Fire up your taste buds. Cinco de Mayo is back Sunday, which means lots of margaritas, sombreros and celebrating with good friends and flavors. But this year, don’t settle for the same old store-bought chips and salsa. It’s time to get ¡creativo!
We’ve rounded up some of the most unique — and delicious — recipes that any beginner can master from chefs Marcela Valladolid and Aaron Sanchez and food and gardening blogger Valerie Rice.
Need inspiration to help get the party stated? These recipes, some with some help from pre-made store-bought products, will give you fresh and healthy options.
Watching your weight? Mexican food isn’t all about overstuffed burritos and heavy liquid cheese.
Chef Marcela Valladolid, host of Food Network’s show, “Mexican Made Easy,” says that there is in fact no yellow cheese in authentic Mexican cooking and it can be done with major flavors and little fuss in your home kitchen.
Raised in Tijuana, Mexico, Valladolid has collected recipes her entire life and is influenced by her family’s cooking traditions.
“It’s about finding a store-bought ingredient and enhancing it with something that’s local or from scratch,” the busy mother and entrepreneur explains.
Valladolid uses a variety of dried chilies for flavoring by grinding them into powder, which can be done easily with a coffee or spice grinder. “It gives a world of different flavors and can pretty much enhance any dish, not just Mexican.”
Adding more antioxidants and nutrients to dips like guacamole using pomegranate, mangos, peaches or any fruit in season, is a tip Valladolid also recommends.
An easy way to make a meal healthier is to make your tortillas from scratch, or to bake them instead of frying, using olive oil and seasonings like chili powder and cilantro.
“People perceive Mexican food to be very heavy, says Valladolid. “We are a tortilla-based cuisine, but the tortilla is a meal enhancer. It’s meant to be eaten in small portions alongside something else.”
Valladolid has showcased her recipes in her cookbook “Fresh Mexico: 100 Simple Recipes for True Meixcan Flavor,” which reached the No. 1 cookbook spot on Amazon.com, and contains many healthy recipes.
ROSEMARY-SKEWERED SHRIMP MARINATED IN CHIPOTLE
(From “Fresh Mexico”)
15 fresh rosemary sprigs
¼ cup of olive oil
1½ tablespoons of fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons ground chipotle chile
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound raw medium shrimp, peeled but tails left intact deveined
lime wedges for serving
- Remove the leaves from half the lengthy of each rosemary sprig, and set the sprigs aside. Chop enough of the leaves to make 1½ teaspoons. (Reserve any remaining leaves for another use.)
- Combine the olive oil, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, ground chipotle and chopped rosemary in a medium bowl. Season the marinade with salt and black pepper to taste. Add the shrimp and toss until coated. Let stand for 5 minutes. Then skewer 2 shrimp on each rosemary sprig.
- Heat a large heavy sauté pan (or comal) over high heat. Add the skewers and cook for 1 minute per side, or until the shrimp are cooked through. Transfer the skewers to a platter, garnish with the lime wedges and serve immediately.
“Fresh rosemary grows rampant in my backyard, which is only part of the reason these skewers top my list of favorite appetizers,” explains Valladolid. “Rosemary adds smoky flavor and a decorative flourish to a simple shrimp starter. Fresh herbs make a huge difference in any dish and you’ll save money by growing them at home instead of buying them.”
SPINACH SALAD WITH TANGERINE-ROSEMARY VINAIGRETTE
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons rosemary, roughly chopped
4 tangerines, peeled, sliced
¼ cup cranberries
½ pound fresh spinach, washed,
- Peel 3 of the mandarins and slice them into 1-inch rounds , removing any seeds. Juice the extra mandarin and mix with 2 tablespoons olive oil, remaining rosemary and whisk until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Combine spinach, mandarin slices and cranberries with the dressing and toss gently to coat.
- Divide salad among salad plates.
Looking for drinks? Valladolid has her own organic tequila line that she owns with her family called Hacienda de la Flor and will also be a judge on the upcoming CBS prime-time show “The American Baking Competition” that debuts on May 29.
As a co-star of Food Network’s hit series “Chopped” and “Heat Seekers,” Chef Aaron Sanchez prides himself on creating mouthwatering dishes that are quick, easy and appealing to picky eaters.
