By: Shannon Smith | Category: Restaurants | Issue: March 2021
I spent the first two weeks of this new year in the state of Nayarit, Mexico, located on the Pacific coast, just north of Puerto Vallarta. Most people travel to Puerto Vallarta to enjoy the beaches and perfect weather, and I did my share of that. But, the main reason I went was to meet Chef Alondra Maldronado, a cookbook author who has lived her entire life in the state of Nayarit.
Alondra and I cooked for four days, where she taught me about the history of the ingredients and recipes that have been passed down since the Spanish conquest in the late 1500s. The Spanish brought spices, wheat, sugar and pork to Mexico, which are now a huge part of Mexican cuisine. Many Filipinos and Chinese traveled on Spanish ships as slaves, and made their homes in Mexico. The Chinese taught the fishermen how to dry shrimp for preservation, and today some of the best dried shrimp is from Nayarit. Alondra and I made dried shrimp tamales and ceviche, using recipes that have been shared for centuries.
One of the main ingredients in Mexican cooking is chiles, both fresh and dried. They are used in many different ways, and each variety adds a different element of flavor and heat. The most common way chiles are used is in salsa (sauce), which is prepared every day in Mexican kitchens, and used to accompany nearly every dish. Alondra and I made at least 10 different salsas, including fresh, smoked and fire-roasted. We also stuffed poblano chiles with local cheese, and dried ancho chiles with steamed shrimp.
After four days of cooking, Alondra took me on a drive up the coast to her hometown of Tepic. We spent the entire day stopping at beach cafes, eating ceviche, oysters, and redfish cooked over open fires in the sand. In Tepic we visited a small cheese factory where we sampled three different cheeses made from the milk of mountain cows. We spent another day cooking in Alondra’s apartment, preparing refried beans and homemade corn tortillas to dip in charred tomato salsa.
Cooking with Alondra filled me with so much knowledge and appreciation for the ingredients and efforts that go into making the traditional foods of Mexico. The importance of salsa, the simplicity of ingredients, and the stories behind Alondra’s recipes gives me a deeper appreciation for not only Mexican food in general, but particularly the food from the state of Nayarit. Like most countries in the world, the food and traditions change from corner to corner, making each place within special and unique. It is the same in Nayarit, but I not only gained knowledge in its food, I gained a new and dear friend named Alondra.
Stuffed Poblano with Red Chile Sauce
Red Chile Sauce:
To make red chiles sauce, remove the stems and seeds from the ancho chiles and guajillo chiles and discard. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover with 3 cups of hot water. Soak for 30 minutes. Put the chiles and the soaking water into the bowl of a blender. Add the garlic, onion, and salt. Blend until smooth. Pour into a saucepan and bring to a simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
To roast the poblanos, light a gas cooktop and place a chile directly on the grate over the flame. When the bottom of the chile has blackened, turn to blacken all sides. Repeat with three remaining chiles. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cooled. Alternatively, you can place the chiles on a broiler pan and cook in the broiler of your oven, turning the chiles after the tops have dried and blistered (they won’t turn as black as on the stove). When chiles are cooled, carefully peel off the skins, trying not to tear the chiles. Layout the chiles on a board or platter and carefully cut a slit down the center of each (like a pocket). Insert the cheese into the chiles, making sure the slit can still close so the cheese doesn’t ooze out. Use a toothpick to close the slit. Meanwhile, heat a skillet with the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Put the flour onto a plate, and put the beaten eggs and 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a shallow bowl. Coat the outside of each chile with the flour, then coat in the eggs. Place two chiles into the hot oil and fry until the bottom is browned. Using tongs, carefully turn the chile to brown the other side. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining two chiles. To serve, place chiles on a plate and cover with warmed red sauce. Garnish with queso fresco and cilantro.
I’m Chef Shannon Smith, creator of chefshannon.com, a website where I share my travel adventures, cooking experiences, jewelry creations, life stories, world travels, recipes, cooking classes, and jewelry art. In the past ten years, I’ve traveled to 52 countries, and I hope to add at least that many more over the next ten years. In every country, I am blessed to meet interesting people, learn new cultures, and try all kinds of delicious food. I take cooking classes, join food tours, meet with chefs, and often dine with people in their homes or restaurant kitchens. I’ve lived in Tulsa for over 30 years, and I love teaching people how to cook, especially dishes learned while traveling around the world. Some of my favorite cuisines are Indian, Moroccan, Turkish, Israeli, and Italian, although Indian is the cuisine that makes me the happiest. I’ve collected numerous recipes and methods for making delicious food, and I share those recipes on beadsandbasil.com. I teach classes several times a month when my travels allow. Those classes are advertised on the website but are almost always filled within hours after posting, so I also occasionally teach cooking classes to private groups. My readers and viewers get to learn about my cooking adventures, utensils and appliances. At last count, I have eight grills, two tagines, 22 knives, and ninety-four thousand serving dishes - at least according to my husband. My refrigerators are filled with nuts, cheese, and dried fruits I’ve brought from other countries. And my spice cabinets contain a menagerie of exotic and odiferous seeds, pods, and dried herbs that I use so many ways. Jewelry art is my other favorite activity. I create jewelry from beads and trinkets collected on my travels, including amber from Russia and Estonia, glass from Murano, Italy, paper beads from Rwanda, and old Yemen prayer capsules from Israel. I have an Indian friend who has some of the most beautiful semi-precious stones that he cuts into beautiful shapes. Several times a year, I attend national bead and jewelry shows where I search for unusual items to complete my creations. Many more adventures are planned for the future, and I’m excited to share them with you in my monthly column in Values Magazine, including recipes, cooking tips, interviews with my favorite Tulsa area chefs, cookbook recommendations, travel stories, my favorite local food trucks, and ways we can give our time and talents to our fantastic community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram at Chef Shannon.
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