Rock Creek Park celebrates its 125th anniversary next year. We speak with two local experts with books about the history, flora, and fauna that abound in Washington's "backyard."
Tacos, burritos and enchiladas have become familiar dishes in many U.S. restaurants, leading many Americans to think they know Mexican food well. Those dishes, however, are just the tip of the culinary iceberg. Chef and author Pati Jinich joins us to talk about Mexican home cooking and the global influences that helped shaped Mexican cuisine.
- Pati Jinich author, "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking"; Cooking Instructor and Chef, Mexican Cultural Institute
shrimp cocktail pacífico
_ CÓCTEL DE CAMARÓN DEL PACÍFICO _
✹ SERVES 6 ✹ PREPARATION TIME: 15 MINUTES, PLUS MARINATING TIME ✹ COOKING TIME: 5 MINUTES ✹
CAN BE MADE UP TO 12 HOURS AHEAD, COVERED, AND REFRIGERATED ✹
Every time I make this dish, I’m transported back to childhood family vacations on the Mexican Pacifi c Coast. As I spoon it into my mouth, I feel the salty breeze and hear my grandfather shout, “Bandida!”—a recurring comment on how fast I could eat a grown-up serving. If only he could see how fast my kids—true “bandidos”—eat it.
The shrimp are quickly cooked until just tender, then marinated in a tomato, cilantro, chile, and lime marinade, with a handful of salty green olives for balance. Serve with tortilla chips or saltines.
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup ketchup
¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Maggi sauce (see page 211) or soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped white onion
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, halved, seeded if desired, and finely chopped, or to taste
½ cup coarsely chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
½ cup seeded and chopped ripe tomato
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican, or ¼ teaspoon finely chopped fresh
¼ teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste
1 ripe Hass avocado, halved, pitted, meat scooped out, and cubed
Tortilla chips, store-bought or homemade (page 66), or saltine crackers
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute. Immediately drain the shrimp, and let cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine the ketchup, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, Maggi sauce, and olive oil. Add the shrimp and toss to combine. Add the onion, chile, olives, tomato, parsley, cilantro, oregano, and salt and mix gently until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 12 hours.
3. When ready to serve, stir the avocado into the shrimp cocktail. Serve with tortilla chips.
✹ MEXICAN COOK’S TRICK: Fresh shrimp are always tastier, but most shrimp is sold frozen or frozen thawed. The good news is that shrimp freezes well and comes out of the thawing process in great shape. However, once thawed, it should be used as soon as possible. Shrimp should look plump and firm and have no “fishy” smell. If you buy them with the shell and tail on, they hold their texture better and you can use the shells to make a lively broth. Thaw frozen shrimp under a stream of cold running water or in the refrigerator—never thaw them with hot water, in the microwave, or at room temperature.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONITacos, burritos and enchiladas are what many American diners have in mind when they talk about Mexican food. But if that's all you know of Mexican cuisine, you're just scratching the surface. Growing up in Mexico City as a part of a family of food lovers, chef and author Pati Jinich was immersed in her native cuisine. And since moving to the United States she's become a kind of food ambassador serving up authentic Mexican home cooking full of fresh ingredients and flavor for an American audience.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIHere to share some of her secrets is the chef herself. Pati Jinich is the host of the PBS series Pati's Mexican Table and the author of a new cookbook "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Mexican Home Cooking." She's also of course the official chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute here in Washington, D.C. Thanks so much for joining us. This is just a ton of fun. You can also join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850. Welcome, Pati.
MS. PATI JINICHOh, hi Christina. Thank you so much for having me on. I love coming to this show.
BELLANTONIOh well, we love having you. So you became serious about cooking after you moved to the United States and enrolled in a French cooking course here. How did that experience help you better understand Mexican cuisine?
JINICHIt completely opened up my eyes and my world. You know, on the one hand to learn about, I mean, in a funny way all the things that culinary schools and French cooking don't cover when it has to do with Mexican food and Latin cooking. I learned a ton about techniques and I love that it's used in Mexican cooking. We do have an influence, but it opened my eyes in a way saying, hey I want to share all of this information that's not included in the basic curriculum.
