African immigrants in the United States come from almost all regions in Africa and do not constitute a homogeneous group. They include peoples from different national, linguistic, ethnic, racial, cultural and social backgrounds. As such, African immigrants are distinct from African Americans, many of whose ancestors were involuntarily brought from West Africa and Central Africa to British North America by means of the Atlantic slave trade. African Americans whose ancestors were forced into slavery and Africans who emigrated to the US have all contributed numerous qualities in the development of the US as a nation and have greatly influenced our culinary world.
Since the 17th century, enslaved Africans and their descendants have had a profound impact on what Americans grow and eat. Watermelon, okra, yams, black-eyed peas, and some peppers are all indigenous to Africa. Fruits and vegetables brought from Africa flourished in America in large part because enslaved Africans planted their own gardens to supplement the meager rations provided by their captors. These plants eventually made their way from gardens of the enslaved to those of some of the wealthiest and most prominent people in the country, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, whose gardens were planted with heirloom seeds from Africa. Enslaved African chefs left their mark on certain cooking methods, while also developing recipes that are now staples in the American diet, particularly in the American South. Dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, pepper pot and the method of cooking greens called Hoppin’ John (a dish made with greens and pork) are all examples. “The method of deep frying of fish or barbecuing meats were all documented in West Africa before the transatlantic slave trade,” says Kelley Deetz, director of programming at Stratford Hall and who is also the author of Bound to the Fire, which explores how Virginia’s enslaved cooks helped invent American cuisine. “These dishes and ingredients were essential to the formation of Southern, and eventually American, food.”
The continent of Africa has seen many changes in migration patterns over the course of history. The influx of African immigrants began in the latter part of the 20th century and is often referred to as the “fourth great migration.” About three-fourths of all immigrants from Africa went to the United States after 1990. This trend began after decolonization, as many Africans moved to the U.S. seeking education and an escape from poverty, and this trend has been steadily rising over time. Originally, these immigrants came with the sole purpose of advancing themselves before returning to their respective countries. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of African immigrants interested in gaining permanent residence in the U.S. One major factor that contributes to migration from Africa to the United States is for job opportunities. It has been relatively easier for Africans with advanced education to leave and enter the international labor markets. In addition, many Africans move to the United States for advanced training. For example, doctors from different African nations move to the U.S. in order to increase their skills and gain more economic opportunities.
African immigrants tend to retain their culture once in the United States. Cultural bonds are developed through shared ethnic or national affiliations. Some organizations like the Ghanaian group Fantse-Kuo and the Sudanese Association are organized by country, region, or ethnic group. Other nonprofits like the Malawi Washington Association is organize by national identity and are inclusive of all Malawians. Other groups present traditional culture from a pan-African perspective. Using traditional skills and knowledge, African-born entrepreneurs develop services for immigrants and the community at large. In the Washington area, events such as the annual Ethiopian soccer tournament, institutions such as the AME Church African Liberation Ministry, and “friends” and “sister cities” organizations bring together different communities. According to estimates in 2000, there were 8.7 million African American families in the United States. The ten states with the largest populations of African Americans are New York, California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Louisiana, Michigan, and Maryland.
The migration of Africans to Europe and the US has introduced a range of African culinary dishes to the world. Ethiopian and Moroccan foods have made their mark with popular restaurants in urban hubs like London, New York, Paris, and Washington DC. Traditionally, African cuisines use a combination of locally grown fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, and meats. African cuisine can be broken down largely into styles from Central Africa, East Africa, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, South Africa, and West Africa. Heavily influenced by spices, African recipes are known for their intense flavor and often include combining sweet flavors such as dried fruit, ginger, and cinnamon with garlic and onions.
