Shopping in the grocery store in Mexico can be an adventure, involving danger in the places where you least expect it – the produce aisles. There are some really crazy, not to mention dangerous, looking fruits and vegetables in the produce section that keep my children and I entertained as we shop.
We can find many of the same fruits and vegetables in our local grocery store that we would see in the US – grapes, apples, pears, berries, and limes…well, sort of.
Limes in Mexico are an interesting topic of discussion. They are included or served in many, maybe most, Mexican meals. I have discussed limes with several of our Mexican friends and still only partially understand the differences between limes and limes, so keep that in mind as I try to explain what I understand, because I still may be completely confused. In Mexico, the word for a lime that is large is limón. The word for a small lime, like a key lime, is lima. Lemons are uncommon in Mexico, although sometimes I can find them at the HEB. In Mexico, lemons are yellow limes. There is no separate word for lemons that I have learned, which is probably the source of my confusion with this topic.
The smaller limes are better in mojitos (that’s very important because we enjoy mojitos on the weekends). The big limes are good, but are used differently because their flavor is different. I have not yet learned how to use the big limes appropriately in our Mexican food but once I get it figured out, I’ll post some good recipes.
When we eat the fruits and vegetables here, we can tell a big difference in the taste and quality of the fruit, compared to what we find in the US. For instance, the berries won’t go bad if they are not eaten within a day or two. They will sometimes last for a week, although in our house, berries rarely last that long before they are consumed.
In addition, avocados here are huge compared to the ones I used to find in Indiana. They are beautiful. And they make a killer guacamole. Eating these fruits and vegetables here in a region where so many of them are grown is a great culinary adventure. But the quality and taste of familiar fruits is not the only difference.
One of the fruits we have encountered here is also one we have occasionally seen in the US grocery stores – dragon fruit.
It’s not dangerous, but it looks weird. In the US, the fruit usually looks well-handled and we never tried it because it looks so different from what we were used to seeing. In the grocery store here, the fruit looks beautiful and there is an abundance of it in the produce section, so we just had to try it out.
We cut it in half and found that the bright fuchsia color of the skin is completely different than the inside. It has white, pulpy flesh with small black seeds throughout. It tastes very mildly sweet, but it’s not sweet enough to tempt my children to eat more than a small taste.
Another type of fruit that we have discovered is mamey (pronounced ma-may).
We were told that this is a fruit that doesn’t make it to the US because it’s so fragile. It’s a wonderfully sweet fruit inside, even though the outside is a very thin, plain brown color. The small black seed inside is shiny and almost jewel-like in appearance. We enjoyed eating it in fruit smoothies when we were staying at the hotel before moving into our house.
The grocery store had another fruit that looks similar to mamey, but with a thick, tough skin called chicozapote. The seed inside is much larger than the mamey seed, but the fruit flesh tastes similar to the mamey. The fruits are pretty easy to get confused, I think, but both are very delicious, so I guess it doesn’t matter which one you choose, you still win.
When we first arrived in Leon, we saw signs on the side of the road advertising tuna for sale. We were really concerned that people were trying to sell fish in the heat, on the side of the road. Why would anyone ever stop to buy that? And then we learned that the tuna fish is atún in Spanish.
Tuna in Mexico refers to the prickly pear cactus fruit. Huge difference! When I bought tuna at the grocery store, it had all of the little spines removed, thankfully. I’m a big wimp when it comes to being stabbed multiple times by my food. In order to eat tuna, you simply peel the skin and eat the flesh.
The seeds are too hard to be chewed without breaking some teeth. One of the things I did was juice the tuna and then use it to make margaritas. No seeds that way and it turned out to be a wonderful idea!
At the grocery store, you can also buy the leaves of the prickly pear cactus, called nopales. My son and I enjoy eating nopales sauteed with a bit of white onion and salt. The leftovers are delicious when mixed into an omelet in the morning for breakfast.
The grocery store goes to all the trouble of despining the cactus for you, which is a fun process to watch.
The gentleman whose job it is to despine the nopales at HEB, is always very nice and enjoyed having his picture taken while he was working. I wish I could convince my husband and daughter to like this vegetable. I think it has the same consistency of green beans…unless you overcook it while sauteing the pieces, which I might have done the first time I prepared it. When you saute it too long, it tastes just like the onion you saute it with and it more closely resembles green peppers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, in my opinion.
A really strange-looking fruit that I found is the guanabana.
It looks like it has small spines all over but they are not sharp like a cactus’ spines. Guanabana has a strangely sweet, thick, almost salty taste, and I really don’t care for it very much.
It had a lot of fairly large seeds in it and eating around the seeds was tedious. Maybe I would like it more if it was blended in a smoothie with other fruits. Or maybe it’s a flavor and texture that takes some getting used to. If anyone reading this is familiar with guanabana and has any suggestions on how to better enjoy this crazy-looking, spiny fruit, I’d love to hear them.
The fruits above are all fairly tame when compared to this next vegetable – a spiny chayote.
It’s very intimidating! I’m not sure how people handle these at the grocery store without getting hurt. Picking it up at the grocery store was very difficult for me and I did get stabbed a few times putting it into the bag. (Yes, there are chayote without spines, but where’s the adventure in that?) We have eaten chayote in several restaurants in Leon, without knowing what it was, and it wasn’t until I bought this squash and cooked it that I realized I had eaten it before. It is very delicious, and sort of tastes like a mix between cucumber and zucchini.
The seed can be eaten and is the absolute best part of the chayote, in my opinion, although the mucous that resides next to the seed is a bit disgusting if you try to eat it. I do not recommend doing that.
I kept the prep for the chayote simple. I cut the chayote in half before I boiled it because it was too big to be completely submerged in the pot I was using. I then boiled it in a pot of water for about 10-12 minutes. After boiling, I pulled out the pieces with tongs, which, I found, is the best way to handle these dangerous foods, and cut the spines off in strips. I rinsed the chayote and then cut it into cubes.
After I finished playing with all of the strange produce I bought, I made a tasty burrito with scrambled eggs, nopales, onions, spiny chayote, and a little homemade salsa verde from our neighborhood market.
There are several other fruits and vegetables native to Mexico that I did not discuss in this blog because I have not yet tried to cook with them. Rest assured, our family culinary adventures will continue in a future blog! In the mean time, Buen provecho!