FRESH MIXIOTE LEAVE: GIFT OF THE MAGUEY
The Mixiote Leave: An Indigenous Culinary Delight. Mixiote (pronounced meesh-EEOH-teh) is a word in Nahuatl (NAH-ooah-tl), the language of the Mexica people more commonly known by their Spanish name: the Aztecs. As a side note, the word “Mexico” comes from the word “Mexica”, which explains the country’s name. In any case, variations on Nahuatl are still spoken by 1.45 million people in Mexico according to a 2005 report of the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia (“INEGI”), the Mexican government’s statistics bureau.
Many words in English are originally Nahuatl, including avocado (aguacate in Spanish, ahuacatl in Nahuatl), chili peppers (chile in Spanish, chilli in Nahuatl), chocolate (chocolate in Spanish, chocolatl in Nahuatl), coyote (coyote in Spanish, coyotl in Nahuatl), and many more. Culturally, most Mexicans use words derived from Nahuatl every day, often without even knowing that is where they come from. Ethnically, almost all Mexicans are mestizos—of mixed European and indigenous bloodlines—with many of us from the Valley of Mexico having Mexica ancestry. Personally, I’m unsure if I have Mexica blood, but my family has Zapotec and other indigenous groups in our ethnic mix.
The Nuahuatl-derived term “mixiote” refers both to the parchment-like film or membrane obtained from maguey leaves
Mixiote Leave Peeling
The word mixiotes refers to one of the most delectable dishes within the wide spectrum of Mexican cooking, as well as the wrapping used to contain these steamed individual meat stews. This wrapping, also known as a mixiote, is the outermost layer of a maguey leaf, called a penca.
Hence, the word mixiote is a derivative of the Aztec language and is a combination of “the maguey leaf and skin of the arm.” During this period of time, plantations of the maguey leaf, which is a type of agave cactus, were plentiful and regularly harvested.
Mixiotes are the rather tough outer membranes of the young of Maguey (century) plant leaves. The membranes are removed in sheets and used to wrap little bundles of marinated meats and chiles which were then steamed as you would a tamale. Today you can use banana leaves or parchment paper.
Amazing and Mouth-Watering: Lamb Mixiotes or Mixiotes de Carnero
Spiced Lamb Steamed in Maguey Leaves: Mixiotes de Carnero
Mixiotes de Carnero is a specialty of the central Mexican states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Hidalgo. They are flavored with two of the most distinctively Mexican of leaves: avocado leaves, which are enclosed with the meat, and pencas de maguey – the inner layer of maguey leaves – used to wrap the meat. Mixiote wrappers- Papel para mixiotes – may be used to wrap the meat, or use plastic baggies and foil.
- 3 ½ pounds of lamb cubes
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup bitter orange juice or ½ sweet orange juice and ½ white vinegar
- ½ head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and chopped
- ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 ancho chiles, seeded and deveined
- 6 guajillo chiles, seeded and deveined
- 1 medium white onion, peeled and chopped
- 4 Roma tomatoes, roasted and peeled
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 12 small new potatoes, cut into 1″ cubes
- 6 medium carrots, cut into 1″ cubes
- 12 avocado leaves, lightly toasted just to the point of fragrance
- 12 mixiote wrappers or 12 plastic baggies and 12 8″ squares of aluminum foil
Salt and pepper the lamb cubes and prick them in several places with a fork. Puree the orange juice with the garlic, marjoram, oregano and bay leaves and pour this mixture into a large, non-reactive bowl. Place the meat cubes in the marinade and set aside while the sauce is being prepared.
Soak the chiles in hot water to cover until softened (about 20 minutes) and puree in a blender with the onion and tomatoes. Heat the oil in a saucepan and cook the puree for 10 minutes.
Remove the lamb cubes from the marinade and evenly divide the lamb cubes, potatoes and carrots among the mixiote leave wrappers or in the baggies, with an avocado leaf and a few spoonfuls of sauce. Tie each package with kitchen string and, if using baggies, wrap each in foil and seal tightly.
Place mixiotes leave on a rack in a steamer or stockpot, with water and a coin on the bottom. Cover and steam for 1 ½ -2 hours, adding boiling water to the bottom of the steamer when coin rattles.
To serve, remove the foil if used, and place each mixiote leave in a soup bowl. Each diner unties and unwraps his own, letting the cooking juices flow into the bowl with the meat and vegetables. Traditional accompaniments are salsa verde and corn tortillas.
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