The historical record indicates chickens were known in ancient Egypt by 1,400 BC, and later in the Greek and Roman empires. When they first arrived in sub-Saharan Africa is unknown, but they are now common throughout Africa as in the rest of the world. A similar bird, the guinea fowl, is native to Africa and is widely raised there. Both are often called kuku in many African languages. Nsusu or soso are words for chicken in the Congo region. Every culture has its own way of cooking chicken. One classic method of preparing chicken in Africa is to stew it in a peanut and tomato sauce (this basic recipe goes by many names in different parts of Africa). Another delicious African chicken dish is Poulet Yassa, which is chicken marinated in an onion-mustard mixture. The African kitchen is traditionally outside or in a separate building apart from the sleeping and living quarters. By far the most traditional and to-this-day the most common sight in an African kitchen is a stewpot filled with meat and vegetables (often greens) simmering over a fire. The pot usually sits on three stones arranged in a triangle, and the fire slowly consumes three pieces of wood that meet at a point under the pot.
Here is another traditional recipe for chicken.
Piri-Piri Chicken with Piri-Piri Sauce
Piri-Piri (sometimes spelled peri-peri) is Swahili for ‘pepper pepper’, or ‘strong pepper’ and refers to an African-style chili sauce. Piri-Piri Chicken is marinated in a hot chile pepper marinade, then grilled. This dish evolved in Angola and Mozambique (once Portuguese colonies) after Portuguese explorers and settlers brought American chili peppers to Africa.
The most basic piri-piri marinade recipe calls for just oil, cayenne pepper or minced fresh hot chile peppers, and salt. Many piri-piri recipes add an acidic liquid (usually lemon or lime juice, or vinegar, or possibly wine or liquor) which adds a tang and tenderizes the chicken. More elaborate versions also include additional flavorings and spices.
This recipe makes quite a bit and since I cook for two most days, I cut the recipe in half. This dish is delicious and the chicken turns out quite tender and juicy. The sauce has a bit of a kick but not overly spicy.
4 lb chicken cut into parts or 4 lbs of your favorite chicken parts, about 8 pieces.
Peri Peri Marinade
3 red chilies (reduce for less heat or remove seeds), finely chopped or use 2 tablespoons red chili paste
1 green chili, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Peri Peri Sauce
3 tablespoons reserved marinade
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl large enough to hold all the chicken parts and blend well.
Reserve 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a small storage container and the coat the chicken with the remaining marinade. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours to overnight.
Hear an outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan.
For the Piri-Piri Sauce
Add reserved marinade, water, and sugar to a small saucepan and bring to boil. Cook for 2 minutes, remove from the heat and keep warm.
To cook the chicken
Place chicken bone side down on the grill. Cook for 10 minutes. Turn chicken over and cook for 25-30 minutes. Turn chicken over once more and grill for another 5 minutes. Remove the chicken to a serving platter and drizzle the sauce over the grilled chicken.
African Cucumber Sambal
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 green chili (jalapeno pepper), minced
1 teaspoon sugar or natural sweetener (honey, agave nectar, etc.)
1 (2-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 mint leaves, minced
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, quartered and thinly sliced
Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir and toss well to cover.
West African Style Rice With Black-eyed Peas
Every culture seems to have its own version of rice and beans. Peanut oil and hot red pepper give this dish a West African flavor.
Carolina Gold Rice, long grain rice, was the basis of the colonial and antebellum economy of Carolina and Georgia. Considered the grandfather of long grain rice in the Americas, Carolina Gold (which came from Africa and Indonesia) became a commercial staple grain in the coastal lands of Charles Towne in the Carolina Territory in 1685. The rice has a superior flavor, nutty aroma, a tiny texture and a beautiful golden hue in the field. Cooking directions differ from traditional rice, in that, Carolina gold is boiled in salted water rather than simmered.
1 cup (200 grams) dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight in water to cover or one 15.8 oz can of black-eyed peas
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 large vine ripe tomato, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 ⁄ 4 teaspoon ground hot red pepper (cayenne)
1 ⁄ 8 teaspoon salt
Cooked Carolina (Charleston) gold rice (recipe below)
To cook the beans if using dried beans:
Cover black-eyed peas with water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat until soft, about 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
Or drain and rinse the canned beans. Set aside.
To finish the dish
Heat oil in a heavy pot. Add onion, tomato, tomato paste, red pepper, and salt. Simmer 10 minutes, uncovered, over medium heat until vegetables are soft. Add rice and beans to the pan. Cover and let the dish sit for 5 minutes before serving. Adjust seasoning if needed.
