Little Faces in The Mirror of a Book

I’ve come con las manos abiertas [with open hands] to ask you un gran favor. Please buy a Latino children’s book to read your children, your nietos o sobrinos—and no, it doesn’t have to be my children’s book (though it would be nice).

If you read this article in The New York Times, you will understand why I’m asking you—no, begging you, amigas, to help me and my fellow Latina bloggers send a loud ¡grito! to those big New York-based publishers: Latino children’s books are not just a good investment, but the right thing to do.

They say that we do not buy books for our children.

Much less read to them.

How can we convince them that it simply not the case?

We open up our wallets and buy a book.

A book to read to our little ones at night antes que se van a dormir.

And introduce them to a story-friend who looks just like them.

And acts like them.

Someone who talks the way they do.

Who laughs at the same things.

Whose family is just like theirs.

And whose dreams are their dreams, too.

They might eat tamales.

Or prefer habichuelas.

Arroz con pollo just might be their thing.

And even a pupusa or two.

Let them see their reflection through the magic mirror of a book.

So go buy one!

Adios, chiquita. And thank you!

Three of My Favorite Latino Children’s Books

This LA-born girl has a real soft spot for the children of migrant farm workers. That NY Times article called them stereotypical characters. I call them real children, whose hard-working parents harvest almost every single fruit and vegetable we put into our mouths. Here are some books that tell of their experience. Please click on the titles to buy.

By Francisco Jiménez

Adapted by Jewell Reinhart Coburn

and last and most certainly least,
By Clementina Llanes
(shameless plug!)

Check out the links below and find out how you can support Latino Children's Literature:

Latina Bloggers Respond: Void in Latino Children Literature (click here)
Yes, Latinos Do Buy Books: 3 Things You Can Do To Make a Difference (click here)
Where is the Latino Children's Literature? (click here)
Latina Bloggers React: Not Enough Hispanic Authors, Books Due to Publishing Industry (click here)
An Open Letter to an Elementary School Librarian (click here)
To Boost Reading Skills Latino Children Need More Than Books They Identify With (click here)
Latina Bloggers React: We Need More (click here)

They Love Their Children Too

Hola. I’m here to tell you that I have written a little book . . .

Available on Amazon.  (Illustrations courtesy of Sarah D. Thomas)

. . . based on my most popular post, The Pumpkin Moon Empanadas.

When one reads a story about a little girl, she is usually a princess who slays a fire-breathing dragon and saves a handsome prince from endless slumber by awakening him with True Love’s Kiss (or is it the other way around?). She may possess magical powers, or is the best ballerina in the whole world. She might live à Paris like Madeline, or at the Waldorf with her movie star mommy and her opera singer daddy.

Which is all very nice.

But what if the little girl who reads those books is the daughter of a poor man—a man who works in the vineyards picking grapes? A man who lives far from home and only speaks el español? Do many write books about her and her daddy? And, what kind of present does a man with a sunburnt face and sunburnt eyes, rough hands and muddy boots, a man who doesn’t have a lot of things—give to his little girl? Only the best gift any papito can give—el amor de familia, a healthy dose de imaginación—and the Pumpkin Luna to make empanadas!

Shouldn’t a story be written about that little girl and her papito, too?

The Pumpkin Moon Empanadas contains delightful color illustrations by my talented friend, a young lady by the name of Sarah D. Thomas. It includes a delicious Pumpkin Moon Empanadas Recipe to bake with your own dragon-slaying-ballerina princess, plus a Glossary of Spanish Words and Phrases.

I hope you buy my little book and enjoy reading it as much as I did writing the story.


If I Knew You Were Coming I Would Have Cooked You Pozole

If you’re asking me if I’m in the mood for cooking, the answer is no—but I am open to persuasion.

 But it can’t be anything that reminds me of summer, with its wet, ill-fitting bathing suits that makes you look like a sunburned chorizo sausage in its casing. Don’t even mention those cloying girly girl drinks with tiny umbrellas in them, got it? And no cold salads, please. . . . Pozole, did you say? Hmmmm, consider me persuaded.