Sanchez recently teamed up with Ortega to create recipes using the brand’s line of Mexican food products.
FISH TACOS WITH CABBAGE & TANGERINE SLAW
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
Juice and zest of 1 lime
3 tablespoons Ortega Guacamole Seasoning Mix
4 cups shredded red cabbage
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tangerines (cubed, seeds removed)
Chopped fresh cilantro
2 pounds white fish fillets or shrimp
1 package (1 ounce) Ortega Fish Taco Seasoning Mix
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 box Ortega Taco Shells (any variety)
1 jar (16 ounces) Ortega Thick & Smooth Taco Sauce (any variety)
- Combine sour cream, mayonnaise, lime juice, zest and guacamole seasoning mix.
- Add red cabbage, onion and tangerines and mix to combine. Set aside for 20 minutes.
- Cut the fish into 1½-inch chunks and toss with taco seasoning mix. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the fish until it is opaque and the edges are slightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes, turning once.
- Fill taco shells with fish chunks and top with the slaw. Sprinkle on chopped cilantro and top with taco sauce.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ pounds lean ground beef
1 package (1.25 ounce) Ortega Taco Seasoning
½ cup water, divided
1 can (16 ounces) Ortega Refried Beans
2 cans (10 ounces each) Ortega Red Enchilada Sauce
9 Ortega Flour Soft Tortillas
1 jar (16 ounces) Ortega Thick & Chunky Salsa (any variety)
8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350°. In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat and cook onion and garlic 4 minutes or until softened. Add ground beef and cook 4 minutes or until browned. Stir in taco seasoning and ¼ cup water. Cook 2 minutes or until sauce thickens.
- In microwave or small saucepan, heat refried beans and stir in remaining ¼ cup water to thin slightly.
- Cut one tortilla in half and fit the cut ends at either end of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Arrange two tortillas, slightly overlapping, to cover the bottom. Layer 1/3 refried beans, 1/3 meat mixture and 1 can enchilada sauce. Repeat to make a second layer.
- Repeat to make a third layer using salsa instead of enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with cheese.
- Bake 20 minutes or until lasagna is bubbling and cheese is melted. Let stand 5 minutes before cutting.
Skip the jarred salsas and make your own this weekend. You’ll create robust and fuller flavor and save on calories, too.
Food and gardening blogger Valerie Rice, of Eat-Drink-Garden.com, has earned a reputation along the California coast for her expertise. Rice has proven how to make a good meal amazing, a struggling garden bountiful or a routine party unforgettable.
“Green salsa can be made any number of ways, but I think my roasted version is the best,” says Rice. “It’s a great condiment for Mexican food of all types and a fantastic option on grilled fish, shrimp or octopus; it also complements roasted chicken deliciously.”
GREEN SALSA WITH TOMATILLOS
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
20 wild tomatillos or 10 cultivated ones
2 spicy jalapenos, or 1 serrano and 2 mild heat jalapenos
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, chopped
- Roast your tomatillos and peppers in a dry cast iron skillet (Medium-high heat, blister skins until charred). In a molcajete (or mortar and pestle) combine the garlic and salt.
- Next, remove the stems of the peppers and mash, then add your chiles.
- Pound away, and add the tomatillos.
- Crush the tomatillos, and add the cilantro. Or, process all in a mini-food processor and serve.
“Call me crazy, but I prefer the taste of the salsa made in the molcajete to salsa made in the food processor,” says Rice. “You can literally taste the difference … Amazing!”
ROASTED GARDEN SALSA
4 tomatoes, Roma or plum
½ teaspoon salt
Fresh cilantro, chopped
- Roast your tomatoes and jalapenos. You can do this either on a gas stove or broil on a sheet pan in the oven. It should take about five minutes turning periodically so you ensure even blistering of the skins.
- Cool on a plate until you can handle with your hands. Under cool water peel the jalapenos, discarding the stem and seeds. Give it a rough chop.
- Peel the tomatoes (the skin should come right off) and give the tomatoes a rough chop, too. Mix together in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add salt, and to finish, stir in chopped fresh cilantro to taste.