Salads

Ensalada de Navidad

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…

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vf0xO1XgKg[/embedyt]
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.

Siempre,

Pati

Pati Jinich ensalada de navidad
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Jicama, Beet, Orange, and Caramelized Peanut Christmas Salad

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!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Appetizer, Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: beets, Christmas, Ensalada, Jicama, Mexican, Mexico, Navidad, oranges, Peanuts, salad
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

Ensalada de Navidad

Potato and Poblano Rajas Salad

If you are going to try a new potato salad, it has to be this one.

It’s rich. It’s filling. Yet at the same time, it’s light and bright. How can this happen? You may wonder…

Soft tender potatoes are combined with an exuberant poblano chile rajas, or strips, and lightly caramelized red onion mix. It’s not a creamy salad, but one that has an unexpected vinegary kick, laced with olive and sesame oils.

In my kitchen, it’s a well documented fact that poblano chiles love the company of allspice. And it is no secret that potatoes love to be showered with tarragon. Mix it all up, and I want to eat the entire serves-six-people bowl.

Of course, potato salad is as familiar and old-fashioned as apple pie, but you have never tried one like this. It brings the character of Central Mexico, where the combination of papas con (poblano) rajas has a long history at the table. But this may be the first time you see that combination in a salad form.

I dreamed it up while sitting at my desk wondering how I could bring the legendary combination of potatoes and poblano rajas to your table. Maybe it was the seesawing March forecast teasing spring, after the coldest winter in years here in Washington, DC, that put the idea of potato salad in my head…

Perfect, I thought, if it comes out as I am hoping, to bring this substantial salad to your table for Easter, or Passover, or a cookout, or any occasion you may have in mind this spring, where a big bowl of the best-ever potato salad will come in handy. And: I loved it!

Don’t think about this as a potato salad with chile peppers.

No.

poblano chiles

We are not using a spicy chile for the heat. We are adding the grand poblano chile, which is more like a stunning vegetable with mild heat than what many people consider all chiles to be.

Not only is the poblano a large, shiny, curvy, dark green beauty – it also has the most extraordinary rich, fruity, spirited flavor.

However, the poblano chile is a bit timid in it’s raw form and calls for a little coaxing, or prep work, before it can bring out its finest flavor, color and texture. Though, not to worry, it’s very easy to master the process of charring, sweating, and peeling the chiles.

prepping poblano chiles

Once you prep the poblanos a couple of times, you’ll see it’s no harder than roasting a red bell pepper. And the reward is in the deepened flowery, smoky, mildly spicy flavor of your transformed poblanos.

This salad is versatile, too. I like it warm, but you can eat it any way you prefer or best suits the occasion: warm, room temperature, or cold.

And it’s filling enough to eat as a main course for a quick lunch or as a side dish for a celebration table, for sandwich night, or for a backyard BBQ.

Seriously, give it a try.

potato and poblano rajas salad

Print Recipe
5 from 5 votes

Potato and Poblano Rajas Salad

If you are going to try a new potato salad, it has to be this one. It’s rich. It’s filling. Yet at the same time, it’s light and bright. How can this happen? You may wonder…Soft tender potatoes are combined with an exuberant poblano chile rajas, or strips, and lightly caramelized red onion mix. It’s not a creamy salad, but one that has an unexpected vinegary kick, laced with olive and sesame oils.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: onion, pati's mexican table, poblanos, potatoes, vinegar
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds baby red potatoes
  • 3 poblano chiles charred, sweated, peeled and cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 cups halved and thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Drop in the red potatoes and cook for about 20 minutes, until they are cooked through and the tip of a knife goes in without much resistance, but the potatoes are not falling apart. When ready, drain into a colander. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut into halves.
  • In a large deep skillet or casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once it is hot, add the sesame oil. Stir in the red onion and cook for about 12 minutes, stirring once in a while, until they have completely softened and edges have begun to slightly brown. Incorporate the poblano chile rajas (strips), stir, cook for a minute or two.
  • Add the tarragon, allspice and sesame seeds and cook for a couple minutes. Pour in the white wine vinegar and rice vinegar, stir, cook for another minute and turn off the heat.
  • Place the potatoes in a large bowl, pour the onion, rajas, oil and vinegar mixture on top, and gently toss. Serve warm, at room temperature (how I like them the best) or cold.

Notes

Ensalada de Papitas con Rajas

Hearty Bean & Corn Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette

One of the things that I’m most enthusiastic about in what I do is breaking down myths about Mexican food and also about Mexicans. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Mexican food is greasy, fatty, cheesy and overloaded in heavy amounts of condiments. Some of the dishes that crossed the Mexican border and have become popular in the US, have been re-interpreted and promoted by the US fast food industry. Yet, mega burrito bombs, nachos smothered in cheese, and sizzling fajitas with scoops of sour cream on top are things you will have a really hard time finding in Mexico.

One thing that surprises people who delve a bit more into the Mexican culinary world is how crazy we are about salads. Not taco salads, no, no, no… Wholesome salads that use vegetables and beans and grains and flowers and all kinds of dried chiles and herbs…

It may be that the Mexican use of the word salad “ensalada” doesn’t help much to spread this good information because we usually call “ensalada” when there is lettuce or leafy greens in it. This leaves out chayote en vinagre, calabacitas en escacheche (pickled zucchini salad), nopalitos, and a gazillion other salads named simply by their main ingredient.

Mexican salads are so fascinating that I dedicated an entire chapter to them in my cookbook. They tend to be easy to make, and there always tends to be something exotic or interesting going on. A hibiscus flower vinaigrette, crunchy and watery jícama, or quickly pickled ancho chiles, super crispy and sweet garnishes like caramelized pecans or peanuts, spiced pepitas, or toasted sunflower seeds, just to name some.

Salads are usually dressed up in an oil and vinegar treatment, and Mexican cooks get very creative with them. We whip up vinaigrettes quickly, either in the blender or simply shaking them up in a jar. After they are made they can be refrigerated and re-used, with just a re-shake to emulsify. Every Mexican home that I know, has their home staple vinaigrettes of choice.

Pick a flavor of your choice: say, cilantro! Fresh, grassy, strong.

cilantro

Don’t like cilantro? Pick another one, such as chives, tarragon, mint, parsley… a combination of many.

But stick with me on cilantro for this one. This is one of my regular vinaigrettes. All you do is add the ingredients in a blender, puree, done. Don’t be deterred. In less time than it takes to run to the store for a bottle, you have a tastier one made at home.

cilantro vinaigrette

You can use it in a regular green salad, over tomato and mozzarella, soaking up other cooked vegetables like green beans or asparagus and sprinkled with fresh cheese. I tried it with this combination of corn, hearts of palm and black and garbanzo beans, and we all went wild over it. So many textures, so many flavors, so many colors, so very playful.