There is a snap in the air in the Central Coast, as sweet and as sharp as a bite of a Pink Lady apple. Harvest time has arrived to the vineyards. El otoño [autumn] is coming with its clear, but sepia-toned, days, and with it the desire to dust off my mamá’s old large pot to cook a hearty pozole. What, with those tender chunks of pork and hominy swimming in a luscious red chile broth—(ay, yay, yay, I’m so happy about it, I can’t even finish this sentence!) It’s a stew that is also a salad, if you can believe it—no pozole is complete without heaps of thin-sliced cabbage, fresh chopped cilantro, diced green onion, disks of sharp, peppery red radish and that ever ubiquitous squeeze of lemon or lime. Of course, you can have pozole any time of the year, but eating it in el otoño just seems right.

And here is the best part: cooking pozole ain’t exactly fix it n’ forget it, but nobody need know that I don’t slave for hours on end over a hot stove. I just like to pretend that I do. “Ay, pobrecita de mi [poor little old me], I’m sooooo tired from all that cooking! Now peel me a nopal.” After preparing all the ingredients, I like to kick back and polish my nails while the pozole is simmering on the stove. Es nuestro secreto, ¿verdad?

Pozole is the perfect alternative for those who with weak stomached, squeamish sensibilities and upturned, wrinkled noses say a big yuck at the mere mention of menudo with its wobbly bits of tripe. And yes, pozole has no offal in it (sometimes, unless you count the pig’s foot that I am going to drop in to make it taste like the bomb). And yes, pozole only takes about two hours to cook, versus, say, the six hours it takes to cook menudo. And no, it doesn’t stink up the whole house like menudo does. And no, pozole isn’t better than menudo, and if you even think I’m ever going to forsake a bowl of stinky outlaw menudo for its upright cousin, pozole. . . maybe I will, but just for today.

Pásale, muchacha, pásale. Come inside. Ya que estás aquí—now that you are here, I’m cooking you a pot of pozole.

Red Pozole

The longer you cook it, the better it will taste. And, as almost always with stews, pozole tastes even better the day after. You don’t need to add the pig’s foot, but not only does it enhance the flavor, but makes for a rich, luscious broth. Don’t worry about all the fat. You can always skim it off once the pozole is cooked. You can also skim off the all the solidified fat once the pozole has cooled down in the refrigerator. I do like to keep a little fat in the stew—it just makes it all the more flavorful.

3 lbs. bone-in pork shoulder butt, cut into 1-inch cubes; or left whole (to shred later once the meat is tender)
1 or 2 pig’s feet, cut in half (optional)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large white onion, cut in half. Save ¼ onion for Red Chile Sauce
1 tablespoons salt
1 large bay leaf
½ teaspoon cumin, or to taste
½ teaspoon pepper
12 cups water
up to 4 cups canned hominy, drained and rinsed
Red Chile Sauce (Recipe below)

Red Chile Sauce Recipe:
9 dried guajillo chiles
3 dried ancho chiles
4 cloves; or, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
¼ onion
¼ teaspoon vinegar (optional)
Boiling water

Directions (for a visual tutorial on how to make Red Chile Sauce click here):
Toast and soak the chiles, garlic and onion: Take the chiles and cut off all the stems. Remove all the seeds with your bare fireproof macha fingers. Over medium-high heat, toast the chiles on a lightly oiled comal [griddle] for 30 - 40 seconds on each side. Add the unpeeled garlic and onion, and toast until they are soft and slightly charred. Remove from heat, let cool slightly and peel the garlic. Place the chiles, cloves, garlic and onion in a bowl and just cover them with boiling water, making sure all of the chiles are submerged. Use a plate or a large mug to press down the chiles. Let them soak for about 30 minutes. Drain the chiles, but save the water you soaked the chiles in. In small batches, take the chiles, garlic, onion and cloves along with some of the water and whirl them in a blender at medium speed.

Into a bowl pour the chile mixture through  a wire mesh strainer to remove the tiny bits of peel. It should pour like spaghetti sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add more of the soaking water. Stir in the vinegar.

Cook the Pork Meat: Put pork meat with the bone and pig’s foot in a large pot. Add 12 cups water. Add salt, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Add bay leaf and cumin.  Cover, and simmer for an hour, occasionally checking to skim off any left-over foam. During this time, you can prepare the Red Chile Sauce for the pozole.

