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Food and Power in the Aztec Empire

Spicy Mexican corn bread, recipes below

As part of my Hispanic History month series I want to talk about the Aztec. The Aztec empire covered the most of the region of the contemporary republic of Mexico to parts of Guatemala. The Aztec were the most powerful political force in Mesoamerica before the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century. As proud imperialist, the Aztec were far from egalitarian. In terms of food, they forced groups they conquered, most of which were agriculturalist, to pay tribute, some of it in food staples such as corn and hot peppers. In addition in most societies, the most powerful eat the best sources of food that the less powerful grow, catch, and prepare for them. In most instances, the more powerful one is the further they are from the food production and preparation process and spaces such as fields, rivers, markets, and kitchens. That rang true of the elites that ruled the Aztec empire. Commoner women in the empire controlled local food markets where they bartered and negotiated with the servants and slaves of the nobility. The people of Mesoamerica in ancient times were often called the people of maize (corn). This is because they ate and drink it had just about every meal. Mexican corn bread I really like, particularly the way Mexican cooks add fresh vegetables including chilies. Here’s a great corn bread recipe.

Spicy Mexican Cornbread Recipe:

2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup olive or canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup or more of heavy cream
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese
1 large diced onion
1 cup fresh steamed corn
¼ cup diced green chilies
¼ cup diced red chilies
1 cup cornmeal (self-rising if available)
1/2 cup self-rising flour
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder (if self-rising flour is not available)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (if self-rising flour is not available)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°. In large bowl combine eggs, corn oil, and buttermilk. Add shredded cheese, corn, onions, and chillies. Mix well. In small bowl mix together corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add dry ingredients to egg and corn mixture. Pour into greased cast iron skillet bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Best served warm.

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