If you use regular long grain white rice, follow the package directions for cooking 1/2 cup rice.
1/2 cup Carolina gold rice
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups of water
Bring the water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan. Rinse the rice three times with tap water in a mixing bowl. Add the rice and salt to the boiling water. Stir gently to separate the grains and cook in boiling water 12-15 minutes until rice is tender and doubled in size. Drain the rice in a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside to add to the beans.
Sources: Jessica B. Harris’ The Africa Cookbook; Marcus Samuelsson’s The Soul of a New Cuisine and The Congo Cookbook.
Italian Sausage, Cannellini Beans and Greens with Grilled Garlic Bread
This dish is versatile. It can be vegetarian by leaving out the sausage (or use a veggie version) and vegetable broth instead of chicken. You can simplify the process if time is short and use canned beans and broth. Just be sure to add the same seasonings. The dish will be almost as good!
Homemade Chicken Broth
1 whole chicken carcass (leftover from roasting or use chicken bones)
2 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion (about 6 oz.), cut into 1/2-inch wedges
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of parsley and a bay leaf
Add enough cold water to submerge the chicken carcass (about 5 quarts) in a large stockpot. Add the carrots, celery, onion, 1 1/2 tablespoons. salt, and 2 teaspoons black pepper. Cover the pot, with the lid slightly ajar. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer, partially covered, for 2 hours If at any time the water level drops below the solids, add water to cover and return to a simmer.
Remove the carcass from the broth and discard. Strain the broth through a fine sieve set over another pot or a bowl large enough to hold the broth. Gently press on the solids with a large spoon to squeeze out any remaining broth. Measure out 6 cups of broth and set aside.
Use the remaining broth for other recipes or freeze in small containers for future use.
1 ½ cups dried cannellini beans
Pinch baking soda
1 large carrot or 2 medium, diced
1 large celery stick or 2 medium, diced
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
The night before serving, rinse the beans picking out any bad ones and place them in a large bowl. Cover with water, add a pinch of baking soda and let soak at least 12 hours.
The next day, drain the beans, rinse and drain well. Place the beans in a heavy stock pot with the vegetables, garlic, and Italian seasoning, cover with water about 4 cups and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender about 60-90 minutes. Add salt to taste. Measure out 3 cups of cooked beans with their cooking liquid and vegetables and set aside. Save the remaining cooked beans for other recipes.
1 lb (6 links) (3 hot and 3 sweet) Italian pork sausage
Cut the sausage into ¼ inch thick slices. Cover the bottom of a Dutch Oven with olive oil and brown the slices of sausage.
Finishing the dish
3 cups cooked escarole or swiss chard
2 cloves garlic, one chopped and one whole
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 Parmesan cheese rind
6 cups homemade chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cooked cannellini beans
Italian bread or use the recipe below
Chop the greens into small pieces and add the greens to the Dutch Oven with the browned sausage. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir. Add the reserved beans, salt, and chicken broth. Stir gently and add the cheese rind.
Bring the ingredients in the stockpot to a low boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, until all the ingredients are hot, about 20 minutes
Slice the bread (See recipe below) and grill or toast lightly. Rub the peeled garlic clove over the surface of the grilled bread and serve with the stew.
Homemade Italian Country Bread
2 teaspoons SAF (instant) yeast
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees)
4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Place the warm water in an electric mixing bowl. Add honey. Mix until the honey is dissolved.
Add the 4 cups of flour and salt and mix. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the flour.
Using the paddle attachment on number low speed, mix the dough until a dough forms that holds together and cleans the sides of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook and continue kneading for 7-8 minutes, until the dough is soft but supple.
Shape the dough into a ball. Spray the mixer bowl with olive oil cooking spray and place the ball of dough back into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double, about 60 minutes.
Place a sheet of parchment paper in a 9 or 10-inch pan or shallow dish. Turn the dough out onto the parchment pan or dish. Gently shape the dough into a round and cover with greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes or more.
At the same time put a covered Cloche pan or Dutch Oven in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Do not grease or spray the Cloche pan or Dutch Oven.
