The cultures and civilizations of ancient Mexico were some of the most advanced of the ancient world. Sadly burned and buried by European invasion and religious motives, this history is obscure to average modern Americans. One of the most fascinating aspects of any culture is it’s cuisine, and that of ancient America is no different. With staples like corn, beans, fruits and vegetables, the diet was mostly vegan, and never lacking for flavor. Though the heritage of many Americans is not tied to the civilizations that populated the land long ago, there is much to gain from an understanding of what naturally thrives in our land, and even more to gain if we embrace this patriotic cuisine.
The main staples of Ancient Middle America were corn and beans, and appeared at almost every meal of both peasants and royalty. Vegetables like nopal (cactus), onions, squash, sweet potatoes, peppers and chilies also played major roles. There were various fruits such as tomatoes, guava, and tamarind. Popular herbs and flavorings were coriander/cilantro, amaranth leaves, and vanilla. And lest we forget, cacao has a natural home here in America, and has been enjoyed by the upper class as a hot frothy drink spiked with spice and vanilla for centuries.
A traditional meal for a common man would be tamales or tortillas with an accompanying sauce or condiment for dipping or wrapping up in the tortilla. For a more elaborate or royal feast, this would be a first course, with many different dishes to accompany the tortillas and tamales. A second course would consist of fruit and vegetables, fresh and cooked. And finally cups of frothy chocolate to finish the meal and stimulate digestion.
Unlike European cuisine there is little focus on meat and animal protein. Before Europeans arrived, the main source of animal protein came from bugs like ants and grasshoppers, and animals like dogs and turkeys. Wild deer and rabbit were also hunted and used similarly to fill tamales, or added to dishes to accompany tortillas.
As an avid lover of the cheese course and a good charcuterie plate, I wonder, would a traditional ancient feast of tortillas, salsa, fruit and chocolate satisfy? And so, taking the most basic staple ingredients I recreated the poor man’s version of a daily meal:
Fresh corn tortillas
Beans with onion, pepper, chili and tomatoes
No cheese, no sour cream, no chorizo, no wheat, and yet, totally delicious and satisfying! Not to mention, super cheap and healthy. The next time you are in the mood for Mexican food, or just don’t know what to eat, try out this traditional meal. Get a pack of good corn tortillas, sauté onions and peppers with smoky seasonings, add tomato based salsa and beans and mash a little to combine. Spoon this into your warmed tortillas and top with lettuce and lime, you will be surprised how filled and satisfied you are. To finish, cut up fresh fruits like pineapple, mango and papaya and enjoy the refreshing sweet end to a meal, Olmec style.
I made this and found myself eating it like Ethiopian food, after a little more exploration, I discovered that the Olmecs, the mother population of the Aztecs and Maya are thought by some to have come from Africa. The food certainly bears resemblance…