Tag Archive | "Latin Flavors"

Nopales a la Cazuela (Cactus Paddles in Clay Pot)

This is a deceptively straightforward recipe utilizing the paddles of prickly pear cactus. In San Antonio, we are familiar with dishes made from nopales, or nopalitos, as they are called here.  Some of the difficulties in preparing this food include finding good, fresh pads in the store; cleaning off the spines (if there are any) without getting stabbed; and finding ways to cook them so that the sliminess that develops naturally is minimized.

At The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Symposium held here this week, chef Francisco Cárdenas presented a traditional Mexican way of cooking the pads, in a clay pot, or cazuela.  As do most cooks in Mexico, he likes to use dried or lightly toasted Mexican oregano rather than fresh. Also, he used the stems as well as the cilantro leaves, because of the flavor and the added crunch they produce.

Nopales a la Cazuela

1 pound raw cactus pads, trimmed of spines
4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
Sea salt, to taste

Rinse the trimmed nopales, dice and set aside. In a hot cazuela, add the canola oil and saute the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes, stirring. Continue stirring and add the nopales, cilantro and oregano. Season with salt.

Stirring periodically, cook over medium heat for approximately 35 minutes or until no liquid remains. Serve immmediately as a warm salad or side dish.

Makes 6-8 servings.

From Francisco Cárdenas, chef/owner of El Petit Four, a pastry shop and cafe in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

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Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Symposium Opens at CIA

In the new facility at the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, students are already using the kitchens for their class work.

As the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, opened its third annual symposium, Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Wednesday the big news was the nearly completed facility.

Celebrity chefs and authors, food historians, purveyors, producers and restaurateurs toured the three-story building while tantalizing scents of dishes being prepared for the afternoon’s demonstrations wafted through the air, both inside and outside.

The CIA’s grand opening will be a public event this Saturday.

Several chefs prepare desserts to be served at the Culinary Institute's San Antonio campus.

Shortly after the first announcers took the podium in the afternoon, more news emerged as the plans to open a fourth CIA campus — in Singapore — were announced.

Closer to home, CIA officials said that by the spring of next year CIA San Antonio will begin offering a two-year associate’s degree.  That could be in April or May, said David Kellaway, managing director of the CIA, San Antonio.

The pilot program at the institute here has been a 30-week certificate course, or half of the associate’s degree.

Iliana de la Vega, Mexican/Latin cuisines specialist at the San Antonio campus, moderated the afternoon’s presentations.

Jeffrey M. Pilcher, professor of history at the University of Minnesota, author and lecturer is an authority on the globalization of Mexican food. He discussed the influence of French cuisine, Creole and the indigenous foods of the country, as well as historical factors, as well as aspects of class and ethnicity on its evolution.

Rick Bayless presented the first culinary demonstration, talking about mole in general and putting together a relatively simple green version of the sauce.

An award-winning American chef, author and restaurateur, Bayless has explored Mexican food, its history and culinary intricacies for decades.  He owns the acclaimed restaurants Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and XOCO in Chicago.

Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, one of Mexico City’s top chefs and owner of Cafe Azul y Oro, is also an author and authority on Mexican food. One of his books, which will soon be published in English, is “The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mexican Gastronomy.” He discussed the famous dish that is traditionally served on Mexican Independence Day, Chiles en Nogada. The dish is so special, he says, that one doesn’t make it for just a few people. It takes a long time to make — in fact, just peeling two pounds of walnuts for the sauce, to make a large recipe of this  beautiful dish, takes more than eight hours.

Francisco Javier Cárdenas prepares Enchiladas del Portal.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico chef/restaurateur Francisco Javier Cárdenas. His Guanajuato-style Enchiladas and Red Pozole were two popular dishes at the tasting that followed the demonstrations.

Benedicta Alejo from Michoacan, Mexico, Lucero Soto and Federico López prepared their dishes in the downstairs demonstration kitchen, televised upstairs to the conference room.

Alejo ground roasted guajillo chile seeds in a molcajete to a smooth paste along with onion, tomatillo, cilantro and sea salt. She also employed the molcajete to make Mole de Queso, fried slices of queso fresco topped with a simple sauce of dry-roasted chiles, garlic and onion.

Soto demonstrated making sopes, little corn tortilla cakes with a center depression. The sopes are filled with beans, but then the fillings can vary. For the red, white and green colors of Mexican Independence Day (Diez y Seis de Septiembre), she used fried jamaica flowers, lightly sugared, fried queso cotija, avocado sauce and red Chile Capon.

