Nancy Zaslavsky

CLICK on one of the featured recipes:
• Mexican Hot Chocolate
• Rice Pilaf with Pepitas, Fresh Herbs and Lime Zest
• Toasted Tomatillo and Dried Chile Table Salsa
• Ceviche Appetizer with Creamy Avocado and Crispy Tortilla Chips

Mexican Hot Chocolate <back to top>

Chocolate was the ancient Aztec “food of the gods” drink—only the royal court and high priests indulged. Aztecs dissolved hand-ground cacao beans in water flavored with chiles. Today’s Mexican hot chocolate is still a rustic drink made with sweetened water or milk and retains a coarsely stone ground, earthy texture.

Makes 1 quart (4 to 6 servings):

1 quart water or milk (whole, low-fat or nonfat)
3 Mexican chocolate tablets, such as Ibarra or La Abuelita
(3 ounces each), coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

1. In a medium saucepan, warm one cup of the water or milk with the chocolate over low-medium heat to melt the chocolate. Stir in the remaining liquid and bring the water to boil, or the milk to simmer.

2. Off heat, pour the chocolate into a jarro de barro (Mexican clay pot with a rounded bottom half and narrow top section to keep chocolate from splashing out) and beat the liquid vigorously with a traditional molinillo (Mexican hand-carved wooden chocolate foamer). Or, foam the hot chocolate in a deep saucepan off the heat with a whisk, hand mixer, or electric hand mixer until the top is covered with foam.

3. Ladel into mugs and serve immediately while bubbles remain on top.

Traditional variations: Add canela (pure Ceylon cinnamon), pure vanilla, powdered almonds or mild chile powder to the chocolate along with the one cup liquid in step 1.

  Rice Pilaf with Pepitas, Fresh Herbs and Lime Zest <back to top>

Elevate classic rice pilaf with flavor layers of toasted garlic and pepitas (shelled, green pumpkin seeds), fresh herbs and lime. Try this recipe anytime you want a flavorful rice dish with seafood or poultry.

For 6 Servings :

1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
3 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
1 lime, zested then juiced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/4 cup toasted pepitas (shelled, green pumpkin seeds)
1 cup chopped, mixed fresh herbs, a combination of at
least two: cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, mint, marjoram,
and slightly anise-flavored tarragon or chervil

1. Place rice in a strainer. Rinse under cold water until the water runs clear, then drain thoroughly.

2. Heat broth and lime juice (reserve the zest) to boil in a saucepan.

3. Heat the oil in another saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, sauté until golden brown and sticky. Stir in the rice to coat each grain with oil. Pour the hot broth over the rice, add the salt, then bring back to boil. Cover, reduce the heat to the lowest simmer, and simmer 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and do not remove the lid for 15 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork while adding the crunchy pepitas, herbs and lime zest.

  Toasted Tomatillo and Dried Chile Table Salsa <back to top>

An ancho chile is a dried poblano chile, the large, mild, thick-skinned green chile typically stuffed as chiles rellenos (it looks like a bell pepper with a pointed bottom). To confuse matters, sometimes an ancho chile is called a pasilla chile in California. Dry anchos, dark red-black in color with a wrinkled skin, should be pliable with a texture like fruit leather. Old, brittle ancho chiles are still good but preparation is difficult because they shatter when cutting off the stem end and opening out flat to remove seeds. A guajillo chile is also large, as long as an ancho but thinner, with firmer, smoother, terracotta colored skin. The earthy flavored chile is generally spicier than the ancho. These two chiles are some of the most popular of all dried chiles in the U.S.A. and can be found in any Mexican market and in most city supermarkets.

Makes about 3 cups:

4 dried ancho chiles
4 dried guajillo chiles
1 pound fresh tomatillos, papery coverings removed
(fresh red-ripe tomatoes may be substituted)
1 white onion, unpeeled and quartered lengthwise
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
(leaves and some stems)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea or kosher salt

1. Clean the chiles by wiping off all dust and any grit. Cut off the stems and seed clumps just below the stems with scissors. Shake out seeds. Cut a slit from the stem to point of each. Open out flat and scrape off remaining seeds and veins running lengthwise.

2. Heat a griddle or heavy skillet and toast the chiles until their color changes, about 15 seconds. Turn and lightly toast the other side, pressing down with a spatula. Immediately transfer to a saucepan, cover with hot water and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and soak for 5 minutes, longer if the chiles were old and brittle. Strain and discard the water. Grind the chiles in a molcajete y mano (Mexican lava rock mortar and pestle), or pulse in a blender or processor.

3. Place the tomatillos, onion and garlic on the hot griddle. Toast, turning with tongs until black spots appear all over the vegetables. Remove from the heat and cool enough to handle.

4. Cut the stem ends out of the tomatillos, keeping the blackened skin intact for a rustic taste and appearance. Grind with a molcajete y mano or pulse in a blender or processor. Remove the root ends and skin from the onion and garlic. Chop coarsely and add with the cilantro, sugar and salt to the grinder and grind or pulse to a rustic textured table salsa. May be made a day ahead and refrigerated, but always serve at room temperature.

  Ceviche Appetizer with Creamy Avocado & Crispy Tortilla Chips <back to top>

Like all raw fish dishes, this luxuriously textured ceviche from Puerto Vallarta requires the freshest fish at the market. Almost any saltwater fish will do, and the appetizer is best with a mixture of two seafood varieties for superb taste and texture.

Serves 6

1 pound very fresh fish. Choose 2 varieties with different textures,
such as 1/2 pound halibut, snapper or bass combines well
with 1/2 pound firmer yellowtail, tuna, shrimp or scallops

1/2 cup lime juice (12 limes) made from Mexican limes
(a.k.a. Key limes) if possible
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 stemmed jalapeño or serrano chiles, finely chopped (do not seed)
2 red-ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
8 grinds of black pepper
2 Hass avocados, ripe but not soft, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

1 head butter lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
1 bag bought or homemade salted, corn tortilla chips
1 bottle Mexican hot sauce, such as Cholula, Tapatio or Bufalo brands

1. Cut the seafood into 1/2-inch cubes and put into a non-aluminum bowl. Pour the lime juice over and stir gently. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator, depending on the density of the fish, until barely translucent when a piece is cut open.

2. Drain the fish in a large strainer and discard juices. Return to the bowl.

Note: The fish can be refrigerated an additional 30 minutes after the juice is drained off, tightly covered with plastic wrap.

3. Mix in the onion, half the chopped chiles, tomatoes, cilantro, salt and pepper. Gently fold in the avocados. Taste for seasoning, adding more chiles as desired.

To serve: Center an attractive lettuce leaf on each plate or in each stemmed dessert dish. Top with a portion of ceviche. Surround with crisp tortilla chips and pass a bottle of your favorite Mexican hot sauce.

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