On March 1, Truly Texas Mexican, a documentary on the origins of Texas Mexican cuisine, is scheduled for release on Amazon, Apple TV, Google TV, and select PBS stations.
It may surprise you.
It may surprise you to learn there is a growing movement in Texas to begin a new conversation about the historical cuisine of Texas, which begins with Native Americans. I’m a native Texan. I lived my first 29 years in the Lone Star State and, yet, I was surprised by this film.
It may surprise you that combination plates smothered in orange-dyed cheese and other “Tex-Mex specialties” are not what Tejanos — people with Mexican and Native American ancestry — eat, certainly not at home where “comida casera“– home cooking — is queen.
And finally, it may surprise you to see such gorgeous cinematography that isn’t otherwise polished or “staged,” like other culinary films on Netflix.
The Story of Texas Cuisine
The documentary is the culmination of over 20 years of research by noted Texas chef and author, Adán Medrano.
Endorsed by the Latino Center of The Smithsonian, the documentary begins as many food documentaries do: a chef strolling a food market and returning to cook in his kitchen. As these familiar film plots unfold, Mr. Medrano begins to tell the story of his food.
“When I attended the Culinary Institute of America, we studied the food of France, Japan, Peru, even Mexico, but my food was invisible,” he said. “My food was invisible because in South Texas, Native American roots are invisible.”
In the 90-minute documentary, Mr. Medrano introduces several guests who tell the story of the original Texas inhabitants, and how the blending of many cultures eventually — and by unfortunate design — morphed into a very Anglo-centric perspective.
Historical Melting Pot
Mr. Medrano interviews a chef/caterer, a mixed media artist, a Texas A&M doctorate professor of anthropology, a Tejano farmer and many others, each adding a layer to the melting pot of indigenous Texas Mexican cuisine. One scene explores a traditional barbacoa, beginning in a market, purchasing a cow’s head, and returning to a home to cook it in the traditional way: seasoned, wrapped in burlap, smothered in hot coals in a back-yard ground pit, tended to overnight.
A Recipe Celebrating Truly Texas Mexican Cuisine
Something less time-consuming is Mr. Medrano’s Albondigas de Chile Ancho, beef and pork meatballs served with a tomato-chile sauce. It is the recipe he makes in the opening of the documentary, and is from his 2014 cookbook, “Truly Texas Mexican,” which inspired this documentary.
Mr. Medrano also authored “Don’t Count the Tortillas: the Art of Texas Mexican Cooking,” (2019, Texas Tech University Press) a continuation of the Texas Mexican narrative, celebrating the indigenous ingredients of South Texas and how they’re used in home cooking.
Why “Truly Texas Mexican” is Worth Watching:
Mr. Medrano’s purpose in documenting the origins of South Texas cuisine is to start a dialogue so that the history of the people of South Texas, and the foods they consumed, are not lost.
The documentary is “an invitation to everyone to share human encounters through food,” he said, adding, “I hope the film will inspire Mexican Americans who have Native roots to have the confidence to tell their own stories.”
To watch the documentary after its launch on March 1, check streaming platforms Apple TV, Google TV, Amazon and PBS stations.
For more information, visit https://trulytexasmexican.com.
Executive Producer: Adán Medrano (featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle).
Producer: Virginia Díaz (credits include “Selena,” The Chase,” “Rushmore”).
Director: Anibal Capoano (credits include award-winning “Caballitos De Lata”).
Cinematographer: Gabriel Bendahan (credits include award-winning documentary fils “Preso,” “Mandado”).
Albondigas de chile ancho
This saucy meatball recipe is featured early in Mr. Medrano’s film, as he makes them in his kitchen. The recipe is in his 2014 book by the same name, “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes,” where he describes the dish as an illustration of “the dynamism of food pathways” tracing the humble meatball’s roll from the Arab world to Spain, to Mexico, and Texas.
- Prep Time: 45
- Cook Time: 15
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 40 meatballs 1x
For the adobo:
4 ancho chiles
1 white onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons fresh Mexican oregano*
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups tomatoes, diced
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground pork
1 pound lean ground beef
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
3 ounces white bread slices, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces, about 3 slices or 1–1/2 cups
1/2 cup whole or low-fat milk
To make the chile puree and meatballs:
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Remove the seeds from the chiles by cutting a slit lengthwise in each chile to open it and remove the stem and attached seeds. Remove all other seeds in the chile pod.
Place the chiles in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and let the chiles steep for 15 minutes so that they will rehydrate. Drain and allow to col. Discard the soaking water.
Place the chiles, onion, garlic, oregano, and salt in a blender. Add 1 cup of clean water and blend on high (scraping down sides if necessary) until the paste is completely smooth, with no large particles. Add a little more water if needed. If there are large particles in the paste after blending, strain the paste through a fine-mesh sieve. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven and add the chile puree, with caution because there will be splatter as the liquid meets the oil. Fry for 10 minutes. The color will deepen and the puree will thicken. Set aside. (You will add some to the meatball mixture and the rest will cook into a sauce with other ingredients.)
In a bowl, pour the milk, add the bread and set aside.
Mix together the pork and beef.
Add the beaten egg to the meat. Squeeze and discard excess milk from the bread and, using your hands or a large spatula or spoon, mix the bread into the meat.
Add 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) of the ancho chile puree to the meat and mix thoroughly.
Form the seasoned meat into 40 (1-1/2-inch) balls and place them on a large cookie sheet.
Roast the meatballs in the preheated 400F oven for 12 to 15 minutes. They should be firm to the touch. They are ready to serve with the adobo.
To make the adobo:
To the remaining chile puree, add the tomatoes, chicken stock, and sugar, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the adobo begins to thicken. Stir in vinegar. Taste and add salt, if necessary.
Serve the meatballs on a plate and pour the adobo over them, or you can serve the adobo on the side, with toothpicks.
* Mr. Medrano explains there are two herbs called Mexican Oregano, and he is calling for Poliomintha longiflora, a naturalized Texas herb from the mint family. Lippia graveolens, a member of the verbena family is the more commonly found, he said. If you do not have fresh Mexican oregano (either one), substitute 3/4 teaspoon of dried Mexican oregano. If you do not have dried Mexican oregano, substitute 3/4 dried oregano (likely labeled generically “oregano” or “Mediterranean oregano.”) It is not the same flavor, so it is worth seeking out Mexican oregano at Mexican groceries or online spice companies in the dried form, or check your local farmers market to see if anyone grows fresh Mexican oregano.