Over the past many months since we started restricting our restaurant dining, one of the cuisines we have missed most is Mexican food. Here in Texas one of our blessings is an abundance of rich, spicy, southwestern fare.

Tex-Mex is now internationally known and is considered a sub group of southwestern cuisine. It is a fusion of native Mexican and traditional Spanish foods that originated around San Antonio during the mission era when Texas was a northern province of Mexico.

During an earlier time in my life, I had the good fortune to live in New Mexico which has its own food culture that is quite different from our Tex-Mex. This cuisine also originated from the native people of the region and its Spanish and Mexican cultures. Both cuisines are delicious and different from each other. And both offer a distinctive layering of flavors that is characteristic of traditional Mexican food.

Although layering flavors is not unique to Mexican food, it is a good place to experience this interesting food technique. Think of your favorite enchiladas, a combination dish constructed with layers of flavor. Corn tortillas rolled up with a flavored filling; perhaps cheese, onions and salsa or meat chili with peppers; then covered with a flavorful sauce; red ranchero, green chili sauce or brown Texas-style chili; and then topped with yellow cheese and perhaps some diced green onion or tomatoes. The final product becomes a feast of layered flavors!

If you have been cooking at home for some time like us, it’s good to periodically break the routine with a special food event. I decided to do a Mexican Food Extravaganza! (Listen to Mexican radio for the right emphasis when announcing your Mexican Food Extravaganza!)

If we went to a restaurant, what plate would I choose? Your event begins with a menu. I decided to make from scratch refried beans, Spanish rice, green chili and a sauce made from the green chili to top enchiladas.

As supporting characters, I bought a pre-made guacamole, a good red salsa and some chips. Needless to say, this required 2 days of preparation. Think of Thanksgiving. We cook for 2 days and then feast on the leftovers over the next several days. We enjoyed our Mexican Food Extravaganza! for several nights.

Each time the menu is slightly tweaked for interest. We had cheese and onion enchiladas with a green chili sauce accompanied by refried beans and Spanish rice. The next meal was green chili tacos with a guacamole salad. You get the idea. As we were finishing the last of the leftovers, we both marveled at how we were not tired of Mexican Food Extravaganza! (same emphasis)

Add this month’s Spanish rice to your recipe file. It’s easy to make and stands on its own or serves as an excellent accompaniment to your next Mexican Food Extravaganza!

In this recipe, combining olive oil with butter provides the best of both fats. The olive oil with its high smoke point is ideal for sautéing and the butter adds a rich savory flavor. Sautéing the brown rice before steaming adds flavor to the rice and slightly reduces cooking time. The Worcestershire sauce is not a traditional ingredient but we are layering flavors. When cooking rice, we all learned the mandate, “Don’t lift the lid until done!” But in this dish, it is important to look for the pitting that indicates the liquid is absorbed. A pot with a see-through lid is preferable but if necessary, you must monitor to know when to stir the bottom of the pot. The flavored rice will be prone to stick after the liquid is absorbed.

During these days when we eat less often in restaurants, it is a good time to explore theme nights at home. Why wait for the next holiday. Let’s create our own fiesta! What will be your next food extravaganza?

Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He is a Nacogdoches resident and he helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable channel 2 in Nacogdoches.

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