Mango with Cilantro, Coconut, and Chile Powder
Serves 6–8

Here’s a cool salad for a sizzling summer! It’s as hot as Hades here in the Sacramento Valley: Yesterday it was 108 degrees. Today it’s 102. Yikes! But no matter where you are, you’ll love this refreshing salad that’s super easy to make, especially when it’s hot and you don’t feel like cooking.

When we think of Mexican salads, we tend to think of traditional dishes such as tostadas, taco salads, and pico de gallo. But the main purpose of this blog is to publish Latin recipes that are off the beaten path. This recipe is from Saveur, the culinary magazine that is an excellent source of contemporary, cutting edge Latin recipes.

I suppose it’s human nature to cling to what’s safe and familiar. But you might miss out on things you might enjoy! My stepmother was from Zacatecas, Mexico, and so my dad got more than the average person’s exposure to Mexican cuisine. We lived in L.A. and one night we were at Barragan’s, one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. I ordered one of the usual suspects – a tostada, taco or something. Mexican food is more than that, my dad said, try something different, like arroz con pollo (chicken with rice). I did. It was terrific. So try this mango salad! It could become one of your go-to summer recipes.

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3 ripe mangos
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup packed cilantro leaves
1/3 cup shaved unsweetened coconut

Peel mangos and cut fruit into cubes. Arrange on a platter and drizzle with lime juice, coconut, cilantro and chile powder. Serve.

 

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Watermelon Gazpacho
4 to 6 servings

Today it’s 102 degrees at the northern end of California’s Central Valley, and it’s expected to top out at 104. Climate change is here, readers! That’s why I recommend this watermelon gazpacho. Served chilled on a hot day, there’s nothing more refreshing. Who needs margaritas?

This recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine, and it’s fabulous. The Doña Tina’s take on it is that’s it’s a sweet soup. So the only thing you might need to adjust is the amount of sugar. The recipe calls for 1/3 of a cup – that’s a lot. If the watermelon is already sweet, the gazpacho might end up being too sweet for some people. If the watermelon is a dud and is not very sweet at all, then you might need the full amount.

So treat the sugar in this recipe like salt. Depending on the sweetness of the watermelon, you can add less than 1/3 of a cup of sugar and then add more if you need to.

Also, you don’t need to buy whole containers of spices for this recipe. Just go to the bulk spices section of natural foods stores or upscale supermarkets and get as much as you need at a time. It costs pennies this way, and there’s much less waste.

And if you don’t have time to make the gazpacho, throw some seedless watermelon chunks in a blender and keep chilled in the refrigerator. Best summer drink ever. Enjoy! Stay cool!

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2 cups fresh basil leaves plus more for garnish
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 plum tomato
3 cups 1″ pieces chilled seedless watermelon
1 cup 1″ pieces of chilled, peeled cucumber
1/4 cup (or more) fresh lime juice
1/2 fresh jalapeño chile pepper
olive oil for garnish

In a medium saucepan, bring water, sugar, basil leaves, cloves, anise, and bay leaf to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 10 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, and let cool.

Cut an “X” at one end of the tomato. Bring water to boil in a small pot and drop tomato in. Blanch in the boiling water until the “X” starts to pop out a bit (about 30 or 40 seconds). Then immediately put the tomato in a bath of ice water. Let tomato cool for about 5 minutes. Peel the skin off, cut tomato in half, and remove the seeds.

In a blender, combine basil syrup, tomato, jalapeño chile, cucumber, lime juice and watermelon chunks. Whirl until smooth. Serve chilled garnished with basil and olive oil.

 

 

 

Doña Tina’s Crispy Potato Tacos
Makes 6 tacos

Hola readers! It’s been such a long time since my last post. Among other things, I had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) – a tiny stroke. And was so tired with the medications I was on, I felt about eighty years old. But no more! I guarantee you’ll love these crispy potato tacos so much, it will have been worth the wait!

One day, hubby and I were in Winters, California, a charming small town not far from Sacramento that has become quite a foodie destination. At a Mexican restaurant called Chuy’s Taqueria, they had potato tacos topped with guacamole, tomato, sour cream, cheese, lettuce and salsa. They were wonderful! So why don’t we see this dish more often in Mexican restaurants and taco trucks?

So I found a recipe for crispy potato tacos on a website called Piloncillo & Vainilla, changed it, and put my own Doña Tina’s take on it. I also used a taco recipe from Bon Appetit and a slightly modified guacamole recipe from Sunset magazine. Taking bits and pieces from existing recipes and combining them to make new ones is a fun way to be creative with food. You’ll love these tacos! Thanks for visiting my blog!

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6 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
guacamole
chopped fresh cilantro
canola oil

Mashed Potatoes
1 1/2 lb Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled, quartered
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, sliced
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons butter
salt to taste

Guacamole
2 large ripe avocados
2 to 3 tablespoons lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 medium tomato, seeded, chopped
salt to taste

Put potatoes in a large pot filled with cold water. Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes until tender.

While potatoes are boiling, heat canola oil in a pan on medium high. Add jalapeño chile and red onion slices. Sauté about 5 minutes, until brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Also while potatoes are boiling, prepare the guacamole. Combine ingredients in a bowl, them mix with a fork or potato masher. Season with salt. Set aside.

When potatoes are done, drain and return to pot. Add milk, butter, and sauteéd onion and jalapeño. Mix well and season with salt. Place about a spoonful of mashed potatoes on each tortilla (not too much or the tortilla will be difficult to fold over).

Pour canola oil in a frying pan to about 1/4″ depth. Heat oil on medium-high until oil is hot. Place tortilla with potato side up in the pan, cook for about 10 seconds, then fold the tortilla over with the mashed potato inside. Fry taco for about a minute or two, turning once, until the tortilla is crisp. If your pan is big enough, you can even do two at a time.

Drain tacos on paper towels, then top with guacamole and chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enchiladas with Chipotle Peanut Sauce
Makes 6 enchiladas

A friend of mine, who lives part-time in Mexico, said being a vegetarian is not easy there. It’s true. Mexican food tends to be heavy on the meat. But with some creativity, it doesn’t have to be. This recipe, from the vegan Mexican website Dora’s Table, uses spinach and mushrooms as a filling. Believe me, you won’t miss the meat! The enchiladas are also topped with a sauce of exquisite depth, complexity and sophistication. I think Dora should bottle this sauce and sell it. And if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on other dishes like fish, chicken or eggs.

Of course, I have changed the recipe and put my own Doña Tina’s take on it. Enchiladas can be a bit of work, but these are fairly easy to make and a restaurant-quality addition to you dinner table.

Ancho chiles, used in the sauce, are the dried form of poblano chiles, the large dark-green variety used to make chiles rellenos. Ancho chiles can be found in supermarkets  and in the bulk section of natural foods stores. Unsalted, roasted peanuts can be found as “peanut butter stock” in the bulk section of grocery stores.

Since money isn’t spent on packaging, buying from the bulk bins reduces your grocery bill. There is also less waste to end up in landfills, and that’s a good thing! Using reusable cloth bags for bulk items is even better.

Buen Provecho! Thanks for visiting my blog!

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The Sauce
4 ancho chiles
1–2 chipotle peppers in adobo
2 cloves garlic
1 plum tomato
1 cup roasted peanuts
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 cup vegetable broth

The Filling
8 oz cremini mushrooms
3 cloves of garlic, minced
8 oz fresh spinach
6 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated
canola oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roast tomato on a baking sheet until it is soft and the skin is spilt and blistered, about 25 minutes. While the tomato is roasting, prep the other ingredients. When tomato is done, remove from the oven and let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Remove seeds and stems from ancho chiles. In a medium-sized pot, bring water to a boil then add chiles to boiling water. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, and let chiles cool.

When ingredients are cool, blend the ancho chiles, tomato, chipotle chiles(s), garlic, peanuts, cloves and vegetable broth (cooled or at room temperature) in a blender. If the sauce is too thick, thin with water. Set aside.

The reason for using cool ingredients is that many blenders contain plastic parts, especially the lid. Hot liquids on plastic can leach harmful chemicals into the food. For the same reason, please don’t wash plastic items in the dishwasher.

Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a pan on medium-high. Sauté mushrooms until almost all the water water has boiled off, about 9 or 10 minutes. Reduce heat, add garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add spinach and sauté until wilted, about a minute or two. Turn off heat and set aside.

Fill a frying pan with canola oil to about a 1/4 inch depth. Heat oil on medium high until oil starts to shimmer. Place tortillas in the hot oil and cook for about 10 seconds on each side. (When the oil is hot enough, there should be bubbling and sizzling around the edge of the tortilla.) Drain on paper towels.

In a large baking dish, spread 1 cup of sauce evenly along the bottom. Fill each tortilla with just under 1/4 cup of the mushroom-spinach filling and 2 tablespoons of grated cheese. Roll up and place seam side down on the baking dish. Top with remaining sauce and grated cheese. Heat, uncovered in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes and serve.

 

 

 

 

 

Watercress Salad with Cilantro Dressing
Serves 4

One of the purposes of this blog is to expand the idea of what Latin food is and can be. And so I go to the public library to research recipes. As I said in a previous blog post, recipes in little-known cookbooks don’t always work. On the other hand, when they don’t work, there is a lot of opportunity to be creative and improve them. If you have the time and the patience, this is one way to invent your own recipes.

We associate watercress with sandwiches at English high tea, but it is a common salad green in Mexico. This recipe originally came from Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. But the “dressing” was a kind of pesto that was way too thick to put over a salad. My husband and I ended up eating it on spaghetti. And so back to the drawing board tinkering with cilantro dressing recipes until one came out right. Then I added orange slices and pine nuts for garnish. Hope you like it! Thanks for visiting my blog!

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The Dressing
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

The Salad
2 bunches watercress
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 cup queso fresco or to taste
4 orange slices

Whisk the vinegar, salt and pepper, garlic, cilantro and olive oil in a bowl. Set aside.

To toast the nuts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, place the nuts on a baking sheet, and toast for about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

Remove watercress leaves from the thick stems and rinse. Pat the leaves dry gently so not to bruise or crush them.

