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Exploring Tequila and Mezcal: History and Fun Recipes

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Tequila Beverage

Tequila Beverage

Our Story Begins

Today, tequila is the label for a popular distilled spirit derived from the agave plant. But in the 18th century, Tequila was little more than the name of a remote village towered over by the volcano of the same name. Despite its small size, the village of Tequila had a big reputation for being the place where the most tantalizing mezcal, “vino mezcal,” could be found. What made this place so special? The people of Tequila were blessed to have a special variety of agave called the blue Weber.

Blue Agave Garden in Tequila, Mexico

Blue Agave Garden in Tequila, Mexico

The Tale of Tequila

In the history of humankind, there have been many tragic love stories, the ill-fated love of soul mates that society deemed should never be together. Shakespeare wove a sorrowful tale of misbegotten love in the fictional characters of Romeo and Juliet. A true-life story was a part of the famous Hatfield vs. McCoy feud that lasted three decades. And then, there was the rivalry between the Sauza and Cuervo families in Guadalajara.

Once upon a time in Guadalajara, there lived two competing tequila-making families, Sauza and Cuervo. They had always quarreled and for a generation, they had exchanged both insults and pistol shots. Sauza children never met Cuervo children in Guadalajara. But then young Javier Sauza went to a small university in Chicago...

— National Geographic, March 1967

Javier, the third generation of the Sauza dynasty, left the family home to attend college in Chicago, Illinois. There he met and fell in love with Doña Maria Elena “Nina” Gutierrez Salcedo, a cousin of the Cuervo family. This forbidden love so enraged his father that Javier was shut out of the family business until just weeks prior to the senior’s death.

The Mysticism of Mezcal

The flavors are just mystical to me. I think we spent a little time in the town of Mezcal but you’ll never find it on a map. We were on our way to Mazatlan and the train broke down. It was the '70s, so, crazy-in-love kids that we were, Mrs. D. and I embarked on the adventure and checked into a small hostel-type room. What fun. Two days of just dancing and laughing and drinking from a well. At least, that’s how I remember it. Perhaps I am a bit fogged.

It was the food that caused us to stay. The aroma of the outside ovens with corn. The sweet smell of chilies being roasted. The smell of the soil they were grown from—a musky scent of red dust and dirt. Can you imagine fresh tortillas filled with goat cheese made in the morning, corn 10 minutes off the cob, and a splash of Mezcal? Add some salsa and you’re dancing on the rooftops.

— Eric Dierker (friend and fellow online writer who lives in Southern California, about 25 miles from Tijuana, Mexico)

Tequila, Mezcal, and the Agave Plant

All tequilas are mezcal, but not all mezcals are tequila. Allow me to explain.

Tequila and mezcal are both made from an agave plant. (By the way, despite its appearance, the agave is not a cactus, it’s technically a member of the lily family, but I digress.)

Tequila is an alcoholic spirit made from the juice of a specific agave—the blue Weber agave. To make tequila the heart of the agave is steamed and then distilled in copper pots.

But then there is mezcal, made not from the blue Weber but from any of 30 types of agave plants. Think of it as tequila’s sultry, sexy cousin. It gets that signature smoky flavor from being cooked in underground pits lined with hot rocks that burn for about 24 hours before the cooking process begins.

How Mezcal Is Made

Ceviche-Style Tequila Shrimp

Ceviche-Style Tequila Shrimp

Ceviche-Style Tequila Shrimp

I never grow tired of the Mexican/South American flavors of tomato, avocado, and cilantro. Honestly, that combination makes an appearance on our dinner table at least once a week. As I write this we are still in the midst of winter, but I have faith that it might just get warm again one of these days, and when it does we'll certainly use this recipe.

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Read More From Delishably

This ceviche-style tequila shrimp would be a perfect appetizer on a hot summer evening. I'm ready for summer!

Grilled Mezcal Chicken Fajitas

Grilled Mezcal Chicken Fajitas

Grilled Mezcal Chicken Fajitas

Kristen is the creator of the blog The Endless Meal, a place for recipes that are easy to make, healthy, and delicious. Most of her recipes are Whole30, paleo, keto, vegan, or gluten-free.

These grilled mezcal chicken fajitas use lean boneless chicken thighs (yes, you can trim away the fat and make them lean), and lots of fresh veggies. Mezcal is part of the marinade that adds flavor and tenderness. Start to finish you can have this meal ready for your family in 40 minutes.

Honey Tequila Lime Chicken Drummies

Honey Tequila Lime Chicken Drummies

Honey Tequila Lime Chicken Drummies

Who doesn't love chicken drummies? They're like wings, only easier and bigger. And these honey-tequila marinated chicken drumsticks are tender, full of flavor, and (in my opinion) perfect football food.

Mezcal Shrimp Tacos

Mezcal Shrimp Tacos

Mezcal Shrimp Tacos

This recipe is an easy one from Rachel Ray on the Food Network.

Rachel isn't a trained chef; she's a home cook like you and me, and that's what makes her recipes so simple, approachable, and easy for anyone to achieve. Her mezcal shrimp tacos would be a great dinner to put together for your family on weeknights, or for a fun gathering with friends.

Spicy Mezcal Salsa

Spicy Mezcal Salsa

Spicy Mezcal Salsa

Salsa borracha (in Spanish, this means drunken salsa) is typically made with beer or tequila, but Marcela Benitez shared this recipe on Chowhound which uses smoky mezcal. Of course, you can use this as a simple dip, but I'd suggest using it in fish tacos or barbacoa.

Spicy Shredded "Chicken" Tofu Tacos with Mezcal Lime Corn

Spicy Shredded "Chicken" Tofu Tacos with Mezcal Lime Corn

Spicy Shredded "Chicken" Tofu Tacos with Mezcal Lime Corn

I hope my vegetarian/vegan friends didn't think I had forgotten them. Did you know that extra-firm tofu can make a pretty great stand-in for shredded chicken? The Vegan Caveman tells us how. And that mezcal lime corn is amazing!

(By the way, real-meat lovers can use their protein of choice to go along with the corn.)

Hot Chocolate Ice Cream

Hot Chocolate Ice Cream

Hot Chocolate Ice Cream

Homemade Mexican hot chocolate-flavored ice cream (yes, with cinnamon) and a bold pop of flavor from mezcal and a dash of cayenne pepper. Ohmygoodness, sign me up for a double scoop.

This ice cream is rich and luxuriant, but it's not for the kiddies. This is grown-up ice cream and we deserve it, don't you think?

Sources

© 2020 Linda Lum

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