After the dough has risen for 30 minutes and the oven temperature is at 500 degrees F, open the oven and take the lid off the cloche pan.
USE A THICK POTHOLDER BECAUSE THE LID IS VERY HOT!
Transfer the dough while on the parchment to the bottom of the hot cloche pan. Cover with the cloche lid.
Bake for 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees F and remove the cloche lid.
Bake 15 minutes more, or until the bread is crusty and brown. Remove the pan from the oven and place the bread on a wire cooling rack.
Arab immigrants began coming to the U.S. in sizable numbers during the 1880s. Today, it is estimated that nearly 3.7 million Americans trace their roots to an Arab country. Arab Americans are found in every state, but more than two-thirds of them live in California, Michigan, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York are home to one-third of the population.
Arab Americans are as diverse as their countries of origin, with unique immigration experiences that have shaped their ethnic identity in the U.S. While the majority of Arab Americans are descended from the first wave of Christian Arab immigrants, Arab American Muslims represent the fastest growing segment of the Arab American community.
Contrary to popular assumptions, the majority of Arab Americans are native-born, and nearly 82% of Arabs in the U.S. are citizens. While the community traces its roots to every Arab country, the majority of Arab Americans have ancestral ties to Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq.
Arabic-speaking immigrants arrived in the United States in three major waves. The first wave between the late 1800s and World War I consisted mainly of immigrants from Greater Syria, an Arab province of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I. Following the breakup of the Empire, the province was partitioned into the separate political entities of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan. The vast majority of immigrants in this wave were members of Christian minorities. Although some writers claim that these immigrants left their native countries for religious or political reasons, the evidence suggests that they were drawn to the United States by economic opportunity. Like many economically motivated immigrants during this period, Arabs came to the US with the intention of earning money and returning home to live out the remainder of their lives in relative prosperity. The major exception to this pattern was a small group of Arab writers, poets, and artists who took up residence in major urban centers such as New York and Boston. The most famous of the group was Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), author of The Prophet and numerous other works.
Unlike the earlier influx, the second wave included many more Muslims. It also included refugees who had been displaced by the 1948 Palestine War that culminated in the establishment of Israel. This period also witnessed the arrival of many Arabic-speaking professionals and university students who often chose to remain in the United States after completion of their training. Immigrants of the second wave tended to settle where jobs were available. Those with few skills drifted to the established Arab communities in the industrial towns of the East coast and Midwest, while those with professional skills headed to the suburbs around the major industrial cities or to rural towns.
In the mid-1960s, the third wave of Arab immigration began which continues to the present. More than 75 percent of foreign-born Arab Americans identified in the 1990 census immigrated after 1964, while 44 percent immigrated between 1975 and 1980. This influx resulted in part from the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965 which abolished the quota system and its bias against non-European immigration. The third wave included many professionals, entrepreneurs, and unskilled and semi-skilled laborers. These immigrants often fled political instability and wars engulfing their home countries. They included Lebanese Shiites from southern Lebanon, Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Iraqis of all political persuasions. But many professionals from these and other countries like Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, and unskilled workers from Yemen also emigrated in search of better economic opportunities. Had conditions been more hospitable in their home countries, it is doubtful that many of these immigrants would have left their native countries.
Arab Americans have a distinctive cuisine centered on lamb, rice, bread, and highly seasoned dishes. The Middle Eastern diet consists of many ingredients not found in the average American kitchen, such as chickpeas, lentils, fava beans, ground sesame seed oil, feta cheese, dates, and figs. Many Arab dishes, like stuffed zucchini or green peppers and stuffed grape or cabbage leaves, are labor-intensive but delicious and healthy.
Arab Americans are probably most known for their restaurants and cuisines found across the country. Many classic dishes coming from the Arab World have become popular dishes for Americans. The dish most famous, of course, is hummus. This simple puree of chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and garlic is served as an appetizer or as a side to grilled meats and vegetables. Sometimes called “street meat” in the U.S., shawarma is another national hit thanks to Arab Americans. Wrapped with garlic and pickles in Arabic bread (pita bread), shawarma has become a great alternative sandwich. Tabbouli, falafel, grape leaves, and kebabs are part of the American cuisine today.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 cup fresh minced dill
1/4 cup fresh minced mint
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth
50 large jarred grape leaves
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Fresh mint leaves, lemon slices, and olives (for garnish)
Place the pine nuts into a skillet and lightly toast them over medium heat until golden brown. Set aside.
