Pati Jinich celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Pati Jinich is the host of PBS's "Pati's Mexican Table". (Photo courtesy of Pati Jinich.)

Celebrity chef, cookbook author and D.C.’s spiciest culinary genius – Pati Jinich lives, breathes and eats all-things Mexico! And in a tribute to National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) ABC7 asked Pati how she and her family celebrate their Mexican roots. She even tossed in a few recipes to help us all join in the fun.

Food is a great “teacher” when it comes to learning about culture. Is that how you get people excited about all-things-Mexico?

Indeed! It seems to me that there is no better place to share differences, no more joyous and peaceful way to experience other’s “culture” than at the table. The dish, a recipe, is just the start. It is a delicious and edible lid that opens a world of how a people, a country, a community live: how they grow, buy and sell ingredients, how they cook, serve, interact, share, celebrate; ultimately, how their lives are built and experienced.

One of the fascinating things for me, is that Mexico is so culturally diverse and with such a rich history that continues to evolve, that I never tire of researching, tasting, testing, experiencing. I love to share the stories behind the ingredients, the techniques, the dishes themselves, on whatever I do: in my TV show, at my classes at the Mexican Cultural, my blog or in my upcoming cookbook. For example, if I am teaching a class on Independence Day in the state of Puebla, I want to literally place people on the streets of Puebla and find a way that they can fully experience the topic.

Really curious…how did you make the switch from politics to foodie?

It was a tough decision, which I struggled with for a long time… I had trained so many years to be an academic. I had always dabbled in the culinary world -- but I was determined to continue my studies and finished a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies at Georgetown when we moved to Washington. I got a job as a policy analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue. I thought it would be my dream job, but I kept obsessively thinking about food! Once I made the switch I never looked back. Ironically, all those years of studying my home country’s history have given me such a thorough background from where to understand and experience its food.

Now how did I get the courage to switch? To be quite honest: my husband gave me a big push! Don’t know if he regrets it a bit now, because although I have always been a very hard worker, I have never worked as hard and intensely in my life: Trade-off, as always, I guess.

How do you and your family celebrate your Mexican heritage here in the D.C. area?

By cooking, eating and sharing Mexican food! All three of my boys were born in the US. So for me, one of the ways to keep them connected to Mexico and their heritage is through food. I show them the things I used to eat when I grew up and love experimenting with new ways of using Mexican ingredients in our kitchen too. We increasingly grow our own Mexican ingredients in our backyard (yes, you can grow your own Jalapeños!). We also listen to a lot of Mexican music, and no matter how hard I try… I find it hard to eat lunch and dinner on the early side… and on the weekends I take more time to make more laborious meals and have long leisurely meals on the weekends.

How do you suggest we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

With food!!! In Mexico, food is a celebration in and of itself. Mexican Independence Day was September 16th, which coincides with the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month in the US. And I find it so fascinating and exciting that there is an entire month dedicated to this topic. I recommend that people be adventurous and bring in to their kitchens Mexican or Latin ingredients that are now available everywhere and use them and enrich their meals and menus.

In Mexico, for the entire month of September, the colors of the Mexican flag take center stage in celebration of our independence. Everything from the streets, shops and clothing to the kitchens, table settings and food represent the red, green and white colors of the flag. One of the iconic foods of Mexico, Chiles en Nogada, was precisely created with the colors of the flag in mind, it is quite laborious but it is delicious and now is the season.{ }

But there are many other things people do, like green, red and white rice; or traditional Pico de Gallo made with red tomatoes, green cilantro and white onion… Aside from traditional, I like to come up with other things too, like my Apple, Radish and Watercress Salad.

I strongly encourage people to bring in new flavors, colors and textures into their kitchens. Hispanic Heritage Month is a great opportunity to do this and join in the spirit.

Last question, what’s for dinner tonight? Not that we’re going to show up at your front door. But what are you cookin’ up for your family?

We’d love it if you showed up at our front door! We love having company for dinner. For my family tonight, I’m making chipotle and mint meatballs. They are very easy and can be made with any ground meat that I have in the refrigerator right now. I haven’t decided whether I will serve them with beans from the pot or refried beans. But either will do. I will also have warm tortillas and ripe Mexican avocado slices to go with the meatballs and beans. On the side I will have a very easy crunchy salad of jícama sticks, which the kids love, with salt, lime juice and Tajin -a spice blend of five different dried chiles and dehydrated lime.

{ }About Pati:

• She was born and raised in Mexico

• She lives with her husband and three sons in the DC area.

• She is the host of PBS’s “Pati’s Mexican Table”.

• She’s the author of Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking.

• Most importantly, Pati is a self-proclaimed food maniac.

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