BELLANTONIIt's pretty surprising when you think about all of the different influences that come from across the globe. You work in Italian food, even the Asian influence, all kinds of different things. How do you come to that perfect blending?
JINICHSo I -- you know, I'm just an incredibly curious person, Christina. And everything that I don't know I love to learn. And every time that I'm going to teach I always tell friends, you know, if you want to become a more humble person than you are, go into cooking -- into teaching, sorry -- well, and cooking too. Because when you're teaching you're always learning new things that you had no idea existed.
JINICHSo whenever we're teaching a new class at the institute, I try to find a topic about things that I know very little because then I will have to explore and research. And that's what really fascinates me. So I blend my two worlds, my former research (unintelligible) training, which I was trained, you know, from the court and then, the new cooking world that I have explored happily for the past almost ten years.
BELLANTONIWell, of course it is Food Wednesday so we have to talk exactly about the food. Let's talk about what types of dishes you see this perfect blend of other types of influences in addition to your Mexican upbringing.
JINICHOkay. So Mexican cooking -- and I like to say this -- if I were to serve you a plate of authentic Mexican food, the food that would...
JINICH...but I don't know if you'd be so happy, Christina, because the food that native indigenous people ate in Mexico before the Spanish arrived, you know, the 15th century, late 15th century, it wasn't something that you would jump to eat now. It was mainly vegetarian, a lot of insects, no cheese, no milk, no pork, no cow, no rice, no onion, no garlic. People think of the U.S. as this huge melting pot, and I was just talking to your producer about it. Mexico is one huge melting pot, and it is one that had 300 years of Spanish colonization and an intermingling of European and native Mexican cuisine, which has made it this beautiful, rich, textured experience in the kitchen.
JINICHSo I grew up eating a lot of what people would consider traditional Mexican food, but what I've come to realize is that Mexican cooking not only continues to evolve within Mexico and its different regions, but outside of Mexico because you have all of these different Mexican communities that have settled in the U.S. So for example, Christina, if you go to Chicago and you eat at a Mexican restaurant, or not at a Mexican restaurant, many of the cooks will be from Puebla, from this one state in Mexico, and they have a very unique way of cooking that is different, say from cooks in the Yucatan, or in the northern part of Mexico. So Mexican continues to evolve outside of its borders.
BELLANTONISo in even your own ancestry you've got an interesting twist on matzo ball soup. How do you make that?
JINICHI do. I do. Well, that -- the matzo ball soup that I make is one that my grandmother used to make, but I honor my late grandfather's passion for chilies. He was incredible obsessed with spicy food, and my grandmother didn't used to let him eat that much chilies, so I make her same soup that has the matzo ball soup -- the matzo balls, and then steamed onion and garlic and jalapenos, and then I add a ton of jalapenos in his honor, though he can't eat it anymore.
BELLANTONISo what is your favorite Mexican dish? You can join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850, email firstname.lastname@example.org, get in touch with us on our Facebook page, or send a tweet to @kojoshow. We are here with Pati Jinich, the author of the new cookbook "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Mexican Home Cooking." And one of the things I love about this cookbook is that you have all kinds of helpful tips that are very specific to this cuisine. Ways to take the bitterness of a cucumber for example. How do you do that?
JINICHSo that's a trick that was passed onto me from my mother. It was passed onto her from her mother. And what do, Christina, is you cut the ends of the cucumber, and you rub the opposing ends with those tips, and that prevents the cucumber from becoming bitter or watered down, and it always works. And I don't know the science of it, you know. I don't know if it's passed down, you know, thing, old wives' tales, but it does work. So I share all those tricks for, you know, I realize everybody knows Mexican food, or they think they know Mexican food, and you see all the ingredients in the supermarket, but you don't know what to do with them.
JINICHYou don't know to bring them home, how to choose them, how to use them. So I really tried to make this food and this cuisine very accessible to people. So if you're going to go through the trouble of bringing something new into your kitchen, like say a tomatillo, I'm hoping to show you how to use it in a hundred ways. You know, you can make a cooked salsa verde, and you can use it in all these different ways. I want to empower people in the kitchen with all these ingredients.