Pour ¼ cup of olive oil into a medium pot and heat it. Add the minced onion and sauté until soft. Add the rice to the pot and stir to combine. Sauté for another minute. Pour in ¾ cup of vegetable broth and lower the heat; simmer the rice uncovered for about 10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is half cooked. Remove the pot from heat.
Add the minced dill, mint, toasted pine nuts, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and lemon zest to the pot of rice. Stir until all the ingredients are well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. As the water is heating, trim the grape leaves by cutting the stems off flush with the leaves. Trim any large, hard veins from the leaves. Place the leaves in the boiling water and let them soften for 3-5 minutes until they become pliable. Drain, then cover the leaves with cold water. Drain the leaves again and pat them dry.
Place a grape leaf shiny (smooth) side down, vein (bumpy) side up, on a flat surface like a cutting board. Place 2 tablespoons of rice filling at the base end of the leaf, near where the stem was. Fold the stem end up over the filling. Fold the edges of the leaf inward. Continue rolling the leaf till it forms a neat rolled package. Squeeze the roll gently to seal.
Repeat the process with the remaining leaves until all of the rice filling is used.
Place the stuffed leaves in the bottom of a deep saute pan. Pack the leaves snugly; as this will help keep the leaves intact as they cook. Make a single layer on the bottom of the pan. When the bottom of the pan is full, make a second layer on top.
Pour 1 cup of broth, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, and ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice over the stuffed grape leaves. Heat the pan over medium until it begins to simmer (don’t boil, or the leaves will start to fall apart). Cover the pot. Let the grape leaves cook for 30-40 minutes. The leaves are finished cooking when they are fork-tender.
3 cups (200 grams) cooked chickpeas, drained
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
3 to 4 ice cubes
1/3 cup (79 grams) tahini paste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Hot water (if needed)
Extra virgin olive oil
Add chickpeas and minced garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Puree until a smooth. While the processor is running, add the ice cubes, tahini, salt, and lemon juice. Blend for about 4 minutes. Check, and if the consistency is still too thick add a little hot water. Blend until the mixture is a silky smooth consistency. Spread in a serving bowl and add a generous drizzle of olive of and a sprinkling of sumac.
1 pound lean ground lamb or beef
3 tablespoons minced onion
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Olive oil, for brushing the grill
Flatbread or pita, for serving
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup grated cucumber squeezed dry
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh mint or dill (or ¼ teaspoon dried)
Pinch of kosher salt
To make the tzatziki sauce, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
For the kofta: Mix the beef, onion, garlic, parsley, coriander, cumin, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Divide the mixture into 6 roughly even balls. Mold each ball around the pointed end of a skewer, making an oval kebab that comes to a point just covering the tip of the skewer. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 15 minutes before threading them.
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat or prepare an outdoor grill. Brush the pan or grill grates lightly with olive oil. Grill the kebabs, turning occasionally, until brown all over and cooked through about 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with tzatziki sauce and flatbread.
Fattoush is a salad of crisp lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, toasted pita bread, and a sumac dressing. Since I was serving pita with the kofta, I did not include it in my salad.
Serves 4 people
2 large pitas
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1 clove garlic minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice about 1 lemon
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or more
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 head romaine lettuce torn into bite-size pieces
1-pint cherry tomatoes halved
1 English cucumber halved and thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion thinly sliced and separated into 1/2 circles
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves torn into small pieces
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cut pitas in half. Separate the top from the bottom and tear into bite-size pieces. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with olive oil; toss to coat. Spread on a baking sheet and season with kosher salt. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, tossing once, until crisp and golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer to a bowl to keep from over browning. Set aside.
To make the dressing. In a small bowl combine the first 6 dressing ingredients (garlic through black pepper); whisk until combined and honey has dissolved. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently to combine.