Federico Lopez demonstrated Tatemado Short Ribs, Queretaro Style. These succulent ribs were braised with chiles and the Mexican drink pulque, wrapped in maguey leaves and covered with nopalitos (cactus paddles). The hours required to make the dish are well worth it, in the tenderness of the caramelized beef and the dark, chile-laden sauce.

This was just the beginning: More in-depth exploration of authentic Latin flavors are ahead as the symposium continues through Friday.

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WalkerSpeak: Del Grande’s Skewered Scallops with Fresh Corn Mayo


Robert Del Grande

I’ve only attended two or three classes presented by Robert Del Grande, one of Texas’s top chef/restaurateurs. He is perhaps most famous as the longtime proprietor of Houston’s (now closed) Cafe Annie.

He is personable and amusing. More important, though, he can teach as well as cook.

As I awaited Del Grande’s presentation at the Culinary Institute of America’s recent conference here, I remembered a lesson from him I learned years go, and never forgot. It was a discussion about the deceptively simple art of roasting vegetables, such as a tomato or an onion to use in a salsa or a mole, or as a garnish for tacos.   You can lightly roast something or you can nearly burn it. In between these two extremes are the series of in-between stages — and all of them will yield a specific flavor.  Master these and you’ve learned an important lesson about making Mexican food taste right.

At the Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference, Del Grande taught us another dish that will go into my repertoire:  Sea Scallops Roasted in Green Corn Husks with Fresh Corn Mayonnaise.

While it sounds fancy, and maybe a little complex, it was actually simple. Wrap a big, juicy scallop in a strip of fresh corn husk, jab a skewer through it and sear it in butter until the bottom is nicely browned. Flip it and do the same to the other side. Dress it with the fresh corn mayo, top it with some sprinkles of red chile and serve with a wedge of lime.

DelGrandeScallops1If one wishes to serve these scallops as finger food (and this presentation was about Latin street foods) the skewers make them easy to pick up. If you’re serving it on plates, it’s best to take out the skewers but leave the husk on. They come off easily.

The best part about the dish, as far as I was concerned, was the Fresh Corn Mayonnaise. It was perfect for the scallop, but looked as though it would adapt widely to many other uses — as a dip or a spread as well as a topping.

The basic technique is to pull of the husks and silk on fresh ears of corn, then grate the raw corn on a grater over a bowl.  The result will be a wet, starchy purée of corn. Heat up butter in a skillet, add the corn and cook it, stirring. As Del Grande pointed out, it looks just like scrambled eggs as you cook it.

The corn is mixed with mayonnaise, olive oil, lime juice and salt then used to top the scallops.

Other beautiful dishes were prepared that day, and we’ll run more of the recipes in the near future. But, for me, this dish was a great excuse to drive out to Costco for a pound of fresh scallops.

Click below for Del Grande’s recipe:


Sea Scallops Roasted in Green Corn Husks with Fresh Corn Mayonnaise

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Sea Scallops Roasted in Green Corn Husks with Fresh Corn Mayonnaise

DelGrandeScallops2Robert Del Grande’s treatment of sea scallops is tempting whether served as an appetizer or as a meal.

Sea Scallops Roasted in Green Corn Husks with Fresh Corn Mayonnaise

Fresh Corn Mayonnaise:
1 whole ear corn, trimmed of husks and silk, reserve some of the longer pieces of husk
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Mexican crema
2 tablespoons grated (or crumbled) cotija cheese

8 large sea scallops
8 wooden skewers
2 tablespoons butter
Hot red chile flakes, for garnish, if desired

On a box grater set over a bowl, grate the ear of corn to produce a course purée. Try not to grate any of the cob.

Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Add puréed corn and stir until thick and creamy. The mixture should resemble fresh scrambled eggs. Cool the mixture in a medium bowl.

When mixture is cooled,  stir in the mayonnaise, olive oil, lime juice and salt and whip until smooth. Add the crema and cotija cheese and stir to blend.

Trim fresh corn husks lengthwise to the approximate thickness of the scallops. As tight as possible, wrap each sea scallop with the corn husk and secure with the skewer. The scallop will be wrapped only around the outside edge, like a scallop wrapped in bacon. The face of the scallop is exposed on both sides. Remove the skewer when plating, but leave the the corn husk around the scallop. It should release easily.

In a skillet large enough to spaciously hold the scallops, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the scallops and gently sauté until they are browned on both sides. You want them to be cooked through, but not overcooked. Remove from heat.

