Vegetables & Sides
Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico’s colorful history, culture, customs and of course its irresistible food that is celebrated around the world on the 5th of May.
So let the celebrations start in your very own kitchen. The first thought that always comes to mind is guacamole that has been part of the Mexican diet since Aztec times and pairs well with any Mexican meal you may be planning. The process is quite simple and the results are sublime if you taste as you go. Avocados and chiles can vary greatly but can be brought together with a balance of heat, lime juice, salt, and an attentive palate. I’ve always find this ritual as comforting as it is ultimately delicious.
Ingredient quantities are approximated and will vary to suit your own taste preferences.
Above all keep in mind this is an adventure in cooking that will continue to evolve every time you make a guacamole!
Best to prepare guacamole several hours before serving as it is best when chilled.
- 2 or 3 ripe hass avocados, green with lumpy skin or Puebla avocados ,dark with smooth skin
- a small yellow onion, finely diced, amount to taste
- serrano, jalapeno, and or red chiles, seeded and finely diced, amount to taste
- sea salt to taste
- freshly squeezed lime juice to taste
- chopped cilantro leaves to taste
- a tablespoon of avocado or olive oil ,optional, but it does add a nice richness and texture.
Cut avocados in half around the seed and and twist to remove the seeds, saving one to use later. Spoon the flesh into a mixing bowl and mash together with a bean or potato masher just until combined.
Add the diced onions, dced chiles, and salt and mash together bearing down enough to release the liquid in the onions and chiles as you mash away.
Add lime juice and swirl in until combined. Then add the cilantro and mix until well combined.
Taste and add more chile, salt, and lime juice as needed until the guacamole’s flavors dazzle like a chilled fresh lime juice margarita wit an assertive lingering heat.
Transfer the guacamole to a non reactive container and place the reserved avocado seed in the center. Legend has it that this will help keep the guacamole fresh and green. Press cling film directly onto the surface of the guacamole. Put the lid on the container and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
Serve the guacamole along with margaritas and appetizers, with the main courses or a buffet. And do not be afraid to include guacamole with non Mexican meals as well. I’ll be having guacamole and salsa verde (see recipe here) with my Chinese stir fry tacos later this evening!
Guacamole, ahu ctl in the Aztec language, is unequivocally Mexico’s most loved contribution to an ever evolving international cuisine that embraces diversity as a commonality of taste.
Guacamole making has been practiced for thousands of years in central Mexico where avocados originate from. The simple traditional guacamole recipe is essentially unchanged. Avocados, onions, chiles, lime juice, cilantro and salt are tossed into a molcajete, a volcanic stone mortar, and pounded with a stone pestle into a rich and flavorful guacamole much like the guacamole we are making today.
I use a mixing bowl and a wooden Mexican bean masher instead of a molcajete for this process which works perfectly. The bean mashers are sometimes available online or in markets in Mexico. Otherwise use a wooden mallet or pestle. Doing the mashing by hand is an essential part of the process that melds the flavors together while preserving their charter. Please, do not even think of using a food processor!
I have probably made guacamole over a thousand times in my lifetime, yet every time I make it, it feels fresh and new. Repeating time tested rituals is what I love about being a cook. There is always a shared history in everything that one does in the kitchen.
I highly recommend using Hass avocados for guacamole or any other application for that matter. They are plentiful here in the US. Most are imported from Mexico and consistently top quality. Hass avocados are smaller than the smooth skinned Fuerte avocados. They have a darker textured skin and a higher oil content that imparts a richer flavor and creamier texture for your guacamole.
The recipe I have provided is only an approximation. Every time you make a guacamole involves orchestrating a delicate balance of flavors so quantities of ingredients will vary somewhat! The key here is to taste and trust tour instincts as you go until the balance of flavors tastes just right. Keep in mind the assertive flavors of a margarita. Balancing the creamy fresh green taste and texture of the oil rich avocados with the tang of onions, the heat of chiles, the tartness of fresh lime juice, and the zest of the cilantro requires an assertive saltiness to bring all those flavors harmoniously together. Practice will have you making a truly authentic guacamole in no time!
Keep in mind that guacamole is best when served fresh so prepare batches accordingly.
- 2 or 3 Hass avocados
- ½ onion, finely diced
- 1 or2 serrano chiles, seeds removed and finely diced
- 2 tablespoon finely sliced cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice + more to taste
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil f using Fuerte avocados.
Slice the avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pits, reserving one to use when serving if you like.
Spoon out the flesh of the avocados and place in a non reactive mixing bowl.
Add the diced onions, diced chiles, sliced cilantro leaves, lime juice, and salt to the bowl.
Using a wooden bean masher, wooden mallet or wooden pestle, mash the contents of the bowl together until the mixture has a relatively uniform textured consistency and a thick overall creaminess without overworking it if that makes sense.
