Refreshing Mexican favorites

Since part of Mexico is in the Tropics, it’s natural that cooks have created dishes that are suitable for hot weather.

Refreshing Mexican favorites (photo credit: VIKTOR BUDNIK)
Refreshing Mexican favorites
(photo credit: VIKTOR BUDNIK)
At a recent party celebrating the publication of chef Geraldine Gilliland’s book The Lula Cocina Cookbook – My Favorite Recipes from Mexico to Malibu, we sampled Mexican dishes that were perfect for the warm weather.
We began our tasting lunch, which took place at Gilliland’s restaurant, Lula Cocina Mexicana in Santa Monica, California, with a light arugula salad with quinoa, lentils and agave lime vinaigrette (see recipe) and a cool spicy Mexican gazpacho flavored with hot pepper sauce and tart tomatillos (green husk tomatoes). The refreshing beverages included a hibiscus cooler called agua de Jamaica and two kinds of sangria, with red and white wines. (See recipe.)
I have known Gilliland since the early 1980s, when we both taught at the same cooking school in Santa Monica. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Gilliland visited the US, fell in love with California and made it her home. Although she had studied French cuisine, it was Mexican cooking that fascinated her. Eventually, she opened her Mexican restaurant, named for a chef who inspired her, Lula Bertran, who was considered one of the top women chefs of Mexico.
Since part of Mexico is in the Tropics, it’s natural that cooks have created dishes that are suitable for hot weather. Seafood is popular as ceviche, which requires no cooking – just curing in fresh lime juice.
Gilliland also uses lime juice as a marinade for her grilled citrus chicken, along with garlic, onion, cilantro and basil. (See recipe). To accompany grilled meats and chicken, Mexicans make sauces from raw vegetables or briefly grilled ones, like salsa de molcajete, or “sauce made in the mortar,” composed of grilled tomatoes, onion, garlic and jalapeño peppers. (See recipe.)
In her book, as in her cooking classes, Gilliland includes tips in her recipes. For example, for her pico de gallo, a spicy, chunky uncooked salsa made of onion, tomatoes, chilies, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and salt, she specifies that the tomatoes should be coarsely chopped, the onion should be finely chopped and the chilies should be minced (in other words, chopped even finer than the onion).
Coconuts grow in Mexico, and Gilliland uses them in a variety of desserts, including coconut flan, creamy rice pudding and in her tasty, vegan chocolate coconut truffles. (See recipe.)
Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Chicken Cookbook.
Arugula, kale and quinoa salad with agave-lime vinaigrette
Geraldine Gilliland recommends serving this as a luncheon salad or a side salad as part of a buffet. She garnishes the salad with micro greens, but you can omit them. She prefers yellow lentils for this salad, but you can use other lentils. Gilliland serves the salad topped with crisp thin tortilla chips.
You can store the vinaigrette in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Serves 6 to 8
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. agave nectar
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
2 Tbsp. finely chopped jalapeño peppers (seeds removed)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
3-4 cups chopped arugula
3-4 cups slivered or finely chopped kale
1 small basket baby tomatoes, cut in half
1 sweet red pepper, stems removed, cut in slivers
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked lentils
8 edible orchids or other edible flowers (optional garnish)
To make the vinaigrette, mix all the ingredients together in a glass jar, shake well and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
In a large salad bowl, place the arugula, kale, sweet pepper, quinoa and lentils, and toss well. Add enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the greens. Arrange the flowers and tomatoes around the bowl.
Red sangria
Behind the bar at Gilliland’s restaurant, there is always a large glass jar full of sangria. This beverage is especially popular in summer. “Because of the fruit acid... you don’t need to use really good wine,” she wrote, “so feel free to toss in that bottle of Malbec you didn’t finish last night!”
Sometimes Gilliland adds a splash of soda water to make the sangria a bit bubbly.
Sangria is loved for parties, and this recipe makes a large amount. You can make half or a third of the recipe, according to the amount you need.
Makes enough for a 9.5-liter jar.
60 ml. brandy
4¼ cups orange juice
¼ cup lime juice
4¼ cups simple syrup, cool (see note below)
1¾ cups pineapple juice
3 red apples, peeled, seeded, cored and diced
3 green apples, peeled, seeded, cored and diced
3 oranges, peeled and diced
6 bottles red wine
Pour the brandy, orange juice, lime juice, simple syrup and pineapple juice into the large jar. Add the diced fruit.
Pour in the wine. Allow to sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Serve the sangria on the rocks (over ice cubes). When serving, ladle some of the fruit into each glass.
