Where India & Mexico Meet: Right at Your Mouth
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because most history lessons aren't edible.
By Sandya Kola
As a young Indian girl, I used to always want to eat — much to my parents’ dismay — at Taco Bell. So in order to make me eat more home-cooked meals and cut down my fast-food intake, my father learned how to make his very own seven-layer burrito.
He would use the same seven ingredients but — here’s the catch — would wrap it all up in a roti, fried in buttery ghee that gave the burrito an extra crunchy bite. This was my first experience of a somewhat Indian-Mexican crossover dish.
And although my younger self always thought my dad’s Taco Bell-meets-India invention was innovative and unique to our household, turns out Indian-Mexican restaurants all over the country have been one-upping the Indo-Mex blends of the Kola family with new, adventurous tastes — and their menus feature more than just roti-wrapped burritos.
If you happen to step into one of these fusion restaurants, expect your taste buds to be greeted by tacos filled with street-side-style paneer, or Punjabi burritos served with basmati rice, seasoned chickpeas and curried pumpkin, all rolled together in a whole wheat tortilla.
You may even find quesadillas filled with cheese and chicken tikka (or paneer tikka for us vegetarians) sandwiched inside a potato-stuffed paratha. Some Indian-Mexican restaurants have even taken this fusion cuisine to a whole new level by making an in-house hybrid flour that creates a blend of Indian rotis and Mexican tortillas.
Crossover cuisines and fusion restaurants have become the norm in today’s international food scene, which is far more globalized than ever before. Chefs from every background are mixing ingredients and culinary techniques from across the globe in an effort to find the next big thing. However, the Indian-Mexican cuisine sets itself apart as something uniquely different.
In the early 20th century, men from the Indian state of Punjab came to the United States in search of work, many of whom eventually settled in California. At one point, almost 2,000 Punjabi men lived in California, writes anthropologist Karen Leonard in Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans.
Yet because of California’s miscegenation laws, which didn’t allow these Indian workers to marry outside their race, along with the Immigration Act of 1917 that restricted these men from bringing Indian wives into the country, many Punjabi men ended up marrying Mexican women. The confluence of these various laws and policies created not only a distinct bi-ethnic community of Punjabi-Mexicans, but also a rich micro-cuisine in the unsuspecting town of Yuba City, California.
Although not all Indian-Mexican restaurant owners today may attribute their food to this history, it’s a cuisine whose cultural DNA nonetheless represents an organic community of Indians and Mexicans brought together by a delicate alignment of immigration policies, miscegenation laws, migratory patterns and cultural similarities.
Are you dying to try it, but the pandemic is getting in your way? Here you go!
By Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana
This Mexican chaat is an easy first step to making a favorite Indian street-side snack with a Mexican flare.
- 1 cup nacho chips, broken into large pieces (plus more for serving)
- 1 medium potato, boiled, peeled and cut into small pieces
- ¼ cup boiled corn kernels
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 small tomato, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon green chutney (plus more for garnish)
- 1 tablespoon tamarind chutney (plus more for garnish)
- 1 teaspoon chaat masala
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander leaves (plus more for garnish)
- 2-3 tablespoons yogurt
- Combine broken nacho chips, potato, corn kernels, onion, tomato, jalapeno, green chutney, tamarind chutney, chaat masala, salt and chopped coriander in a bowl and mix well.
- Add yogurt and mix well.
- Serve garnished with a few nacho chips, green chutney, tamarind chutney and chopped coriander.
Desi Spiced Tequila Twist
Inspired by Tarla Dala
Tequila with an Indian twist is a great way to spice up your weekend and is sure to give a kick to your taste buds.
- 1.5 ounces tequila (blanco or reposado)
- 4 ounces club soda
- 2 teaspoons cardamom powder
- ½ tablespoon chopped coriander
- ½ teaspoon rose water
- 4 tablespoons kala khatta syrup (plum sherbet)
- 1 teaspoon chaat masala
- Few drops lime juice
- 1 pinch of salt
- Crushed ice
- If desired, rim a glass with salt by wetting with a lime wedge and rolling in salt.
- Crush or grind chopped coriander
- Add to a bowl with cardamom powder, rose water, kala khatta syrup, chaat masala, lime juice and salt.
- Fill the glass with ice. Add tequila and all other ingredients. Top it off with club soda.
- Garnish lightly with sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves.
Saffron and Cardamom Churros
By Sandya Kola
For the syrup:
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup water
- 1 generous pinch of saffron
- ¾ teaspoon cardamom powder
For the churros:
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup butter
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1¼ cups flour
- 3 large eggs
- Ghee or vegetable oil as needed (for frying)
- Pistachios for garnish (optional)
- Star tip with at least ½-inch-wide opening
- Wax paper
Make the syrup:
- Add sugar and water to a pot and bring to a boil.
- Cook over medium heat until mixture reaches one string consistency. (To test for one string consistency, put a small portion of the syrup in a spoon. Cool slightly. Take it between your thumb and forefinger, gently rubbing your fingers together and then pulling them apart. If you should see a single, unbroken string of syrup, it’s ready.)
- Add cardamom and saffron. Stir and remove from heat. Set aside to cool.
Make the churros:
- Add water, buttermilk, butter, salt and sugar to a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Add flour and stir, continuing until the mixture clumps together to form a ball. Make sure to turn the dough over in the pot for even heating.
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. The mixture should begin to look shiny and slightly stiff.
- Place dough in a pastry bag fitted with a tip.
- Place a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet. Pipe the dough to your desired length onto the cookie sheet. Place in the freezer while you heat up the ghee or oil.
- Add ghee to pot and allow it to melt. It should fill one to two inches of the pot. When the churros feel firm, drop them into the melted ghee using a spatula.
- Work in batches. Fry the churros for about two minutes or until they’re golden brown. Remove them using tongs, let the oil drain on paper towels, and add churros to the pot of syrup.
- Let them soak evenly in the syrup for about one minute. Remove and place to cool on wax paper-lined cookie sheet.
- For a true desi touch, option to garnish with chopped pistachios.
Can’t find some of these Indian ingredients in your local grocery store? Find the closest Indian store near you.
- Sandya Kola, OZY Author Contact Sandya Kola