It can be your main dish, anytime of the year, with some crusty bread on the side. It can also be a great side salad for your barbecues and picnics in the summertime.

bean and corn salad

bean and corn salad
Print Recipe
4 from 3 votes

Hearty Bean & Corn Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette

Salads are usually dressed up in an oil and vinegar treatment, and Mexican cooks get very creative with them. We whip up vinaigrettes quickly, either in the blender or simply shaking them up in a jar. After they are made they can be refrigerated and re-used, with just a re-shake to emulsify. Every Mexican home that I know, has their home staple vinaigrettes of choice. Pick a flavor of your choice: say, cilantro! Fresh, grassy, strong.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Salad
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: bell peppers, black beans, chickpeas, cilantro, Corn, garbanzo beans, hearts of palm, Recipe, red onion, red wine vinegar, salad, vinaigrette
Servings: 6 to 8 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 1 15.5oz can black beans drained and rinsed, or 1 ¾ cups black beans from the pot , drained
  • 1 15.5oz can garbanzo beans or chickpeas drained and rinsed, or 1 ¾ cups cooked garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1 15.2oz can corn drain and rinsed, or 1 ¾ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels cooked
  • 1 14oz can hearts of palm rinsed and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves and upper stems, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove peeled
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or more to taste

Instructions

  • Place all the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a blender and puree until smooth. You may make the vinaigrette up to a week ahead and store covered in the refrigerator. If made ahead, whisk with a fork or whisk to re-emulsify prior to using. You may also shake it in the covered container.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine black beans, garbanzo beans, corn, red bell pepper and red onion. Pour vinaigrette and combine well. Add hearts of palm, gently toss and serve.

Notes

Ensalada de Frijol, Garbanzo y Elote con Vinagreta de Cilantro

Apple, Radish, Watercress Salad with Pistachio and Chile de Arbol

A couple weeks ago, right as I was setting up for one of my classes, “A Culinary Compass of Mexico,” at the Mexican Cultural Institute, Alberto Roblest came over and asked me a great question.

“Pati, do you cook traditional Mexican recipes OR do you create your own?”

Alberto is doing a project with the support of The Office on Latino Affairs. It is called Hola Cultura and explores the contributions of Latinos to DC life and culture, from art to language to sports to cooking.

I think he meant for me to respond with an either or. He really did. Come on Pati, “traditional” OR “new,” he insisted. But I kept answering “BOTH!” As I kept trying to explain why, I realized so wholeheartedly that both traditional and new not only describe my cooking style but also one of the many wonders of Mexican cuisine.

See… I thrive on exploring, traveling, tasting, testing, recreating and passing on traditional Mexican cuisine and recipes. If I get to live to be 120 years old, I won’t have enough time to taste and share all the rich and vibrant regional cuisines and dishes that exist across Mexico.

Mexican cooking has such sturdy pillars and is so strong, partly because generation after generation, tried and true recipes are passed on, sometimes written and sometimes not. When a dish and its traditions somehow get lost in a family, neighborhood, or community… once it is found and recreated again, a lifeline that holds us together suddenly appears! Even if its on the other side of the globe.

When I receive a request for that “much needed but can’t be found” recipe, I jump for joy! I am sent on a serious mission, and I don’t stop until it is completed.

Apple Radish Watercress Salad 1

At the same time, Mexican cuisine is so strong because it has a treasure trove of fabulous ingredients that are so accommodating in their use. As long as one understands the ingredient and its genuine nature, there are so many ways to experiment with it. That is also how a cuisine expands, by creating new combinations and testing the limits, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding. Surely, many of the traditional takes were once new too.

While I dedicate so much of my time researching and passing on what has existed for generations and centuries, I can’t resist creating new dishes. Funny, that it happens many times with salads, like the Watermelon and Tomatillo Salad.

For the one on this post, which I have been obsessively repeating, I use watercress, called “berros” in Mexico (I happen to love that word). They are used tremendously in Mexican kitchens for salads. They are delightful: a bit bitter, made up on thin leaves but packed with flavor and such a nice delicate bite.

On top goes a combination of thinly sliced tart green apples and pungent radishes. One ingredient snapped from a tree and another pulled from the ground! Both ingredients have a bright colorful outer skin, yet, inside are crisp white. I use them both raw, and get the most of their watery crunch and contrasting taste.

Then it is all covered in a light vinaigrette with a bit of mustard and a bit of honey. Then a stellar topping tries to steal away the show.

Apple Radish Watercress Salad 2

Toasted chile de árbol and pistachios, chopped together. A smoky, lightly spicy, crunchy, nutty and ironically sweet combination.

You won’t believe how sweet the pistachios taste on each bite.

Apple Radish Watercress Salad 3

Give it a try!!

Its fresh, its crunchy, lightly tart, with a nice kick and a combination of unexpected flavors that I hope will have you making it time and again as the seasons move on…

p.s. All that said: send along more requests for any more Mexican recipes you are craving at any time.

apple, watercress, radish and chile de arbol salad
Print Recipe
5 from 2 votes

Apple, Radish, Watercress Salad with Pistachio and Chile de Arbol

For the one on this post, which I have been obsessively repeating, I use watercress, called “berros” in Mexico (I happen to love that word). They are used tremendously in Mexican kitchens for salads. They are delightful: a bit bitter, made up on thin leaves but packed with flavor and such a nice delicate bite. On top goes a combination of thinly sliced tart green apples and pungent radishes. One ingredient snapped from a tree and another pulled from the ground! 
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Salad
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: chiles de arbol, green apple, honey, lime, mustard, pistachios, radish, Recipe, salad, vinegar, watercress
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches watercress rinsed, dried and the tougher ends of stems removed
  • 1 green apple rinsed, and cut into thin wedges
  • 1 bunch radishes (or about 4 ounces or 1 cup already sliced), rinsed, stems and roots removed, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup pistachios lightly toasted and chopped
  • 2 chiles de arbol toasted, chopped (seeding optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar (natural unseasoned)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Instructions

  • Place the apple and the radishes in a bowl. Place the watercress in another bowl.
  • Heat a a small 6 inch skillet set over medium low heat, add the pistachios and toast anywhere form 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until they are nicely toasted, but don't let them burn. Remove form heat. In the same skillet, toast the chiles de arbol anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, flipping sides, 1 or 2 times along the way, remove from the heat.
  • Remove the stems from the chiles de arbol. In a chopping board, chop the chiles de arbol. You may remove the seeds once they are chopped or keep them. Add the pistachios and chop them along with the chile de arbol creating a pistachio chile de arbol mixture.
  • In a small bowl, combine the mustard, honey, salt, pepper, rice vinegar and lime juice with a whisk or fork. Slowly, pour in the oils and whisk or mix very well until thoroughly combined. Pour half onto the apple-radish mix and half onto the watercress.
  • To serve, on small appetizer plates, add watercress, top with the apple-radish mixture and sprinkle some of the pistachio-chile de arbol mix on top.

Notes

Ensalada de Berros con Manzana y Rábanos

Summertime Watermelon & Tomatillo Salad: Beat the Heat!

This year I promised my boys we would plant goodies in the backyard to harvest ourselves. At the nursery, jumping up and down as in a candy shop, they dragged so many plants to the counter, I had to give an absolute NO to half of them.

