time spent behind the scenes dealing with growth and the complexities of running a site like this. I’m not complaining of course – it’s good to be busy, and it’s even better to be growing and working with new people (not to mention new foods), but it’s really nice to launch into another feature. I always enjoy doing this, as it gives me the opportunity to explore a topic more fully than I’d get to in a single recipe or article.
I’m returning to form a little bit here by running a feature on Mexican food, but I’m putting a different spin on things this time by taking time into account. This is all about about good Mexican meals that can genuinely be made quickly – in some cases, astonishingly quickly. It’s a topic that’s especially popular at this time of the year thanks to the transition from summer to fall. Life becomes that much more hectic as the kids go back to school and schedules begin to bloat wildly. But the season is also graced by some pretty spectacular produce, and I for one find myself trying desperately to enjoy some great, seasonal, scratch-made meals before the ingredients (and opportunities) pass me by.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room. To date, quick and easy Mexican meals in the English-language food/blogging world have generally been… let’s say uninspired. A lot of corners tend to get cut when you’re talking about getting a meal on the table in a short period of time, and very few of them offer any favours in terms of taste or quality. Scratch-cooking often takes a backseat to pre-packaged and processed combinations, which is especially egregious given how ingredient-focused good Mexican cooking tends to be. There’s also a tendency to cut ingredients and hybridize recipes in order to make Mexican-ish variations on simple weeknight friendly meals. That’s not the worst thing in and of itself (though the resulting recipes shouldn’t really be called Mexican cooking), but it’s very limiting. If you can’t use sauces, spice blends, and slow-cooked, complex flavours, you’re generally stuck with some variation on the old protein+cheese+lettuce/tomato situation. And sometimes those meals are great – but they’re missing out on a big, beautiful world of food. Because of all this, I looked at two wonderful but very different factors that can help you make delicious and diverse Mexican food in a short period of time without feeling limited by your options. You’ll find both of these points popping up again and again in the recipes to come, so let’s explore them both now.
No. 1: Under Pressure
Let me just say (and nobody’s paying me to do this) – I LOVE my Instant Pot. I’m not going to launch into a whole sale’s pitch here (though all bets are off if you ask me about this thing in person), but I’ll let anyone unfamiliar with the Instant Pot know that it’s an electric pressure cooker with a very wide range of functions and capabilities that also happens to be ridiculously easy to operate. I know that many people have never used a pressure cooker before because of the perceived complexity or danger – thankfully issues that are completely resolved by the Instant Pot and other next-generation electric pressure cookers. And because many people have never used an electric pressure cooker, they don’t know the amazing (and FAST) things you can do with one.
Several of the meals I’m going to be presenting over the coming weeks were made with my pressure cooker. Many of the one-pot style meals that are typical of beloved Mexican cooking traditionally involve very long cooking times, but incredible results can be achieved with a pressure cooker. I’m really eager to share this type of cooking (and these recipes) because they allow home cooks to compromise on time without compromising on flavour or quality. Rather than relying on processed short cuts or over-simplified (and underwhelming) recipes, high-pressure cooking allows you to use the same authentic and incredible ingredients that are the hallmarks of traditional Mexican cooking while only investing a fraction of the time. And while you may find me ranting and raving a few more times about just how much I recommend an electric pressure cooker, I’ve done my best to provide options and alternatives and other cooking methods as well.
No. 2: Tiny Recipes FTW
Clearly, I love a good one-pot meal; after all, pressure cooking is itself a great way to make that kind of recipe. But really, we all love the charm and simplicity of one-pot meals. There’s often less to prepare, less to clean up, and a diversity of culinary options from food cultures around the globe. But one-pot meals can’t do it all – and they don’t have to, even when you’re looking to put a meal together quickly. Plenty of wonderful Mexican recipe rely on a different approach that, while it may require a bit of advance planning, can get a delectable meal with complex flavours on your table in record time. The method in question involves building a meal from many smaller components and recipes. Where the one-pot meal combines flavours into one end product, this method layers many flavours together while leaving them distinct. This not only lets a lot broader set of flavours really pop, but also lets individual diners (e.g. picky 5-year olds who balk at the very notion that an onion might be touching their food) tweak and adjust their meal to their specific tastes.
