Monday, January 6, 2014

Mexican Lentil Soup

As the weather turns a little colder, even here in mostly sunny Mexico, I tend to go for comfort foods and soups and stews are high on that list. There are so many different dried legumes available here and one of my favorites are lentils.

Here is my recipe for Mexican Lentil Soup:
1 cup dry lentils
2 cups water
1 Tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped (about 1 - 1.5 cup)
1 cup celery, finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
Spices: 1/4 teasp tumeric, 1 teasp chili powder, 1 teasp cumin
1-3/4 cup chopped tomatoes (or 1 can)
2 cups of vegetable broth
1 teasp hotsauce
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Rinse and cook the lentils in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes. Do this first, then start chopping :)
In the meantime, saute onions and celery in olive oil for a few minutes, add garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the spices and cook for a few couple of minutes more.
~ At this point you can transfer all the ingredients to a crockpot, except for the lime juice and cilantro and cook on high for 4 hours - no babysitting needed! or continue in the stockpot and be done in another half hour ~
Add the vegetable broth, tomatoes and hot sauce and let simmer while the lentil are cooking. When the lentils are soft, add them to the stock pot and cook for another 15-30 minutes.
Taste and add salt and pepper how you like it, then add the lime juice and cilantro and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and warm tortillas - Enjoy!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Trip to La Paz - getting there

We left San Carlos on Thursday morning December 5th and headed for Puerto Penasco, with a stop in Santa Ana at our favorite taco stand for lunch. After that it was unknown territory for us and the map was a great help till we turned north on the coast road which suddenly ended after a military check point. There was quite a long stretch of dirt road - no signs at all... hoping we were on the right road, the sun had gone down and it was starting to get dark and chilly. It all turned out ok and we made it to Puerto Penasco. We phoned the little B&B where we had booked for the night and the lady gave us directions as we drove through town. The room was tiny - just room for a queen bed with a foot to spare on either side and a miniscule bathroom but very cute. We had a late dinner by which time it had turned rather cold - for us at least. Being used to temps in the high 70s, mid 40's was decidedly chilly!

Day 2: A chilly start at 7:30 am - the car thermometer read 44F and my fleece jacket was packed in the big suitcase somewhere in the back of the truck...

Sunrise Puerta Penasco

We drove around the top of the Sea of Cortez past some beautiful scenery, most of which is the nature reserve. We went though 4 military check points on the way, which made a total of 7 since we left home! Each time we had to get out of the car, explain where we came from and where we were going and they tapped all the panels of the car with the back of a screwdriver, presumably looking for contraband.
                                          Leaving Sonora, entering Baja California

We made it to San Felipe through road works on Highway 5 at lunch time and had a good look around the town. We stayed there 6 years ago and frankly it hadn't changed all that much. The old grocery store expanded, there was a snazzy new one on the main road but the hustlers on the Malecon were still the same... We drove to our destination south of town, a beautiful location but off the grid - well water, solar energy and it was still very cold (to us) Luckily there were lots of blankets in the room!!

Day 3:                                           South of San Felipe, sun coming up 

 Today was the difficult bit... we had 50 more miles of paved road and then it was 35 miles of very rugged dirt road to join Highway 1, it took us 2-1/2 hours to navigate the rough track but we made it! An hour later we crossed into Baja California Sur (southern Baja), where we were greeted by cloudy skies and cell service :) and the unavoidable roadworks at some point. It seems like most of Mexico is being re-paved!
We stopped in San Ignacio at a beautiful place on the river and stayed in a yurt, which sound a lot more basic than it sounds :)
The inside was beautiful and it had an attached bathroom with hot and cold running water - such a luxury after being off the grid the night before!

                                         Our yurt was called "the African room"

Day 4: It's still chilly (mid 40's which is good considering it's snowing at our place in Colorado!) but we had a lovely breakfast in a tent with gas space heaters warming us up. The coffee went down well as did the homemade sausage and homegrown ham with scrambled eggs. We lingered over coffee, basking in the warmth of the gas fires but eventually had to get on the road. We drove to Santa Rosalia, where the ferry from Guaymas (close to our home in San Carlos) docks - talk about a short cut.. very industrial and not much to see. Next stop Mulege, where we drove to the lighthouse and DH had a beer on the beach (so we could use their rest room!) We followed the coast road past Bahia Conception to Loreta, a cute town with a Malacon and a huge cruise ship just off shore (that ship will be in Guaymas the day after!) further south past Loreta Bay - gorgeous scenery and sea views and then across the mountains to the cent of the Baja and finally we stopped in Cuidad Constitucion in a lovely little motel but no dinner to be had - it's Sunday: everything is closed except for coffeeshops and taco stands. We checked out which taco stand had the most locals attending and had some great food. DH had quesedillas and I had carne asada (beef) tacos in maize tortillas.

Day 5: The last leg of our journey to La Paz. This was a relative short drive about 3-4 hours through the mountains and then that gorgeous view of the sea.

It's been a wonderful trip driving down but we may take the ferry on the way back....  We are enjoying our stay in La Paz and should be here till the end of the year. We have explored around the city and area around it - lots of fun!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Green beans

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and that made me consider all the traditional dishes that go with that meal. Most of them are high in fat, sodium, sugar and calories and are not good for us.
For example the green bean casserole, traditionally made with canned cream of mushroom soup and topped with french fried onions. High in sodium and full of ingredients I cannot pronounce, let alone know what they are - mostly likely not anything that was meant to be consumed..

When I think of green beans, it takes me back to Sunday dinners at my grandmother's: boiled potatoes, simmered flank steak in clear gravy and green beans with bacon, all made from scratch of course.

