Sunday, April 15, 2012

Regarding Zapote

El hábito no hace al monje or the habit doesn't make the monk.  Who is to judge what is ugly or what is beautiful in nature? Beautiful things can sometimes disguise the nothingness, the insipidness within. When something is not attractive, we tend to overlook it. We humans have our universal rules of beauty or disgust when we judge what we eat. We are enticed by food that is pleasing to the eye, food that delights and triggers beautiful thoughts of past meals. The tropical fruits you find in markets in Mexico are all you need for a perfect and glorious ending to a meal, for example.  What's better than a platter of coral-colored papaya, bright yellow mango, crimson watermelon, and purple tunas arranged in sections like dazzling jewels in a display case?  

In the case of the zapote, I had been eyeing it for years, wondering whether in its ugliness there might be an unappreciated beauty worth discovering. Really, it's not the nicest thing to look at; it's black, dull, and squishy. Once it's scooped out of the peel, the fleshy insides ooze like a glossy chocolate. But it's not chocolate. The zapote sat menacingly on my kitchen counter in San Miguel de Allende for two days while my husband watched it warily, wondering if it was going to end up on his plate. On the third day (to his dismay), I worked up the courage to follow a recipe given to me by Doña Beatriz, the legendary cook of Casa Carmen. The dessert made from zapote was one that Doña Beatriz prepared for my students who stayed at Casa Carmen last year.

As it turns out, this unusual fruit, black zapote, or tzapotl in Nahuatl, is something worth discovering.  Much like persimmon, you have to wait until zapote is overripe to use it and that is how it was sold to me at the market, so ripe it began to leak on the plate once I got home. Handling the fruit turned out to be a cinch.  Zapote must have been created by the gods to be turned into a ready-made pudding. You basically scoop out the the pulp and mix the other ingredients and you have a substance of the creamiest texture. Add rum to the slightly citrusy flavor brought out from combining it with the juice and zest of orange, and you have an unforgettable dessert.  

And, yes, my husband loved it.

Zapote Dessert

Recipe Type: dessert

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 15 mins

Total time: 15 mins

Serves: 6

  • 3 very ripe zapotes

  • 2 oranges for zest and juice, one orange for orange peel decoration

  • 3/8 cup whole milk or heavy cream

  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • ¼ cup rum


  1. Cut the zapotes in half and discard the large seeds.

  2. With a tablespoon scoop out the pulp onto a bowl and smash with a fork. It will have a pudding-like consistency.

  3. Zest the oranges into the mixture.

  4. Squeeze their juice into the mixture through a sieve to keep the seeds out.

  5. Add the milk, the rum, the cinnamon, and the sugar.

  6. Beat with the fork until it is well amalgamated.

  7. Arrange in dessert plates with ribbons or strips of peel as a garnish.

Friday, April 6, 2012

La Madrina's Salsa Recipes

At last Thursday's cooking class at Casa Carmen in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I taught students how to make three salsas: basic, well-known, can't-do-without salsas. I decided on pico de gallo, salsa verde, (and its variation with avocado), and a dried chile salsa made with chile guajillo and chile cascabel. After all, what is basic to me may be exotic to others.

In my childhood home in Laredo, fresh salsas were as common at the table as the salt and pepper. It was my job to make the salsa while my mother prepared breakfast. I remarked to my students about the ease of making these salsas, and how unnecessary it is to buy a commercial sauce, not to mention the fact that it's a totally different thing, with all kinds of additives, sometimes including corn syrup. (¡Dios mío!)

Mercado Ignacio Ramirez

Mexican food markets are an assault on the senses with their glorious colors, sounds and smells. As part of the class, I took the students to the Ignacio Ramirez market.  We arrived just when a truckload of camomille was being unloaded. The scent overwhelmed us. My friend and neighbor, Canadian travel writer, Anne Dimon, of was on hand to photograph the scene.

Photo by Anne Dimon

Inside, there were the homemade cheeses: requesón, ranchero, panela, and queso de Oaxaca. There were the women with the nopales (cactus), the blue tortillas, the regular tortillas, fresh eggs, fried empanaditas made with piloncillo, candied chilacayote, three types of dried beans, herbs,  the place where you buy all grains and special spices, and an endless array of strange and unusual ingredients. It's a Pandora's box opening up a world that is unknown and undiscovered by many who travel to markets such as this. I am still trying to get a better understanding of the medicinal herbs sold there. Remarkably, for all the tourism this town has endured, it has retained its own authentic flavor.

We took it all in and headed back to Casa Carmen for class.

Back in the kitchen, my students laughed when I referred to the molcajete as the pre-columbian food processor while they took turns grinding on it. In fact, the molcajete connects us to the indigenous people of the Americas and to the method they used to prepare foods. It fascinates me to think about this three legged pumice bowl and how long people have used it as a cooking tool. Finally, we took turns tasting our finished product. Yikes! Are chilies spicier in Mexico?

My thanks to Cynthia Kulander, owner of Casa Carmen for inviting me to teach this class.

La Madrina's Salsa Recipes

Recipe Type: Salsa

Author: Gilda V. Carbonaro


  • Pico de Gallo

  • 1 large tomato

  • 1 small white or red onion

  • 1 serrano chile

  • ½ cup chopped cilantro

  • Salt to taste

  • Salsa verde

  • 1/2 lb. tomatillos (about 4 green ‘tomatoes’ in their husks)

  • 1 Serrano pepper (or more if you prefer)

  • 1/2 to 1 clove of garlic

  • Bunch of cilantro leaves (about 1/2 cup)

  • 1/4 of a mid-sized onion

  • Dried Guajillo/Cascabel Sauce

  • 3 or 4 combination of chile guajillo and/or cascabel (these are dry chilis)

  • 3 or 5 midsized tomatillos

  • ½ garlic

  • Salt to taste

  • Salsa de Molcajete

  • 2 cloves peeled garlic

  • 1/2 white onion

  • 1 extra large tomato

  • 1/4 teaspoon seasalt

  • 1/4 cup cilantro

  • juice from one lime

  • 1 serrano pepper (or you can subsitute a jalapeño)


Pico de Gallo

  1. Mince everything and mix.

  2. Serve on grilled meats, or even on your scrambled eggs.

Salsa Verde

  1. Brown the tomatillos on a ‘comal’, a stove top griddle, for about 10 minutes until you see black patches on all sides.

  2. Remove most of the black peel.

  3. Throw the tomatillo and the rest of the ingredients, which are raw, into the blender and liquify.

  4. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro.

  5. Note: A variation of this sauce is to add about half of a ripe, mashed avocado.

Dried Guajillo/Cascabel Sauce

  1. Toast the chilis and tomatillo on a comal for about 15 minutes.

  2. Throw in a blender and liquefy.

  3. Serve in a salsa bowl.

Salsa de Molcajete

  1. Dry roast the garlic, onion, serrano pepper, and tomato on a comal for about 5 minutes until they are slightly charred.

  2. Peel the tomato.

  3. In the molcajete grind the garlic, serrano pepper, onion (chopped fine) and cilantro with the sea salt.

  4. Empty the contents of the molcajete into another bowl to make room to grind the tomato.

  5. Mix everthing together again in the molcajete, squeeze the lime juice and fix for salt.

  6. Notes: This makes a chunky sauce with intense flavors. You can add or diminish any of the ingredients according to your taste.

  7. Grinding roasted tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and onion in a mortar, gives them a complexity of flavor you wouldn’t otherwise get.