National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002
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National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002
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Try your hand at cooking Mexican Food

WASHINGTON — If you're a gringo like me — especially a northern U.S. gringo — you may not have discovered the wonderful tastes and aromas of Mexican cuisine. In fact, it's still
not that farfetched to hear from friends like one in a small Northeastern city who boasted in a letter of that town's first Mexican restaurant — a franchise fast-food place.

Well, as they say in Manhattan, that ain't Mexican, honey. Not even close.

Many service members get a taste of something closer to real south-of-the-border cooking during assignments just north of the Mexico-U.S. border at major military training centers like San Diego and San Antonio. The former gives them a taste of the "California" or "Southwestern" styles of Mexican cooking, heavy on the burritos and guacamole. The latter introduces them to the variety of cooking called Tex-Mex — fajitas, gorditas, puffy tacos and, of course, chili.

I've experienced both styles, as well as the highly popular — and spicy — New Mexican cuisine featured in upscale restaurants everywhere. Because the basis of my Mexican cooking and eating experience is centered on South Texas, however, I tend to create mostly Tex-Mex dishes with Southwestern accents.

The Mexican culture is rich and colorful in one of the United States' largest "Hispanic" cities, centuries-old San Antonio, Texas. Food-centered festivals take place nearly every weekend somewhere in or near San Antonio, often winding along the sidewalks and over the arched footbridges of the Paseo del Rio — San Antonio's famous river walk.

In the spring, the city celebrates its rich heritage in La Villita, the heart of Old San Antonio, footsteps from the Alamo. Here is the birthplace of fajitas — the rich, smoky aroma of char-grilled beef and warm flour tortillas blend with the piquancy of chopped onions, tomatoes and fresh cilantro, and waft through the still night air beneath the brooding live oak trees. As a Texan friend of mine likes to say, "Them's good eatin'."

You don't need a Hispanic surname or heritage to prepare delectable dishes that will tantalize the taste buds of family and friends. There are hundreds of good cookbooks and many online resources that will help you.

Below are some simple recipes to get you started. Each is based on service for four. These are my variations of other folks' recipes that I've developed in my kitchen over the years. I invite you to try them and use them as a base from which to develop your own brand of Mexican cuisine. Adjust quantities to meet your needs.

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