Taste the guacamole and add additional lime juice and salt as needed. Keep in mind that the lime juice and salt is what is going to bring the guacamole to life!
Serve the guacamole in a non reactive bowl. Tradition has it that placing an avocado pit in the center of the guacamole will retard any discoloration due to exposure to the air. Whether this is true or not is questionable, but it does make an alluring presentation so why not if you like.
Serve guacamole with crisp corn tostada chips, as an accompaniment for tacos, or my favorite, with huevos rancheros for breakfast.
If you refrigerate the guacamole for any lengthen of time before serving press cling film directly onto the surface of the guacamole, seal tightly and refrigerate.
When the weather gets colder my food cravings automatically start to wander southward in an effort to stave off the inevitable fact that winter is a coming. One of my all time go to favorite frigid weather culinary escapes was ducking into a Cuban Chinese diner called Mi Chinita on 8th ave and 18th street when I was living in NY in the late 70’s. The windows were all steamed up and the place was always packed. Believe me, this was transportive fare!
I don’t know a lot about Cuban food’s evolution, but migrant Chinese workers that arrived in Cuba after slavery was abolished added their indelible culinary fingerprint to the local diet.
Likewise, Cuba has had had an influx of Mexicans laborers from the Yucatan since the 19th century who have added their voice to an evolving Cuban cuisine.
Fast forward to Cuban’s emigrating to the US during Castro’s revolution and opening up Cuban Chinese American restaurants in the 70’s and 80’s.
Long story short, Cuban cuisine is a fascinating melding of cultures that is undeniably a part of the ever evolving inclusive tastes of the American palate.
I am a great fan of tacos in any form, including those filled with a Chinese stir fry paired with the essentials of a typical Cuban plate that includes well seasoned black beans, rice, and fried plantains/ tostones. This is hearty food with all the bright flavors of the tropics that are a welcome respite from the chills of fall and winter.
Cuban Chinese Tacos
Needed: 1 package each of street size flour and corn tortillas(4 ½ “ / 11cm in diameter) warmed before serving
- 1 pound chicken, pork, or beef thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoon corn starch divided
- ¼ cup cold water
- oil for stir frying
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled, quartered, and sliced
- 1 each red and yellow bell peppers, quartered, seeded, cut into thin strips, and halved
- 2 or 3 serrano green chiles, quartered, seeded, cut into thin strips, and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 inch knob fresh ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, peeled, thinly sliced, and diced
- 2 cups shredded bok choy or green cabbage
- 1 chayote, peeled, quartered, center core removed, and diced
- 1 cup chicken stock divided
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 or 3 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine or sherry
- red chile flakes to taste
- soy sauce to taste
Place the sliced chicken pork, or beef in a bowl. In a cup combine 1 tablespoon of corn starch with ¼ cup cold water and stir until combined. Pour the mixture over the meat and swirl to combine. Add a little more water if needed to just cover the meat and set aside for 30 minutes. This step will tenderize the meat.
Select a wok or a wide skillet and heat over medium high heat. When the pan is hot add several tablespoons of oil and swirl the pan to coat the pan with oil. Add the meat in a single layer and cook the meat until it is seared and begins to release from the pan. Turn the meat over and seer until browned and then transfer the seared meat to a plate and set aside.
Add a little more oil to the pan if needed and add the onions and stir fry briskly. As the onions sear they will pick up the remaining bits stuck to the pan adding flavor to the onions. Continue stirring until the onions begin to wilt.
Add the sliced bell peppers, diced serrano chilies, and sliced garlic and stir fry until the onions are translucent. Add the ginger, carrots and stir fry until combined.
Add the bok choy, or cabbage, and the chayote and toss to combine. Add a little chicken stock to lubricate the pan and continue stir frying until the vegetables are just wilted.
Add the sesame oil and toss. Then add the oyster sauce, Chinese cooking wine, or sherry, and toss until combined. Add the chile flakes to taste.
In a small bowl combine 1/3 cup stock combined with the remaining 2 tablespoons of corn starch and stir until combined and smooth.
Add the seared meat to the stir fry and then slowly stir in the corn starch mixture and continue stir frying for another two minutes or until the liquid has thickened and nicely coats the stir fry.
Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Then set the stir fry aside and ready for filling the soft warmed tortillas.
As pictured, have ready a pot of hot and spicy black beans, a bowl of hot steamed rice of your choice, and fried plantains/ tostones. Fill the tortillas and add to the plate and you are ready to go!
Note: Tostones are fried plantains Cuban style, which are actually twice fried until crispy. By all means make them if you know how. There are several tostone making videos available if you are feeling ambitious. Or instead simply pan fry plantains or unripe bananas, sliced in half lengthwise, which are a a fine substitute. The slight sweetness of the fried bananas are a nice foil for the spicy heat of the tacos and the black beans
For basics on how to cook beans (click here)
Pesto making season has arrived!
