My first formal job, after switching careers from political analysis to cooking, was as chef and cooking instructor of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington DC.
This was 2007. A year before, I had created a curriculum that aimed to open, one class at a time, a window into Mexican cuisine, history and culture for anybody living north of the border. What I didn’t know, when I began preparing it, was that classes were to be for a crowd of 100 people, on a stage, wearing a microphone, and having a big screen at my side. I thought it would be small cozy classes for 8 to 10 people in the kitchen. As much as I had culinary training and had done extensive research on Mexican culture and cuisine, I did not have any speaker or media training.
I was a bit frozen when I got up on that stage the first couple times. So much so that, for months, before putting the boys to bed each night, instead of telling them bedtime stories, I practiced teaching the classes with them. You bet they know how the recipe for chicken tinga goes!
One of the first demo/dinners we did was themed December Holidays in Mexico City. One of the dishes was this absolutely gorgeous Christmas Salad. Oh how I have loved, since then, sharing all the things about my native country with my new home country. But if you see this clip, taken from the “How I Got to Now” episode of my new season of Pati’s Mexican Table (now available on Amazon, as well as your PBS stations), you can hear my voice tremble a bit…
This salad is emblematic of Mexican cuisine. It has unexpected ingredients, unexpected tastes, unexpected textures. It is nutritious and healthy. It is not overly laborious. It is rich. It is fresh. It is generous. It is colorful! It is deeeeeelicious! As I said that day and still say today… in Mexico we have no taco salads. But, oh boy, do we have some amazing ones! Take a peek at the incredible ingredients and combinations that have come from Mexico’s kitchens and are now at your fingertips to enrich your daily life.
This year was the 10th anniversary of my live cooking demos and dinners at the Mexican Cultural Institute. It is my 10th year there as its resident chef. It is my 10th year working with the same amazing cooking team and the fabulous staff and the Institute’s leadership. And we have attendees who have not missed a single event in these 10 years! I couldn’t be more honored and proud. I hope to be able to continue this journey along with all of you as the years pass.
I end this post, the last one of 2017, with lots of love and gratitude for letting me into your home, via this blog, my recipes or because you tune in to my show.
Jicama, Beet, Orange, and Caramelized Peanut Christmas Salad
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or to taste
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium jicama (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick sticks
- 3 pounds beets cooked, peeled, and quartered (*see note)
- 3 oranges peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 1 cup caramelized peanuts coarsely chopped
- Combine the vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly add the oils in a thin, steady stream, mixing with a whisk or a fork until emulsiﬁed.
- Place the jicama, beets, and oranges in separate bowls and toss each with about one third of the vinaigrette. Arrange the ingredients in a pattern on a large platter. I like to do parallel stripes, and I often start with beets in the center, placing jicama on one side and oranges on the other. Sprinkle on the caramelized peanuts and drizzle any remaining vinaigrette on top.
- * Note: To cook beets, cut off the greens and most of the stems, leaving about 1 inch. Don’t scrub them or cut off the thin root, or they will bleed their juices, sweetness, and color as they cook. Place them in a pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and cook until tender. Medium beets (about 2 inches in diameter) cook in 30 to 35 minutes. For this salad, you want them crunchy, so don’t overcook. Drain, let cool completely, then peel and cut.