We ended up with thyme, oregano, bay leaves, rosemary, mint, parsley, and cilantro.  Ok, and tomatoes, cherry and roma. Fine… corn too, don’t know what I was thinking. And wait! We couldn’t leave without jalapeños, which led me to run for some tomatillos. And scallions. I stopped there. I did.

Then Sami came back with a little watermelon plant.  That was the wildest idea, oh, that monster of mine. We’ve no room to grow watermelon. I told him about the big wide fields in Northern Mexico, in states like Sonora, Chihuahua, Jalisco and Sinaloa where watermelon is grown extensively. Our backyard is… not so big.

Beats me.

We brought home Sami’s watermelon plant.

chopped up watermelon
As the weeks went by, we saw many of the plants thrive, except the watermelon which seemed to take an awful long time to  grow. Then one day the editors from Babble asked me for a custom recipe. By then, I was eagerly thinking about what would make the sweet, watery crunch from that soon to grow watermelon shine the most.

This is what I came up with…

tomatillos
Thinly sliced, raw, punchy and tart tomatillos. Much firmer than the watermelon, and just look at the color contrast. Not to say about the flavor combination.

To coat this unconventional pairing, I wanted a vinaigrette with some some gentle heat. I got it from the jalapeños, which you will never have trouble finding in our backyard as Juju made markers for each plant… I am proud to say, the boy knows his Ñ’s.

jalapenos in the garden
I coarsely chopped the chiles, as I like to feel their friendly bite. But you can give them a finer chop and even remove the seeds.

jalapeno

With the already unusual watermelon and tomatillo pairing, I went unusual again, and added some chopped fresh mint.

Mint  has been growing wild here, as all mint tends to… Although we planted ours in the ground while still in their protective pots, to keep them in check. It doesn’t seem to give a hoot. Its wild.

mint
Soaked the jalapeño and the mint with fresh squeezed lime juice, a bit of straight forward white distilled vinegar which makes everything it coats more crisp, the oils and salt… Gave it a bit of time, 5 to 10 minutes, to sit and get acquainted.

limes
Poured the vinaigrette over the red and green. Yet not only was the salad screaming for some white (partly to round the colors of the Mexican flag, for one thing…) but also for some salty taste with some heartiness to it. Hence the Feta Cheese. Now you can go for anything tangy, salty and crumbly: queso fresco or farmers’ cheese works well too.

feta cheese
While we had the chance to harvest and eat the jalapeño, mint and tomatillos from our backyard, that watermelon never came to be… some bunnies got to it before we did.

But just day dreaming about it made me come up with one of my favorite recipes. It is so bright, so alive, so peppy and so summery!

Luckily there are plenty of amazing watermelons at the stores… we will have to give it another go next summer to harvest our own.

watermelon and tomatillo salad
Meanwhile I can’t help but repeat this salad that hits all the taste buds!  Sweet from the watermelon, salty from the cheese, spicy from the chile, tart from the lime and tomatillos and refreshing from the mint. Oh, you just have to give it a try…

watermelon and tomatillo salad with feta cheese
Print Recipe
3.5 from 2 votes

Summertime Watermelon & Tomatillo Salad

I can’t help but repeat this salad that hits all the taste buds!  Sweet from the watermelon, salty from the cheese, spicy from the chile, tart from the lime and tomatillos and refreshing from the mint. Oh, you just have to give it a try…
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Salad
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: feta, jalapeno, lime, mint, pati's mexican table, queso fresco, tomatillos, vinaigrette, vinegar, watermelon
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 4 cups watermelon cut into bite size chunks or cubes
  • 2 cups, about 1/2 pound tomatillos husks removed, thoroughly rinsed, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup, about 3 ounces mild feta or queso fresco crumbled or cut into small dice

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves about 5 to 6, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon jalapeño or serrano chile or to taste (seeding optional)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Instructions

  • Place the watermelon cubes and tomatillo slices in a large bowl.
  • In a small bowl, add the chopped mint and jalapeno. Squeeze the fresh lime juice on top, stir in the vinegar, sprinkle the salt and mix. Pour the olive oil and vegetable oil, and mix with a whisk or fork until well emulsified.
  • Pour the vinaigrette on top of the watermelon and tomatillos, toss well and sprinkle the cheese on top.

Notes

Ensalada de Sandía y Tomate Verde

A National Public Television Series and an Avocado Chop Chop Salad: Take a Peek!

I’ve been wanting to write this post for days. Every time I try, it feels like hundreds of flowers bloom in my head, clouding my thoughts. My tongue gets tied too. Which is not common. I usually don’t hesitate to express my thoughts.

So, pushing aside the flowers and the thing with the tongue…

Dearest friends, here’s the news: if you like Mexican food, if you like Public Television, if you like my approach to cooking, then… I hope you’ll like to hear that Pati’s Mexican Table is premiering on National Public Television, this spring.

I can tell you so many things about how the series came together and why I am so passionate about it. It’s been a fascinating journey: radically switching careers, launching the Culinary Program at the Institute, starting the blog, and now, embarking on the TV series.

What a wild zigzag. But with each turn I’ve confirmed that I want to keep on sharing and exploring Mexican food and all that surrounds it for as long as I can.

Avocado Chop Chop Salad 1

It pleases me to no end to watch my students devour the food at the Institute’s events, and more so when they write to say they’ve made the recipes at home. I love the stories you’ve shared in the blog’s comments and your requests for different cravings. I try to give you the most reliable recipe for that special cookie, dish, soup, or drink that brings you good memories or that you’ve been dying to try. Your filled and happy tummies, stories and requests, fuel my appetite to cook and share more.

See… there is a side of Mexican cuisine that is yet to be fully savored and appreciated: home-style Mexican food.  And for that, thankfully, many preconceptions become broken.

Take this Avocado, Tomato, Corn and Hearts of Palm Chop Chop Salad. One of the first recipes I thought of including in the series.

Avocado Chop Chop Salad 2

The buttery and luxurious Mexican avocados, the plump and fresh tomatoes, the sweet and crunchy corn, are all native Mexican ingredients. The hearts of palm are not, but its an ingredient that has been popular in Mexican kitchens for ages. Called palmitos, or little palm trees, when I was growing up in Mexico city, my grandmother and mother used to pair Palmitos and avocado for special occasions, just like many restaurants do.

See the mix! It is colorful, it is fresh, it is wholesome. Not many adjectives given to Mexican food outside of Mexico.

This salad is not laborious, as many consider good Mexican food to be. Ingredients here have to be simply, roughly chopped. Just like that!

Avocado Chop Chop Salad 3

The vinaigrette has crisp and clear ingredients: olive and safflower oils, the always straight forward apple cider vinegar, the lively fresh squeezed lime juice, salt, pepper, oregano (commonly used to season Mexican food, though not that well known) and brown sugar to help all of those flavors shine.

Simple, but layered flavors that feel so smooth when you take a bite.