Fresh basil varieties are abundant this time of year and what we cooks have been waiting for with unapologetic anticipation. Being able to stow away the essence of summer’s flavors into jars or bundled into the deep freeze is a task relished. Bringing some of the bright tastes of summer back to life at the table during the long winter months is always warmly savored by one and all.
With that in mind I came home from the market with a bundle of Italian basil and, to my surprise, a bundle of Shiso . My immediate thought was a Shiso pesto!
Most of you are probably familiar with the delicate green shiso leaves garnishing sushi in Japanese restaurants. Shiso has a fresh light mint like flavor with just a hint of citrus and cinnamon. It is indeed the perfect compliment for sushi.
Shiso is the Japanese name for what we might otherwise know as perilla in the West. It is from the mint family and originates from the mountainous regions of China and India, but now cultivate worldwide. Perilla is used throughout Asia. The Japanese use shiso for pickling and coloring umeboshi plums and fermented eggplant.
There are many varieties of shiso with leaf colors ranging from pale green, a purplish red, or leaves that are green on top and red on the underside which is what I found here in North Carolina. I do love the subtle flavor of the tender young green shiso leaves so I just had to get a large bundle of these green and red shiso leaves and see what I could do with them.
Making a Shiso pesto defers to the more subtle flavor notes of the shiso itself. What evolved was a deep purplish red pesto with notes of citrus, ginger, and mint to serve along with Japanese soba noodles. You can serve the soba noodles warm or cold along with some sauteed mushrooms. This is an ideal pairing for various mushrooms harvested during the fall months ahead.
For you pesto lovers I will be posting a zesty Thai-Amereicano Pesto in my next post along with links to other pesto recipes I have posted over the years.
Shiso Pesto with Soba noodles and Sauteed Mushrooms
Serves 3 or 4
The sauteed mushrooms can be made in advance. See the recipe below.
- 2 cups fully packed fresh shiso leaves, either green, reddish purple, or reddish purple & green
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 1 tablespoon white miso
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated (micro planed) ginger root
- ½ cup walnut pieces
- 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezes lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons neutral vegetable or light olive oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- pinch of white pepper
- a bundle or two of Japanese soba noodles
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish (recipe here)
If your shiso leaves are mature remove the central spine of the leaves and tear the leaves before proceeding.
Place the torn shiso leaves, garlic, miso, grated ginger, the walnuts, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until all the ingredients are broken down. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides of the work bowl.
With the motor running ad the oil in a slow steady stream through the feed tube until the ingredients form a thick paste like mixture.
Then begin adding one tablespoon of cold water at a time until the mixture is thinned out a bit and smoother. You will have to be the judge of how much water to add, but keep in mind the texture will firm up a bit when refrigerated.
Stop the motor and add the salt and pepper and pulse until incorporated. Stop the machine and taste the pesto. At this point adding the remaining lemon juice and seasoning with more salt and pepper to taste. Then pulsing several times.
Transfer the pesto to a non reactive bowl, cover with cling film, and refrigerate while you prepare the soba noodles and the mushrooms.
Bring a generous pot of water to a boil. Do not salt the water.
While the water is coming to a boil, fill a bowl with very cold water and set aside.
Once the water is boiling add the soba noodles and, using tongs, continuously stir the noodles for about 6 minutes. You want the noodles to be al dente!
Promptly transfer the noodles to a colander and drain . Then tip the noodles into the bowl of cold water. Using your hands give the noodles a gentle wash. This washing will remove most residual starch so the noodles will not stick together.
Tip the noodles into a colander and drain well. The soba noodles are now ready for serving at room temperature.
If you want to serve the noodles warm, place them in a strainer and immerse them into a simmering pot of water until warm. Then toss the noodles in the strainer and transfer the noodles to a serving bowl or individual serving bowls.
Spoon some shiso pesto on top of the noodles and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
Serve the remaining pesto in a small bowl along with the sauteed mushrooms and light soy sauce or ponzu sauce on the table.
- 1 pint of seasonal mushrooms; cremini, shiitake, or forest mushrooms
- 1 plump shallot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 tablespoon light olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoons sake or white wine
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Brush the mushrooms well to remove any soil. Snap off the stems and reserve for another use.
Slice the mushrooms thinly and set aside.
Place a saute pan on the stove over medium heat. When the pan is hot add the oil and then the shallots and saute for several minutes until they are translucent.
Add the sliced mushrooms and toss with the mushrooms. Continue doing this until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Then add the butter and continue sauteing until the juices are mostly evaporated. Add the sake and saute until the sake is mostly evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside to use later.