Transfer scallops to serving plates. Spoon some of the fresh corn mayonnaise on each scallop. Very lightly sprinkle with the red chile flakes, if desired.

Makes 4 appetizer servings (2 scallops each).

From Robert Del Grande

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Ranchera Sauce With Red Jalapeño Chiles

CIASalas1This smooth, tomato and jalapeño sauce, from chef Roberto Santibañez, is spiced with a little bit of cinnamon.

Ranchera Sauce With Red Jalapeño Chiles

6 pounds whole, ripe tomatoes
2 small white onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 red jalapeños, boiled, stem removed
5 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 2-inch long stick cinnamon
1/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Put tomatoes core side down on sheet pan and broil 8 inches from heat source until tomatoes are soft and skins are blackened and shriveled.

Once cooled, peel and core the tomatoes. Blend the tomatoes, onion, jalapeños and garlic until smooth. Tie cinnamon stick in a square of cheesecloth.

Heat canola oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the tomato purée and bring to a boil. Stir in salt, sugar, if using and cinnamon bundle. Adjust the heat so the sauce is simmering. Cook until slightly thickened, about 1 hour. If sauce thickens too much before that time, lower the heat and add water, a half-cup at a time, to prevent sauce from thickening too much.

Makes 2 quarts.

From Roberto Santibañez

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Santibañez Goes In-Depth On Mexican Sauces


A person familiar to Texas culinarians and New Yorkers alike took the stage at the Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference at the Culinary Institute of America San Antonio Friday morning.

Roberto Santibañez, formerly chef at Fonda San Miguel in Austin, is currently owner of Fonda Restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.  A native of Mexico City and an award-winning chef as well as author, consultant and teacher, Santibañez is currently working on a new book, “Mastering The Art of Mexican Cooking,” to be published in 2010.

The title of the book, of course, echoes that of Julia Child’s famous tome, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

“This is not out of pretentiousness, but out of a place of hope,” said Santibañez about the optimistic title. He wishes for it to open up the beauty and complexity of Mexican cooking in a way that Child’s book familiarized the world with French cooking.

He demonstrated making five sauces from a cuisine that offers hundreds, if not thousands of different ways to use chiles, spices, herbs, tomatoes, fruits and vegetables.

In addition to correct ingredient, Mexican sauces require specific treatments of the ingredients in order for them to taste uniquely Mexican, Santibañez says.

For example, as we sampled his Salsa Ranchera, a silky, red-orange tomato sauce with red jalapeño chiles, he pointed out that in this sauce, oven-roasted tomatoes are peeled and cored, then blended with fried onions, raw jalapeños and garlic – then cooked.

The method, he says, is “what makes the sauce taste truly Mexican.”

In his Cooked Tomatillo Salsa, he pointed out that the amount of time in the blender was of utmost importance to the success of this sauce.

“You want to see some of the specks of tomatillo and the cilantro in the sauce. If you blend it too long, the tomatillo seeds will grind up into a paste and turn the sauce paler and pastier,” he says.

The Veracruz Style Peanut Mole Rojo calls for an assortment of fruits, nuts, chiles, vegetables and spices. Each ingredient is treated differently. They are fried for varying amounts of times; they are toasted or soaked. The tortillas are actually singed.

The sauce, when it is all together, needs to be cooked for the amount of time called for — or longer. And, he says, when using a mole, for example, as an enchilada sauce, it’s important to use plenty of it. Six ounces of sauce, he says, is about right for an enchilada.

“We do use a lot of sauce,” Santibañez says. “That is part of our pride.”

Here are more tips from Santibañez:

  • Roast tomatoes in a hot oven without oiling them, leaving the peel on. Absolutely no oil, and no seasoning.
  • Chile, garlic, onion and seeds are the main actors in a good mole, with the spices in the background. You don’t want a mole that tastes like clove.
  • In Mexican cooking, (the amount) of our ingredients can vary enormously for one recipe. It might call for 20 jalapeños, or 60 jalapeños. That is because of the variation in spiciness of the chiles.
  • “I’d like to see more manzano chiles in this country. We need to ask for them. They are very spicy, and has a wonderful flowery, perfume-y flavor.”
  • “If you use avocado leaves in Mexican cooking, you can’t just use any avocado leaves. The tree must be the criolo avocado that grows in Mexico. The flavor it adds to cooking is light, somewhat anise-y.”

Click below for recipes from Santibañez:

Ranchera Sauce with Red Jalapeño Chiles

Manzano Chile Salsa

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