And no. This salad isn’t spicy. Though I am wild about fresh and dried chiles, like most Mexicans (we need them! we do! there is sooo much one can do with each different kind!), and they are a staple in Mexican cooking (you will see some of my favorite ones in the series…) not all Mexican food is spicy nor has chiles.

What gives this salad a bit of pungency is a bit of chopped red onion.

Avocado Chop Chop Salad 4

There is nothing here battered or fried. Nor is this salad stuffed inside a giant tortilla with a gazillion other ingredients (OK, my boys do like U.S.-style burritos and I have come to appreciate them, but we also love Mexican-style ones… which I share in one of the show’s episodes).

Avocado Chop Chop Salad 5

What tops the salad, and gives it a healthy, crunchy and lightly nutty flavored bite are the toasted pumpkin seeds. An ingredient that since long before the time of the Aztecs, has been the base of moles, stews, sauces and pastes. They are used for all that, and for this too.

Avocado Chop Chop Salad 6

So of course I will share traditional dishes that have been passed down in families for generations, the pepitos, the soups, the tacos, the stews, the salsas, the practical moles, the flans and the panes dulces. But I will also share some of the modern spins made within the genuine boundaries of Mexican cooking: so you can explore along with me, a cuisine that keeps on evolving, inside and outside of Mexico.

Avocado Chop Chop Salad 7

So tune in!! And please, keep on sharing what you like and what you don’t, and mostly: send me your requests, I will try to keep on honoring them all.

p.s. The series premieres on WETA TV 26 Saturday April 2nd at 11:30 am in DC/MD/VA. Check your local public television station for their schedule this Spring!

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5 from 1 vote

Avocado and Hearts of Palm Chop Chop Salad

The buttery and luxurious Mexican avocados, the plump and fresh tomatoes, the sweet and crunchy corn, are all native Mexican ingredients. The hearts of palm are not, but its an ingredient that has been popular in Mexican kitchens for ages. Called palmitos, or little palm trees, when I was growing up in Mexico city, my grandmother and mother used to pair Palmitos and avocado for special occasions, just like many restaurants do.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Salad
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: apple cider vinegar, Avocado, Corn, hearts of palm, lime, pumpkin seeds, Recipe, red onion, salad, Tomatoes, Vegetarian, vinaigrette
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 3 ripe Mexican avocados about 2 pounds, pulp cut into large chunks
  • 14 ounces hearts of palm drained, rinsed and thickly sliced, about 1 1/3 cups
  • 1 cup corn kernels from freshly cooked ears of corn or thawed and cooked from frozen
  • 1 tablespoon red onion chopped
  • 6 ounces cherry tomatoes or about 1 cup, whole or halved according to your preference
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds toasted

For the vinaigrette:

  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons safflower oil

Instructions

To make the vinaigrette:

  • Pour the vinegar and lime juice in a small bowl. Add oregano, salt sugar and black pepper. Pour the oils in a slow stream, whisking with a whisk or fork to emulsify. The vinaigrette can be made a day ahead of time, just emulsify before using.

To toast the pumpkin seeds:

  • Place the pumpkin seeds in an already hot small saute pan, set over medium heat. Stir often, being careful not to burn them, until you start to hear popping sounds (similar to pop corn), and they begin to acquire a nice tanned color, about 4 to 5 minutes later. Remove from heat and place in a bowl.

To make the salad:

  • In a separate bowl, gently mix the avocado chunks, hearts of palm slices, corn kernels, cherry tomatoes and red onion with the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the toasted pumpkin seeds and serve.
  • This salad can be served as a main salad with a side of toast or pita bread, or it can be served as a side salad to grilled chicken, fish or meat.

Notes

Ensalada de Aguacate y Palmitos

Queso Fresco: Tri-Color Salad with a Lime-Honey Vinaigrette

Yesterday, right after my blog turned 1 year old, I added a new category under Ingredients: Cheese.

This site is a continuous work in progress. As my husband notes, it is very time consuming, but as I always respond, it is immensely rewarding. Truth is, I can’t wait to keep on adding more. One of the things I have loved the most has been getting your requests, so please, keep them coming! Which brings me back to Mexican cheese, a topic I have gotten many requests for.

The first kind I added is the widely available Queso Fresco.  A deeply white, mild, fresh, light, barely salty, gently tangy and versatile cheese that crumbles right in your mouth the moment you take a bite. Yet, it also holds its shape beautifully if you dice it or cut it into sticks. So it lets you play with it in many ways.

Tri-Color Salad 1

Aside from crumbling Queso Fresco directly on plenty of antojos like tacos, tostadas and enchiladas, one of my favorite ways to use it is on top of salads. I know, Mexican salads are not that well known. That said, I have never, in my life, seen a taco salad on Mexican grounds. There is a universe of wholesome and delicious Mexican salads to be found in Restaurants, but mostly, in people’s homes.

Every Mexican household has a secret vinaigrette that is both regularly used and waiting to be screamed out. But you can rarely get the exact recipe, because they are typically made “al tanteo“, an expression that I love, which means by feel, as you go.

Rather than placing the ingredients in a mixing bowl and emulsifying with a whisk as the French might do, in Mexico ingredients are commonly added in a Tupperware and shaken up until well blended.

Here is the secret vinaigrette from our home, which I measured, so you can make it if you please. You can substitute the honey with brown sugar, the main point being, that you need a bit of sweet to make the rest of the ingredients shine through. I added Boston lettuce, tomato and Mexican avocado here, but you can play with more ingredients that you may have at home: asparagus, scallions, jí­cama, to name some…

Tri-Color Salad 2

Aside from making the salad more hearty and filling, the Queso Fresco adds a nice contrast to the vinaigrette with its subtle salty and tangy notes. I will give you more ideas for using Queso Fresco in upcoming posts, so when you see it in the store, bring some home!

Tri-Color Salad main
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3.5 from 2 votes

Tri-Color Salad with Fresh Cheese and Lime-Honey Vinaigrette

Here is the secret vinaigrette from our home, which I measured, so you can make it if you please. You can substitute the honey with brown sugar, the main point being, that you need a bit of sweet to make the rest of the ingredients shine through. I added Boston lettuce, tomato and Mexican avocado here, but you can play with more ingredients that you may have at home: asparagus, scallions, jí­cama, to name some…
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Salad
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Avocado, boston lettuce, brown sugar, honey, lime, mustard, queso fresco, Recipe, salad, Tomatoes, vinaigrette
Servings: 6 to 8 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 2 heads boston lettuce rinsed and drained
  • 1 pound tomatoes about 2, quartered, seeded and sliced
  • 1 large Mexican avocado halved, pitted, meat scooped out and sliced
  • 8 ounces queso fresco fresh cheese, may substitute with farmers cheese or feta cheese

For the vinaigrette:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey or brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons black pepper freshly ground
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions

To make the vinaigrette:

  • Place lime juice, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and thoroughly mix with a fork. Slowly pour safflower or vegetable oil and olive oil as you mix with a fork or whisk, emulsifying the ingredients so that they are well combined. You can also place all the ingredients in a tupperware or jar and shake until well mixed.
  • You may make the vinaigrette ahead of time, but be sure to cover and refrigerate. Whisk it again or shake it in a closed container so that it is emulsified before you add it to the salad.

