Taste Testing: Fresh Mexico by Marcela Valladolid

Fresh Mexico by Marcela Valladolid

Marcela Valladolid grew up in two worlds, frequently crossing the San Ysidro international border into Tijuana from San Diego. As a result, her tastebuds have spent a lifetime negotiating the difference between the fresh seasonal Mexican fare her mother made and its oddly endearing American counterpart. As Valladolid so eloquently puts it, "There is no yellow cheese in Mexico!" Valladolid's mission then is to translate authentic and delicious Mexican recipes for the kind of home cook who can't commit to shopping for exotic ingredients or complex cooking techniques. An accomplished single mother, she pulls off the task with aplomb in her new cookbook Fresh Mexico.

The Meal

Whenever fall rolls around I positively lust for pumpkin and squash. My hunger for this gorgeous gourd was aroused when I saw the recipe for Butternut Squash-Chipotle Bisque. But traditional bisques can be so creamy and filling that it becomes a problem for those of us watching our waistlines. The best thing about this recipe is that Valladolid relies on the natural creamy texture of the main ingredient. The chipotle-cream is added in a delectable dollop just before serving. The crunchy pumpkin seeds are the bonus. If you want to make preparation even easier, I'd say splurge and buy an immersion blender for pureeing the soup. It's an investment that will pay for itself in no time.

My guests for this meal were a couple of serious fish eaters. I was a little nervous about serving something I'd never made before but I needn't have worried. Valladolid's Salmon with a Sweet Potato Crust and Smoked Salmon-Chile Mulato Sauce can be summed up in one word: perfect. I would suggest you double the recipe for the sauce and experiment the way I did! It works equally well on pasta, chicken or even your morning bagel the day after. This one's a keeper.

I was in a real rush to get dessert finished on time so when I saw the estimated cooking time for the Cocada I was sold! There are so very many different ways to make this dish, but it simply doesn't get easier than this recipe. It took me exactly 23 minutes start to finish, beat that Rachel Ray! Once you have the recipe down you can play with it and increase the condensed milk for a creamier bar or toast the coconut for longer if you (as I do) prefer more crunch.

I'm not always sure that other people take the transmission of culture through food as seriously as I do though, and that can leave me feeling a little lonely in the kitchen. So it's wonderful to see a successful Latina chef like Marcella Valladolid forging a new path in the culinary world without abandoning the traditions and flavors of her family.