Drizzle dressing over the salad and gently toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle pita over the top and serve.
Mexican Americans have lived in the United States for most of the country’s history. Ethnically, Mexican Americans are a diverse population, but the majority are Mestizo, which in colonial times meant to be a person of half European and half Native American ancestry. Nonetheless, the meaning of the word has changed through time and currently refers to the segment of the Mexican population who do not speak indigenous languages.
The United States is home to the second-largest Mexican community in the world, second only to Mexico itself, and comprising more than 24% of the entire Mexican population of the world. Mexican American families of indigenous heritage have been in the country for at least 15,000 years, and Mestizo Mexican American history spans more than 400 years, since the 1598 founding of Spanish New Mexico. Spanish residents of New Spain in the Southwest included New Mexican Hispanos and Pueblo Indians and Genizaros, Tejanos, Californios and Mission Indians. Approximately ten percent of the current Mexican-American population are descended from the early colonial settlers who became U.S. citizens in 1848 following the conditions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican–American War.
Generally, when Americans speak about Mexican food, they are usually referring to Tex-Mex (or Cal-Mex) cooking, an extremely popular cuisine that follows the long border between the United States and Mexico. The food of the southwestern US state of New Mexico and the dishes of many of the Native American peoples of the southwestern US have similar names to many Tex-Mex and some Mexican dishes but they use different flavorings and cooking techniques.
Dishes like chili, fajitas, salsa, tortilla chips, chimichangas, quesadillas, burritos, and nachos are actually homegrown American inventions. Even dishes that exist in Mexico like enchiladas, tacos, and tamales are cooked and served differently in the United States. True Mexican dishes are not as spicy as many US versions. American versions of Mexican entrees add prodigious quantities of cheese, either shredded or melted, to nearly every dish, a practice rare in Mexico. The same heavy hand applies to the American use of sauces of all kinds. North of the border portions are larger, plates are filled so that the food items tend to run one into the other. In Mexico, the soft corn tortilla performs the function that bread on the table performs in the United States; it is a side starch. In the United States, fried tortillas, become an ingredient in nearly every dish.
Like most immigrant groups, Mexican Americans have remained loyal to the food traditions of their homeland. Many shops in small ethnic markets carry Mexican specialty foods. When they cook, they follow recipes handed down to them by their parents and grandparents and their cooking styles have certain things in common. Meat, usually pork or beef, is central to the diet. It is often eaten with salsa on the side. Corn, beans, rice, and root vegetables are also staples, especially sweet potatoes, yams, yucca, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, and taro. Also popular is a pear-shaped squash called chayote. Here are some Mexican American recipes for you to make at home.
Carne asada means grilled beef in Spanish. The best cuts for making carne asada is Arrachera or skirt steak. It’s the taste that comes to mind when you think carne asada.
In Mexico, there are several marinating techniques that vary depending on the region of the country.
In the south and in the Gulf of Mexico area, where bitter oranges are grown, cooks will add some of its juice to the meat they are using to make Carne Asada; in other regions, they will add lime juice, and others will add a splash of beer.
Carne asada is traditionally made using a skirt or flank steak. The two cuts are very similar, but I prefer flank steak. When cutting the cooked meat, be sure to cut against the grain. It is quite easy to see the grain running through the meat in both of these cuts. It looks like long lines. Do not cut parallel to these lines, always cut perpendicular to them.
Adapted from Rick Bayless, Chicago Chef
2 limes juiced
4 cloves garlic crushed
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 jalapeno minced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 pounds flank steak
In a gallon size resealable bag, combine the lime juice, crushed garlic, orange juice, cilantro, salt, pepper, olive oil, jalapeno, and vinegar. Squeeze the bag to mix it up.
Put the entire flank steak into the resealable bag. Seal it up tight. Make sure all the meat is exposed to the marinade, squashing the bag around to coat. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight is better.
Heat an outdoor grill or grill pan over high heat.
Remove the flank steak from the marinade, and discard the excess marinade. Cook on the grill for 7 to 10 minutes per side.
Once done, remove from the heat and let rest 10 minutes. Slice against the grain, and serve.