To make the salad:

  • Place the lettuce leaves and tomatoes in a salad bowl. Add some of the vinaigrette and gently toss, so that the salad is moist but not soaked. Place the avocados and crumbled cheese on top. Drizzle some more vinaigrette on top and serve.

Notes

Ensalada Tri Color con Queso Fresco y Vinagreta de Limón y Miel

Romancing The Avocado

Avocados are, to me, amongst the most sensuous, luscious and luxurious of ingredients. Add how delicious, soft and subtly flavored they are, and you get a clear winner for Valentine’s Day. Despite the many pounds of avocados we go through at home each week, regardless of the infinite number of cases I use for events at Washington, DC’s Mexican Cultural Institute, and  notwithstanding that my sisters and I used them for hair and face treatments as we were growing up (all those nurturing natural oils and vitamins), I still find avocados to be wow-inducing.

If there’s an avocado dish on a restaurant menu, it lands on my table.

So if I am planning a menu, especially with a hint of romance, avocados will be there…

I am not unique thinking that avocados are something special. To the Aztecs, who ate avocados in Mexico for centuries before the Spaniards arrived, they were revered fruit considered to have strong fertility and aphrodisiac powers. Indeed, the Spanish word aguacate comes from the Nahuatl ahuacatl, or “testicles,” presumbly in reference to their shape. The avocado was warmly welcomed in the countries where it was introduced. And thanks in part to its accomodating nature – its meat can be smashed, diced, pureed, stuffed or sliced, or it can be part of a filling or a centerpiece – it has been creatively adopted in many cuisines.

It is true that many people think of guacamole when they hear “avocado.” And there must be more than a thousand reasons to love guacamole. Fast and easy to make, and so fun to eat, it screams out fiesta with each bite. My favorite way to make guacamole is to mix diced avocado with chopped onion and cilantro, squeeze fresh lime juice on top, sprinkle with sea salt and top it off with chopped chipotle chilis in adobo.

Guacamole, though, is just the tip of the avocado iceberg, both inside and outside Mexican cuisine.

Think about eel-and-avocado sushi, a French salad with layers of avocado sprinkled with Roquefort cheese, or an Italian salad with layers of ripe avocado and ash-coated goat cheese, olive oil, coarse salt and basil leaves. It’s hard to imagine a vegetarian sandwich without avocados.

I have tried eight varieties of avocados, and though I like most of them, the one I prefer is the Hass variety. It is available year-round, and is creamy and rich rather than fibrous like other kinds, such as El Fuerte.

Avocados are a fruit that ripen off the tree, so they are often sold unripe. If you are in a hurry to use an avocado, you can hasten the ripening process by wrapping it in newspapers or keeping it in a paper bag in a warm area of the kitchen. If you can wait, it will ripen at a nice pace uncovered in the kitchen.

When ripe, the Hass, with the pebbly skin completely blackened, will give a bit with a gentle squeeze of your hand. If it doesn’t, then it needs a bit more time to mature. You can keep a ripe avocado in the refrigerator for up to a week. It is apparently a myth that keeping the seed in a cut avocado keeps it from darkening. What does seem to help is to squeeze fresh lime juice on top.Here are four of my favorite takes on avocado: an elegant-looking appetizer, a retro mousse, an exotic-sounding soup and a hearty sandwich. Regardless of which way you use it, including avocado in your romantic dinner – as long as it’s not in a hair or skin treatment –  will show your Valentine that you really care.

Article written for and published by National Public Radio’s Kitchen Window.
stuffed avocados
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5 from 3 votes

Stuffed Avocados with Hearts of Palm and Artichoke Salad

When I was growing up, my mother often served stuffed avocados for an elegant dinner. They were such a statement of a well-planned menu. There were many variations: stuffed with sauteed shrimp with chilies, crab salad or red snapper ceviche (a seafood cocktail "cooked" in citrus juice and other spices). The version I make most often, though, mixes artichoke hearts and hearts of palm. I think these ingredients just love to be together and make a smashing combination with the smooth avocado.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time0 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: agucate, Alcachofa, artichoke, Avocado, hearts of palm, Palmitos, rellenos, stuffed
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 14 ounces (1 1/3 cups) hearts of palm drained, rinsed and sliced
  • 14 ounces (1 1/2 cups) artichoke hearts drained, rinsed and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onion
  • 4 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
  • 3 ripe Mexican avocados halved and seeded just before stuffing

Instructions

  • In a bowl, mix the hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, red onion, red bell pepper and parsley.
  • To prepare the vinaigrette, pour the tarragon vinegar in a small bowl and mix it with the salt, sugar and black pepper. Pour the oils in a slow stream, whisking with a whisk or fork to emulsify. Pour it over the vegetables. Toss well to cover.
  • You may prepare the hearts of palm and artichoke salad ahead of time, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
  • When ready to eat, halve and seed the avocados. Scoop the hearts of palm and artichoke salad on top and serve.

Notes

Aguacates Rellenos de Palmitos y Corazón de Alcachofa
stuffed avocados
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5 from 1 vote

Avocado, Pistachio and Watercress Mousse

As I was describing this dish to a dear friend, she explained that the word I was looking for to describe it was "retro." Though I have tasted many avocado mousses, this one seems to be whimsical and addicting. Make this mousse ahead of time for a party or brunch and serve it with pieces of toast, crackers, smoked salmon or shrimp, and you will have an ongoing conversation piece as it disappears.
Prep Time30 mins
Chilling Time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 30 mins
Course: Appetizer, Dip, Spread
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: aguacate, Avocado, Berros, gelatin, Pistache, pistachios, watercress
Servings: 14 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 3 (about 2 1/4 pounds) ripe Mexican avocados halved and seeded
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 bunch (about 1 cup) watercress leaves and top parts of stems chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (about 6) sliced scallions white and light green parts only
  • 1 8-ounce can (2/3 cup) water chestnuts drained and roughly chopped
  • 2/3 cup pistachios shelled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt or more to taste
  • 2/3 cup cold water
  • 3 1/4 ounces (1 envelope) unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • Olive oil to grease the mold
  • Toasted bread or crackers optional
  • Smoked salmon optional

Instructions

  • Scoop out meat from avocados and mash it in a bowl with a fork. Pour in lime juice and combine well with a spatula. Incorporate the cream cheese, mixing it thoroughly with the avocados. Add the watercress, scallions, water chestnuts, pistachios, cayenne, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Mix well.
  • Measure 2/3 cup cold water in a cup. Stir in the gelatin, mix and let it rehydrate for a minute or two. Add 1/3 cup boiling water and stir until it dissolves. Pour gelatin into the avocado mix, incorporating it with a spatula.
  • Lightly grease a ring mold with olive oil. Pour the avocado mix into the mold. Shake the mold softly a couple of times to level the mix. Cover it well and place it in the refrigerator until it is set, for at least 3 hours. You can leave it overnight or until you are ready to unmold. The avocado mousse will last beautifully in the refrigerator for 2 days. When ready to unmold, remove from the refrigerator, run the tip of a knife along the edges and flip onto a plate. You may need to shake the mold a couple of times, holding onto the plate as you do so.
  • You may serve it on a platter, retro style, with some watercress leaves in the center of the ring or on top. Or serve it already sliced with a side of smoked salmon and pieces of toast.

