Ingredients of Mexican and Southwestern Cooking - 5
PEPITA: See Pumpkin Seed PEPPER: There is PIPER NIGRUM, Peppercorn, and the CAPSICUM FRUTECENS and CASPSICUM ANNUUM, the family of vegetables know variously as peppers and chilies. Peppercorns came to the Western world originally from Madagascar. The success of medieval spice traders made black pepper more widely available and only a little less precious than it had previously been.
Representing the FRUTESCENS contingent, bell peppers are related to chilies but lack the capsaicin (the compound that makes them hot), Bell peppers are therefore known as "sweet". Until recently, bell peppers of any color than green were an oddity at many markets; today, there is a profusion of yellow, red and purple ones. Red and yellow are acknowledged to be the sweetest. Roast bell peppers as for chilies.
PHEASANT: This game bird fares equally well when cooked with a bravely seasoned sauce or a mild creamy one. Serve it with a grain side dish; see Game.
PILONCILLO: This unrefined sugar is purchased in hard cones. Like other "raw" sugars, piloncillo is beige to brown; the deeper the color, the more pronounced the molasses flavor.
PINE NUTS (PINIONS, PIGNOLIS): Pine nuts are the seeds of the Pinion pine. They are delicious raw or toasted. Store them tightly covered and either refrigerated or frozen, depending on how quickly they are to be used. See NUTS for toasting and grinding.
PLANTAIN: This relative of the banana boasts a thick skin and large size. The fruit itself tends to be a deeper yellow than that of the banana. Cooked unripe plantain is eaten as one would a potato. Plantains are sweetest when ripe, which isn't until their skins are an alarming through black. Like bananas, plantains will ripen after they have been harvested.
POSOLE: Sometimes hominy is called "posole," but the word authentically refers to a dish made with hominy as an ingredient. See Hominy PRICKLY PEAR: This is the diminutive (egg size) fruit of the cactus of the same name. It is nearly impossible to avoid the prickles when peeling to reveal the garnet-colored flesh. Prickly pears are sometimes sold with the prickles removed.
PUMPKIN SEED: With the shells or husks removed, pumpkin seeds are known as PEPITAS. Store them in a cool, dry place. To toast pumpkin seeds, spread them in a single layer in an ungreased pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 13 to 15 minutes, stirring and checking for doneness frequently.
QUAIL: These little birds weigh in at about 1/4 pound. They have richly flavored meat, what there is of it. Quail are most commonly available frozen. See GAME.
QUESO: Spanish for "cheese." QUESO ANEJO: The name means "aged cheese," in Spanish. See CHEESE.
QUESO FRESCO: The name means "fresh cheese,) in Spanish. See CHEESE.
RABBIT: Rabbits are raised commercially. As with many uncommon meats, it is said of rabbit, that it "tastes like chicken." It doesn't; it tastes like rabbit. Large rabbits aren't as tender as the little ones; it is well to marinate or stew older ones, or make rabbit sausage. See GAME.
RED PEPPER: See Ground Red Pepper.
RED PEPPER SAUCE: This commercially bottled condiment is made from vinegar, spices and hot chilies. It adds heat but little in the way of flavor.
RICE: Mexican cooking calls for long grain or medium-grain white rice. The occasional southwestern dish uses wild rice, which really isn't rice. It is the fruit of an aquatic grass once harvested only by Native Americans who lived by the Great Lakes.
SQUASH BLOSSOMS: Contrary to poplar belief, the blossoms used in southwest cooking are those of winter squashes such as pumpkin, not zucchini. They are a perishable item and are best used the day they are bought.
TAMARIND: This is an intensely pungent, tart pod about four inches long. Tamarind is usually bought packaged in a tightly compressed, sticky plastic-wrapped lump. The flesh is riddled with fibers and seeds--not what you want in your food--and must be soaked before using. Separate the tamarind pods, pulling away and discarding as much of the pod as you reasonably can. Cover with water and let the pulp soak for at least an hour (overnight, if time permits). Then squeeze the pulp well to extract the juice or rub as much pulp as you can through a fine mesh sieve.