Friday, November 25, 2011

Carrot Soup

My mother was born near the beginning of the Great Depression in the dusty cattle town of Sonora, Texas, to parents who never quite assimilated. My Mexican grandparents had crossed the border into the United States to escape the violence of the Mexican revolution but, for a variety of reasons, they never returned to their mother country.

I've often wondered how the family handled Thanksgiving in those early years, whether they celebrated it at all when they first arrived in Sonora.  I'm sure the turkey thing bewildered them and pumpkin pie, too, since in Mexico pumpkin was something they put in their empanadas or made into calabaza en tacha, not into an open-faced pie. Who knows if my grandparents ever prepared a Thanksgiving meal such as we know it today, Norman Rockwell-style. Their main concern was finding a way to feed eleven hungry mouths in a place where Mexicans were regularly rounded up by the U.S. authorities and sent back to Mexico.

Years later, when we celebrated Thanksgiving in our home in Laredo, my mother would invite my aunt and her family who  lived at the time in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. My Mexican relatives joined us for what was a yearly American tradition in our family. It didn't surprise me as a child; I took it for granted. But it fascinates me now to know that my mother absorbed Thanksgiving and other American traditions so readily.

This year, I spent Thanksgiving in Houston with my sister and her family.  I immediately noticed that she'd unwrapped and placed on the table the whimsical ceramic Puritan figurines that once graced my mother's table.  I chuckled and remembered  past Thanksgivings, thinking of loved ones and how, even absent, they influence our lives.

My son would have loved the recipe here, an elegant carrot soup that my good friend, Doña Beatriz of Casa Carmen, makes  from chicken stock.  I made it after Thanksgiving with a stock made from leftover turkey bones.
Carrot Soup

Recipe Type: Soup

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time:

Cook time:

Total time:

Serves: 8


  • Turkey or chicken stock

  • 1 ¾ lbs of carrots unpeeled, chopped in 1 inch sections

  • 2 tablespoons thyme

  • Sea salt to taste


  1. Boil the chopped carrots in the clear stock until they are completely soft, about 10 minutes.

  2. Strain them out of the soup and place in a blender with a few ladles full of the soup.

  3. Blend until it is completely smooth, then return the blended carrots to the soup pot.

  4. Add thyme and boil for another 15-20 minutes until the soup acquires a velvety consistency.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanks for Thanksgiving

Photo courtesy of Joe Duran a.k.a. Uncle Joe
I’m sitting by the window on a rainy autumn day.  The leaves have fallen from the trees, save for a few stragglers, and I already miss the way the vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds look against dark branches and blue skies.

This is comfort-food weather and a homemade soup is gurgling on the stove while I listen to a talk radio show about the origins of Thanksgiving.  One of the guests is food historian Andrew F. Smith who dedicates a chapter of his book, Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine, to the real Thanksgiving story.  I hear him say that the Pilgrim-centric Thanksgiving story is a complete myth (no surprise) but I'm flummoxed when I realize how little I know about the holiday I've celebrated every year since I can remember.

It is true that in 1621 the Pilgrims and a group of local Indians shared a meal together, but it was unplanned.  The colonists had just harvested their crops and the then-governor declared it a holiday.  This happened concurrent with a treaty signing between the English colonists and local Native American tribe of which ninety members paid a surprise visit to the colony and shared in the festivities to consummate the treaty.  But this was not a regular occurrence and it was not referred to as Thanksgiving.  Rather, the Pilgrims celebrated many days of “thanksgiving,” a tradition with religious underpinnings that the Europeans brought with them to the New World and which entailed spending the day in solemn worship.

Over the course of the next two hundred years, the religious tradition of giving thanks to God after the fall harvest became more secularized.  In 1841, Alexander Young, a Unitarian minister, published a research paper about the colonists, adding commentary in a footnote that the 1621 event was the first of many Thanksgiving feasts.

Twenty-two years later, Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer who believed that if the nation celebrated a holiday together (at the time there were only two national holidays, George Washington’s birthday and the Fourth of July), its people were destined to be united in all things.  She thusly published a novel in which she wrote a scene about a quintessentially festive dinner of roasted turkey, cranberries and pies, the model for the modern-day Thanksgiving meal.