Notes

Mousse de Aguacate, Pistache y Berros
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3.67 from 3 votes

Avocado Soup

Though there are many kinds of avocado soups, this is my favorite. I tried it at the Mexican Ambassador’s residence a couple months ago. As Doña Rosita, the cook,  heard me mmm, and mmm, and mmmmmmm all over again, she came out of the kitchen with a pen and a piece of paper ready to dictate her recipe. What a surprise for such a tasty soup: just a handful of ingredients! Seems that what matters, again, is how you use them.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Avocado, chicken broth, cilantro, feta, jalapeno, lime, onion, queso fresco, tortilla chips
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon corn or safflower oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup white onion roughly chopped
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves rinsed and loosely packed
  • 1 jalapeno chile sliced in half, seeding optional if less heat is desired
  • 3 large ripe Mexican avocados cut in half, seed removed, flesh spooned out, about 3 cups ripe avocado flesh
  • 6 cups chicken broth can substitute vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt more or less to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups tortilla crisps
  • 1 cup queso fresco crumbled, may substitute farmers cheese or a mild feta

Instructions

  • In a medium skillet, set over medium-low heat and add the butter and oil. Once the butter dissolves, stir in the onion and jalapeno. Let them cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened. Its color will become translucent and the edges will begin to turn light brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Incorporate the cilantro leaves and mix them in with the onions and jalapeno. Once the cilantro has wilted, 30 seconds to a minute later, turn off the heat.
  • Place the peeled and seeded avocados in the blender or food processor along with the cooked onion, jalapeno, cilantro, chicken broth, lime or lima juice and salt. Puree until smooth, taste for salt and add more if need be.
  • You may serve bowls garnished with tortilla crisps and cheese, or let your guests garnish to their liking.

Notes

Sopa de Aguacate
stuffed avocados
Print Recipe
4.67 from 3 votes

Tortilla Crisps

How to make homemade tortilla crisps, either by frying or baking.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time25 mins
Course: Garnish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Baked, corn tortillas, crisps, crunchy, fried, tortilla chips, traditional
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 5 corn tortillas (5- to 6-inches wide)
  • Safflower or corn oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt more or less to taste

Instructions

  • On a chopping board, slice tortillas in half and then vertically in half again. Then slice across in strips of 1/4 to 1/2 inch, depending on how thick you like them.

Traditional (fried):

  • In a medium skillet, add 1/4 inch oil and place over medium-high heat. Once it is hot, anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes, add tortilla pieces. When you add a tortilla to the oil, it should immediately start to bubble. Fry, stirring and flipping occasionally, until they achieve a golden tan and slightly brown color and are hard and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate covered with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Baked:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray or gently brush a baking sheet with corn or safflower oil. Place tortilla pieces on top and spray or gently brush a light layer of oil. Judiciously sprinkle with salt to taste. Place in oven and bake for about 20 minutes, stirring and flipping once or twice until they achieve a golden tan and slightly brown color and appear hard and crisp.Remove from oven, let them cool and place in a bowl or container.

Notes

Tiritas de Tortilla
stuffed avocados
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Chopped Egg and Avocado Sandwich

My grandmother, who came from Poland but was raised in Mexico, used to make chopped egg salad and chopped seasoned avocados as table starters for special occasions. Then one day she decided to mix up the two, altered the spices a bit, and created a family hit. I have adapted her recipe by adding the Dijon and dill, and scooping a ton of it into a sandwich. The cheese is a caprice that I couldn't help adding, and I love how it tastes, but feel free to try it without it.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time0 mins
Course: Antojos, Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: aguacate, Avocado, egg salad, Eggs, huevo, Recipe, salad, Sandwich
Servings: 3 to 4 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 3 large hard-boiled eggs peeled and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped white onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill or 1/4 teaspoon dry dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 1 (about 3/4 pound) large ripe Mexican avocado halved, seeded, meat scooped out and diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt or to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 to 8 slices brioche or challah or any bread of your choice, lightly toasted
  • 4 slices Muenster Mexican manchego, or chihuahua, or Monetery Jack cheese (optional)

Instructions

  • In a bowl, mix the eggs, onion, parsley, dill, Dijon and mayonnaise together. Toss in the avocado, sprinkle with salt and pepper and gently mix well.
  • Lightly toast the bread slices. Scoop a generous amount of the chopped egg and avocado on a slice of bread, add a slice of cheese and top with another slice of bread.

Notes

Sandwich de Huevo y Aguacate

Jamaica Flowers Charm the Kitchen

Growing up in Mexico City, my sisters and I used to prepare exotic meals, perfumes and potions for the inhabitants of our enchanted forest. That was our dog, the bluebird, snails, butterflies and ladybugs that happened to peek into our backyard and witness our extravagant mess. It also included any family friend who happened to stop by and become a willing victim. We sometimes offered cooking classes too.

My mother set us up in the backyard on a big blanket with random pots and pans, while she cooked laborious weekend meals. There was a fig tree, an apple tree, a peach tree, a couple of what we called Chinese orange trees and tons of azaleas and herbs that offered an immense array of witch-crafting material. But among our most prized ingredients were dried jamaica flowers, known here as hibiscus flowers, stored in a big jar in the kitchen.

Although not native to Mexico, with a contested origin between Africa and India, jamaica flowers arrived in colonial times and are now deeply integrated into Mexican cuisine. Mainly used to prepare agua de jamaica, one of the freshly flavored waters (aguas frescas), they are enjoyed daily throughout Mexico. Agua de jamaica is extremely popular because its tart flavor, also refreshing and light, complements Mexican food so well.

As a treat, and to make our wait more bearable, my mother would bring us a big pitcher of agua de jamaica. We would drink it, of course, but we would also pour it into ice cube molds with wooden sticks to make mini popsicles, or mix it with gelatin to make happy-looking jello, both of which are common in Mexico.

It was more fun, however, to sneak into the kitchen to get the dried flowers and experiment firsthand. Oh, how fascinating it was to see how they slowly infused the liquid in which they were soaking with an intensely deep and vivid red color. Their flowery and fragrant smell seemed to help with our magic spells, too.

After my husband and I moved to the U.S. in the 1990s, I would stuff them in my suitcase or ask someone to bring some when they visited from Mexico. My craving intensified while I was pregnant, since aside from their tangy taste (more welcome when carrying extra weight), their diuretic and digestive properties and richness in vitamin C and minerals are common knowledge in Mexico.

Luckily, I don’t have to stuff them in my suitcase anymore. As with most ingredients used to cook Mexican food, they can be found in a store close by or with the click of a button, which is wonderful because I use plenty of them. The traditional jamaica water is a staple on my table, but most of all, I am still playing with them in my own enchanted forest or busy kitchen.

