Menudo Mix, Hibiscus, Cumin Seed… tiny clear, cellophane packets of these spices hang on racks in supermarkets and Latin markets throughout the southwest, and wherever large Latin communities shop.
Sealed with a paper label noting their contents, usually printed in Spanish and English, the packets are more affordable than those in the traditional spice aisle, usually running about 59 to 99 cents for one to two ounces.
More importantly, these spices can be a paintbox of seasonings for the artistic cook. I’ve picked up such exotic flavorings as tamarind paste, achiote seed, dried smoked jalapeño peppers, and even poppy seed, without having to send away to Penzey’s Spices or drive long distances.
One of my favorites is Menudo Mix, a blend of herbs and spices used to flavor the traditional tripe stew of Mexico, menudo.
I don’t often make menudo, but I do toss the blend into other dishes, ranging from Chicken Simmered in Vinegar and Mexican Spices and Roasted Potatoes in Menudo Spices to eggs, zucchini, taco fillings, and rice.
Spice mixes are great time-savers, and while I could measure out the individual spices for my own version of Menudo Mix, these ready-made packets are just too affordable and convenient to pass up.
While the ingredient list merely reads “spices,” Menudo Mix typically includes oregano, the seeds and flesh of dried red chile, dried onion and garlic. It’s a rustic combination complete with buds, stems, and big, fluffy leaves of dried Mexican oregano, which bears a distinctly different flavor from that of Greek oregano.
Brands vary in content. One company may add cumin or marjoram, and I’ve even found celery seed in another packet.
As when using any dried herb, be sure to crush the dried Menudo Mix leaves in your palm before adding, to release the flavor. Another reason I like the oregano in Menudo Mix is that the leaves are quite large, sometimes whole, so they retain and impart more fresh flavor.
Menudo-Seasoned Chicken & Other Dishes
“Escabeche” is the Mexican custom of seasoning chicken, pork or seafood in spices and vinegar, for a refreshing tartness. I’ve adapted the process in a recipe that simmers chicken breasts (or whole chicken) in menudo spices, vinegar and aromatic vegetables.
I then shred the cooked meat, now powerfully seasoned, and serve it with a bit of the cooking liquid. The meat can be eaten as is, or stuffed into tortillas, tossed into salads, or mixed with more of the broth for a satisfying soup.
You can use menudo mix alone, or complement it with cumin and other spices. Here are a few ways to use Menudo Mix in your favorite recipes:
- Crush and mix with flour and use wherever seasoned flour is called for, as when breading foods for sautéing or frying.
- Crumbled into corn bread or other bread doughs.
- Added to salads or salad dressings.
- Mixed into scrambled eggs.
- Thrown into rice before cooking.
- Stirred into polenta as it cooks.
- Simmered with any broth or stew to add a Mexican flavor boost.
- Cooked with zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, corn or other vegetables.
As mentioned, Menudo Mix is just one of the ingredients that comes in these handy little packets, and not all of them are limited to Latin cuisines. I buy fresh coriander seeds for Indian cooking, and sesame seeds for Asian meals.
I particularly appreciate how these very affordable spice packets are sold in small quantities, so you may actually have a chance to use them up before they lose their freshness. of course, beware the store that sells dusty packets or where you may suspect the turnover is infrequent, lest the spices you’re buying are not fresh to begin with.