For Carne Asada Tacos
Thinly sliced grilled flank steak
Sliced red onion
Cotija cheese, crumbled
Blood oranges, cut into eighths
Grilled or Roasted Corn On the Cob
4 ears corn
2 tablespoons butter (softened)
Parmesan cheese, grated
Chopped herbs (your choice)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F or use the grill when cooking the meat.
Remove husks and silks from the corn. Place the corn on sheets of foil.
Butter corn and sprinkle with herbs and Parmesan cheese. Enclose the corn in foil and press the edges to seal.
Place wrapped corn on a cookie sheet or on the grill and roast for 25-30 minutes.
Mexican Red Rice
Arroz Rojo Mexicano
Adapted from Rick Bayless, Chicago Chef
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, undrained
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ cups long-grain white rice
1 ¾ cups unsalted chicken broth or water
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 1 to 2 serranos or 1 large jalapeño), stemmed and cut a slit down the side of each one
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch cubes
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
Place the garlic into a blender or food processor, add the canned tomatoes and process to a smooth puree.
In a large saucepan, stir together the oil and rice. When the rice is thoroughly coated, stir in the tomato puree, broth (or water), carrots and 1 teaspoon salt. Nestle in the chiles. Cover the pan, bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Gently stir the rice, re-cover and let the rice cook about 20 minutes. or until tender Taste a grain of rice: It should be very close to done at the core. If not, sprinkle in a little water, re-cover and cook 5 minutes more.
When the rice is done, uncover it and sprinkle in the peas and the parsley or cilantro. Use a fork to gently fluff the rice, reaching all the way to the edges of the bottom, to release steam and slow the cooking. Re-cover, let stand 5 minutes.
Black Beans with Chiles
1 pound dried black beans
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small red onion, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
2 whole serrano chiles or 1 jalapeño chile
1 tablespoon ground cumin
4 1/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Rinse beans. Place beans in a large bowl. Cover with water by several inches. Let soak overnight.
Place oil, onion, and carrot in a Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until the onion is tender. Drain beans and add to the Dutch Oven. Add whole chiles, cumin, chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 1 hour. Uncover and simmer until beans are very tender, about 15 minutes more.
This past weekend I grilled a whole chicken and, of course, there were leftovers. The leftovers made a delicious filling for the peppers. Here is the link to the grilled chicken and my recipe for Ranch Salad Dressing.
2 large bell peppers
1/2 cup water
1 cup of shredded cooked chicken
1/2 cup leftover rice or cauliflower rice
1/4 cup salsa
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 scallions, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
1/2 teaspoon taco seasoning
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the tops off the peppers and reserve them. Remove the pepper seeds, wash and dry the peppers.
Combine the filling ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. You need about 1 cup of filling for each pepper.
Fill the hollowed out pepper cups and place them in a baking dish where they can stand upright. Put the tops on the peppers and pour the water in the baking dish around the bottom of the peppers.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the peppers are tender.
Corn and Black Bean Saute
2 cups corn kernels
1 seeded and minced jalapeno
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups canned or homemade black beans, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Saute the corn, jalapeno, and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat until corn is just tender. Stir in the black beans and cilantro. Season and heat.
Sliced Cucumbers With Ranch Dressing
1 English cucumber
Ranch Dressing (your favorite or my recipe in the link at the top of this post.)
Cut the cucumber into thin slices. Place on a serving plate and drizzle with ranch dressing.
Oven Roasted Baby Back Ribs
Serve with a salad or your favorite green vegetable.
1 cup homemade BBQ sauce, recipe below
2 slabs baby back ribs
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
4 tablespoon brown sugar or brown sugar substitute
Combine the rub ingredients in a small dish.
Prepare the ribs by removing the silver skin or scoring it between the bones on the underside of the ribs.
Place the ribs in a baking dish and coat the sides of the ribs with the rub.
Allow the ribs to sit for at least 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Roast the ribs, meat side up, covered, in the oven for 3 hours.
