Recipes : Salads
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.
Here is a short PREVIEW (!)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
Ensalada de Aguacate y Palmitos
3 ripe Mexican avocados, about 2 pounds, pulp cut into large chunks
14 ounces (1 1/3 cups) hearts of palm, drained, rinsed and thickly sliced
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
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 them 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.
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.
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