Here is how I make her green beans:

- 4-6 rashers of bacon, chopped
- 1/4 cup of diced onion (optional)
- 4 cups of fresh green beans, washed and the ends trimmed
- dash of black pepper

Fry the bacon and onions till the bacon is almost crispy
Add the beans and pepper, stir fry till parts start to brown
Add 1/3 cup of water
Cover and let simmer for about 7 minutes or till the beans are done how you like them (I like mine al dente)

This makes a great substitute for the traditional Thanksgiving dish. Add some sweet potatoes and turkey - enjoy!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sweet potatoes

Next week will be Thanksgiving in the US, with family and friends gathering and all that wonderful food. Getting up at 4am to start the turkey, dealing with kids, family and willing helpers getting under your feet in the kitchen. With a bit of luck the table looks perfect, all the food turns out great and you sit down to give thanks and enjoy a great meal - gone in half an hour! Everyone is stuffed to the gills and ready for a nap after all that filling and not necessarily very healthy food... We won't even talk about the state of the kitchen (pressure washer anyone?)

There must be a better way! One of my favorite fall foods is sweet potatoes. The traditional Thanksgiving dish is the casserole with either a marshmellow or pecan and brown sugar topping - high in calories, sugar and fat. A great substitute for the casserole is grilling the sweet potatoes. I use a grill pan but they can be done on a charcoal, gas or electric grill. If you live anywhere where the weather is nice, an outdoor grill is the way to go. 

4-5 sweet potatoes
olive oil
fresh rosemary (or dried italian herbs)
sea salt

Put the whole potatoes in a sauce pan and boil for about 10 minutes, till tender but still firm.
Drain and cool on a (paper) towel for about 5 minutes and then slice crosswise to 1/2" thickness.
Preheat the grill (pan) on medium heat.
Brush the potato slices on either side with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and herbs.
Grill until lightly brown, about 3 mins on either side.



Friday, November 15, 2013

Shrimp from the Sea of Cortez

Shrimp season in San Carlos is from early September to sometime in April with the best shrimp being caught early in the season. There are several ways to shop for shrimp: from vendors at the side of the road, Tony's Market, the Sunday market at Empalme or from our friends in the fishing village of El Colorado, 35 miles north up the coast from here.

The first thing you notice is how large the shrimp are, some larger than my thumb from tip to wrist. They vary in color from blue to brown. You normally buy them by the kilo (2.2 pounds) which is about 25-30 large shrimp, heads already off, but still needing to be deveined and shelled.

A kilo of shrimp in my sink                                       Cleaned and ready to cook

Once the shrimp are cleaned I season them with salt and pepper (more than you'd think you would need), garlic and olive oil. My favorite way to cook them is my large grill pan for about 5 minutes, turning them over half way. After which, I add a splash of white wine, cover and cook on low for another 2-3 minutes.

This is my basic shrimp recipe - now they are cooked I can make all sorts of dishes, warm or cold.

I like to serve the shrimp with sauteed vegetables over rice: sliced bell peppers in a variety of colors, onions, chopped jalepeno for some spice, and fresh cilantro. With avocado and tortillas on the side makes for a lovely meal.

If, and that can be a big if, there are any shrimp leftover they are great on salads. Here are 2 different ones I like to make:

1. Baby spinach, topped with walnuts, avocado, dried cranberries and goat cheese, a little honey mustard dressing and shrimp.
2. Lettuce with tomatoes, cucumber, walnuts and feta cheese, dressing (choose your favorite!) and shrimp.

Tacos, salads, shrimp cocktail and curries - the  possibilities are endless. How do you like your shrimp?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Walking around Alamos

Mexico has a wonderful history and one of the places worth a visit is Alamos, a colonial town founded in the late 17th century when silver was discovered in the region. The center of town features the church and the Plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial homes with covered verandas (portales).

From the plaza cobble stone roads take you all over town and the best way to see everything is to go for a walk - great exercise, especially when taking the road to the place where we were staying, which was quite steep (much steeper than it looks in the picture!). We were feeling our muscles by the end of a couple of days of going up and down those roads.

Alamos has a great market which can be reached from the main plaza through the "kissing alley". In the indoor market you can find fresh fruit and vegetables, a butcher and a tortilla maker - everything you would need for your day to day fresh home cooked meal. I can't help but thinking how nice it would be to have a nice stroll to market, get your fresh food for the day, hike back to the house and then cook a healthy meal with all the wonderful produce you picked up that morning.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gone fishing

One of the advantages of living in beautiful San Carlos is the opportunitiy to enjoy the outdoors - kayaking, hiking, biking, swimming in the sea and of course fishing. I had never been fishing before so when a few years ago we were invited along on a early morning fishing trip, we were thrilled. It was a blustery, cloudy day mid December with choppy seas. Being an island girl that didn't bother me at all, quite the opposite. We set off at 6am, a little later than planned and had a wonderful day on the water. The fishing was excellent and although I hadn't planned to take the rod I ended up catching a handful of barracudas and 2 yellowtail. Hauling in a big fish is a lot harder than I thought it would be - great workout for the biceps! The total tally of yellowtail for the whole group was 7, anything from 25 to 35 pounds each.

The fish was cleaned on the boat and we were given neatly filleted fish to take home.

There is nothing so delicious as fish you have caught yourself, fresh out of the ocean. I cooked mine coated in a little ranch dressing, italian herbs and garlic on a bed of onions and bell peppers.

Served with carrots, roasted potatoes and a side salad, it made for a delicious, nutritious and healthy meal.

Going fishing and then being able to enjoy our catch was a wonderful experience. There is so much beautiful produce and fresh seafood available here and there are so many different ways to concoct a colorful, healthy meal with it - the possibilities are endless!