Everything Tastes Better a la Mexicana

14 Oct

Since I can’t be physically present for the potluck to benefit our family’s return to the US, and perhaps neither can you, I wanted to share some more recipes. Because food is love, people. Sometimes.

I really wanted to give you guys the recipe for flying ant (chicatana) salsa, but unfortunately, unless you live in this area, you are not going to be able to get the ingredients. Chicatanas are large, flying ants that only come out occasionally during the rainy season- which is drawing to a close here now. Chicatanas are so much better than, and not to be confused with, chapulines. My friend Corrina refers to chapulines as “the spicy crickets” that she was “burping up for days.” (I did finally try the “spicy crickets,” which are actually grasshoppers, last year, because my friend swore they were the good, fresh ones. They were okay. Nothing half as good as chicatanas.)

Don’t get chicatanas confused with chapulines, the “spicy crickets”- okay, they’re more like grasshoppers really. Here are chapulines:

Chicatanas appear before dawn with the first big rain of the rainy season (in May), and they are quite a sight to behold. There seem to be hundreds of them swarming around the light post. This year was the first year we’ve seen them come out at our house- because it’s the first year there’s been electricity to attract them to my street. (Woo hoo!) (Yes, I was up as usual before dawn, but I didn’t think to snap a picture.) Everyone runs out to catch as many as they can when chicatanas come out. They are ridiculously easy to catch, but because they only come out of hiding one or two days a year they are very expensive to buy. If you ever happen to be in Oaxaca for rainy season, this is a fabulous food experience.

What chicatanas look like- below- still with wings, and wingless after a quick roasting.


Paulina, my mother-in-law, makes a to-die-for chicatana salsa, but without the main ingredient it’s pretty useless to give you the recipe. Instead, I want to tell you about the easiest trick for Mexican cooking, that I’m pretty sure everyone can use. It’s called “a la Mexicana.” It’s based on the colors of the flag, conveniently correlated to colors of typical staple foods. You might not know the colors of the Mexican flag if you’re not Mexican, because folks only wave their flag around in your face here in the month of September (for Independence celebrations), not year-round like many countries. So I’ll just tell you- the flag colors are green, white, and red. And cooking a la Mexicana means cooking with green chile pepper (jalapeño or Serrano, depending on how spicy you want it), onion (and usually garlic) for the white tint, and of course a red tomato.

Side note: These are the only local tomatoes available. So you either buy semi-ripe Roma tomatoes that come from who-knows-where, or these. All local tomatoes look like this, except for some cherry-type tomatoes that are around part of the year.


photo from: 





The Mexican flag outside of the airport in Mexico City


This is the most versatile and handiest thing ever for cooking. You’ve probably heard of huevos a la Mexicana (Mexican-style eggs). It’s the most common a la Mexicana recipe made in the US, and it’s delicious. It’s probably Conan’s favorite. But I love a la Mexicana cooking because I can use it for almost everything. Bored with your usual lentil recipe? Stir-fry your a la Mexicana ingredients in the bottom of the pot and then throw your lentils and water on top. Not sure what to do with those nopales (cactus) you were brave enough to buy? A la Mexicana! (Recipe is below, because I make it a little bit differently than the typical way.) You can make potatoes, beef, or a million other things in this style. Once you’ve tasted the flavor you have a good idea what else it can work with. It doesn’t work with everything, mind you. I can’t imagine beets a la Mexicana, for example. Maybe not broccoli, but certainly cauliflower. Try it and you’ll get a feel for it fast.



Dee endorses nopales. Okay, maybe not exactly. He did not hate them, at least. That’s close enough to winning over a picky eater.

Here are some nopales (aka cactus):


photo from this site: 


Nopales a la Mexicana, Julia’s style

This is a fabulous side dish. It can be served warm, or you can vary it slightly for a salad. You can also make it a whole breakfast if you scramble some eggs in towards the end of cooking. Well, and you need corn tortillas to accompany it, of couse.


Nopales (around 6-9 whole fresh- not canned- nopales)

½ medium onion, diced

1 medium clove garlic, minced

2 small tomatoes, diced

1 chile or less-  remove seeds for less heat

Handful of cilantro, chopped



Cut the prickly bits off of the nopales. (Haha! if you lived down here you could buy them already prickly-free. I’m so lucky.) Then make a couple of vertical cuts in the nopal so that it cooks evenly (this is a trick given by my mother-in-law). Cook the nopales on a griddle, or use a sauté pan, without oil. Put however many will fit on your griddle over low-medium heat, for about 4 minutes on one side. Flip over and cook until brownish on both sides (another few minutes). Alternately, you can boil the nopales, but they have a very different texture when boiled; they’re juicier, but some people (like my husband) think it’s a slimy-ish juiciness. I like their flavor both ways, once again proving that I am more Mexican than my Mexican husband. Go figure.

Set cooked nopales aside. When cooled enough to not burn you, cut them into strips about an inch wide and 2 inches long.

Sauté the onion and chile for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic for another minute. Then add the tomato, nopales, and cilantro, and sauté on low-medium heat another 5 minutes, until tomatoes are pretty well cooked.

The end! It’s that easy.

To make it like a salad, cut the nopales into strips about an inch wide and two inches long, and boil for 30 minutes or so. Put in cold water to cool. When cooled and drained, add tomato, onion, cilantro, jalepeño, and radishes (optional)- all chopped/diced according to your salad-eating preferences. Mix with fresh lime juice and salt and ta-dah! A salad version.

Go to the this week’s benefit karaoke potluck extravaganza if you’re in the Louisville area this Sunday. Sing cheesy songs and eat some awesome food! And if you can’t make it, just make yourself something a la Mexicana. Buen provecho! Love, Julia

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