Trying to learn some new tricks

July 8, 2008


I read Theresa’s blog post about missing her reference books, and it made me think about how many adjustments I’ve needed to make in my cooking since moving to Mexico.

I guess I should clarify. I am a vegetarian, and I brought my favorite five or six cookbooks with me when we moved. But it is challenging to make anything out of them without substitutions since so many things are hard to find or unavailable.

I was looking through my cookbooks for inspiration the other day and here are a few examples:

  • Green onions – I have never seen them here – there are some kind of larger type green onions but the greens are always ratty and not too appealing. They grill them and put them on the side of the plate in restaurants here.
  • Cheese – Some cheeses substitute for the ones called for in my recipes, sometimes they don’t. I can find Gruyere and Feta cheese here and once in a while nice Cheddar and Parmesan.
  • Herbs – Cilantro and parsley are easy to find. Last week I found nice mint. I want to make some dilled cucumbers, hopefully I can find dried dill. I’ve never seen chives. Last Thanksgiving I offered to bring stuffing to a potluck and I chased all over everywhere trying to find sage! I finally found a dried “Hierbas finas” blend that had enough sage to do the job.
  • Milk/Cream – I haven’t figured these out yet. I found media crema which I believe is like half and half but the rest is a puzzle. For the explanation I should go to the Mercado and talk to the Cremeria ladies.
  • Vegetable Broth – WalMart was the only place in town that had boxed vegetable broth. I bought it there for months, but today I made a special trip there and now there’s only chicken broth, darn it. I did buy some boullion cubes but I will need to make my own vegetable broth and freeze it I guess.
  • Basmati rice – I saw it somewhere once, but didn’t buy it and haven’t seen it in ages now.
  • Yeast – I have looked all over for it, and finally asked a friend where to find it. She had bought a big container and is going to share some with me so I should be fine soon for that. 
  • Vanilla Yoghurt – Yoghurt is big business here in Mexico, every flavor and style – twenty feet of cold case in some stores….but no vanilla.


I wish I could buy Mexican cookbooks but I’m just more comfortable using English ones at least for now. So I need to learn some new tricks. I think the trick may be to only look at cookbooks for inspiration and ideas. Then, go to the Mercado and the grocery store and see what looks good. Make the menu on the fly! I can do it, I know I can!

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More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

    1. If you can find feta, I will be able to survive. Give me a Greek salad, and I can survive almost anything else on the menu. Oops! I almost forgot. Where do you get lemons? No lemmons. No dressing.

    1. Cheeses are one of the things I buy at Costco. They have a great Tillman sharp cheddar. Fortunately we can find parmesan here most of the time.

      We have the same problem with green onions here. But they are grown around here so the tops aren’t usually too bad.

      I grow my own mint. Haven’t seen chives here but a friend who had a big clump growing in her garden gave me a start so hopefully I’ll have chives in the future. I’ve tried to grow sage here and I haven’t been successful. I brought a jar of sage down from the states. Dill is seasonal here.

      I haven’t seen media crema but we have crema de batir and it will whip like whipping cream but takes a little longer. I also buy crema which is a very heavy thick cream and crema acificado which is sour cream. They come in the same kind of containers so I have to be careful to get the one I want.

      Vegetable broth and chicken broth are very hard to find. I have a problem staying ahead on the chicken broth so I bring down 6 or 7 boxes each time we come back to MX.

      Most of the time Bonanza has Basmatic rice, couscous, and polenta. Notice I said Most of the Time. So when I see it I buy even if I don’t need it right then. They also have yeast Most of the Time.

      Vanilla yoghurt…nope I haven’t seen it either.

      And yes, Making the menu on the fly works for me. I always go to the store with several ideas and make my decision on what looks freshest…..or sometimes just what they have. Cooking is an adventure in MX.

    1. Steve, I think the point of my post is that I have to make adjustments to my recipes…how about trying limes instead of lemons? Or oranges or grapefruits? Maybe the new hit salad.

      Billie, Sounds like you have some of the same challenges there. We don’t have a Costco but Sam’s club is similar. Too bad the quantities are so huge, though. Tonight I am having friends for dinner and tried a recipe for a kind of hummus appetizer and it really doesn’t have much zip without chives – we added a bit of onion but we wish it had those little bits of green…a bit of parsley should help but it’s always something!

      I made my own chocolate ice cream using whole milk, media crema and a swiss dark chocolate bar. It tastes pretty good to me but we’ll see what everyone thinks tonight!

    1. Nancy you are doing a great job of finding workable substitutes. Cooking is an adventure! For some reason, I still can’t get sour dough bread to come out right. I’ve tried repeatedly, and now I am giving up for awhile. I’ll try again later.

      You might be interested t know that there is a cheese maker in Concordia. Their fresh panela works a lot like fresh mozarella when you are cooking. It’s a little far away for regular day to day stuff, but if you find yourself in Concordia, Mesillas, or Copala, you might make a stop.

      Also, the whole grain bakery on Zaragosa makes yogurt. I know you can get plain. You might ask them about vanilla.

    1. We have all the herbs you listed available in the super except dill which is called eneldo. I cannot get mint to stay alive here. Sage is also difficult. Chives is called cebollino and I have seen it dried and fresh. I think I saw Basmati once but it was so very expensive. Couscous is easy because we have a large Lebanese community but you can also buy pasta para sopa that is like a slightly larger couscous and a fraction of the price.
      I buy plain yogurt and flavour it myself (actually for awhile we were making yogurt), finding plain yogurt was hard! Even some of the so called plain had sugar in it.
      We buy yeast at the Repostería because it isn’t always available in the Super. We can’t get bread flour here though.
      From what you have written food is much cheaper where you live though so I guess it’s a trade off.

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