Hale gained notoriety and became an influential writer and editor with a broad readership.  Over the years, she successfully lobbied Congress and other politicians to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday.  In August of 1863,  at the height of the Civil War and just after the battles at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, victories for which the North was surely thankful, President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday.

All of this makes me reflect on how traditions and cuisines evolve over time, shaped by socio-political trends and cultural milieux like beach glass smoothed by ocean waves.  I think about how this happens when immigrants arrive and assimilate in any new country.  According to Smith, the
[r]apid adoption of the Thanksgiving myth has less to do with historical fact and more to do with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In the face of this great wave of immigrants from so many lands, the public education system’s major task was to Americanize them by creating a common understanding of the nation’s history, in particular an easily understood history of America.

America is a melting pot, as the saying goes, and I'm thankful for its diversity of people and ideas, important ingredients in an open and democratic society.  I'm also very grateful to be the product of two cultures and for all the perspective that this affords me.  And while Thanksgiving isn't the result of two different communities coming together in appreciation of their cultural differences as we were taught in grade school, I nonetheless appreciate the evolution of a holiday that brings people together to share a home-cooked meal.

So, this year, I say thanks for Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Alba's Carrot Salad

My husband's cousin, Alba Carbonaro, is an accomplished cook and personal chef. Her Carrot Salad of Maghreb is from the region of Northwest Africa, including Tunisia, where Alba was born and raised. But the fragrance and flavors are also undeniably familiar to the Mexican palate: garlic, pepper flakes, cumin, and cilantro. When I tasted it for the first time it felt like a tangy recombination of the spices I grew up with. This dish (slightly adapted here) will have everyone asking to "pass the carrots" at your Thanksgiving table.
Alba's Carrot Salad

Recipe Type: Side Dish

Author: Adapted from Alba Carbonaro's Recipe

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 10 mins

Total time: 30 mins

Serves: 8


  • 1 lb carrots (you don't have to peel them)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 tsp ground cumin or 3 tsp whole cumin which you grind in a mortar (or molcajete) for a fresh taste

  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

  • 1/4 cup water (use the water from the boiled carrots)

  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves


  1. Cook the whole carrots(without the green part) in salted boiling water until they are tender, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the carrots. Drain well and cut them into ¼ inch rounds

  2. Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, cumin, and red pepper flakes and heat until aromatic, about 1 minute.

  3. Add the warm carrots, 1/4 cup water and vinegar. Simmer over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove the garlic pieces and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add the fresh cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.


If you refrigerate it, be sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

Roasted Beets with Orange Slices

Roasted Beets with Blood Orange Slices

Recipe Type: Side Dish

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 30 mins

Total time: 50 mins

Serves: 2 - 4


  • 1½ lbs beets

  • 4 blood oranges (or regular oranges)

  • ½ cup walnuts

  • ½ cup chopped cilantro

  • cup water for the bottom of baking pan

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

  • Sea salt


  1. Preparation:

  2. Remove the greens and wash the beets thoroughly. Place them on a baking dish in which they all fit snugly.  Pour the water into the pan so that it covers about ¼ inch of the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the vegetables with the oil. Sprinkle with salt to taste and cover with aluminum foil. Cook at 350 degrees for approximately 45 to 60 minutes until you can pierce the beets with a fork all the way through.

  3. While the beets are cooking, remove the peel from the oranges with a sharp paring knife. Cut in slices, starting from the end of the orange. Put aside.

  4. Remove the beets from the oven and peel them. Quarter them and arrange them in a serving dish.  Add the orange slices, cilantro, and walnuts.  Taste again for salt, toss carefully, and drizzle with more oil if needed.

Floria's Pumpkin Empanadas

Recipe Type: Dessert

Prep time: 45 mins

Cook time: 8 mins

Total time: 53 minsHome

Serves: 8 to 10


  • Filling

  • 2 15oz cans of pure pumpkin

  • 2 cups of brown sugar or piloncillo

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 10 cloves or 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice

  • Dough

  • 4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt

  • 4 tablespoons of sugar

  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon

  • 1 1/4 cups of vegetable shortening

  • 1 cup of tepid water

  1. Cook the pumpkin with brown sugar/piloncillo and spices at medium heat for 15 minutes.

  1. Let it thicken a bit.

  1. Remove the cinnamon sticks and cloves (optional). Set aside to cool.
  1. Preheat the oven at 375 degrees.

  1. Mix the flour, salt and spices together in a bowl.

  1. Place the flour mixture in a food processor and add the shortening.

  1. Once the shortening is dispersed throughout the flour (it should look a little like corn meal), slowly add the water. (Add more or less water, as needed.)

