What exactly is Tex-Mix, besides a cute term I came up with for my own household cuisine?
Tex-Mix uses the Tex-Mex flavor base in preparations from other cuisines. Tex-Mix cuts bagna cauda with lime juice, eats hummus with jalapeños and tortilla chips, and adds canned tomatoes with chiles to French lentil ragouts. Tex-Mix puts comino in its candied sweet potatoes. Tex-Mix thinks Moosewood’s bulgur-based vegetarian chili is clever. Tex-Mix was spiking its brownies with cayenne long before Mexican chocolate was cool. Tex-Mix takes garlic for granted.
Tex-Mix plugs elements of other cuisines into the forms that define Tex-Mex. Tex-Mix swoons over Lebanese quesadillas and amardeen margaritas. Tex-Mix wonders about tamales filled with smoked duck and cherry demiglace. Tex-Mix even enjoys a broccoli and tofu burrito with Thai peanut sauce—sometimes.
But bland grilled veggie wraps are right out. And Tex-Mix would never dream of emptying that undercooked zucchini into a bowl with some hard black beans and a dollop of fat-free sour cream and calling the result Mexican. Whether its food is good for its health is not Tex-Mix’s main concern. Tex-Mix gets enough exercise. If Tex-Mix leaves out the lard, it’s probably because duck fat seemed tastier in that recipe.
Tex-Mix doesn’t care if duck fat isn’t authentic. In fact, Tex-Mix doesn’t care if it is. (The Mexica had Muscovy ducks, after all). Tex-Mix loves pickled jalapeños, flour tortillas, and pinto beans. It took Guatemala to teach Tex-Mix the joys of fully cooked black beans. It’s not self-conscious atavism but the need for a bitter note that puts cocoa powder into Tex-Mix’s Texas Red. That chili makes a great Frito pie, by the way. It’s also terrific over vermicelli—that’s not Cincinatti, that’s la abuelita’s home cooking. What’s more, esta abuela puts peanut butter in her mole, and has never touched a metate. But her cooking is absolutely authentic.
Tex-Mix loves and respects its grandmother, but it didn’t learn all its recipes from her. Did you? There’s no getting around it: Tex-Mix is mixed. (Before that was cool, too.) Tex-Mix owns it. Tex-Mix understands that innovation and eating what you like are as important to cuisine as tradition and eating what you know. Tex-Mix is not humble. Tex-Mix avers that it improves on its grandmother. Tex-Mix has a broad palate, and Tex-Mix knows how to cook.