The Italian trinity is garlic, basil and tomato; for Cajun cooking it is onion, celery and bell pepper; and the French have mirepoix; chopped onions, carrots and celery. But what is the the Mexican trinity? It doesn’t include salsa, hot sauce or cheese. Some might say it is beans, chiles and corn.
I think the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican cooking is the 3 dish toppers cabbage, cilantro and lime. When fresh, they elevate tacos, tamales, soups and any other dish to new heights. I put this on just about any Mexican dish I eat. The cabbage gives the dish a crunch, an often needed contrast in texture. The cilantro adds another layer of flavor without overpowering. And the lime makes all the flavors blossom, much like salt.
The ingredients are simple and the right combination is unbeatable. Let's break them down:
Fresh green cabbage is what you want to use. Not red cabbage, not Napa, not Portugal, not Savoy, but good ole Green Cabbage. Make sure it is fresh. Core the cabbage and cut into quarters. Then thinly slice the the cabbage so your finished slice product is about an inch and half long and no more than 1/8 thick. Too thick and the cabbage will take over, but too thin and it will not retain the crispy crunch that makes this work so well.
Parsley's tastier cousin. This savory little leaf has a floral/citrus flavor that is very distinct yet not overpowering. Rinse the cilantro and tear off the stems starting at the bottom-most set of leaves. Then dry it in a paper towel and chop it fairly fine.
Limes -What kind of lime to use is debatable. In the desert we have Persian limes (Bearss lime) and Mexican Limes (key lime). Here, the Persian limes are the most popular and readily available. They are larger, have a darker green color and thicker rind than the Mexican limes. You will find the Mexican limes in most Mexican markets and some specialty grocers. You can use either one, the key is how you cut them. When cutting the Persian Limes you want to trim a small circle off each end, no more than a quarter inch. Then cut it in half lengthwise. Then quarter each half and cut the in half again, unless they are really small. You want the resulting lime wedge to give you one good squeeze when applying. For the Mexican limes, because they are so small, just cut them in half and that should be the perfect size.
Mixing your trinity:
You want to premix the cabbage and cilantro. Simply add them together and mix thoroughly. The cabbage should look like a speckled frog :) You can do this in advance of serving.
Do NOT add the lime in advance. The acid in the lime will 'cook' the cabbage and it will lose it crunchiness.
Put the cabbage/cilantro mixture in a bowl and the limes in a separate bowl. The best way to top anything is put the cabbage mix on first, then squeeze a lime all over the cabbage. Your dish is now elevated to new heights with the Mexican “Holy Trinity”.
The amount to use is up to you. When I top my tamale, I put salsa on, then a big heap of cabbage and squeeze on one lime. For a taco, I use less cabbage and more lime. When topping a soup, I like to add the cabbage as I eat it, keeping it crunchier, and I start with just a couple squeezes of lime.
You will find this trinity a worthy addition to any Mexican meal. Give it a whirl!