  1. The dough should be moist and mold easily.

  1. Mold into a large ball and wrap in plastic.

  1. Place in the refrigerator for at least a 1/2 hour.

  1. Remove the dough and dust the surface of a counter or other space with a little flour.

  1. Roll out a small ball of dough until it is relatively thin.

  1. Cut out circles that are three to four inches in diameter.

  1. Add a tablespoon or so of the pumpkin mixture and fold.

  1. Use the prongs of a fork to seal the edges.

  1. Bake on each side for 4 minutes.
Also, I was left with a surplus of pumpkin filling, so I made a second batch of dough in order to use all of the filling called for in Floria's recipe.




The empanadas are delicious as described above. I added an egg wash and dusted some sugar on them toward the end of the cooking time. This gave them a pretty color and added a little texture.

Roasted Potatoes in Chile de Arbol Oil

Roasted Potatoes in Chile de Arbol Oil

Recipe Type: Sauce

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour 20 mins

Serves: 4 to 6


  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 3-4 chiles (chile de arbol)

  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

  • 3 lbs potatoes

  • 10 sprigs fresh rosemary with stems removed


  1. Place chiles in small pot of boiling water.

  2. Allow to boil for 3 minutes.

  3. Turn off the water and cover; let rest.

  4. After 10 minutes, blend the chiles, adding the olive oil, salt, and rosemary.

  5. Peel the potatoes, cut them into wedges or cubes and place in a bowl with the chile mixture, making sure the potatoes are coated with the oil.

  6. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about an hour, moving them occasionally so they brown on all sides.

Adobo para Guajolote a.k.a.Turkey Rub

Adobo para Guajolote a.k.a. Adobo Turkey Rub

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 10 mins

Total time: 10 mins


  • Ingredients:

  • 10 sprigs rosemary with stems removed

  • 1 ½ tablespoons sea salt

  • 8 cloves garlic with skins removed

  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

  • 1 cup olive oil

  • zest one lemon


  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend.

  2. Rub all over the turkey before placing it in the oven to roast.

  3. Soak a cheese cloth in the adobo and place it on the breast of the turkey while it's cooking.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tomates Horneados

Tomates al Horno

Recipe Type: Side dish

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 10 mins

Cook time: 1 hour 30 mins

Total time: 1 hour 40 mins

Serves: 8

These tomatoes are simple to make and beautiful to look at and have an incredible taste.

  • 10 medium-sized firm tomatoes cut in half

  • Sea salt

  • Olive oil to drizzle

  • Dried oregano to sprinkle on tomatoes

  • Parsley or cilantro for garnish

  • Water to drizzle the bottom of pan


  1. Arrange the tomato halves on a baking pan or a cookie sheet that is not completely shallow

  2. Sprinkle the sea salt and the oregano

  3. Drizzle with olive oil evenly over all the tomatoes, as well as over the entire pan.

  4. Add a little water to mix in at the bottom of the pan to provide a little moisture.

  5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, then turn off the oven and leave the tomatoes there to cool off slowly for about half an hour.

  6. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or cilantro.


These tomatoes can be made ahead of time and served at room temperature. Also, when they are placed on the baking trays, you can add red pepper flakes to add another dimension of flavor.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Membrillo on My Mind

When I was little, membrillo was one of the many gifts our Mexican relatives brought when they visited. I took it for granted. So many years later and so many miles away, I remember this delectable dessert and the loving hands that brought it to my family in Laredo. I remember in particular, Tía Lupita, an elderly, widowed aunt on my father's side who traveled  hundreds of miles by bus at least once every three months all the way from her home in Puebla to visit us. I remember her deeply-lined, smiling face, her wrinkled hands, her warm embraces...and the bags bearing boxes of sweet potato candies wrapped in wax paper, bricks of membrillo, obleas, cinnamon sticks, piloncillo, and beautiful gold religious medallas for all of us.

I was intrigued by the fruit itself from which membrillo is made. Quince or cydonia oblonga was held in high regard by the ancients. For the Greeks quince was a ritual offering to a bride, quince was Paris' gift to Aphrodite, and ancient Roman cookbooks are filled with recipes using quince.