Shred the pork (unnecessary if pork has been cubed): Use tongs to lift and remove the pork from the pot. Use 2 forks to shred the pork and return to the pot. Add Red Chile Sauce and hominy. Adjust salt and other seasonings. Cook for one hour more, or keep simmering  until ready to eat. Fish out the large onion pieces and garlic. No need to discard the pig foot—some, like my viejo, think it’s the best part. The pozole should be brothy, so add boiling water or chicken broth if it runs too low.

Serve with with corn tortillas and garnishes of thin-sliced cabbage, chopped cilantro, dried oregano, thin-sliced red radishes, cut lemons or limes and avocado.

Serves 6 to 8.

Pan Dulce: The Curious Case of La Mujer Misteriosa

I drove home feeling more than a little annoyed at myself for wasting my precious gasoline and getting laughed out of every Mexican bakery in town. Foolish to think any panadero [baker] in his right mind would hand over to a stranger with a blog his super secret recipe for pan dulce. I got down from my car and walked up to my gate.  It was then when out of the corner of my eye I saw her step out of the shadows.

She was all ruby lips, high cheekbones and flowing dark hair. There was a pair of 5-inch heels on her feet and a peacock blue satin sheath on her curvaceous canela-colored body. It looked like she was dressed for a fiesta, but I got the feeling those lovely legs of hers had never seen the insides of a pair of jeans. I could smell her Maja perfume, she was standing so close.

She smiled with a kind of defiant confidence as if to say, ándale [go ahead], stare at me all you want, see if I care. All the while, her large eyes examined mine.

Buenas tardes, Señora Clementina, that is your name, isn’t it? There is something I would like to show you.”

Dangling in front of my face was a piece of paper. In large flowery writing was the recipe no panadero in town was willing to part with—pan dulce. A sort of sly conspiratorial grin came over her face.

“I would like you to have it, gratis.”

I smiled back, but my middle-aged bones knew this muchacha’s motives were far from altruistic.

“¿Quién eres?--Who are you?” I asked.

“Una amiga.”

“So you won't tell me your name.  Well, a-mi-ga, why are you doing this? Are you in some trouble?”

Almost immediately, her face darkened and the haughty smiling María Felix mask fell off, revealing a shiny-eyed almost tearful wistfulness. But it lasted just for a moment. By a powerful but subtle force of will, the confident cool veneer came back to her face.

“I have my reasons.  You can't expect me to tell you everything, que no?  There are secrets every woman should keep to herself.”

Ay, si.  I know what you mean." I smiled.  "We all have our secrets, but I know yours—it’s a man. Hasta lo puedo oler—I can even smell him.”

“Look,” I said as gently as I could. “No me andes con misterios—don’t get all mysterious on me, okay? You want me to put this recipe on my blog, right?”

Sí, quiero que lo mire todo el mundo—I want the whole world to see it.”

“Including el panadero you stole it from?”

“Especially el panadero I stole it from. I want to see him suffer when he sees that his precious secret recipe isn’t so secret anymore.”

Oooooo, qué castigadora—you’re a tough little torta, Señorita.” I laughed.  Only a panadero of all people would consider this the ultimate act of betrayal.

“Tell you what. Go back and make up with that panadero of yours—ó mándalo a la porra—or tell him to get lost. Forget you even knew him. It’s just not worth it.”

“I see."  Her ruby lips dropped a couple of inches. "Pues ya me voy—I’m leaving now.” Then she stopped and looked at me with the furious eyes of a tigresa [tigress]. “You know, Doña Clemen, I thought you were different. I thought you of all people would understand me, but I see you are just like every other vieja celosa—jealous old hag.”

With a sudden motion, she reared her face against mine.  For a second, I was afraid she would knock me down or push me against the gate.  Instead she crumbled the paper with the pan dulce recipe on it and threw it at my feet.

“Here! Take the recipe for all I care.”

And with that she stalked off, her 5-inch heels making tacón-tacón-tacón sounds as she headed to the curb.

Espera—wait!” I cried after her, but it was too late. I ran up just in time to see her shiny black ’59 Chevy Impala roaring past me. Its back lights grew ever smaller as I stood silently watching them before they disappeared onto Whittier Boulevard.

