My friends from Mexico met me at the airport in San Antonio for the two and a half hour drive south of the border. There were varied amounts of English spoken among the group. That never bothers me because my Spanish is so very pathetic. I appreciate anyone who can communicate with me. But, one question was very important and the answer was crucial. "Do you eat meat?" I was informed that if I said no, they would turn the truck around and drop me back at the airport. It isn't easy to be a vegetarian with Mexican friends. Fortunately, I'm not and I wasn't dropped off at the airport. Instead, we headed for a steakhouse.

I asked my friends if they ever ate at a Taco Bell while in the States. They scoffed at the idea. They knew what real Mexican food is supposed to taste like and you didn't find it north of the Rio Grande. There were several kinds of taquerias on the drive south. I smiled as we zoomed past them. I knew from experience that I was in for a treat once I saw the huge flag of Mexico at the border crossing into Piedras Negras.

My first cooking lesson started almost immediately upon arrival. Well, actually, it started right after the nap that happened immediately upon arrival. I followed Gaby's parents into the kitchen for a lesson on how to make sincronizadas. I had no idea what that was, but as it turned out, it was sort of like a Mexican version of a ham and cheese grilled sandwich. It was easy to make, and oh, so delicioso!

While the sandwiches were in preparation, Papa Gaby asked if I liked "chile". Now, when you ask someone from the United States if they like "chili", they always think of piping hot soup with beans and meat (and hopefully topped with grated cheese and/or sour cream). That's not what it means in Mexico. If you ask someone in Piedras Negras about "chile", they are talking about salsa with chile peppers in it. Mama Gaby made her salsa with half of a chile pepper in it. Papa Gaby knew that fire is always better. His salsa had three different kinds of chile peppers in it.

The surprise to me was none of the peppers were jalapeños. Those little bits of fire are sliced up and reserved especially for nachos. Mama Gaby used a long, skinny, green serrano pepper. Papa Gaby used 7 serrano peppers, 6 sun-dried red chile de árbol peppers and 1 chipotle pepper. And, one small hint if you want to cut down on the fire. Take out the seeds before you make your chile.

I think it would be culturally insensitive to buy ready-made salsa in Mexico. And, after I saw how easy it is to make, I don't think I can ever buy ready-made ever again. You only need a blender and a microwave. In Papa Gaby's recipe you use red and green tomatoes. I wasn't really sure if green tomatoes are just not ripened or if they are supposed to be green. As it turned out, they are smaller than regular red tomatoes and supposed to be green. Anyway, cook up the two medium tomatoes (cut in half) along with six or seven green tomatoes as well as the chile peppers for a minute and a half in the microwave. Next, pop them into the blender. Add half a chicken bouillon cube, a dash of salt, one small onion, and a handful of fresh coriander. Hit the blend button. Well, you might want to put the lid on the blender first. It's my kind of recipe. That means I can do it with success. No mess. No fuss. No measuring. No complaints.

Papa Gaby, Piedras Negras, Mexico
  a good supply of fresh tortillas   chile salsa (to your desired flame)
  sliced deli meat   sour cream
  your favorite cheese   hot peppers

Now back to those sandwiches. Start with a fresh tortilla. I usually think of tortillas as flat bread about the size of a plate. I never saw those in Mexico. Mama Gaby used mini tortillas about the size of a soup bowl. The recipe calls for a tortilla, one piece of deli sliced meat, another tortilla, some cheese (your choice of variety), and one more tortilla. If you want to repeat layers, that is fine and extra delicious. Grill it up on the stove top with butter on both sides of the sandwich. Hey, I said it was easy.

If you stopped there with your sincronizada, it would be basically that ham and grilled cheese sandwich I was talking about but with better bread. However, in Mexico you top everything with chile salsa, a dollop of sour cream and a hot pepper. I started with Mama Gaby's mild salsa and quickly moved on to Papa Gaby's fire. It was just the right amount of hot. I was in Mexican heaven and it was just my first meal south of the border. There would be a lot more chile. And, as it turned out, I surprised nearly every Mexican who ate with me. I could eat hotter chile than any of them. I explained it was because they were tourists and I lived in Mexico. But truth be told, I give credit to life in Africa. Spices were so hot in Liberia that I cried every time I ate for the first three months. Nothing in Mexico was African hot.

Copyright 2016 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.