Nowadays, anything can be found at a specialty foods store, even membrillo, but nothing beats the taste of your own. If life hands you a quince tree and you don't know what to do with the stone-hard fruit, make membrillo! But making it is not for the faint-hearted. You'll need some time to spare. Transforming the boiled cream-colored meat of the quince into a fragrant sliced, amber paste shaped into a little brick and arranged with slices of manchego will make your day.
Chopped quince 

Quince paste


Recipe Type: appetiser, dessert

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 1 hour 40 mins

Total time: 1 hour 55 mins

Serves: 15


  • 4 quince (about 3 lbs)

  • sugar (about 3 cups, roughly the equivalent of the boiled quince)

  • stick cinnamon

  • 1 lemon cut in half

  • 1 bean vanilla


  1. Peel the quince and cut in half to boil it with the cinnamon, the vanilla, and ½ of the lemon.

  2. After about an hour, when it is soft, drain the water, discard the lemon, the vanilla, and the cinnamon and cut out the cores of the quince.

  3. Cut into smaller pieces and either smash it with a bean smasher or, to be more efficient, throw it in a blender or food processor.

  4. Measure it and put it in a large pot with an equal amount (or a little less, if you prefer) of sugar. Into this mixture add the zest of the leftover, uncooked lemon half.

  5. Cook it for about 40 minutes, at a medium heat, stirring constantly until it turns a pinkish, amber color.

  6. After it has thickened into an almost solid mass, pour it into a container and let it dry on its own. After a few hours it will have set into a shape that is easy to slice.

  7. Slice it thin and serve it with equally thin slices of manchego cheese.


Ripe quince is yellow.
Serve as an appetizer or as an after-dinner dessert with a nice Prosecco.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Crazy for Figs

My husband thinks my behavior in the vicinity of figs is a little outrageous. Let's face it, I'm crazy for figs, I can be a little obsessive. In fact, driving through Italy where fig trees seem to grow wild everywhere, I have been known to screech, “Fiiig treeee!!!” My husband, accustomed to this zaniness and wanting this to be over quickly, will pull over while I clamber through snake-infested weeds so I can pluck the delicious prize: ripe and luscious figs. I grab as many as my sticky hands can hold and cram a few in my mouth, darting back to the car, my husband's annoyance mitigated only by the sheer delight of sharing this "manjar de los dioses."

My earliest memories of eating ficus carica was in the hot, dusty Northern Mexican town of Villaldama, Nuevo León, the ancestral home where my father would take my sister and me on a train ride from Laredo to visit our grandmother, Mamá Manuelita. The interior courtyard of my grandmother's modest colonial house was overgrown with fig trees which surrounded an old well in the center. Our cousins would join my sister and me in the shade of the courtyard where we would sit eating the mushy black fruit with the glistening, ruby-red center.

Is it any wonder that here in Maryland I've been successful in growing these trees? They consistently yield a bumper crop each year, providing me with the challenge of figuring out a million ways to use them after I tire from eating them off the tree or pushing them onto friends and neighbors. So, after making jams, tarts, and sorbeto de higo all summer, I've been enjoying them now in November, taking them out of the freezer, already peeled and ready to roast in the oven.  This simple recipe with honey and citrus peel syrup, is one that has probably been around since the time of Adam and Eve.

So, in the spirit of the great Aesop's Fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper, all you grasshoppers out there, take heed from the ant and freeze some figs next year so that in the middle of the fall (or winter) you can pull them out and make this really special dessert for your Thanksgiving or Christmas table.

Honey Roasted Figs

Recipe Type: Dessert

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 30 mins

Cook time: 45 mins

Total time: 1 hour 15 mins

Serves: 8

Figs, the first food to be cultivated by humans, even before wheat, are very rich in calcium and other nutrients.


  • 1 ½ lbs fresh or frozen figs, peeled

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • zest of one lime, one lemon, one tangerine and one orange

  • 2 tablespoons honey


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  2. Place the figs on a baking dish that may be used to serve them.

  3. Sprinkle the sugar and drizzle the honey.

  4. Bake until the sugar caramelizes, 40-50 minutes.

  5. Serve at room temperature.


Reconstituted dried figs may be used but the baking times will differ.