How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Calle to Mesa

Image from the Projects Abroad blog, which has a recipe for gorditas.
For this post, we are skipping over the part where a cookbook sits on our shelf for months or years before we actually use it. This evening's Hayes-Boh family dinner comes from a book that just entered the house Friday, and has not even found a spot on the shelf yet.

While we were in Boston's western suburbs on Friday, we decided to visit Walden Pond and have lunch in the center of Concord. As we parked the car, we noticed these cookbooks in the window of the Concord Bookshop. It being Pi Day, we could not resist having a look. We had already decided to wimp out and have pizza pi for dinner, so buying a pi book would be our feeble nod to the occasion.

Inside we found a wonderful book store, certainly the largest independent book store I've seen in ages, and larger than most chain stores. If the town of Concord were not so stingy with parking (60-minute maximum), we might have lingered longer than we did. But we did stay long enough to find a book each. Pam -- the real  enthusiast -- found Teeny's Tour of Pie, which is certain to make its Nueva Receta debut in the near future.

I was drawn to Latin American Street Food, by Sandra A. Gutierrez, the subtitle of which is practically a geography lesson: The Best Flavors of Markets, Beaches, and Roadside Stands from Mexico to Argentina. Gutierrez is also the author of The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes That Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America and the American South -- an other geography essay in the making.

Image: Trip Advisor, since I don't have any photos from my 1985 visit.
Any reference to street food always brings three memories to mind. The first is during my very first trip to Latin America, my friend Mike and I ventured no further than the beach town of Ensenada, south of Tijuana, with very little money in our pockets. I remember spending the equivalent of 4 cents each for fish tacos from the street -- fried fish with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise, serve in the summer sun. Having survived that -- along with water from a standpipe right on the beach -- foreshadowed my years of travel in Latin America with minimal gastric difficulties. The other memories are of vendors in Puebla Mexico a few years later, boarding city buses with little charcoal grills -- full of red-hot coals -- as they roamed the downtown looking for the best places to set up shop, and of plastic sleeves offered on every corner in Puebla and Cholula, about a foot long, full of chili-covered peanuts and topped with half a lime. Squeezing lime juice on street food, we learned, was like magic for keeping it safe. Or so we chose to believe.

With all that in mind, it seems strange to make street food in a New England kitchen in the winter, but that is what we are doing. We let our daughter browse the book, and she quickly identified Aguachile de Camarones, a Sinaloan dish that Gutierrez names Kick-in-the-Pants-Spicy Shrimp in Chile-Lime Dressing. The title is a whole list of reasons for this to appear on Mesa Hayes-Boh.

The recipe starts with instructions to cook and then cool shrimp, but we always keep cooked, frozen shrimp on hand, so I thawed a pound of shrimp in water and then drained it thoroughly. In a blender I placed 3 finely chopped and seeded serrano chiles (but they were New England grocery-store serranos, so they had very little effect), close to a cup of cilantro, a couple of cloves of garlic (frozen from last autumn's farm box), a shallot we had on hand (the recipe calls for a small red onion), and a cup of lime juice. The recipe calls for fresh lime juice, but this is March in Massachusetts, not September in Sinaloa, so that would have cost a fortune. I compromised by squeezing three limes (with our citrus press) and topping up a cup with bottled juice.

I blended these until very smooth, to make a dressing is the aguachile in the title of the dish -- chile water. Gutierrez discusses the relationship of this dish to ceviche, and the varying degrees to which the seafood can be blanched, boiled, or cured by the citric acid. Because the dish is normally very spicy, Gutierrez suggests serving it with avocados. Because avocados decay quickly, she suggests dowsing them in lime juice (cures everything; see above). I did exactly this, and even though the dish was not very spicy, it was a good pairing. We also had tortilla chips as suggested in the book and quesadillas, just because.

Diego and I
Image: PBS
The combination of foods was very satisfying and delicious. We had a lot more dressing than we needed, so I will be experimenting with its use on some kind of white fish later in the week (we are out of shrimp).

This meal, of course, was begging to be paired with some sort of beer, and we tried a second opening of a special Scottish ale I recently concocted. I described it in some detail in the Heritage Chili post last month, but did not open it until about 10 days ago; it was not fully developed at that time, and I was a bit worried. But when Pam opened it this evening I could tell all was well, and it turned out to be quite a nice ale, and a good accompaniment, not as appropriate at Negra Modelo, but at least as delicious.

The meal was a hit, and to turn this into a complete "Mexican Party with My Parents" -- as our daughter called it -- we watched Frida together and had some Mexican hot chocolate at intermission.

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