Place watercress on 4 salad plates, pour dressing on and top with queso fresco and pine nuts. Cut orange slices into quarters and place them at the edges of each salad, two at the bottom of the plate, and two at the top.

 

 

 

 

Black Bean Soup with Roasted Poblano Chiles
Makes 6 servings

I’m happy to share with you one of my favorite go-to winter recipes for those chilly days. The soup is a Doña Tina’s take on a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine. I think the original recipe needed more flavor from fat, so I added extra virgin olive oil and cheese. I switched out chicken broth for vegetable broth (it tastes better in this recipe). And for some pizzaz, added chopped green onion and cilantro.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with chiles, poblano chiles are large, dark green chiles that are wide at the stem end and tapered toward the bottom. They are used to make chiles rellenos and are commonly sold in supermarkets. An ancho chile is a dried poblano. They are also readily available in markets and in the bulk sections of natural foods stores.

This recipe, like a lot of gourmet recipes, uses Kosher salt. Kosher salt is valued by chefs because of its purity. But remember that Kosher salt crystals are much larger than crystals of table salt, so you need to use less of it.

You’ll love this soup! Enjoy!

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2 poblano chiles
2 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds
1 large dried ancho chile, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
1 14.5 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
Kosher salt
2 14.5 cans black beans, drained
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese plus more for garnish
1 cup chopped green onion
1 cup chopped green cilantro

Preheat broiler and place poblano chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil, turning the chiles so that they heat evenly, until the skin is blackened and blistered, about 8 to 10 minutes. Place chiles in a ceramic bowl and cover with a plate. Let steam for 15 minutes. When the chiles are cool, remove the stem, seeds, and skin, and chop into small pieces.

Toast pumpkin seeds in a pan for about 5 minutes on medium high, stirring occasionally, until they are golden. Place seeds on a plate and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot on medium high and sauté onions and garlic until onions are soft and golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool.

Place onions and garlic in a blender with the fire-roasted tomatoes and ancho chile, and blend until smooth. Return mixture to the pot and heat on medium high, stirring often, for about 6 to 8 minutes until the mixture thickens.

Add vegetable broth and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in black beans, chopped poblano chiles, 1/3 cup olive oil and cheese. Heat soup for about another 5 minutes until warmed through.

Serve hot topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro, green onions, and extra cheese.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puerto Rican Tostones and Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Hello all 15 million of my subscribers (Ha! Ha! I wish).  I’ve been feeling very tired and yucky the past few weeks. But now, returned to health, I have several exciting recipes to share with you.

One of these is tostones, without which no repertoire of Latin dishes is complete. Tostones are fried patties made from green plantains, a large banana common throughout Latin America. Green plantains are not sweet and are eaten as a vegetable, much like a potato. They are readily available in grocery stores. This week’s quick, easy-to-make recipe is from Saveur, an excellent cooking magazine and a reliable source of recipes.

Which brings me to my second point. Some sources are not reliable, including books in print. For instance, in search of new Latin recipes, I went to my local public library and checked out a book called Caribbean Cooking. I saw a recipe for banana fudge and thought it would be fun to make. The recipe said to mash 3 bananas, add 3/4 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of margarine, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, simmer it on the stove for a few minutes, then let it cool and cut it into squares.

It made this liquid slop that couldn’t possibly be cut into squares and, with 3/4 of a cup of sugar, was so sickeningly sweet it was inedible. The “fudge” went down the garbage disposal. Another time I saw a recipe for green gazpacho in The Wall Street Journal. That sounds really good, I thought. So I made it. It was horrible. Maybe the Journal didn’t test the recipe before it went to press?

So while it may have been unrealistic to expect culinary expertise from The Wall Street Journal, I think you get my point, dear readers. Don’t believe everything you see in print.

In cooking, as in every other topic, rely on reputable sources as much as possible. Major cooking magazines such as Sunset, Bon Appetit, and Saveur have test kitchens in which they rigorously test their recipes before publishing them. And of course Doña Tina always tests her recipes.

So enjoy the tostones! They go great with rice and beans!

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Dipping Sauce
3–4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
salt to taste
3–6 cilantro sprigs, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Tostones
3 green plantains
canola oil
salt

First, make the dipping sauce. Add garlic to the olive oil, then crush with a pestle until it makes a kind of paste. Add cilantro, and crush the leaves and stems. Salt the dipping sauce to taste and set aside.

Peel the plantains. Cut both ends off the plantains, then with a knife, make a few slits in the skin all the way down. Remove the skin and any fibers sticking to the plantain. Cut the plantains into 1-inch slices.

Add canola oil to a large, heavy frying pan to a depth of about 1 inch. Heat the oil on medium until a candy thermometer inserted in the oil reads 325 degrees. Working in 2 batches, fry the plantain slices about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, then drain on paper towels.

With a spatula or potato masher, press the slices down until they are half their original width. Fry them again in the oil for about a minute each side, until the tostones are golden brown.

Drain on paper towels, and season to taste with salt. Serve hot with the dipping sauce.