And that was the last I saw of her.

Who was that mujer misteriosa who walked out of the shadows that evening? I cannot say. All I know was that she was beautiful, her voice was as sultry as a hot city street after sunst—and she was out for the sweetest recipe of them all—revenge. Whoever that hombre is, whatever he did to wrong the heart of a woman like that, I have only one thing to say to you, Señor Panadero. You had it coming.

(As much as I wish there was a mystery woman standing by my gate with a secret recipe, this story is pure fiction.)

“Conchas” de Pan Dulce
Mexican Sweet Bread “Shells”

The recipe for pan dulce is no great mystery, but those of us who have always eaten them from a panadería are in for a sweet surprise. Who can resist a pan dulce when it’s hot from the oven, with its soft, yeasty just right sweetness and that incomparable crumbly, shell shaped vanilla-cinnamon or chocolate topping? Wake up early on a Sunday morning to bake them and find out why el panadero wants to keep this recipe under wraps. Most recipes call for all-purpose flour, but I love the lighter texture bread flour gives these panes dulces. Serve them the traditional way, with Mexican hot chocolate.

4 cups bread flour (or, all-purpose flour if you prefer a denser pan dulce)
2 ½ teaspoons dry active yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/3 cup butter, melted
½ - 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For Chocolate and Vanilla-Cinnamon Toppings:

2/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered cocoa

In a medium bowl, stir together yeast and warm water. Add milk, ½ cup sugar, 1/3 cup melted butter, salt and eggs and mix well.

Pour the flour and cinnamon onto a large flat surface. Make a large “hole” in the middle of the flour.

Gradually pour the wet ingredients into the flour and stir together using a large fork until the dough starts to come together.

Knead the dough for 7 or 8 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. The dough should be moist and “bouncy”. Do not add too much extra flour.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl. Turn the dough to coat, then cover with a loose towel. Place the dough in a warm place (the top of a warm oven or dryer is ideal) and wait until it rises and doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Make the chocolate and vanilla-cinnamon topping: In a medium bowl, beat 2/3 cup sugar, cinnamon and ½ cup butter until fluffy. Stir in the flour and mix until it resembles a thick paste. Take half of it and set it aside. Take the other half and mix it with the powdered cocoa until well blended. Wrap the toppings in plastic and put them in the refrigerator to firm up.

Remove dough from the oven. Cut and shape the dough into 12 - 24 balls, depending on the size you want. Line a cookie sheet with lightly greased parchment paper. Place balls on the cookie sheet and gently flatten each ball with the palm of your hand. Space balls 2 ½ - 3 inches apart.

Roll out the chocolate and vanilla toppings under plastic wrap as shown.

Take a bowl or a glass that is wider than the balls of dough to cut the topping into circles.

Use a steel spatula to gently lift each circle . . .

. . . and gently place it over each ball of dough.  Use a small sharp knife to score the toppings in a clam shell pattern or any pattern you want.

Preheat oven to 370° F. Let the balls rise for another 30 to 40 minutes. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  When they have cooled off, you can give them a light dusting of granulated sugar (optional).

Tell Me Una Historia: Abuelita Chocolate Giveaway

When the makers of Abuelita Chocolate offered to send me a free gift package, plus another one to reward a special reader, I happily said sí. It is my way of saying muchisimas gracias for your encouragement and support over these past 4 years. This slow-cooked blog is still plugging away!

You muchachas.  YOU muchachas!  You made me cry.  Some of you made me laugh so hard I almost . . . well you know.  But all of you made it so difficult, if not impossible, to choose who would win the Abuelita Chocolate Gift Package and my lovely molinillo.
So I wrote all of your names on little pieces of paper and chose the winner at random.  And la ganadora [winner] is . . . Georgina and her story of the Mexican Hot Chocolate and the Cussing Parrot.  Felicidades, Georgina!
Though I am unable to award this Abuelita Gift Package and molinillo to everyone who sent a story, I want to thank all of you de todo corazon for your touching, sometimes hilarious, but always beautiful stories.
Do yourself a favor, TAKE A READ by clicking the Comments link below, and sit back, and dream of someone you would love to share una taza de chocolate.

(Just a little note:  I did not receive monetary compensation for this post, except for the gift package.)