Like other adventurous Mexican cooks, I have been experimenting with and expanding their culinary uses. For example, the easy-to-make concentrate used to flavor water makes a rich and sophisticated base for a thick and syrupy sauce to drizzle over gamey meats such as duck, venison or lamb.

An even more daring approach, which I find irresistible, is to munch on these wholesome flowers. However, they are hard and rather tasteless as they are. They have to macerate for at least a couple of hours before they become deliciously chewy and release their tart and cranberrylike flavor. Thus, they are perfect for making exotic vinaigrettes.

The concentrate has also been splashed into margaritas for some time now, and I was recently surprised to find hibiscus-infused tequila at a restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C. While I am no tequila connoisseur, it tasted heavenly.

These days when my mother visits, she tries to set up my three boys on a big blanket with pots and pans in our backyard. Within 10 minutes, the potion-making ends in a wrestling match. However, since one of their favorite things is to have brownies outside, maybe next time we bake some I can drizzle sweetened jamaica syrup and whipped cream on top. That is a recipe I still haven’t tried.

Article written and photos taken for and published by NPR’s Kitchen Window on July 22, 2009.

jamaica water
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4.67 from 6 votes

Hibiscus Flower Concentrate

Although not native to Mexico, with a contested origin between Africa and India, jamaica flowers arrived in colonial times and are now deeply integrated into Mexican cuisine. Mainly used to prepare agua de jamaica, one of the freshly flavored waters (aguas frescas), they are enjoyed daily throughout Mexico.
Prep Time0 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time10 mins
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Concentrado, concentrate, flowers, hibiscus, jamaica, water
Servings: 5 cups
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups (about 2-3 ounces) dried hibiscus or jamaica flowers
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Instructions

  • In a 6- or 8-quart saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add flowers, stir and simmer over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool a bit.
  • Strain mixture into a large container (with a lid to cover later), and add the sugar and lime juice. Stir until well-dissolved.
  • Once the concentrate has cooled, cover well and refrigerate. It will keep in the refrigerator for months.

Notes

Concentrado de Jamaica
jamaica water
Print Recipe
5 from 6 votes

Jamaica Water

Jamaica Water recipe from Pati's Mexican Table Season 1, Episode 6 "Hibiscus Flowers"
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time10 mins
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: agua fresca, beverage, coconut water, drink, hibiscus, jamaica, Mexican, non-alcoholic, refreshing, water
Servings: 4 to 5 cups
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

Jamaica Concentrate (makes about 5 cups):

  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups dried hibiscus or jamaica flowers about 2-3 ounces, depending on how tightly you pack the cups
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice or to taste

Jamaica Water:

  • 1 cup of the Jamaica Concentrate
  • 3 to 4 cups water

Instructions

To make the concentrate:

  • In a saucepan, pour 8 cups of water and place over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, add the jamaica flowers, simmer at medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes and turn off the heat. Let it cool down and strain into a heat proof glass or plastic water jar. Add the sugar and lime juice, mix well, cover and refrigerate.
  • It will keep in the refrigerator for at least 3 months.

To make the jamaica water:

  • When ready to serve, dilute 1 cup concentrate with 3 to 4 cups water, or to your liking, and some ice cubes.

Notes

Agua de Jamaica
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5 from 6 votes

Hibiscus Flowers and Hibiscus Tea

Hibiscus Flowers and Hibiscus Tea recipe from Pati's Mexican Table Season 4, Episode 10 "Modern Mexico"
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time15 mins
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: drink, hibiscus, honey, jamaica, tea
Servings: 6 cups tea
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 ounces dried hibiscus flowers

Instructions

  • In a medium saucepan, bring water and honey to a boil. Stir in dried hibiscus flowers, stir and cook at a simmer for about 15 minutes, until flowers are completely rehydrated and soft.
  • Strain flowers, reserving liquid for tea, and finely chop. Set aside.
jamaica popsicles
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4.72 from 7 votes

Jamaica Popsicles

Jamaica Popsicles recipe from Pati's Mexican Table Season 1, Episode 6 “Hibiscus Flowers”
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time4 hrs
Total Time4 hrs 15 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Chocolate, coconut, flowers, hibiscus, jamaica, mango, Paleta, Popsicle, rum
Servings: 8 popsicles
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

To make Jamaica Concentrate (makes about 5 cups):

  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups, about 2-3 ounces, dried hibiscus flowers depending on how tightly you pack the cups
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar or to taste
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice or to taste

To make Jamaica Popsicles:

  • 2 cups hibiscus flower/jamaica concentrate
  • 3/4 cup mango peeled, pitted diced
  • Chocolate morsels to taste optional
  • Shredded coconut to taste optional
  • For adult fun you can make them grown up and add some Rum!

Instructions

To make the concentrate:

  • In a saucepan, pour 8 cups of water and place over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, add the jamaica flowers, simmer at medium heat for 10 minutes and turn off the heat. When cool, strain into a heat proof glass or plastic water jar. Add the sugar and lime juice, mix well, cover and refrigerate.

To make the popsicles:

  • Pour 2 cups of jamaica concentrate into 8, 4 ounce molds. Add pieces of mango, chocolate and coconut. Place in freezer until set and frozen, about 4 to 5 hours. Enjoy!

Notes

Paletas de Jamaica
Jamaica Water Main
Print Recipe
5 from 2 votes

Seared Duck Breast with Hibiscus Flower and Orange Sauce

Easy-to-make hibiscus flower concentrate is used to make a rich and sophisticated base for a thick and syrupy sauce to drizzle over gamey meat, such as duck.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: duck, duck breast, edible, flowers, hibiscus, jamaica, meat, Naranja, orange, pato, Pechuga, Recipe
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

Sauce:

  • 4 cups jamaica or hibiscus flower concentrate
  • 2 cups chicken broth homemade or store-bought
  • Rind of an orange
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick about 2 inches long (use Ceylon or true cinnamon if you can)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or more to taste

Duck Breasts:

  • 6 duck breasts with skin about 6 to 8 ounces each
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground, or to taste

Instructions

Sauce:

  • Pour concentrate and broth into a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and add the orange rind, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, vinegar and salt. Simmer at medium-high heat for about 35 minutes.
  • Bring heat down to medium-low, as the sauce will have reduced considerably and will be simmering too strongly. Keep on a low simmer until the sauce achieves a thick, syrupy consistency, about 10 more minutes. Don’t let it thicken too much, as the sauce will continue to thicken as it cools. Remove the spices using a slotted spoon or strainer, and reserve in a container.
  • If you are not going to use it in the next couple of hours, or you made more than you need, let it cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat before using.