BELLANTONIAnd we're going to come back to where to find tomatillos in a moment. But that is -- brings up such a good point because so many Americans are familiar -- when they think of Mexican food they think heavy, they think, you know, lard-laden beans or big sour cream or a lot of cheese, but you're -- you in fact see a lot of light dishes, a lot of vegetarian dishes. One of my favorites in here is the watermelon tomatillo salad with feta cheese. Not what you would traditionally think of as a Mexican dish. So how do you sort of -- is that what Mexican families are eating on a regular basis?
JINICHAbsolutely. So when you go to a Mexican home or, you know, a Mexican restaurant in Mexico, we're not eating enchiladas all the time. The vast world or universe of Mexican cooking is not really known, and that's what I try to share there, which is simple, easy, home cooking. It's just a few dishes have been exported and have been transformed, and they've been easy to make in a fast food way like the crispy tacos or the saucy enchiladas, but there's salads and soups and vegetables, and delicious and wholesome desserts, and it's all those things that I grew up eating.
JINICHSo you were asking me about the watermelon tomatillo salad. That is not a traditional dish in Mexico, but not everybody in Mexico eats traditional foods all the time. All of the cooks and chefs, and just as you will see in other cuisines in Italian cooking or French cooking, people are exploring with the ways to make new things using Mexican ingredients, and I came up with that salad testing the use of tomatillos.
BELLANTONIAnd so it brings me to tomatillos -- tomatillos and jicama. These are common sights in a lot of local supermarkets, but I actually went a few different times this weekend trying to find them and they were either completely sold out, or they didn't have the best selection. What is your pro tip on where to find the best tomatillos?
JINICHYou know what, first of all, I do what women in my family have done before me, and it is befriend your grocer. Befriend your grocer.
BELLANTONIThat's definitely a pro tip.
JINICHYou know, I always go to the same stores. I don't go to many different places, and I know the manager and I know the grocer, and I know when things come in, and I know when things are in season it just takes a little bit of researching of, you know, where is the best place to go, and then just demand for the things that you want. Believe me when I tell you those stores want to keep their clients. If a lot of people start asking for fresh jicama and fresh tomatillos, you're going to make it happen.
BELLANTONIAnd it's another way to connect too, which we love around here.
BELLANTONISo Liz in Arlington, Va. has a question about finding ingredients as well. Thanks for calling, Liz.
LIZHi. I don't know if I should befriend my grocer for this question, but when I lived in Mexico I got addicted to wheat la coche which is corn fungus, and I wish that I had a bought a lot of cans of it in the grocery stores down there, because now I don't know if I can ever find it again.
JINICHLiz, you can. In fact, Goya foods has wheat la coche. They sell them in the cans. You can buy it online if you don't find it in the stores, and the canned wheat la coche is really fabulous. You can also buy it online frozen, and that's even fresher. Corn wheat la coche, as you say, it is a fungus. It is -- some people were calling it more sophisticated things, but it is a corn fungus, and in Mexico it is a delicacy. It's truly exquisite, but for many years it was forbidden in the U.S. to grow it or, you know, to sell it, because it was seen as a fungus.
JINICHSo it has taken a lot of work for, you know, from people in the food community to show what it is, a beautiful and exquisite ingredient. And you can find it, just look online.
BELLANTONISo if you're at home and you're listening, or at work, of course, if you make Mexican dishes, and what is your blend, your own specialty? How do you make it unique? One that you write about in your book, Pati Jinich, is a shrimp cocktail. So how is this different with what we might be familiar with as a traditional shrimp cocktail. What does it mean for you?
JINICHI love that -- yeah, that shrimp cocktail. Well, Christina, that shrimp cocktail really takes me back to Acapulco. Me and my family used to go to Acapulco many summers -- many Decembers, and this is the way that they make the shrimp cocktail there. It has a tomato sauce that's thick, that's rich, that has chopped jalapenos and onion and cilantro, and olives, and capers, and lime juice, and it's all very chunky and mixed with the shrimp it's just delicious. And you know what? It's the perfect time of the year to make it.
