This time of year, when the weather is sweltering, I am especially drawn to Mexican cuisine.
I am a huge fan of Mexican flavors — chili pepper, cilantro, cumin and lime are workhorses in my kitchen.
And this time of year, when the weather is sweltering, I am especially drawn to this cuisine. Maybe it is an association with travels in Mexico, when I have enjoyed these foods in sultry temps, or maybe it is just that they are delicious.
No matter the reason, I put together a Mexican menu for a small dinner party last week, and it was muy bueno.
The beans were a late addition — I planned the fish and salad, but felt the menu lacked heft, even on a hot summer night. So I threw a pot of black beans together, and they ended up being the star of the evening. Bonus: They were great the next day cold, atop a salad for lunch.
For dessert, I couldn’t bear the thought of baking something in the summer swelter, but a plain scoop of ice cream or a Popsicle seemed a cop-out. Then I had the idea to integrate some of the flavors associated with Mexican chocolate into a whipped cream topping. Problem solved.
Salsa Verde Grilled Fish
2 lbs. firm-fleshed fish
(I used North Atlantic salmon, but this would
be great with tuna, halibut or any robust
filet or steak.)
1 cup “salsa verde” or green tomatillo salsa, divided (This is available jarred in most super-
markets or fresh at Mexican specialty stores.)
¼ cup canola oil
Salt and pepper
One hour before dinner, remove the fish from the refrigerator, coat it with oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and slather half of the green salsa over it. Allow the fish to marinate, covered, at room temp-
erature for about an hour.
Heat a grill to high; place the fish on the grill, cover and sear for two minutes. Flip the fish, cover, sear for two minutes, then adjust the heat as follows.
On a gas grill, turn off one section, lower the heat on the others and move the fish to the section that is turned off.
If you’re using charcoal, move the fish to the exterior as far from the direct heat as possible.
Cover the grill and leave the fish for about four more minutes on medium heat. Adjust the cooking time as needed for thinner or thicker filets.
For thinner cuts or for rare fish (such as tuna), reduce the final phase of cooking time over low heat to two minutes, or eliminate entirely.
Serve the fish with the remaining green salsa.
Serves 4 to 6
1 lb. dry black beans
2-3 assorted dried chilies (chipotle, ancho, habanero, etc.)
2 tablespoons adobo sauce, or more to taste (This is available in many grocery stores and most specialty stores. It is canned, often found as “chipotles in adobo.”)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 onion, quartered
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 smoked turkey hock or 3 slices turkey bacon (optional)
Rinse the beans and place them in a large pot. Pour boiling water over the beans, cover and let them sit for one hour. Drain, return the beans to the pot and cover them with water. There should be about two inches of water over the top of the beans.
Add the remaining ingredients — squeeze the lime into the pot and throw it in afterward. Bring the beans to a boil, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer for 90 minutes to two hours until the beans are tender.
If a lot of cooking liquid remains once the beans are tender, uncover the pot and turn up the heat. Allow the beans to boil, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or more to evaporate the excess liquid. Leave the beans uncovered with the heat off until ready to serve if more evaporation is desired.
Remove the turkey hocks, peppers and large chunks of onion before serving. Taste and adjust the seasoning; additional salt may be needed.
Serves 6 generously
Tomato, Cucumber and Avocado Chopped Salad
2 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped in bite-sized pieces
2 large cucumbers, peeled and chopped in bite-sized pieces
2 avocados, cut in bite-sized pieces
½ red onion, chopped finely
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Place the prepared vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle them with the oil and lime juice, and sprinkle with salt and pepper and cilantro, if using. Toss and serve.
Serves 4 to 6
“Mexican Chocolate” Ice Cream Sundae
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Optional: a pinch of cayenne
pepper or other hot chili pepper, such as ancho or chipotle
2 pints chocolate ice cream
Whip the cream until it forms semi-stiff peaks. Add the sugar, cinnamon and pepper, if using. Mix well.
Allow the ice cream to soften briefly before serving. Scoop it into serving bowls and top with spiced whipped cream.
Serves 4 to 6