La Chica Who Came In From The Cold: Chile Verde

Have you ever had a friend disappear on you on a spring day, only to find her banging at your door in the dead of winter looking toda fresca, as fat and as cheeky as if she never left? You open the door and say, Oye chica, ¿qué pasó? What happened to you? Six months ago you told me you were going out for tacos and beer but you never came back!
Well,that chica is me.
Of course, I haven't really disappeared. One never does in the blogosphere. But it does seem like I've been in a state of suspended animation serving you up huachinango (red snapper) in cilantro crema for far too long. Only now I've come in from the cold to tempt you with your favorite last meal if you were going to face the firing squad tomorrow at dawn—a little bowl of hot chile verde. Now aren't you glad?

I can’t explain why I jumped off the bloggy treadmill. Was it because I felt as burned out as some tripas (intestines) left on the grill for too long? Or, was I afflicted with I can only describe as a particularly bad case of “constipation of inspiration”? Let’s just say I couldn't bear the thought of sitting in front of a computer monitor when all I wanted to do was ride shotgun with my viejo at the wheel and feel the wind whipping through my hair. So I did what I usually do if I can’t satisfy wanderlust:

I planted a garden and painted some pictures.

I lost myself in a bit of escapism in the company of a beautiful Spanish couturière/spy

and even knitted a sweater.
What I couldn't do was pick up a pen and write love letters to Mexican food. Every word tasted sin chiste—as insipid and lacking in sabor as a Velveeta-stuffed chile relleno in the worst “Mexican-ish” restaurant in the whole sad state of Alabama.

And just as I thought that my cocina would remain forever dark, that I'd never make a decent pot of frijoles ever again, that's when I was saved by some tomatillos on the side of the road.

Half of them had been smashed to a pulp. The others were curbside, looking like the scattered peridot gemstone beads of a broken necklace belonging to a giantess who never bothered picking them up. I quickly threw some into the basket of my bike. It was getting dark, so I promised to come back for the rest—greedily hoping that come morning I would be the one to collect all the booty before someone else got to them.

The next morning they were still there! Holding a large shopping bag, I started grabbing all the undamaged tomatillos I could find. I ignored the sometimes curious, sometimes sarcastic looks of certain passersby. Why was that loca lady bent over on the side of the road picking some green who-knows-what off the ground? Yes, I did feel kind of stupid for wearing the wrong attire—a dress and a pair of high heels—for street-side vegetable picking in a stiff wind.  Pues ni modo--that was the least of my worries. I was more concerned about turning into road kill by getting run over by another load-dropping tomatillo truck. When the bag was almost too heavy for me to carry, I lugged it over to my car.

I looked at the palms of my hands—they were filthy and sticky to the touch. Some motorists had probably seen up my dirt-stained dress. I wish I could say that I cared, but I bore the "humiliation" in fine spirits. I had been given a gift: a seed for a story and an ingredient for a recipe. It was just the little puff of inspiración for more stories to come, or perhaps just this blog post.

I gave most of the tomatillos away to friends, keeping two pounds for myself. After staring at them for a long time I got to work. I gave myself permission to not think of what to write about. I just enjoyed the silence of it all, the concentration and the rhythmic movement of my hands as I chopped the onions and the chiles. The fresh green of the tomatillos and the cilantro, the raw chiles and how they burned my fingertips, the sound of pork sizzling—all of this was coming together to create something delicious and for that moment I felt I could start blogging again—always at a snail’s pace, of course. This has always been a slow-cooked blog.

I occupied myself with other things and gave this blog and my mind a rest. Perhaps it was just what I needed to let the seeds of a story or two percolate until they are ready to sprout and grow. No need to force the bloom.

Sometimes inspiration tells you sorry but I’m not coming tonight, mañana or the night after that. If you want me back you must be silent. Listen and look around you. Be willing to get dirty if you have to and don’t be afraid to look like una taruga—a complete and utter fool. Only then will it gently tap on the shoulder and say, “Aquí estoy.”

The tomatillos on the side of the road taught me that.

