Good Eats!/ ¡Sabrosuras!

Lent is a time during which my family, as many Christian believers, focuses on religious disciplines of penance, prayer, renunciation, and charity.

It is a period of 40 days in which Catholicism suggests we give up the consumption of red meat (beef and pork). This is mostly observed on each Friday between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday. However, my family always tries to cook without red meat throughout the whole 40 days, which to me, means good eats!

All kinds of sea food - Fish or Shrimp Ceviche, Tortitas de Camaron con Nopalitos (dry shrimp patties with cactus), Fish Soup, Cactus Salad, Chiles Rellenos, and the traditional Capirotada (a kind of bread putting) are some of the favorites. This food is readily available throughout the year but is traditionally prepared during Lent. Most of the time the food is simple and easy to prepare but there are some dishes that are more complicated. While my mother and sisters are experts when it comes to preparing complicated Lenten food, I usually stick with the simple ones. But just because they are simple doesn't mean they are less flavorful, they are de-li-cious!

These two recipes are very similar but one is completely vegetarian. These are recipes that every Mexican knows and people add their special twist to them. I love them both!

Shrimp Ceviche

2 pound of raw shrimp, peeled, deveined and heads removed
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 green jalapeño pepper, seeds removed
3 large radishes
1 small red onion
4 green scallions
3 tomatoes
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. black pepper
salt to taste
1-2 T. olive oil

Clean and chop the shrimp in small pieces the size of a garbanzo bean. Spread out the shrimp in a non-metallic bowl and completely cover with lemon juice. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.
After the 8 hours the shrimp will be completely cooked. Drain in a colander to remove the excess lemon juice. Pat it dry with paper towels and place in a large bowl. Cut the jalapeño, radishes, red onion in a small dice and thinly slice the scallions. Halve the tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds, then dice in small pieces . Finely chop the cilantro. Add all these ingredients to the shrimp and mix to combine. Season with garlic powder, black pepper and salt. Stir in the olive oil. Serve on tostadas as a main meal or eat with corn chips as an appetizer.

Nopalitos Salad

4 fresh nopalitos (cactus pads)
1/2 c water
1/2 onion
3-4 sprigs of cilantro (flat leaf parsley can be a good substitute)
1 garlic clove
1 small lemon, sliced
1 green or red jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 small white onion, diced in small pieces
3 small radishes, diced in small pieces
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced in small pieces
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 T lemon juice
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Holding each cactus pad with one hand (use gloves or kitchen tongs), cut off the bumps that contain the thorns with a sharp knife. Rinse the cactus well and then dice it. Place in a saucepan over the stove, add 1/2 onion, sprigs of cilantro, garlic clove, and lemon slices. Pour in the water, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the cactus changes color. Drain and rinse a couple of times with cold water, discard the onions, garlic, cilantro and lemon slices. Place the cooked cactus in a large bowl, add the jalapeño, scallions, white onion, radishes, tomatoes and cilantro. Mix to combine all ingredients. Stir in lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on tostada shells as a main dish or use as a side dish or salad.

Note: Fresh nopales can be bought in Mexican grocery stores and sometimes in Farmers' Markets. Canned nopalitos can substitute for fresh. They come in a jar, packed in water or vinegar and are sold in most major supermarkets.


Chile de Molcajete

In my family, there are two words for hot sauce. Salsa is the word for the sauce we use to give other food an extra flavor during the cooking process. Normally this is not too spicy. Chile is the one we use as a condiment after the food has been cooked. We like this very hot and we add it to almost everything on our plate. We've learned that here in United States, most people refer to chile as salsa so now, we too call it salsa.

We like all kinds of salsa but we have our favorite - chile de molcajete! This salsa is made by mashing the ingredients in a molcajete (mortar) with a tejolote (pestle) made out of lava rock. There is something about this rock that gives salsa a unique flavor. It doesn't matter who makes it or what kind of peppers are used, it is always good. In the last few years, we leave it to my brother-in-law, Juan to make this salsa. We call it "el chile de Juan" and every one laughs because it has a double meaning that every Mexican can understand. I'm a little embarrassed to say it... but it means Juan's penis (Mexicans always add a double meaning to words, it is part of the culture.)
I make chile de molcajete mostly for special occasions but, I bought some beautiful tomatoes at Little Italy Mercato and decided to make some. Here is one recipe:

de Molcajete with Toasted Pepitas

10 small dry red peppers
1/4 c. pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2 garlic cloves
2-3 large tomatoes
2 T. cilantro - finely chopped (optional)

In a dry cast iron griddle (I always use my aluminum griddle) toast the seeds and the peppers being careful not to burn them. Remove from the griddle and set aside. With out peeling the garlic, roast it in the same griddle. Remove from the griddle when the paper starts to burn; set aside. Next, roast the tomatoes until they become soft and the skin blackens and blisters. While the tomatoes are roasting, place the pepitas and peppers in the molcajete and mash them down with the tejolote until they form a dry paste. Remove paper from garlic, add to the molcajete and continue mashing. Add the tomatoes and continue mashing down. Add salt to taste. The salsa should have a consistency of a thick and chunky purée. I did not use cilantro this time but if using, stir in the cilantro at this point. Enjoy with corn chips or add to your favorite tacos.


I Got the Cooking Bug! / ¡No se que mosca me pico!

When I'm off work on Friday, I use it as my cooking day. I usually prepare a big pot of soup, cook beans, or anything I can refrigerate or freeze in small batches to use as needed during the week. Last Friday I got the cooking bug inside of me and I spent the whole day cooking. I made orange marmalade, almond-orange cookies, a big batch of nutty-cranberry granola and home-made yogurt for the week. It was fun!

My sister Teresa has an orange tree in her back yard. She said it's full of fruit and she has been wanting to make jam or marmalade with the fruit. We talked about getting together in a couple of weeks to prepare it but I couldn't wait - I made this recipe last Friday.

Simply Delicious Orange Marmalade (2- 8 oz jars)

5 medium oranges- clean (I used organic navel oranges but you can use your favorite)
1 c. sugar

With a vegetable peeler or a paring knife, peel off the skin of 2-3 oranges being careful not to take too much of the white parts. Chop the skin very finely and place in a medium size saucepan. Peel off the skin of the remained oranges and cut all 5 oranges in small pieces, pick the seeds out as you chop and discard the white center of the orange. Add the fruit to the sauce pan and cover with water. Boil until most of the water has been evaporated. Add the sugar and continue boiling until the sugar has been completely dissolved and the mixture has become translucent. You can tell when is done by pouring a small amount on a plate, if the marmalade runs off the plate, it is not done, continue coking. If the marmalade forms a thin shiny skin it is ready. Place the marmalade in a sterilized jar, cover and let it cool. It will be ready to eat as soon as it cools down.

To continue with my orange theme I baked this very yummy cookies:

Almond-Orange Cookies (about 36)

1 c. vegetable shortening
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs- beaten
zest and juice of 1 small orange
1-3/4 c. all purpose flour, sifted with 1 t. baking powder
1 c. finely ground almonds (almonds can be ground in a blender or in a coffee grinder)
36 whole almonds-toasted

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a big bowl beat the vegetable shortening and sugar with an electric mixer until light and airy. Continue mixing while you add the eggs, one at the time, orange zest and juice. Mix for 3-4 more minutes, then add flour mixture and ground almonds, mix to form a dough. Divide the dough into 36 pieces and roll each one into a ball. Place in a baking sheet, top each ball with a whole almond pushing it in with your finger. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the cookies are golden. Let stand on the baking sheet for 3 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely.