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    Pacific Flavors


    Fusion Food Cookbook

    Hot Wok

    Hot Chicken

    Hot Pasta

    Hot Barbecue

    Hot Vegetables

    Quick Cooking with Pacific Flavors

    Great Ribs

    Fast Appetizers

    Wok Fast

    Fast Entrées

    Fast Fish

    The Great Wings Cookbook


    SEPTEMBER 17, 1982–OCTOBER 25, 2006






















    Our history of San Miguel de Allende begins with the missionary activities of Franciscan Father Juan de San Miguel in 1542 and stretches for centuries along the route from Guanajuato to Mexico City. When Father Juan arrived in this area to build his first “conversion chapel” at San Miguel Viejo, he was hoping to attract the previously nomadic local Indians (called Chicimecas by their more sophisticated peers, the Aztecs who had made their capital south, in Mexico City) and the Otomi Indians. Over several hundred years, many chapels were built for the Indians, mostly along a route that stretches roughly from the great pyramid site (now called Cañada de la Virgen) to the ritual hot springs at Atotonilco, where the Jesuit Father Alfaro (Padre Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro) built his magnificent church starting in 1740, right on top of the Indians’ sacred springs, in hopes that they would join the new faith. Father Alfaro employed a skilled Indian painter called Pocasangre (Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre) to bring the entire New Testament to life through detailed murals on the walls of his glorious edifice. And he finally succeeded in converting many.

    The ritual dances of the Indian cultures are taught to the youngest San Miguel residents.

    City founder Father Juan de San Miguel’s image is still evident in several of the town squares.

    During the 1600s, San Miguel had become a successful merchant town serving the silver mining industry, which thrived in the area of Guanajuato. The route, which later would bring independence fighters to battle in Guanajuato, brought the silver traders on the way to Queretero, Mexico City, and beyond to Europe. In the year 1700, 90 percent of the silver mined in the world came from one mine: the Valenciana mine in Guanajuato. The great families of San Miguel, such as the Allendes, the Canals, and the Aldamas, grew and prospered through manufacturing, ranching, commerce, and banking. Their houses can still be visited around the main plaza (zócalo) called El Jardin, in front of the landmark church La Parroquia.

    The colonial government allowed these Spanish-blooded families to prosper, but they could not participate in the highest levels of the colonial government or armed forces if they had not been born in Spain. A huge level of resentment was generated against the overarching colonial government of Spain. The independence movement had been successful in the United States in 1776, and there were many ongoing movements for self-government throughout Latin America during the early 1800s. In the San Miguel area, an unlikely coalition developed among the terribly overworked laborers, mostly Indians and mestizos (mixed race); their supporters, the Catholic clergy; and the Creoles (criollos, or full-blooded Spaniards born in Mexico).

    By the year 1810, centuries of grievances produced a secret conspiracy of independence planners. The clandestine meetings were held at the house of the sub-governor of Queretero and his wife, Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, in Queretero. Their plan was to attack the Spanish barracks in Guanajuato in October 1810, but word leaked out to the Spanish. An adrenal-charged group of rebel leaders, including General Ignacio Allende and Juan Aldama, gathered the few men they could in San Miguel, and went to Dolores to meet up with their co-conspirator, Father Hidalgo (Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo), a Jesuit priest. On the morning of September 16, 1810, Father Hidalgo made his famous call for liberty, El Grito de Dolores (The Cry of Dolores), on the steps of the main church, his church, in the center of town. Then the small group of independence fighters marched on throughout the area to gather men. They stopped at the Church of Atotonilco (Santuario de Atotonilco), where Father Hidalgo grabbed a banner with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), beloved to the common people, who listened to Hidalgo’s call for liberty and justice. Hundreds of men joined the ranks in Atotonilco because they had been attending a spiritual retreat there.

    The Parroquia church in the center of San Miguel.

    A statue of a leader of the independence movement, Father Hidalgo.

    This first independence army, mostly on foot and armed with machetes, clubs, slingshots, and bows and arrows, continued to gather fighters. They finally reached the mountainous city of Guanajuato, home of the Valenciana silver mine.