Chile Verde

You can have chile verde anyway you like. It is equally delicious on a torta, a burrito, in a tamal, with beans and tortillas or with your huevitos (eggs) instead bacon or ham. You can, like my viejo sometimes does, even eat it straight from the pot just as I’m getting ready to serve dinner. Though I’d like nothing better than to slap his little hand, I can’t blame him. Honestly, who can resist the hot delicious mess of porky goodness of chile verde? Nobody I know.
I used pork for this dish, but feel free substituting a relatively inexpensive boneless beef chuck if you prefer. Go ahead, use any fresh chile you have on hand that's as mild--or as hot as you want. If the chile verde is not hot enough for your taste, chop and sauté a fresh jalapeño and throw it in the pot. (I don't know about you, but it seems to me that jalapeno chiles are not as hot as they used to be.  Next time, I'm going with serrano chiles instead.)  If it tastes too tart, add a teeny bit of sugar (about ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon), but don’t overdo it. It will ruin the chile verde. If you prefer thinner sauce, add more chicken broth to taste, but keep the sauce nice and thick if you are making this dish for tamales--and don't forget to put some pickled jalapeno strips along with the chile verde in each tamal. (For tamales masa recipes and guide, click here.)

You can roast the tomatillos and the chiles under the broiler.

Or, you can toast them on the comal.
Both bring out exceptional flavor. (Click here to learn the finer points of roasting or toasting tomatillos and chiles.)

Or, don’t roast them at all. Your chile verde will still taste great.
3 pounds pork shoulder butt
2 or 3 tablespoons fat: vegetable, olive, bacon grease(!), the choice is yours
1 onion
2-3 large cloves of garlic (unpeeled)
salt and pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
up to 1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
⅛ to ¼ teaspoon sugar (optional)
4 or 5 fresh Poblano and/or Anahiem chiles
2 or 3 jalapeño chiles; can substitute with chiles serrano if you prefer a hot chile verde
up to 1 ½ pounds fresh tomatillos, depending on how much you of a tomatillo taste you prefer
cilantro to taste—I used ½ bunch for this recipe
4 cups chicken broth, (or more if you prefer a thinner sauce)
1 16 ounce can pickled jalapeno strips (for the tamales)
To broil: cut the tomatillos and the chiles in half and place them flat-side down on a aluminum-wrapped cookie sheet. Add the unpeeled garlic and brush them all with a bit of oil and place under the broiler until they are charred but not burned to death. Remember to check them every few minutes! Remove immediately. You can remove or charred skin if you want, but you don’t have to. Some love the taste of charred bits.
OR, toast them all on an oiled comal [griddle] over high heat. Turn every couple of minutes. There is no need to sweat the chiles or the tomatillos in a plastic bag this time. When they are done, carefully remove the seeds from the chiles (only if you don't want them too hot) and chop them along with the onion.

Next, peel the garlic and whirl them in a blender with the tomatillos.

When the tomatillos and the garlic have been liquefied, add the fresh cilantro and whirl again for a minute. Set them aside.
IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO to roast the chiles, tomatillos and garlic, no problem: Simply cut the fresh tomatillos in half, and whirl them in a blender with 2 or 3 peeled garlic cloves and the cilantro. Seed the chiles and remove the veins (but only if you can't tolerate too much heat), and chop them along with the onion. Set aside.
Take the pork and trim away all excess fat. Cut the pork into bite-size chunks and dry them with a kitchen towel.
Sear the pork in the fat over high heat until they are golden brown. Remove the pork from the pot and put it in a large bowl. Drain out most of the fat from the pot, except for tablespoon or two.

Cook the onion and chopped chiles with one smashed garlic (optional) in the pot until the onions are golden brown. Add the seared pork.

Stir in the tomatillo mixture and the chick broth together with the bay leaf, the oregano, cumin and the salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and simmer for one hour. Now is the time to check the seasonings—does it need more salt and pepper or cumin? Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes more until the pork is tender.
Tastes maravilloso the next day.
Serves 6 to 8 persons.

