You may recognize the wide-eyed doll face logo of Muñeca Mexicana from the shelves at Bodega Market or from the Kickstarter campaign that erupted through Twitter and Facebook at the beginning of last summer. With a booth at the Miller Market on 1st Street on Thursday nights and one at Gilbert Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, Minerva Orduño Rincón is spreading her love and knowledge of homemade Mexican treats, one coyota at a time.
What is a coyota? It’s an empanada about the size of your hand, made with lovely lard and stuffed with piloncillo. What is piloncillo? Piloncillo is a Mexican cane sugar that is reduced so much that the liquid hardens into a block, which must then be hammered or grated to use.
Coyotas are a treat Minerva used to share with her sister on her way home from gymnastics class. They would stop at the original bakery where the coyotas were baked in a wood-fired oven, then handed over to the young girls in paper bags that quickly grew blotchy from the lard. These are not vegetarian cookies. They are true to the way they are made in Minerva’s hometown.
Minerva comes from Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico where she grew up in a family of mostly women whose conversations were food-centric, delving into remembered dishes and meals. Local produce vendors drove veggie-laden trucks through the streets, offering their goods, and eggs were picked up from the corner store. Food was made from quality ingredients and it took time to create.
After six years of architecture school, and ten years of collective work and graduate school, Minerva started to feel restless in her profession. Realizing she was becoming more of a data manager with less access to creativity, she turned to her back-up plan: a career in the kitchen.
With stints in Scottsdale at Modern Steak, Café Boa, the Sheraton’s “The District,” and FnB, she returns to her roots with Muñeca Mexicana, and wants to spread the good word about Mexican cuisine.
“There is this perception that Mexican food is about rice and beans, and it’s not,” Minerva says, sitting at the table in her shared kitchen space. “It drives me crazy that everybody thinks that rice and beans are in everything. Even growing up we had them very rarely. We ate in a very fresh sort of way.”
Cajeta and dulce de leche are not your average caramel sauces, nor do they contain any corn syrup. Cajeta is a goat milk caramel that is slowly evaporated, while dulce de leche is a cow milk caramel, also slowly evaporated. A favorite treat of Minerva’s mother, cajeta is an über creamy, mouth-coating rich sauce, with a hint of tanginess from the goat milk.
Muñeca Mexicana doesn’t just create sweets, they also offer a unique chorizo seasoning, made of chilis, vinegar and spices, which can be used to marinate meats. The mole poblano boasts 25+ ingredients and is perfect to simmer a turkey or chicken.
Minerva does plan to expand her line, but slowly, after building a following for her current products. She approaches her food in a relaxed manner, educating customers about where her food comes from and why she creates it.
“Authenticity doesn’t come from having a set recipe for something. Everyone in Puebla has their own recipe for mole poblano. You can’t say that one’s authentic and one is not. I think authenticity come from culture and from the spirit of the food. I like authenticity in food, but I think it’s a cultural authenticity, rather than a certain set recipe.”
To taste Minerva’s food, one gets a Spanish vocabulary lesson as well as a sweet or smoky tongue, all in one trip.
Come meet Minerva at the markets: Thursday evenings at Miller Market on 1st Street, Old Town Scottsdale, 5pm-8pm or Saturday mornings at Gilbert Farmers Market at 222 N. Ash Drive in Gilbert, 8am-12pm. Her items are also available for purchase at Bodega Market in Scottsdale and Dos Cabezas WineWorks Tasting Room in Sonoita, an hour south of Tucson.
And, of course, you can always find her products for sale online at MunecaMexicana.com.
Article and Photos by Rachel Ellrich Miller
Originally Published in Arizona Vines and Wines Winter 2012 Issue