Wednesday, October 27, 2010

From the depths of cultural prejudice we get lard

In most parts of the world, no one bats an eyelash when recipes call for heaping tablespoons of solid fat, whether it be butter, ghee (clarified butter used in Indian cuisine), or lard. I had a friend in high school who used to bring chickpea patties smothered in ghee for lunch, and the sight of solid fat going straight into her mouth was so revolting to me that I can still remember it nearly 15 years later.

Photo by: Homesick Texan

Now I'm an olive oil kind of girl. I buy it bulk at Costco, and even if I'm supposed to be using a higher temperature oil for stir frying, I most always use olive oil. Despite learning that canola oil is an equally good cooking oil, I've maintained my loyalties to olive oil. Why? I'm not really sure except to say that I've been brainwashed into thinking olive oil is the only oil to use.

Recently, however, I've been realizing that I need to just get over my American vanity and step into the realm of cooking with solid fats. If most of the world cooks this way, then I'm thinking something is probably wrong with the way we Americans dissect our food down to the kind of fat it should be cooked in. I already know things taste better cooked in butter or lard, and perhaps that's why my homemade tlacoyos never tasted that good.

On our trip to Buenos Aires, I took a cooking class where I learned how to make empanadas. Most of the group was American, and when the teacher started spooning lard into the pastry dough, we collectively shrieked. Then, someone asks, "So how much lard should we put in there?" (We Americans like to know exactly how much fat we're ingesting, no?)

"Oh, you know. Just enough to make the dough soft," she replies.

Beef empanadas made with a generous helping of lard

At that moment, between the shrieks and looks of disgust, I started to feel sympathy towards the misunderstood lard. I like to maintain as healthy a diet as the next person, but do I want to be that person that disregards hundreds of years of traditional cooking based on a cultural prejudice? It's not always about the calories.

So, to be true to the art of cooking and, well, living, I'm going to start keeping lard in the fridge and won't feel bad about it. If someone asks what's inside those delicious empanadas, I'm going to proudly tell them I used lard. And that cake? Two sticks of butter, thank you very much.


  1. Felicity -- We do love our bacon fat, as well, here in Mexico. This is a recipe I like to use for lentil soup. Without the bacon, this soup isn't the same.

  2. My southern belle of a great-grandmother was addicted to Crisco. And my Mexican grandmother's preferred solid fat was bacon fat. Refried beans taste so much better with bacon fat! :)

  3. where do you get your bacon fat? butcher? i've never stepped into a carnicería, but i'd love to be able to walk out of there was some beautiful pieces of fatty bacon.

  4. Id like to add that the cost has a lot to do with the fact that most Mexicans and other countries use lard instead of olive oil. I love to cook with olive oil and some foods just taste better with it but it all depends on the budget of the week. But for sure being flexible and using both is the best way to go. Good luck with the bacon fat. lol I miss bacon but will be able to eat it again in a few months. ;)

  5. Amanda,

    Def. lard is the default cooking oil because of it's affordability. As for the bacon fat, try out that recipe for the lentil soup I posted in the comments. It is now one of my go-to recipes for everyday soup and takes only about 30 minutes to make and can last for days. AND super healthy!

  6. Alice, I am sorry about writing this in a comment field, but I don't see anywhere else to write this. I have just recently discovered that I can read blogs at work, they were blocked at one time. Anyway, I have read all of yours and I must say you are a woman after my own heart. I love getting lost and finding new things, if I lived in Mexico and we were friends I would be bigger than a house since I love food. Your stories and pictures are great. And I must confess, I have to stop picturing what I think people look like. It wasn't untill I got half way through your blogs that I saw the picture of you, and yep you guessed it, you do not look like I thought you would. Thank you for the stories and hope to read more soon. Have a nice day/night.

  7. Lib,

    Welcome to the blog! And thanks for the kind words. It's been one big food adventure here in Mexico, as the food is unbelievably delicious. Coming from Texas, our version of Mexican is hard-shelled tacos, burritos, and chunky salsas, none of which you can find here.

    When most Americans come to Mexico, they go to the beaches. If you're adventurous and love food, I highly recommend a visit to the other parts. The little towns are charming!

  8. I agree about the other parts. I was in Mexico Nov. 2009, other than the fact that I was helping my ex-boyfriend move back to Mexico, I had no desire to go to the beach. I don't even go to the beach in the states. Didn't eat any street food, didn't get to do much sight seeing, ate at Soariana and loved loved loved the Mercados. I know I will be going back in 3-4 more years, to Tlanteplanta(?) at that time I will have more opp. to visit and sight see. I am looking forward to it (I think :))))).... Have a good day and don't forget about writing in your blog:)