With Cinco de Mayo days away it’s time to celebrate Hispanic culture and heritage. Specifically, the food!
It’s no secret we love Mexican food! The flavors, the spices, the mouth-water aroma – it’s oh so good! Of course, when you talk about Mexican food you have to talk about beans. Although they are a staple in recipes all over the world, no culture’s food is more synonymous with beans than Mexico. Beloved by all – rich or poor – beans have always been at dinner tables across the country.
But, have you ever wondered why?
You know beans are a permanent fixture in Mexican cuisine – but why? In the countries early days meat, aside from some seafood, was relatively scarce. Beef, pork, chickens, goats and sheep were not indigenous ingredients to Mexico until the arrival of Spaniards and other European travelers. Without much meat, sources of protein were limited as well.
A native crop and in abundance, beans were used to supplement as a protein for early inhabitants of Mexico. Establishing themselves early on as a quality and important ingredient, beans became forever linked to Mexican food.
But, it wasn’t just the necessity for protein that established beans as a popular ingredient in Hispanic cooking. Truth be told, the very nature of beans makes them the perfect ingredient! Here’s why.
Versatility in Dishes
With limited options for protein, beans became popular for their versatility. Beans could be used in any number of classic Mexican dishes likes soups, stews, salads, casseroles, in a tortilla or can simply be eaten on their own. Once other ingredients like new meats, dairy products, garlic, onions and other herbs and spices were introduced by the Europeans, it became instantly apparent that beans could be incorporated alongside these new ingredients.
So, much like their appeal in other cultures’ cooking, beans being able to serve a variety of roles (be it starring or supporting) in a variety of traditional dishes makes them the perfect ingredient for Mexican food.
Balance of Flavor
Beans weren’t the only indigenous ingredient to establish themselves in Mexican food. Chilies and spices were also readily available and were frequently used by early chefs. Those spices and chilies remain a staple in Mexican food today which carries the reputation of being hot and spicy. But, you can’t just have spicy all the time!
Every flavor needs a “ying” to their “yang.” Often, you want something to be able to balance out the heat. The earthy, rich flavor of black beans and the creaminess of pinto beans (the two varieties most synonymous with Mexican food) do just that. Beans act as the perfect counterpart to the chilies and spices that are so popular in Hispanic cuisine that has a penchant for being spicy and bold.
Because of their versatility in a variety of dishes and their ability to balance out the vibrant and spicy flavors of Mexican dishes, beans have and will always be the perfect ingredient for Mexican food. So, when you celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year, don’t forget the beans!