It probably helps if I illustrate this style of cooking with an example, so I’m going to go with something beloved and ubiquitous: the taco. You can really make a taco with anything, but it’s safe to say that not all tacos are created equal. We’re already fairly comfortable with the idea of layering flavours and components into a taco, often in the form of a cooked protein/filling and a series of uncooked produce toppings (e.g. cheese, tomato, cabbage, lettuce, etc.). And yet you won’t see a whole lot of tacos that follow this model in traditional Mexican cooking. True, those raw veggies do still make an apppearance (white onion, cabbage, chilies, cilantro, and cheeses still play a big roll), but so too do salsas, pickles, and other more complex, often cooked ingredients.
“BUT,” I can hear you thinking, “how can I make a meal quickly if I have to make a filling, AND a salsa AND some pickled onions?” Well, it’s actually surprisingly manageable as long as we address two key factors. First of all – yes, you need to plan ahead a little. In many cases, things like salsas, sauces, and pickles can easily be made in advance and then used over the course of multiple meals and multiple days (or even weeks). Secondly, many of these add-ons are almost laughably quick to put together, with recipes that are almost shocking in their simplicity. Mexican pickled onions, for example, are so ridiculously quick and easy to make that you’ll wonder why you haven’t been making them for years. Take these two factors together and incorporate them into your cooking and something wonderful happens: you go to put together dinner and find that a small and spread-out time investment suddenly means that your meal not only comes together in a snap, but delivers on flavour in a big way.
There are LOTS of great new recipes coming your way soon. In the mean time, I hope you’ll keep scrolling and check out some of the quick Mexican recipes that are already up on the site.
Instant Pot Carnitas con Queso
All the goodness of slow-cooked pork in WAY less time, finished to crispy perfection in a skillet. This one is definitely for those of you who, like me, seek out the crispiest bits of melted cheese in a recipe. Serve it with the smoky dried chili salsa below for a perfect pairing.
Smoky Dried Chili Salsa
This salsa is something of a hybrid between Yucatecan k’uut bi ik and chile tamulado, and it’s all KINDS of good. Made with charred garlic, dried morita chipotles and árbol chilies, and Seville orange juice (or a citrus substitute), it’s fiery, flavourful, complex, and wonderfully easy.
Mexican rice is seriously underrated. The grains are fried in a bit of oil before liquid is added, adding depth and a nutty, toasted flavour that’s just awesome. This green rice recipe adds even more flavour with poblano and cilantro, and it’s a snap to make. Even better, it freezes well, so make a big batch and keep some for sides or filling burritos.
Chicken tinga – a Mexican classic that I somehow hadn’t heard about until I was in my 30s. Go figure. Anyway, it’s all about that perfectly savoury tomato and chipotle sauce, and it’s delightfully easy to make from scratch. Buy a rotisserie chicken from a grocery store and you can have huge family style meal ready in no time (or a week worth of leftovers just for you).
This is a great example of a meal that requires a bit of advance planning but very little hands-on time. The fish is cooked, then marinated after the fact. Amazingly, the finished escabeche can be stored (safely, I promise) for a week in the fridge. It also makes GREAT tacos (seriously, follow the link and go see them).
Carne Asada Borracha
Carne Asada Borracha means drunken grilled beef – a reference to the use of beer in the marinade. The total hands-on time for this meal is only about 25 minutes, including prep. You do have to marinate it for between 3-8 hours – and waiting is, as they say, the hardest part. Use the excess marinade to cook some veggies and throw everything into some tortillas, and you’ll be rewarded with a ridiculously good and amazingly quick meal.
Mezcalita del Ocaso
With Hibiscus Agua Fresca
Alright, to be fair, this isn’t terribly quick all together (you have to roast pineapple) BUT – one of the ingredients is hibiscus agua fresca, which IS quick and easy to make! It’s also wonderfully refreshing, and makes for a great drink in its own right.