Duck breasts:

  • Thoroughly rinse the duck breasts under a thin stream of cold water and pat dry. Make 6 to 8 diagonal cuts through the skin of each breast, being careful not to cut through the meat. Season with kosher salt and pepper to taste.
  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is hot but not smoking, place the duck breasts skin-side down and sear for 6 to 7 minutes, until the skin is brown and crisp, and most of the fat melts and turns into liquid.
  • Move the breasts, skin-side up, to an ovenproof dish or pan. Place in the oven for 5 to 9 minutes, depending on how rare you like your meat: about 5 minutes for quite rare and about 8 to have a nice pink center.
  • Remove the breasts from the oven and let them sit for a couple of minutes before slicing. Slice diagonally along already marked skin. Drizzle jamaica and orange sauce on top.

Notes

Pechuga De Pato Con Salsa De Jamaica Y Naranja
Jamaica Water Main
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Watercress, Goat Cheese and Pecan Salad with Hibiscus Flower Vinaigrette

Hibiscus flowers are hard and rather tasteless as they are. They have to macerate for at least a couple of hours before they become deliciously chewy and release their tart and cranberry-like flavor. Thus, they are perfect for making exotic vinaigrettes.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time0 mins
Resting Time4 hrs
Total Time4 hrs 15 mins
Course: Appetizer, Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Berros, Ensalada, flowers, goat cheese, hibiscus, jamaica, Nueces, pecans, Queso De Cabra, Recipe, salad, vinaigrette, watercress
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup safflower or corn oil
  • 1 garlic clove finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper or to taste
  • 1 cup hibiscus flowers
  • 12 ounces watercress rinsed and drained
  • 8 ounces fresh goat cheese cut into 12 slices (can be crumbled, too)
  • 1/2 cup pecans or pine nuts lightly toasted

Instructions

  • Pour the champagne vinegar into a 3- to 4-quart mixing bowl. Slowly add both the olive oil and the safflower oil as you whisk them into the vinegar with a fork or whisk. Mix in the minced garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Add the flowers and toss them well. Let them macerate from 4 to 6 hours.
  • Remove the flowers with a slotted spoon, reserving the vinaigrette. Chop the flowers and return them to the vinaigrette. You may use then, or cover and refrigerate up to a week. Mix very well before using and taste for seasoning as it may have become a bit more tart as the days go by and need more salt and sugar.
  • Place the watercress in a salad bowl. Toss with some vinaigrette and top with goat cheese slices and toasted pecans or pine nuts.

Notes

Ensalada De Berros, Queso De Cabra Y Nueces Con Vinagreta De Jamaica

A salad to dress and impress

I have come to realize a couple things regarding a group get together around here…

For one thing pot lucks are so popular. Maybe it’s because they can make entertaining easier and promote a warm feeling of collaboration. I don’t remember many pot luck meals growing up in Mexico. It was generally assumed that the host was in charge of the whole meal and guests arrived with a box of chocolates, a bunch of flowers, or maybe a bottle of wine or tequila too. So that pot luck pitching in element, has been such a nice surprise.

Secondly, no potluck seems to be complete without a salad, which seems to represent the wholeness of a meal and that higher degree of healthfulness.  They aren’t always that fat-free. But in any case, they help reduce the guilt we all may feel after indulging in a couple of servings of whatever decadent dish may happen to be there too.Now I just can’t remember having a salad growing up, come what may, in every gathering either. There were vegetable sides, but not always salads. When there were, they either had a welcome exotic twist,  or a to die for “secret” house vinaigrette. And yes! The host would spell out the “secret” with any given opportunity.

As much as pot lucks are based on great principles, they can be damaged if participants think that whatever they bring works out well, just because they are bringing “something.” But here’s the thing, you are not helping much if the main dish is an Indian curry and the salad you walk in with has a creamy, garlicky and heavily parmesanned dressing.

Two ideas come to mind to try make that next pot luck a success. One, someone can be in charge of informing everyone of what others are planning to bring with a bit of detail. If that seems like a hassle, then pick a theme. Just to make sure there are no guns and roses on the table. Another idea, goes to the salad bearer. Instead of a premixed salad bag splashed with a random bottled vinaigrette, why not make a flavorful, exotic and wholesome salad? This will pump up the quality of the meal, make the health-minded happier and give the salad maker a ton more satisfaction.

Here, let me give you a salad that you can brag about and then happily devour. One of the most popular salads I have shared in class, it has also prompted a next day email to ask for the recipe whenever we have served it to friends at home. If you bring it to your next pot luck, it will make that table where you set it on, wish it had a mouth to eat it all up.

The original recipe comes from Marí­a Dolores Torres Izabal, one of the leading ladies of the Mexican culinary world and a woman I admire so. As the years have passed, I have adapted it.

jicama

Just the combination of ingredients is exciting enough. It has the depth of the spinach, the tanginess and strong color of the raw beets, the crispness of the typically ignored cabbage, the sharpness of the red onion, the sweetness and chewiness of the dried pineapple or acitrón, and the wonderful crunch, and clean and fresh feel of the jí­camas.

I found the freshest jí­camas today, as you can see in the picture above…though the weather didn’t help much for a good picture (I need a lot more help than a sunny day for that…)

This mix of ingredients is first lightly covered in a light oil and vinegar dressing, just to get ready for a luxurious embrace from the creamy Mexican avocado sauce. Now add the flavor of toasted sesame seeds and the satisfying bite you get out of the croutons…. Just can’t go wrong.

Oh… and it is practical too, since everything can be prepped at least a day ahead, refrigerated and assembled before serving.

rosura salad
Print Recipe
3 from 2 votes

Rosura Salad

This award winning recipe, adapted from caterer Marí­a Dolores Torres Izabal is festive and colorful. You can prepare all the ingredients ahead of time and assemble right before serving.
Prep Time45 mins
Cook Time0 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Salad
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Avocado, beets, Jicama, red cabbage, Rosura, salad, Spinach, vinaigrette
Servings: 12 servings
Author: Pati Jinich

Ingredients

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup tarragon vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove pressed or finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
  • 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Avocado dressing:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup Mexican crema
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

To serve:

  • 5 cups (or about 1 pound) thinly sliced red cabbage
  • 3 cups peeled and shredded raw beets from about 2 beets
  • 5 cups (or about 8 ounces) spinach rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 5 cups jícama peeled and cut into small sticks (from about 1 jícama)
  • 1/4 of a white onion thinly sliced
  • 3 ounces candied pineapple or other candied fruit
  • 1 cup croutons
  • 1/2 cup lightly toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

For the vinaigrette:

  • Add the vinegar, garlic, chopped onion, salt, and sugar to a small bowl, then whisk in the oils to emulsify.

For the avocado dressing:

  • Place milk and garlic in a blender and puree. Add the lime juice, crema, avocados and salt to taste and blend until smooth. Pour avocado dressing in a bowl and stir in the chives. 

To serve:

  • Combine the cabbage, beets, spinach, jícama, onion and dried pineapple or dried fruit in a salad bowl. 
  • Lightly dress the salad with some of the vinaigrette. Place the salad on the table and leave the avocado dressing, croutons and toasted sesame seeds on the side for people to add as they please.  

Notes

Adapted from Marí­a Dolores Torres Izabal