BELLANTONIAre there -- and that brings us to a good point about seasons and farmers' markets.
BELLANTONIYou know, what is the best -- obviously tomatoes are great during the summer. What other things would you recommend people should be flocking toward?
JINICHChilies, chilies, chilies, chilies, chilies. You know, when people think about Mexican cuisine, they think about spicy foods. Not all Mexican food is spicy. Not all Mexican food has chilies, but we do have a thing for chilies. We're crazy about them. And there's more than a hundred different kinds of chilies, and some of them are sweet, some of them are chocolate-y, some of them are more vegetable-y and not all of them are used just for heat. So if you find poblano peppers, they're one of my favorite ingredient, Poblano chilies. They're not even that spicy.
JINICHYou can stuff them, you can turn them in rajas, you can pickle them, you can make soups, casseroles, eggs, so many things with them. So chilies will really give you a great tool.
BELLANTONIIn fact pacia are my favorite. You've got this beautiful picture in your cookbook of all these different types of chilies, so many beautiful colors, right? They can add color to a dish or texture.
JINICHAbsolutely, color, texture. I mean, they're just like vegetables with a lot of personality. And a great thing, if you start to garden like I'm starting to do, because there's nothing like a freshly picked jalapeno right out of your garden. They're the least demanding thing that you can harvest or grow, and if you plant chilies, they will keep animals away. So you can plant many things, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, whatever. If you have chili plants around it, no animal is going to come nearby to eat everything else.
BELLANTONIYou don't mean insects, you mean like large animals like deer.
JINICHYeah. Like deer or bunnies or cats or dogs or...
BELLANTONIThings you don't want nibbling on your lettuce.
JINICHExactly. Or, you know, many insects too.
BELLANTONIJim in Washington D.C. wants to share with us his favorite Mexican dish. Thanks for calling, Jim.
JIMThank you. My favorite Mexican dish is chilies en nogado. I have looked at several...
JIM...recipes, and they all call for peeling walnuts. I don't think I'm up for peeling walnuts, and wonder if you have any suggestions about that.
JINICHYes, I do. You have to go to my website, please.
BELLANTONIWhich we will post at kojoshow.org for you.
JINICHYeah. Just Google my name, Pati Jinich, and I have my favorite recipe for chilies en nogada and you do not have to use walnuts. You can use pecans, or you can use already peeled walnuts too. I give you the tricks in there.
BELLANTONIThat sounds delicious in fact. I have a question about Washington D.C. I am from California, I was sort of raised with a certain type of Mexican cuisine, you know, very California, you know, not Tex Mex, it's a very different style. But often people from California complain in Washington D.C. you can't find a good burrito in Washington, that it's difficult. I'm sure you're going to correct me and tell me where I should go immediately after the show.
JINICHNo. You know what? No. That's one of the things that we were talking about. It's really fascinating. If you go to California, there's a specific kind of Mexican food. You go to Texas, you have the Tex Mex, but you also have some different kinds of Mexican food. You go to Chicago, it's the same thing, and people really get used to the kind of Mexican food that's grown in their locality. And you know what that happens? Because Mexican food is very local. We source ingredients that are grown in the area.
JINICHMany people, I mean, I bet you -- I'd put my hands on fire that any Mexican cook that you know that really loves to cook has their little plant of cilantro or epazote, or even parsley or scallions in their kitchen. And so it becomes a very local thing, and it's also full of pride. There a thing about cooking in Mexican cooking. It's, you know, if I open my home to you, if you sit at my table, I am going to make sure that you have the best experience, the best food. There's just so much pride, in a good way, involved.
BELLANTONIWell, you can join our conversation, of course. Have you traveled to Mexico and been surprised at the difference between Mexican food here and there or even throughout the United States as we're talking about. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850, email email@example.com, get in touch with us on our Facebook page, or send a tweet to @kojoshow. So Pati Jinich, one of the things we forget about here in the United States is that food from places like Italy, France, and Mexico, it's not fixed. Cuisine is evolving there just as it is here as their chefs try new things. So what trends are you noticing as you travel?
