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Mexico is an exceptionally diverse country with a cuisine that reflects the many different cultures that call this Latin American nation home. Interestingly, though, many of Mexico’s most interesting dishes share common ingredients (including tortillas, beans, cheese and salsa) and cooking techniques (baking and frying). These six dishes go beyond typical tacos and quesadillas to showcase the many ways that Mexican cooks put a creative local spin on their food.

Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles are one of the most iconic Mexican breakfast dishes, and a must-try on your next trip to Mexico. The base of the dish is quartered corn tortillas that have been lightly fried and then simmered in spicy red or green salsa, or traditional mole sauce. Before serving, the soupy tortilla pieces are topped with a combination of thinly-sliced onions, crumbed queso fresco, sour cream and fresh cilantro.

Flautas

Sharing a name with the Spanish word for flute, flautas are rolled, crisp-fried corn tortillas with a distinctive cylindrical shape. Common fillings include beef, chicken, beans and cheese, and flautas are often served with salsa or guacamole heaped on top. Flautas are usually larger than their common counterpart, taquitos, but may also be listed as “tacos dorados” on the menu.

Molletes

Hailing from Mexico’s far north, molletes are basically just Mexican toast. To make molletes, a fresh, crusty bun is cut in half horizontally and slightly hollowed. The inside is filled with refried pinto beans, cheese and sliced hot peppers, and then the dish is broiled until the cheese melts. It’s also possible to find molletes dulces (“sweet molletes”) which are topped with butter and sugar instead of beans and cheese.

Sopes

Originally from the city of Culiacan in central Mexico, sopes are an indulgent appetizer or street food. About the diameter of a tennis ball, sopes start with a thick base of masa (corn dough) that gets pinched at the sides (to form the perfect scoop-like shape) and thoroughly fried. The base is then topped with refried beans, cheese, salsa, lettuce and onions. The most common meat topping is chicken, although you’ll find crispy fried grasshoppers are a popular topping as you head further south. Sopes are commonly served as a plate of three or five.

Tlayudas

Exclusive to Oaxaca and its surrounding region, tlayudas are one of the healthiest tortilla-based dishes in Mexico. Every authentic tlayuda starts with a large wheat tortilla, which is baked (not fried) until it is crispy. Then, a thin layer of refried beans are spread all over the tortilla; these act as an anchor for the rest of the toppings. Fresh lettuce, salsa and cilantro are common toppings, as are grilled vegetables and meats.

Totopos

Mexico has its own unique flatbread: totopos. To make totopos, masa is treated with a process called nixtamalization, which improves its flavor, nutrition and storability. The dough is then rolled into a circle ranging from three to thirty centimeters in diameter, sprinkled with salt and decorated with small holes before being baked in a clay oven. Baked totopos can be stored for weeks and are usually eaten like crackers.

One of the best things about Mexican food is the wide range of regional dishes that can be encountered throughout the nation. If you don’t see these dishes on the menu, feel free to ask your host or server to recommend something similar.

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Garden Treasures Found Elsewhere

The plants and flowers in your garden are only the surface of the overall look. They cannot have character without structure – beds to lie in, containers to spill over, bricks and stones to offset them, and a collection of items to provide interest, height, or focal points. What you choose for this last category depends on your style. If you like a less-than-traditional, whimsical look, then found items are a must.

Using found items takes a little more time than stopping by your local gardening center and choosing traditional items like plant stands and trellises. But the search is so much more fun.

Start looking at home

Before you go hunting for others’ discarded junk, why not free up some of your own storage space? Dig through your attic, garage, and storage sheds. Look through your kitchen cupboards and closets. Search for items you will not use again that would hold up well in the elements. A worn pair of gardening boots would serve well as planters in the garden – a fitting end to their employment.

Choose items based on shape, texture, and color

Your found items should enhance your garden and stand out a little. An old wooden ladder, for instance, can serve as a plant stand in a spot where you need a little visual height. A pink or mustard cast iron bath tub provides a splash of color and will blend in to the landscape with proper placement and a few cascading plants.

Peruse found-items

Flea markets, yard sales and thrift stores are familiar territory for folks looking for bargains. Visit antique stores, estate sales, and auctions both actual and virtual. Sometimes you can find a few gems discarded on the sidewalk in exclusive neighborhoods. Check your phone book for salvage companies for homes.

Be selective

Sure, you are doing the earth a favor by repurposing something that was headed to a landfill. But be forewarned: It’s easy to go overboard when you start collecting old treasures. As you hunt, keep a lonely space in your garden in mind. Measure it first if necessary.

Drill or fill for drainage

With an electric drill you can turn just about any vessel into a planter. You will need different bits depending on whether you are drilling wood, metal or stone. If you don’t trust your own expertise, take the container to your hardware store, and they should be able to help you.

Planting in pots with no drainage is a no-no, but it would be a greater shame to put a hole in that antique teapot. Some materials are easily damaged by drilling, like ceramic, porcelain and enamel-covered cast iron. If you must plant something in there, fill the bottom of your container with a dense layer of pebbles or gravel, burying a plastic flexible tube into it that curls over the lip of the container and to the ground. After you fill your flowerpot with soil, the tube will act as a siphon to draw off water from the bottom.

Even the most traditional gardens improve with the addition of a carefully chosen and placed found item. When you are done, you can give yourself a well-deserving pat on the back. Using found items that otherwise would only be tossed into the landfill is a very green act. And, besides, now you have a garden that has your own mark of creativity and style.


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