Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gazpacho a la Mexicana

When my mother was newly widowed, my sisters and I encouraged her to take a trip to Spain with people her age and that is how she came to visit that country for the first time. Our mother, with her youthful and positive attitude was soon the star of the traveling group and the tour guide's pet. Speaking Spanish certainly was a plus; she was the one septuagenarian in the group who was linguistically and culturally independent.  She returned from this month long trip full of stories of her adventures in Spain.

One day, a few months after she had returned, we sat on her bed, chatting about the trip as we went through brochures of places in Spain she had visited. Among the piles of papers was a recipe typed with a Royal typewriter on onion skin paper.  A recipe for gazpacho. I wish I could remember what she told me that day about the exact circumstances in which she was given this recipe by a waiter in a restaurant.

The truth is, my mother always had a way of inspiring people to do things for her. Apparently, as best I can recall, my mother had so much enjoyed this gazpacho—something she had tasted for the first time in Spain—that she had asked the waiter how it was made. The waiter, an old gentleman, disappeared long enough to type out the recipe and proudly hand it to her. I still have the original copy of the recipe.

For me, also, it was the first time I had eaten gazpacho and I found it to be such a perfect way to blend the bounty of summer into one fresh taste. My husband adores this, but when he's not around, I add chile to it (He doesn't tolerate chiles.) to give it a bit of Mexican flavor.

Gazpacho a la Mexicana

Recipe Type: appetiser, soup

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Serves: 4


  • 5 medium tomatoes or an equivalent quantity of cherry tomatoes (they're sweeter)

  • 1 quarter medium yellow or red onion

  • 1 large peeled cucumber (save the other half for garnish)

  • 1/2 of a red bell pepper

  • 1 clove garlic

  • 2 slices old French bread

  • Jalapeño or serrano pepper added as needed

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (the best quality you have)

  • 2 tbls white vinegar (or more if you prefer)

  • Sea salt to taste


  1. Blend all the ingredients starting first with the tomatoes, then the bell pepper and garlic

  2. Add the oil and vinegar and then the rest of the ingredients.

  3. Serve chilled with garnish of chopped, sliced, cucumbers, fresh corn kernels, and croutons sprinkled on top of each bowl of gazpacho.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Crossing Frontiers of the Mind

This 4th of July was a quiet one for me, nothing like others in the past. Those, both of my childhood and my past adult life, were filled with outdoor parties, carne asada on a big grill, plenty of pico de gallo, frijoles borrachos, slices of crispy watermelon, lemonade. The carefree laughter of children darting among the adults, chasing illusive fireflies in the last streaks of fading sunlight.  Most memorable is one when, newly arrived here in the nation's capital, my husband, our son, Alex, and I went on bicycles to the mall to watch the fireworks.  The  evening was full of pure wonder and delight, all three of us thrilled to see the fireworks against the silhouette of the Washington Monument.

Today, through my window, I see the flags on every lawn, planted into the ground every year by someone in the neighborhood. It would surprise most people that for me these flags make my heart heavy and my soul mournful. For me, they stand for things other than backyard parties.  They represent an image in slow motion of folded flags handed to grieving mothers by white-gloved hands on splendid lawns with geometrically aligned rows of new tombstones, draped caskets of beloved youth. They bring forth in me a need to understand what cannot be explained.

In spite of the path I've walked, I remain a person who dreams fervently of an enlightened world where there is compassion, tolerance, and understanding as opposed to ignorance, hate, and fear...a world where truth and justice reign. And I believe in a sense of common responsibility. In the words of Chilean poet, Gabriela Mistral:

"Donde haya un árbol que plantar, plántalo tú. Donde haya un error que enmendar, enmiéndalo tú. Donde haya un esfuerzo que todos esquivan, hazlo tú. Sé tú el que aparta la piedra del camino."

(“Where there is a tree to plant, plant it yourself. Where there is an wrong to right, do it yourself. Where there is an effort that others avoid, do it yourself. Be the one that moves the stone from the road.”)

How better to attempt to bring about change than to teach? I am truly fortunate.

As a teacher of foreign languages, I have, with the help of teacher colleagues, for the past 4 years worked on a program of language and cultural immersion, taking middle school boys to Mexico to experience first hand  the culture of a country that has been so maligned by the U.S. media. In San Miguel de Allende they are introduced to authentic Mexican food, weaned from soft drinks only to discover the fresh aguas naturales for which Mexico is known.  They take cooking classes, play soccer and basketball with the locals.  They learn to dance, study Spanish, perform community service, and learn to acknowledge adults when they enter a room unlike many of their adolescent peers on this side of the border.

Through them I undoubtedly touch the future. I stand back and watch in awe at how they begin to see the world from a new perspective, because:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

I am including a recipe for frijoles borrachos as my parents made them when I was a child, so many July Fourths ago. Later this week, I look forward to bringing you some of the recipes I discovered in San Miguel de Allende with my brood of students.

Frijoles Borrachos

Recipe Type: Side dish

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Serves: 8

My mother always had beans in the house. They were made in a clay pot, but they are perfectly fine cooked in anything other than clay.  Once they are cooking at a low flame you don't have to "watch" them.

  • 1 lb. pinto beans

  • 3 serrano peppers

  • 3 strips bacon (chopped in 1 inch pieces and browned separately)

  • 1 onion (chopped)

  • 3 tomatoes (chopped)

  • cilantro to taste, chopped (about 1 cup)

  • salt to taste (about 1 tbsp)

  • cup beer

  1. Clean the beans, picking out bits of dirt from them and rinse them; you do not have to soak them overnight.

  2. In 5-6 qrt. kettle, cover them with plenty of water, bring them to a boil, lower the heat and cover.

  3. After about an hour, when they've lost their spotted color, add the salt and allow them to continue to cook for another forty minutes approximately, or until they are almost completely soft. Smash a few of them with a large spoon or a potato ricer so that they create a bit of "sauce."

  4. Add the chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, cooked bacon with some of the bacon fat, and serrano peppers; cook for a half hour more and then add the chopped cilantro and beer allowing the flavors to blend for another 10 minutes.