Mexico Day 4 – Tamales

I had to try tamales, it would be pretty bad if I didn’t right? If you haven’t heard of tamales they are essentially a ground corn batter and filled with meats, herbs, and vegetables wrapped traditionally in corn husks. The word tamale comes from the Náhuatl word tamilli meaning wrapped. This meal is another dish with ancient roots that was believed first be made by the Aztecs. Originally they were cooked over the hot coals, but when the Spanish conquistadors came to Mexico they brought pots and other cook wear which lead to steaming the tamales. Tamales were sometimes prepared for religious ceremonies and offered to the gods. To recreate this iconic dish I used a modern approach- the crock pot (found here).

If you have come this far and are interested in making these just be warned it takes FOREVER. Even with a slow cooker recipe there is a lot of prep work that was spread out over two days. I started with the corn husks then while those were boiling I started on the filling. I chose the ground beef, carrots, and potato filling. For anyone who has made these before you can see the struggle can’t you?

Once I got them wrapped and felt satisfied with my work I broke out the tin foil and made a “rack” for my tamales to sit on.

I stood the tamales upright with another layer of foil beneath to protect them from getting wet. The kinda look legit right? 🙃

So there is a reason why I didn’t have pictures of the tamales in their final form unwrapped and exposed- they were pretty ugly. Ian decided to jazz it up the plate with lime wedges and a dish of salsa. Unfortunately these finishing touches did not save the tamales.

Cooper who stayed with us for the weekend didn’t even think they were appetizing.. I don’t know where I went wrong but the texture was rubbery, the flavor was mild, and it did not stay together in one piece. I have never had a true tamale before so I was not sure to what to compare it to, but my fiancé has had the real deal on the border of Mexico and this was NOT it. We rated it 5/10 😔

At least you can enjoy a picture of Cooper being a good boy.

Mexico Day 2 – Elotes

Mexico is home to the most diverse corn in the world with a total of 64 varieties found throughout the country. This crop was first domesticated in Honduras (6600 BCE – 3500 BCE) and eventually made its way up to Mexico where it was used greatly by the indigenous people. Today we will be honoring that staple by making elotes or as most know it Mexican street corn! Elote was born in Mexico City and quickly spread throughout the Americas. It became popular because it was portable and tasty! Restaurants sometimes will serve this up as a side dish, but tonight it is the dish! Recipes can vary and include an array of toppings but I decided to go the classic route.

First you start by cooking the corn. Traditionally you would grill them, but I chose to boil them. While the corn is preparing combine the remaining ingredients to make your sauce. If you are unfamiliar with cotija cheese it reminds me of feta with a similar texture.

Once your corn is cooked just slather the sauce on evenly and garnish with cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice. Be warned a little sauce goes a long ways! If you want a kick you can add a little chili powder (not pictured).

Ian was a bit overwhelmed by the sauce and found it tasty but very heavy, I on the other hand thought it was heavenly. I think if you are able to grill the corn it would have elevated the dish. We made up some chicken to go with the meal but it honestly is so filling it could have been eaten alone. We rated it 7/10!

(87) Chile – Pastel de Choclo

Atacama Desert, Chile. Source: Wanderlust Chloe

Time to get back to blogging- today we traveled to Chile for our 87th country. Chile can be found on the Western border South America and is the closest country to Antarctica. It has an impressive coastline along the Pacific Ocean (4,000 miles) and neighbors Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina. Chile is home to unique landscapes besides its extensive shoreline-the Atacama Desert nestles between the Andes Mountains and ocean and is the driest place on Earth. There are parts of the desert that have never experienced rain! Off the coast of Chile (about 2,100 miles away) is Easter Island, once a sheep farm is now a tourist destination with incredible caves and lava tunnels. Have you packed your bags yet? When you visit maybe you’ll pick up the native dance “cueca” which mimics the courting ritual of a hen and rooster -that’s no chicken dance!

Chilean cuisine clearly has a lot of Spanish influence, but it also has other European influences like German, Italian, French, and English. Like Europe, Chile is a large producer of wine making it in the top ten. Common ingredients used in Chilean cooking include maize, onions, cumin, beef, beans, poultry, coriander, wheat, and potatoes.

Pastel de Choclo is a layered dish of ground meat and onion, hard boiled eggs, chicken, and corn. It is traditionally cooked in a clay dish inside a wood-burning oven, but of course no access to that here so an mini electric oven will have to do.. The recipe can be found here.

So I underestimated how long it would take to cut the corn off the cob. Props to cooks that do this on a regular basis, it is not fun! I of course appreciate the fresher taste but man there was corn everywhere when I was finished!

A tip for anyone wanting to try this recipe is use your food processor (blender works too) to get a thicker consistency of corn. Mine was not as crusty as I would have liked and I think this would have helped.

Oh Chile I tried.. The flavors were all there but I didn’t achieve that crispy corn crust on top. It was a super meaty dish which was really nice with the cooked corn. Despite the mishap it was very yummy. It had some shepherds pie vibes (of course without the potato). The basil was seasoning I would never think to pair with corn but it works! We rated it 7.5/10.

(47) Panama – Sancocho

Hello from the isthmus that connects South and Central America- Panama! This country gives you the unique opportunity to watch the sunrise over the Pacific and sunset over the Atlantic. Panama City the capital of Panama (pictured below) is the only city in the world that has a rain forest within city limits. The famous Panama canal generates one third of the countries economy and roughly 14,000 ships travel through each year. The toll each ship pays is dependent on their size, the larger ships paying almost half a million dollars- ouch!

Panama City Beach. Source: Fishingbooker.com

Typical cuisine in Panama is comprised of African, Native American, and Spanish methods. Due to the location of Panama it has access to several varieties of produce, yucca (cassava root) and plantains being the most commonly used.

Today we made a traditional soup filled with various veggies and chicken. Sancocho is a common Latin soup that is full of native flavors and was fairly easy to make. It contained yucca which was a new food for us to try. Yucca is very starchy and has a thick skin that is best peeled off similar to if you were preparing a plantain. Depending on where you are this recipe could vary. It is also said this soup can cure hangovers.. we have not tested this theory, but maybe you could let us know if it is true? 😉

Like most soups once you had the ingredients prepped it just needed time to cook and allow for the flavors to merge together. We loved the use of cilantro in the soup and like many other meals felt it brightened it up. The yucca and plantain were alike in flavor, closely resembling russet potatoes, however yucca had a slight squash-like similarity while the plantain had a mild sweetness. We thought there wasn’t enough balance between the starchy foods and other ingredients and decided to rate it 6.5/10.

Next, we visit a country I have never heard of before over and recently gained its independence in 1999. Tune in tomorrow to find out how it went!