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Thursday, June 5, 2014 12:01 am

A fresh Mexican summer feast

Fiesta salad makes a great summer Mexican meal.
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE

 

This menu bursts with bright flavors showcasing seasonal summer vegetables. The tangy orange-based chicken marinade hails from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. The chicken can be eaten in pieces or shredded to use in soft tacos along with the grilled vegetables. The salad is my take on that American staple, Mexican layered salad. The ice cream takes just minutes to make and delivers a bit of spice with its sweetness.

This feast is ideal for entertaining. The prep work can be done well ahead; leaving only assembling the salad and grilling to do at the last. Heat some corn tortillas and set out condiments such as salsas, guacamole and grated cheese and your fiesta is ready.

The entire menu is good for a crowd, but also works well as a family “two-fer”: Serve the grilled chicken and vegetable tacos one night; use leftover chicken and its reserved marinade for main course salad later.

This chicken should be submerged in its orange, garlic and herb bath at least overnight, but is even better when marinated for three days, something I discovered when dinner plans had to be unexpectedly shelved. Just make sure the pieces are thoroughly patted dry before grilling so they’ll brown properly.

Sinaloa grilled chicken

  • 1 3-4 lb. chicken, preferably free-range, or the equivalent amount of chicken parts
  • 1 c. chopped white onion (not super-sweet)
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 1/2 c. orange juice
  • 1 tsp. each dried thyme, marjoram and oregano, or use all oregano
  • 6 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken in a large resealable plastic bag. Purée the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and pour over the chicken. Squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag, seal and put in the refrigerator. Marinate at least overnight and preferably up to 3 days, turning the bag occasionally.

About 1 1/2 hours before grilling the chicken, remove from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Thirty minutes before grilling, take the chicken out of the marinade and put in a colander or on a rack to let any excess marinade drip off, then pat the chicken dry with lint-free or paper towels.

If using the “beer can” method, pour out about 3/4 of the beer and add 1/2 cup of the marinade to the can. Reserve the remaining marinade if using for salad dressing.

Grill the chicken over medium heat. The sugar in the orange juice will caramelize and nicely brown the chicken, but can easily burn if not watched. Grilling time will depend on the fire’s heat and whether a whole chicken or pieces are used. Serve in pieces or shred the meat and the delicious skin to use in soft tacos or the salad below.

Mixed grilled vegetables for soft tacos

  • Vegetables suitable for grilling (Suggestions: portabella mushrooms, white or cremini mushrooms, small zucchini and summer squash, white or red onions, large green onions, bell peppers (green, red or yellow), poblano chilies, jalapeño chilies
  • Vegetable oil, preferably corn oil
  • Lime juice
  • Kosher or sea salt

Cut the squash vertically into quarters. Cut onions into thick slices. Push a skewer or toothpicks through each slice to prevent them falling apart while grilling. Core and remove the seed from the peppers and poblanos, then cut into wide strips. Core the jalapeños and remove the seeds with a small spoon or knife; leave them whole.

Toss or brush the vegetables with enough oil to coat them lightly, but thoroughly. Sprinkle with lime juice and salt.

For the green onions, lay a double thickness of heavy aluminum foil on the grill. Position the onions so that the green parts lay on the foil and white parts directly on the fire. Grill all vegetables over a low fire until cooked through, but not mushy. If the vegetables begin to burn before they are completely cooked, remove from the direct heat, wrap in foil, and place on an upper rack of the grill or in a 350 F. oven for a few minutes to finish cooking.

It may not be “authentic,” but this take on American “Mexican” is full of Mexican flavors. Pozole, aka hominy, is corn that has been soaked in calcium hydroxide or slaked lime. The process, called nixtamalization, has been done by native Mexicans since ancient times. The soaked corn kernels have a wonderful taste and texture themselves; when ground, they become the masa dough that is the basis for corn tortillas and tamales. Far from being unhealthy, nixtamalization softens corn cells’ walls, allowing humans to absorb more of corn’s nutrients.

Fiesta salad
For the dressing:

  • 1 c. reserved marinade from Sinaloa chicken, see above
  • 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad – to serve one as a main course salad, two to four as a side salad

  • 1 very large handful crisp/tender lettuce, such as baby romaine
  • 1/4 c. thinly sliced sweet onion, approximately
  • 1/4 c. cooked and drained black beans (canned is fine)
  • 1/4 c. cooked and drained pozole (hominy – canned is fine)
  • 1/4-1/2 c. cooked corn kernels (leftover grilled corn works well)
  • 1/2 seedless orange, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4-1/2 ripe Haas avocado, peeled and diced or sliced
  • 1/4-1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • Small handful of jicama strips (peel the jicama and cut into matchsticks approximately 1/4-inch thick and 2-inch long)
For garnishing:
  • Cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 c. crumbled queso fresco (approximately)
If making a main course salad:
  • 1-2 pieces Sinaloa grilled chicken, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces

Place the reserved marinade in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced to approximately 2/3 cup. Let cool a few minutes, then put through a fine mesh strainer, pressing to extract as much of the solids as possible. Whisk in the oil, and then let the mixture cool completely. The salad can be served on individual plates or on a large platter for everyone to help themselves.

Wash and dry the lettuce and then toss with just enough of the dressing to barely coat. Line the platter or individual plates with the lettuce.

Arrange the black beans, pozole, orange, avocado and bell pepper decoratively over the lettuce. Start by putting the orange slices in an overlapping “flower” in the center, then put the avocado, pozole, corn and beans in concentric circles around it and use the pepper strips as “spokes around the wheel.” Or use another arrangement of your choosing.

If making a main course salad, spread the chicken pieces evenly over the vegetables and drizzle everything with some additional dressing. Sprinkle with the jicama strips, cilantro and crumbled queso fresco. Serve immediately.

Adding your own flavors to store-bought ice cream is easy and open to endless variations. If you’d like to have some heat with your ice cream, adding ground chipotle chilies to the ice cream will delight you and give a nod to the ancient Aztecs who first combined chocolate and chilies.

Mexican mocha ice cream (with chipotle)

  • 1 qt. good quality chocolate ice cream
  • 1 qt. good quality coffee ice cream
  • 1 T. cinnamon, preferably Mexican
  • 2 tsp. to 1 T. ground chipotle, optional

Soften the ice creams. They should not be melted. Scoop in large chunks into the chilled bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Add the cinnamon and ground chipotle and, using the paddle attachment, turn the mixer to medium speed. Work as quickly as possible, scraping down the bowl as necessary. It should remain icy. As soon as the mixture is completely combined, spoon it into a chilled pan, cover and freeze immediately.

Serve after the ice cream has completely refrozen, about 4 hours. Recipe halves or doubles easily. Makes 1/2 gallon.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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