    The Spanish soldiers had, of course, been warned of the coming insurrection and had moved with their families into the fortified granary (alhóndiga) building in the center of the city. From this strategic location, they were able to fire their rifles from the rooftops down on the freedom fighters. Machetes and rocks were useless weapons in this situation.

    A very strong and brave Indian miner, called simply Pipila, strapped a slab of stone onto his back for protection and took a flaming torch up to the great wooden doors of the granary. He successfully ignited the doors, and soon the first legendary battle for independence from Spain was won by the Allende–Hidalgo coalition of insurgents. All of these brave early leaders were eventually killed during the ten long years of the independence movement, but their energy lives on.

    We visualize this history when we enjoy a musical performance in the main plaza, El Jardin, in front of the Allende family home; when we drive along the route to Atotonilco to enjoy a gourmet lunch or folk-art shopping; or continue on to Dolores Hidalgo for a few pieces of their famous Talavera-style pottery (an industry founded by the revolutionary priest Father Hidalgo). The legendary figures and places introduced here are still exerting a magnetic presence today along these historic roads.



    Mexican Flavors does for Mexican cooking what our cookbook Pacific Flavors did for Asian cuisine. It makes Mexican flavors accessible to American cooks by using everyday American preparation and cooking techniques matched with Mexican ingredients available at American supermarkets. The book provides a road map to re-creating the best flavor memories of Mexico in your kitchen. This is American cooking with a Mexican flair.

    Of all the places we have visited in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende has been the most unique. Located high in the mountains north of Mexico City, this colonial town is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2013, the readers of Condé Nast Traveler called San Miguel “the World’s Best City” and described the town with these words: “great atmosphere, excellent restaurants, culture and ambiance galore, romantically and historically beautiful, and an amazing place to be.” San Miguel de Allende is known for its art galleries, craft shops, outdoor markets, art and language institutes, fine restaurants, and a large expatriate population drawn from all over the world. It’s a town of cobblestone streets, endless holy days, fiestas, vibrant colors, pealing bells, and celebrations.

    Traditional snack foods, such as peanuts and corn on the cob, are available from street carts in San Miguel.

    Around every corner are exciting taste sensations. Taco stands feature goat, chicken, and pork seasoned with Tomatillo Salsa. A few steps farther, white crunchy jicama are cut into thick strips and seasoned with lime, ancho chile powder, and cilantro. Why stop eating? There’s the famous café specializing in hot chocolate and great Mexican coffee best enjoyed with Mexican doughnuts, or churros, hot from the oil—a sugar-coated and textural marvel. Put on your gastronomic training wheels. Across El Jardin is Restaurant Don Thomas, famous for its version of the classic dish Sopa Azteca. The soup is a combination of rich tomato broth, thick slabs of avocado, crisp tortilla strips, and a whole chipotle chile floating on the surface.

    We’ve both experienced the magic of Mexico since the 1960s, first as high school and college students crossing Mexico in dilapidated vans, and later on many trips together beginning with an engagement getaway to Oaxaca in April 1985. San Miguel was always on the bucket list. We’d heard the descriptors: “high desert town,” “masses of Texans,” and “lots of artists”—good for a brief visit, and then we would move onward to more interesting areas. With three other couples from Napa Valley, we arrived late one night in September 2000 for a five-day trip—our first and only visit to San Miguel, that was for certain.

    Arriving late at night, the narrow cobblestoned street twisted into the shadows, and a profound stillness concentrated our attention. Through an open entry door, we passed into an ancient colonial fantasy of stone arches, tiled floors, and a rush of tropical plants, home to world-champion ice skater and artist Toller Cranston. Fantastic, alluring, captivating: We couldn’t wait to see more after a short sleep. Our trip turned into five nights of parties, five days of exploring up and down the cobblestone streets, in and out of bars and nightclubs. We left no restaurant menu unexplored, no taco stand ignored, and no welcome unannounced to a growing group of new friends seen in El Jardin, at gallery openings, and along the narrow streets. And on day five, just before a rush to the airport, we bought a historic colonial home on Calle Hospicio. So much for escaping the clutches of boring San Miguel.