Simple syrup: Dissolve 3 cups sugar in 3 cups water in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.
Grilled citrus chicken
This tasty dish is very simple to prepare, wrote Gilliland. Plan ahead, as it’s best to marinate the chicken overnight.
Serves 6
Six 113-gr. chicken breasts, skin on
Six 85-gr. boneless chicken legs, skin on
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
¼ cup olive oil
½ onion, minced finely
3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
3 Tbsp. chopped basil
Salt and pepper
Cilantro sprigs and lime slices (for garnish)
Trim any extra fat from chicken. Place chicken pieces in a plastic bag or a glass dish.
For marinade: In a bowl, mix together garlic, lime juice, olive oil, onion, cilantro, basil, salt and pepper. Rub marinade all over chicken. Cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
Heat a gas grill. Grill the chicken legs first with the skin side down. Grill for about 4 minutes; then add the chicken breasts, skin side down, to the grill. Grill for 4 more minutes, turn the legs over and grill for another 8 minutes. Turn breasts over and grill for another 6 minutes, or until all the chicken pieces test done; the thickest part of the meat near the bone should no longer be pink when cut.
Serve the chicken garnished with cilantro sprigs and lime slices.
Salsa de molcajete (sauce made in a mortar)
“This is one of my favorite sauces,” wrote Gilliland. “It’s excellent with any kind of grilled meat, chicken, or just for dipping tortilla chips in!” It’s made in a traditional Mexican molcajete, a lava-stone mortar.
Serves 6
900 gr. plum tomatoes, core and eye removed
½ medium onion
4 large jalapeño peppers or other hot peppers
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp. coarse salt
½ bunch cilantro (fresh coriander) leaves, chopped
Dry roast or grill the tomatoes, onion and jalapeños over a gas flame until they are blistered and blackened, about 8 to 10 minutes. For dry roasting, use a nonstick sauté pan.
Place the grilled onion in the mortar and smash it with the pestle, then add the garlic, followed by the jalapeños with the stems removed. Grind until you have a thick paste, then slowly add the tomatoes. The sauce should be fairly chunky. Season with salt and add cilantro leaves. Serve at room temperature. Enjoy!
Pescado Veracruzana (Veracruz-style fish)
For this classic seafood dish from the Mexican state of Veracruz, which is flavored with olives and capers, Gilliland uses yellow chilies, but you can use any chilies you like. Use thick fillets of any white fish.
Serves 8
8 thick fillets of white fish, skin and any bones removed
Fresh lime juice
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Veracruzana sauce:
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion, preferably white, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp. capers, chopped
10 green olives, pitted and mashed
5 canned yellow chilies or other canned chilies (use fewer if they are hot), stemmed, seeded and diced or cut in strips
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 yellow chilies or other canned chilies
8 lime slices
8 sprigs cilantro
Brush the fish with lime juice and olive oil. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the fish in one layer and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes on each side, until done. Keep warm.
For the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent. Add tomatoes, capers and olives and cook for 10 minutes, until thick. Add the diced chilies and season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Place the fish in the sauce and heat gently. Serve fish garnished with yellow chilies, lime slices and cilantro sprigs.
Vegan chocolate coconut truffles
Gilliland makes these delicious parve truffles with coconut milk and coconut oil and rolls them in chopped coconut. You can use grated coconut instead.
Makes 36 truffles, each 2.5 cm.
For inside of truffles:
285 gr. dark chocolate, chopped, melted in a bowl over boiling water
1 cup coconut milk, not low fat
3 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup finely chopped coconut
For dipping and rolling:
285 gr. dark chocolate, chopped, for dipping
1 cup finely chopped coconut, for rolling
For inside of truffles:
Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl set above a pan of hot water over low heat. When it melts, remove from above the hot water.
Heat the coconut milk in a small pan and mix it into the melted chocolate. Add coconut oil and mix well. Add vanilla extract and chopped coconut. Mix well. Chill in the refrigerator overnight.
Line a tray with wax paper. Using a melon baller or tiny ice cream scoop, dip the scoop in boiling water and scoop out balls of the chocolate mixture, placing each on the lined tray. Chill for 20 minutes.
To dip the truffles:
Melt the dark chocolate for dipping in a bowl set above a pan of hot water over low heat. When it melts, remove from above the hot water.
Put the chopped coconut in a tray. Take a skewer and stick it into a truffle, then dip into the melted chocolate. Work quickly and let excess chocolate drip off, then roll in the finely chopped coconut. Store in the refrigerator. Enjoy!