Stop Wrinkling Your Nariz

I know what you are thinking, so just stop wrinkling that little nariz of yours just because you don't like fish (I can see you). You're not being punished. Pobrecita—you poor darling, you can't help it. Especially, if like me, your padres hailed from some ranchos in landlocked Zacatecas, where the chances of catching ocean fish are as remote as finding a live chicken crossing Rodeo Drive (the fowl kind, that is). Don't worry, mi'ja, you're in good hands. I would never feed you just any pescado apestoso—some icky and stinky old fish. It's time to say goodbye to goat stew and say hello to huachinango (huah-chee-NAHN-goh) [red snapper] with cilantro crema.
For those who have never had huachinango (can you repeat huachinango-huachinango-huachinango-huachinango without messing up?), it is a medium-firm fish, mild but not too mild. It can take a good drenching of chile-tomato salsa or anything spicy you throw its way without wimping out. And it certainly holds it own here with this silky cilantro crema. In fact, like its colors red and green, the sweet fishy flavor of the huachinango and the creamy but pungent green flavor of the cilantro contrast a little too brilliantly, especially when you blend in some buttery avocado into the sauce—not essential, but I just can't go on to relate. It is too luscious for words, really.

That viejo of mine thinks that green blanket of crema covers up a lot of unpleasant things: namely, the huachinango's grim down-turned mouth and its unblinking but somehow angry fish glare. It is curious to see this new-found squeamishness in a man who loves to suck on the pickled patas of a pig, but I am not fooled. His landlocked roots are showing.

I put the plate before him and hold it up to his nose.

"Good—now we can devour it guilt-free and enjoy ourselves without having to look at it. The fish doesn't know it's mad—it's dead. Just eat it, okay? Esta cocina está cerrada—this kitchen is closed!" Which means I'm done cooking and you better eat this or I will huachinango you.

It took some doing, but once my viejo tasted the ocean by giving this little fish with the big fat name a try, his taste buds are no longer living in a dry landlocked desert. Ya se pone todo emocionado [Now he gets all excited about] ostiones [oysters] y camarones [shrimp], jaibas [crabs] y langostas [lobster] and all kinds of fish, including our little red hauchinango—with nary a complaint about fish heads with beady eyes.

Can the same happen to you?

So stop wrinkling that little nariz of yours and start eating.

Huachinango con crema de cilantro

Red Snapper with Cilantro Crema

Feel free to use parsley instead if you don't care for the taste of cilantro. I used Mexican crema for this dish, but if you like a thinner consistency, you can add some milk to the crema, or substitute an equal amount of half-and-half. Either way, this dish is easy to prepare, and is almost mistake proof. Just tweak it to your liking. You don't even have to cook a whole fish if you don't want to, filets are fine, too. I like to use a little seasoning salt in my cilantro crema, so I am suggesting it here. Loosely adapted from Mexico the Beautiful Cookbook.


1 whole red snapper or 3 lbs. of snapper filet. You can substitute it with any fish with white flesh, as long as it is firm.

one large lime or lemon, cut in half

1 clove garlic, minced

About ¼ cup of chopped onion. Cut a few slices for the top of the fish

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

2 cups of Mexican crema, or 2 cups of half-and-half (Fat-free half-and-half is fine.)

1 ½ cups fresh cilantro, or fresh flat-leafed parsley

1 avocado, preferably Hass (optional)

Recipe Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325°. Sprinkle salt and pepper the fish. Then rub it all over with the minced garlic. Next, take one half of the cut lime or lemon and squeeze juice over the fish. Take some a few sprigs of cilantro and the chopped onion and stuff them into the fish's cavity. Place a bay leaf underneath the fish and put some slices of onion on top. Place the fish in an oiled baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Refrigerate it for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, take the crema or the half-and-half and the cilantro and whirl them in a blender. You can add more cilantro or parsley, salt and pepper or even some lemon juice until it tastes the way you want it to. You can dilute it by adding a little milk if you like. Blending in some avocado makes it extra rich.

Bake the fish for about 30 minutes or so. The fish is done cooking when its flesh feels firm, but do not over-bake it.

In the last few minutes of baking time, pour the cilantro crema into a saucepan and simmer it until it is warm, but not hot.

When the fish is done, take it out of the oven and pour the cilantro crema over the fish. Serve right away.

Serves 2 people very well.

Note: Last month I mentioned that my little friend, Nakita, who lives just north of Tokyo had not contacted me yet. Three weeks after that devastating quake, I finally heard from her. She and her family are okay. What a relief!)