Our current Cook the Books Club selection is the memoir Where I Come From by chef Aarón Sánchez1. I didn't know him before reading the book, but a few pages into it, I realized a few year ago I had met his mother, Zarela Martinez. She had been described to me as the chef who introduced Mexican cuisine to New York. It was interesting to read her story told by her son: what an amazing woman! On July 21, 19822 the NY Times published an article by Craig Claiborne titled Memorable Dishes From a Master Mexican Chef. Here's how Ms. Martinez is introduced:
A few months ago Pierre Franey and I were invited to plan a menu and supervise the preparation of quintessentially American food that was to be served to nearly 200 French chefs visiting this country. The vast majority of these chefs had never sampled the native fare of the United States. The dishes we proposed covered the country...
We also wanted to have Mexican-style food from Texas. When we canvassed our contacts for the best cook of the region, we were told that person was, hands down, Zarela Martinez-Gabilondo. She prepared the Mexican-American segment of the meal and her contribution was memorable.
Sánchez ends a few of the book's chapters with recipes, none of which is along the lines of what I cook, so I browsed the web for a Mexican recipe that would be. Recently, almost every day I have been making a salad using fresh vegetables from the farmers' market.
A few recipes I found online3 made me draw up a list of ingredients: red beets, avocado, oranges and jicama. I couldn't find the latter, so I used daikon instead and was introduced to red and purple daikon, which are sold alongside their more famous white relative. I had not roasted red beets for a while and making this salad reminded me how much I like them. I buy them in bunches with their greens and stems (foglie e coste di barbabietola rossa), which are flavorful on their own (I will share a recipe soon).
I looked for lime but instead found variegated lemon (limone). Finally, in the citrus arena, I went for blood oranges, because I like their flavor and love their color. That all the salad's ingredients are grown in California is satisfying. My current favorite cheese addition to salads and other dishes is also a California production: Point Reyes Bay Blue4.
To me salad bowls are experiment benches: I mix and dress, toss and taste and tend not to repeat twice. For the photo op above I kept the ingredients separate, but then everything is tossed and eaten in the purple juice of red beet and blood orange. The citrus (agrumi) offset beets' sweetness and the blue cheese (formaggio erborinato) gives the salad a bit of a tang, while the daikon adds some zest.
Ingredients per person:
- 1 red beet (4-5 ounces)
- 1/3 of a medium purple or red daikon
- 1/2 medium blood orange
- 1/2 medium avocado
- 3-4 tablespoons crumbled Point Reyes Bay Blue OR other sweet blue cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon of fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon / 15 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons / 10 ml fresh lemon juice
Note: if you purchase a bunch of red beets, cut off the greens as soon as possible, leaving about an inch / 2.5 cm of stems and consume the greens shortly afterwards.
Heat the oven to 350 F / 177 C. If you only need 1-2 red beets, I suggest you bake them together with other foods, for efficiency's sake.
Scrub the red beets well. Wrap each in foil and place on the baking sheet or baking pan. Put in the oven and roast the beets until easily pierced with a blade. Let cool, then peel.
Prepare the vegetables in amounts according to the servings needed. Cut the red beet into bite-sized pieces. Brush and rinse the daikon, then grate it using the extra-coarse side of your grater. Peel and section the blood orange. Peel and slice the avocado.
Compose the salad using the vegetables and blue cheese. Dress with the sea salt, olive oil and lemon juice, toss and enjoy.
1 The book's page on the author's website
2 NY Times published an article by Craig Claiborne
3 The recipes that inspired me: Mexican Chopped Salad with Beets and Walnut Dressing, Xec, a Jicama and Citrus Salad, and Avocado, Orange and Jicama Salad
4 Point Reyes Bay Blue cheese, "a rustic-style blue cheese with a natural rind. It is known for its mellow flavor and sweet, salted caramel finish."
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the insalata di barbabietola rossa, avocado, arancia rossa e ravanelli audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is my second contribution to the 41st edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started 13 years ago and that I continue to host.
FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.