    We entered a new chapter of frequent San Miguel visits after that trip. Buying property in Mexico has a certain Mad Hatter element. The Calle Hospicio purchase was, as it turned out, unrealized, as were several other real-estate deals over the years. Our thoughts turned to our Napa Valley cooking school and to how much fun it would be to share our enthusiasm for San Miguel and our love of Mexican cooking. In 2006, we offered our first six-day program—a mix of cooking classes taught by chefs in their restaurant kitchens and classes taught by us in private homes.

    Three years later, bed-and-breakfast owner Dianne Kushner built an event center just outside town. For the next five years, all our cooking programs were held at that property. With its two indoor kitchens, an outdoor kitchen, a vaulted dining room, and a garden pool cascading down the hill, its charm was palpable. Working in cooking teams, with spirits strengthened by the Mexican coffee Café de Olla and chilled Cucumber Tea, we cooked each morning for a couple of hours, followed by lunch using the recipes in this cookbook.

    Now we’ve entered a new chapter in partnership with the deluxe Sierra Nevada Hotel (part of the Orient-Express Hotels). The classes are held in their beautiful cooking school, Sazón, located in a historical colonial building in the heart of San Miguel. With plenty of room for all of us to participate, we barbecue quail (Grilled Quail with Hibiscus Sauce, roast giant prawns (Cilantro Soup with Prawns, and make chocolate truffles (Mexican Chocolate Truffles). The same recipes we teach at Camp San Miguel are found in this cookbook.

    Mexican Cooking and Its Food

    UNESCO has honored Mexican cuisine with the first-ever award for Intangible Cultural Property. The following is adapted from the United Nations definition of Mexican food:

    “Traditional Mexican cuisine is a comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners. It is made possible by collective participation in the entire traditional food chain: from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating. The basis of the system is founded on corn, beans, and chiles; unique farming methods such as milpas (rotating swidden fields of corn and other crops) and chinampas (man-made islets in lake areas); cooking processes such as nixtamalization (lime-hulling maize which increases its nutritional value); and singular utensils including grinding stones and stone mortars. Native ingredients such as varieties of tomatoes, squashes, avocados, cocoa, and vanilla augment the basic staples. Mexican cuisine is elaborate and symbol laden, with everyday tortillas and tamales, both made of corn, forming an integral part of festival days throughout the year. Collectives of female cooks and other practitioners devoted to raising crops and traditional cuisine are found across Mexico. Their knowledge and techniques express community identity, reinforce social bonds, and build stronger local, regional, and national identities.”

    There is no better description of what makes Mexican food “Mexican” than the United Nations summary. The cuisine is diverse. Although Spanish is the common language, there are more than sixty native languages spoken and thousands of unique dishes. Americans’ knowledge about Mexican food is largely limited to tacos, enchiladas, chiles rellenos, burritos, guacamole, salsa, and margaritas, which barely begin to represent Mexico’s vast recipe collection.

    But America’s perception of Mexican food is changing. Nearly every American town has a Chipotle Mexican Grill, with its emphasis on fresh ingredients, a menu dominated by guacamole hand-mashed three times a day, and dishes such as carnitas, barbacoa, adobo-marinated grilled steak, and soft tacos. At the other end of the gastronomic spectrum are Rick Bayless (of Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in Chicago), Diana Kennedy and her numerous Mexican cookbooks, and chefs and cookbook authors Roberto Santibanez, Thomas Schnetz, and Scott Linquist, to name a few who are the harbingers of a sophisticated style of Mexican fine dining.

