Understanding Canela, or Mexican Cinnamon


If you’ve noticed that cinnamon here in Mexico tastes different than what you’re used to in Canada or the United States, you would be right. Canela (cinnamon from Mexico or Ceylon) is not the same variety as cassie cinnamon – this is commonly sold and used in these other countries.

Both come from the inner bark of several varieties of tropical shrubs and trees native to Southeast Asia. Cinnamomum verum, which is sold in Mexico, is often considered the “real” cinnamon because of its distinct flavor profile and its ability to enhance rather than overpower a dish.

Perhaps you have noticed the difference in taste; canela is sweeter and more floral, not as brash or spicy, and with a more complex flavor that makes it better suited to savory dishes. In Mexican cuisine, it plays a role in moles, marinades and bean dishes, its subtle heat and warm flavor adding complexity and richness. And, of course, it’s widely used in candy: Horchata, milk rice, dulce de leche and Mexican hot chocolate.

You can find canela in the form of whole sticks (called quills) or ground into powder. Mexican cinnamon spices are fine, delicate and quite fragile; the bark rolls up on itself and crumbles easily. It is very difficult to grind it yourself, so I suggest you choose the most suitable form for the recipe.

I have selected a few unusual recipes here that use cinnamon; you can easily find the most common ones online.

Cinnamon and Tamarind Margarita

For the rim of the serving glass:

  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 C. salt
  • ½ tsp. Cayenne
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

For the cocktail:

  • oz. tamarind concentrate
  • 2 oz. tequila blanco or reposado
  • 1¼ oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • oz. Cointreau
  • Ice
  • Garnish: cinnamon stick, lime wedges

Rim preparation: Combine sugar, salt, cayenne pepper and cinnamon in a small bowl; pour onto a saucer. Pour the lime juice over the second saucer. Swirl the serving glass (martini or old-fashioned glass) in lime juice to wet the outer rim; swirl glass in cayenne pepper mixture, turning slowly to coat.

Preparation of the cocktail: Add the tamarind concentrate, tequila, lime and lemon juice, simple syrup and Cointreau in a cocktail blender. Fill with ice; shake well. Filter into a serving glass. Garnish with the cinnamon stick and lime wedges. –serious.com

Spicy Chicken Skewers

  • 1 cup of plain, whole milk yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • vs. ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp. powdered red peppers
  • 1 lemon OR 3 small limes, juice and zest
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 pounds. boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 8-12 skewers (metal or wooden)

In a medium bowl, combine everything except the chicken. Cut the chicken into small pieces the size of a skewer; add to marinade and stir gently until completely coated.

Transfer to the refrigerator; marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, thread the chicken onto skewers. Grill on a barbecue or in the oven under broiler on high power, until golden brown and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once. Serve over rice.

Coffee-Cinnamon Horchata

  • ⅓ cup long grain, white or brown rice
  • ⅔ cup of raw almonds
  • 2 tbsp. whole roasted coffee beans (or whatever you have on hand, really)
  • A 2 inch cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 3 cups of hot water (not boiling)
  • 1 cup of cold water
  • 4 tbsp. honey or agave syrup

Add almonds, rice, coffee beans, cinnamon stick and hot water in a blender. Treat on high power for 1 minute. (Make sure the lid is securely closed!)

Pour into a jar or other covered container; leave to soak overnight at room temperature.

The next day, put the mixed liquid back into the blender; add cold water. Process at high for 2 minutes.

Over a large bowl, strain the re-mixed liquid through a fine mesh strainer, lined with gauze if available. Whisk the agave or honey in the horchata. Serve over ice.

Remaining storage Horchata in the refrigerator for up to a week. Shake before serving again.

Cinnamon Rice

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • vs. cumin seeds
  • A 3 inch cinnamon stick (whole)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1½ cup long grain white rice
  • 2¼ cups of chicken broth
  • vs. sugar
  • vs. black pepper
  • 1 C. salt

Cook the onion, garlic, cumin seeds and cinnamon stick in the oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes . Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are slightly translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, sugar, pepper and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and discard the cinnamon stick if desired.

Vegetarian Sweet Potato Hash

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cups peeled and diced sweet potatoes
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 C. fine salt
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 C. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1¼ cup water, divided
  • 1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp. canned adobo sauce
  • 1 can (15.5 oz.) Unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained

For garnish:

  • ¼ cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1 plum tomato, diced
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
  • ½ cup queso fresco, crumbled

To do the hash: heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, sweet potato, oregano and ½ tsp. salt; cook 3 minutes while stirring. Add the cumin, cinnamon, red pepper and garlic, then ½ cup of water. Cover, lower the heat, cook for 5 minutes.

To unveil; stir and cook 2 more minutes. Remove from fire.

To make the bean mixture: Bring the remaining ¾ cup of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add ½ tsp. salt and green beans; cook 4 min. Stir in the adobo sauce and black beans.

Serve the hash garnished with the bean mixture and garnish with the elements.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: Anthology of American Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Instagram at @thejanetblaser.

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