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Exploring The History Of Mexico

Mexico has a rich heritage, and you can explore parts of it right in your kitchen!

The Early History Of Mexico

Pyramids of Mexico

The earliest inhabitants of Mexico were the Aztec and Mayan cultures, which were present in the area more than 3,000 years ago. Since their early civilizations developed a writing system, we know a lot about these indigenous peoples.

The name “Mexico” was used originally by the Aztecs, and their capital city, called Tenochtitlan, became the capital city we know today as Mexico City.

From about 1200 CE, the Aztecs thrived in the area, building their civilization for three centuries. During this time, the Aztec leader Montezuma expanded the territory over much of the central Mexican highlands and ruled a population of 5-6 million people!

Food And Feasts In The Aztec Culture

Food and feasts were an important part of everyday Aztec life. Besides eating, their banquets included singing, dancing, flowers, storytelling, and gift-giving. The Aztecs really knew how to throw a party!

The Arrival Of The Spaniards

Spanish arrive in Aztec lands to explore Mexico

In 1519, explorer Hernan Cortez arrived from Spain. Within 3 years, Spain had conquered all of Mexico, and settlers began to arrive to colonize the area, then known as New Spain.

The colonists from Spain brought new ways of cooking, and these ways were combined with the old ways already in the country to create the Mexican cuisine we know today.

Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, and today it is home to the descendants of the Spaniards and the mighty Aztec and Mayan civilizations.

Popular Foods From Ancient Mexico Are Still Here

Foods of ancient Mexico have found their way into our homes today. They include:

  • Avocado
  • Beans
  • Cacao (used to make chocolate! Yum!)
  • Corn (called maize)
  • Papaya
  • Squash and gourds
  • Tomato

As part of their agriculture, the Mayans began to grow maize and included it in their everyday cooking. Even with other cultures adding new methods of preparing foods, maize continued to play a major part in the lives of the Aztecs and the Spanish.

When you think of corn, you think of yellow or white kernels, but some varieties are red or even blue.

To use maize, or corn, the Aztecs and other cultures ground the kernels using a stone mortar and pestle. The corn meal was used to make tortillas. You can make your own tortillas following this easy recipe, and you don’t have to grind your own cornmeal!

Bonus recipe!

Homemade Tortillas

Ingredients

  • 2 cups masa harina, or finely ground cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups warm water

Tools

  • Mixing bowl
  • Whisk
  • Large spoon for stirring
  • Tablespoon
  • Plastic wrap, parchment or wax paper
  • Glass baking dish
  • Frying pan or griddle

Mixing Cornmeal Into Dough

Whisk together the cornmeal and salt in a mixing bowl.

Add ONE cup of the warm water and stir gently until all of the water is absorbed.

Add a little of the remaining water, one tablespoon at a time, stirring regularly until the cornmeal comes together as dough.

This is the tricky part! If you add too much water, your dough will be sticky. If you don’t add enough, your dough will be crumbly.

When you can pick up your ball of dough and knead it in your hands without any stickiness, you’ll know you’ve added just enough water.

You don’t have to use all the water! And if you accidentally add too much, just add in a little bit of all purpose flour to help soak it up.

Forming The Dough Into Balls

Now that you have your smooth dough ball, you can start dividing it.

Pull or cut your dough into two equal pieces. Set one aside.

Continue to separate the pieces into halves until you have made little balls of dough about the size of a golf ball. These will make tortillas that are about 4 inches across.

Then do the same with your second dough ball half.

Roll each small piece into a nice smooth ball shape.

Turning The Dough Balls Into Tortillas

Now comes the fun part: squishing the dough balls into tortillas!

Put one small dough ball onto a piece of parchment, plastic wrap, or wax paper. Lay another piece on top of the ball.

You can use a clear glass baking dish to do the squishing so you can watch your dough ball turn into a round tortilla!

Apply even pressure to your dough ball. You want the flattened dough to be the same thickness everywhere.

Time To Cook Corn Tortillas!

To cook your corn tortilla, heat a griddle or skillet to medium-high heat. For light and fluffy tortillas, place the flattened dough on the skilled for 10 SECONDS. That’s not very long!

Then flip your tortilla over and cook it for 1-2 minutes until it is lightly browned. Flip it again to the first side and cook 1-2 minutes more until that side is lightly browned, too.

It’s okay if your tortillas puff up a little bit while you’re cooking them. They’ll flatten again as they cool.

That’s it! Repeat with your remaining dough circles and you’ll have a stack of warm fluffy corn tortillas ready for your favorite Mexican dish.

A plate of corn tortillas

They’re best when eaten warm, right after they’re cooked. Try using them in the recipes from the eat2explore Mexico box!

Note: If you have some of your corn tortillas left over, cut them into triangles like a pizza. Heat them in the oven until they are crispy, and you've made homemade corn chips!