    There are many such restaurants now in San Miguel. Owner-chef Donnie Masterton at The Restaurant is continually pushing culinary boundaries. A recent menu included a dish called Chile-Dusted Crispy Shrimp Taco on Jicama Tortilla with Lime and Chile Arbol. Another favorite is his homemade ravioli filled with a local goat cheese in a cilantro butter with toasted walnuts and crispy sage. From this restaurant, it’s just a short walk along the narrow cobblestone streets to the ultrasophisticated Hotel Matilda. Here the food is created by the famous Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera. Some of his dishes are Beef Tartar with Serrano Pepper and Goat Buttermilk Crepe; Lamb Empanadas with Molcajete Hot Sauce; and a dessert of Candied Guava Paste with Rice Ice Cream. These examples only scratch the surface of the exciting contemporary food being cooked by Mexican chefs at restaurants across their country.

    How to Use This Book

    The theme of this cookbook is contemporary. Not every recipe is easy (Pulled Pork with Chiles, Orange, and Cilantro, and not every recipe is old school (Fusion Empanadas). The recipes capture the essence of Mexican cooking—its unique flavors.

    Mexican food is driven by ingredients. We use the freshest ingredients from local organic growers, dairy farmers, and ranchers to procure the highest quality and most responsibly raised products available. Key ingredients are achiote paste, avocado, beans, chiles, chocolate, cilantro, corn, limes, spices (particularly cinnamon, coriander, and cumin), tomatoes, and tropical fruits. Before you get started cooking, please read through Chapter 1, Flavor Building Blocks. All special ingredients are defined along with storage information, possible substitutions, and mail-order sources. Nearly all ingredients can be found at typical American supermarkets.

    Mexican food is labor-intensive. Traditionally many recipes were prepared with a laborious grinding in a mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock. Electric blenders entered the Mexican kitchen in the 1950s and revolutionized the cuisine. It greatly shortened the preparation time of many dishes, including their famous moles. But some of Mexico’s most famous dishes, such as tamales and empanadas, don’t appear in this cookbook because of their time-consuming nature. Other recipes, such as the marvelous Chiles Rellenos, we recommend serving to only a group of four people, because they can be so labor-intensive.

    Here are some key things to remember as you dive into the recipes:

    1. Read through the recipe completely before beginning.

    2. If you have difficulty finding certain ingredients, refer to Chapter 1, Flavor Building Blocks, for easily available substitutes. It is especially important to read the section about chiles and their substitutes here.

    3. All recipes give the serving size. Most recipes serve 4 to 6, but an occasional recipe is better made for a larger group, such as Mexican Seafood Risotto. If doubling a recipe, double all of the ingredients except for the salt, garlic, and chiles. Increase these by 1½ times.

    4. All recipes indicate how far in advance the preparation stages can be completed. Many of the recipes can be prepped a day in advance.

    5. Last, we encourage you to write on the recipes. Make notes, add the date served, to whom you served it, and rank the recipe from 1 to 10, with 10 being perfection. Think of this book as your gastronomic diary. We hope that one day it will find its way to a young cook who shares your passion.

    In the produce markets, small farmers bring the freshest handpicked ingredients to sell. Here we see chiles and xoconostle, or the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, which is called nopal in Spanish.

    Menu Planning

    Don’t start your Mexican cooking adventure by planning a dinner party for forty. Begin by preparing and cooking just one Mexican dish and fitting it into an American menu. In this way, you can become comfortable with the Mexican flavor palate, preparation techniques, and cooking procedures. By serving just one Mexican dish as part of the menu, its unique aspects will be celebrated.

    Think “we” instead of “I” for a Mexican dinner. Invite a group of cooking friends over and ask each to bring a dish from this book. Delegate and make your Mexican dinner a “we” event.

    Use the recipes in this book to inspire trips to trendy Mexican restaurants, whether near your home or in one of Mexico’s romantic colonial cities. Mexican Flavors provides the kind of recipes we teach at Camp San Miguel. If you can’t travel to San Miguel, cooking from this book is the next best thing to being at our side.

    Begin the adventure.


    Chapter 1


    Good cooking begins with great ingredients. This means not only purchasing the freshest vegetables, seafood, meats, and herbs, but also choosing the best types o


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