JINICHThe Asian influence in Mexican cooking is huge. The Asian influence in American cooking is huge. I'm really seeing a lot of -- well, I have been focusing on it. I'm teaching a class tomorrow, Christina, at the Mexican Cultural Institute on Asian influences in Mexican cooking. So I've been focusing on it, and it's just incredible how much chefs and cooks are starting to use dashi for example, or seaweed.
BELLANTONIWhat is dashi?
JINICHSo dashi is -- it's instead of using chicken stock or beef stock or veal stock, Japanese people use dashi, which is a bonito stock that also has seaweed in it. And it's not as simple as saying hey, just a simple fish stock. They fish the fish, then they filet it, then they dry it, then they smoke it, then they turn it into flakes, and it's this huge process of bringing out the flavor and transforming it before you turn it into a stock. And in Mexican cooking, we have a lot of that.
JINICHFor example, the chipotle chilies in adobo. You buy them in a can and you think, this is delicious, what's the big deal about them. Well, let me tell you. They're jalapenos that have been picked when they're perfectly ripe. Not green, red. Then they're dried, then they're smoked, then they're pickled, then they're marinated again in a sauce with tomatoes and ancho chilies and vinegar and spices, and they they're left there for days and weeks to become this beautiful thing just for you. So I see a lot of similarities in the processes where, you know, these are dishes or ingredients that have been used in cultures for centuries.
JINICHSo in Japan they've used the bonito or dashi stock for centuries. In Mexico, we've been doing this with the chilies, again, for centuries. Combine the two, tomorrow I'm making a miso soup with chipotle sauce and it is just to die for.
BELLANTONIIt sounds amazing. Fred in Burke, Va. has a question about his favorite dish. Go ahead, Fred.
FREDHi. Good afternoon. Thank you very much for this great show. Years and years ago I used to -- Louisiana. There was a little Mexican restaurant, Panchos, and they had a great item called -- I think it was called sopapillas, and we used to have it with some sort of honey, and I can't find the real good ones here. Where can I find it?
JINICHYou know what? I am going to have to disappoint you. I have not found sopapillas in the U.S. So that means we have to do something about it.
BELLANTONIOh, my goodness. Is that how they would traditionally made, or, of course, is that just an Louisiana influence?
JINICHYes. No. No. No. No. No. Yes. And I think, you know, it was probably some Mexican cooks that worked in that restaurant that were making them, and it's these -- it's all of these dishes that haven't crossed the border so to speak, in a more mainstream way, and it's just a matter -- I'm going to find it for you, and I'm going to blog that recipe for you.
BELLANTONIOkay. We're going to take a very quick question from Michael in Beltsville, Md., and this will test Pati's skills to see if she can give you a quick answer at the end of our show here. Go ahead, Michael.
MICHAELAll right. I'll be quick. So I ate -- I'm a chef from Miami. I recently ate something that was delicious. I ordered a pot of mussels, and instead of a pot of mussels, I got half a dozen on the half shell with like ceviche and -- ceviche out -- ceviche on the side, and it was incredibly good. And the other question I had is, I bought like a brick of like chocolate and cinnamon together, and I think you're supposed to shave it and add milk and boil it or steam it. Do you have any idea….
JINICHYes, absolutely. I think what you have is Mexican chocolate, and all you need to do is chop it up into pieces and mix it with milk, bring it to a boil, and with a whisk or a molinillo you just make it foam.
BELLANTONIThat's sounds delicious, and a great place to thank Pati Jinich very much for joining us today. You are the host of the PBS series, "Pati's Mexican Table," and the official chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute here in Washington D.C. Your new book is called "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Mexican Home Cooking." Thank you very much for a great program today.
BELLANTONI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, and Elizabeth Weinstein, with help from Stephannie Stokes who also is manning the phones today. The engineer today is Tobey Schreiner. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs, and free transcripts are available at our website, Kojoshow.org. We encourage you to share your questions or comments with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, joining us on Facebook, or by tweeting @kojoshow. I'm Christina Bellantoni. I've been sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks for having me, and thanks for listening.
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