Remove the ribs from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Barbecue Baked Black Soybeans
Why I like using black soybeans:
Black soybeans are great substitutes for higher-carb beans, such as black, navy, and pinto beans. They don’t taste as soybean-like as the yellow ones do, but rather more like regular black beans. You can substitute them in dishes that call for black beans, such as baked beans, refried beans, bean soup, chili, and 4-Bean Salad.
Nutritionally, black soybeans are free of fat and a good source of protein. They are low in net carbohydrates (the number of carbohydrates per serving minus the grams of fiber) and high in protein, fiber, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and riboflavin. Half a cup of canned black soybeans has 1 gram net carbs plus 7 grams of fiber (8 grams of total carbohydrate), 11 grams of protein, and 120 calories.
The black variety is higher in some phytonutrients, including antioxidants. The only distinction between white and black soybeans is the color of the hull so any nutritional difference will be found in the black outer shell. Similar to blueberries and raspberries, the dark exterior of the black soybean contains antioxidants that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules.
Cooking Black Soybeans
2 cups dried black soybeans
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 small onion, halved
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Because of their delicate skin and silken texture, black soybeans need to be cooked a bit differently than regular beans. To avoid their getting mushy, it is best to soak overnight and cook the dried beans in salted water. You will use the same water measurements called for in recipes using regular beans, but you will add salt to the soaking and cooking water. For two cups of dry black soybeans, soak overnight in 8 cups of water with 1 teaspoon of salt.
The next day, drain the beans and place in a large saucepan. Add six cups water, 1 teaspoon salt, the oil, garlic, and onion. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pan and cook the beans until tender about 2 hours.
For the Baked Beans
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups homemade BBQ sauce, recipe below
4 cups cooked black soybeans or canned, rinsed and drained
2 slices of cooked bacon
Sauté the finely chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add beans and 1 cup of the barbecue sauce. Pour into a baking dish. Top with the bacon. Bake the beans in a 300 degree F oven for 2 hours.
Homemade BBQ Sauce
4 cups low sugar ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar or brown sugar substitute
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle adobo sauce
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, grated
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and let simmer, uncovered, for about an hour.
Cooking and Serving Tips
If you’d like your sauce on the spicier side, increase the adobo sauce by 1/2 teaspoon increments.
Make sure to stir frequently, about once every 15 minutes, while the BBQ sauce is cooking. This will help better incorporate the flavors and ensure that the sauce is evenly cooked throughout.
Let the sauce cool before transferring to a storage container. A mason jar is a good option. Whatever you use, make sure it’s airtight. You can store your sauce in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze it for several months.
When you cook steak and chicken, make extra. The leftovers easily make quick weeknight meals.
Steak & Bean Tacos
I like to serve this dish with a green mixed salad and ranch dressing.
Half of a leftover grilled flank steak, sliced thin
Original recipe for the grilled steak
2 cups cooked black beans
1 cup medium spicy salsa
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
4 flour tortillas
Any leftover steak will work in this recipe, just slice it very thin. Reheat the steak in the microwave or in foil in a moderate oven temperature until warm. Heat the beans and warm the tortillas. Assemble the tacos with beef, beans, salsa, and cheddar cheese.
Greek Salad With Leftover Grilled Chicken
8 oz leftover grilled chicken that had been marinated in 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 sliced garlic clove, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, salt, and pepper to taste.
Grilled chicken directions
2 Pita breads, warmed
Greek Salad Ingredients
Romaine lettuce, torn into small pieces
Bell peppers, seeded and cut into one-inch squares
Red onions, sliced thin
Cucumbers, peeled and sliced into half moons
Tomatoes, cut into one-inch pieces
Crumbled Feta cheese
Greek Salad Dressing, recipe below
I always grill more chicken than I need for dinner because there are so many dishes you can make with the leftovers. Like this one – a family favorite.
Assemble the salad ingredients in individual bowls. (I use pasta bowls.) Mix with some of the dressing. Slice the leftover chicken and place on top of the salad. Serve additional dressing on the side along with the warm pita bread.
Greek Salad Dressing
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoon lemon juice
Pour all the dressing ingredients into a large jar and shake well.
Place the jar in the refrigerator for a few hours to blend the flavors.
Pour the Greek dressing over the salad ingredients as directed above.