Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shrimp in Jícama Wraps

In case you haven't noticed, Mexican food is becoming more "haute cuisine."  It's come a long way from the tacos, burritos, totopos, and refried beans often found in typical Tex-Mex restaurants.  In fact, the complexity of authentic Mexican food, as it differs from region to region in Mexico, has always been an adventure to explore and vastly different from much of what passes as Mexican food in the United States.

A crop of young, dynamic Mexican chefs is taking Mexican cuisine to new heights, developing recipes that are on par with dishes found in the best restaurants in Spain, France, or Italy.  Take, for example, shrimp in jícama wraps, a menu item I recently came across in San Miguel de Allende. It's a perfect appetizer: light, elegant and perfect when paired with a good beer or white wine. You'll find the contrast of the crunchy, juicy, jícama to the cooked flavor of the shrimp and the tartness of the lime absolutely divine. For the pico de gallo, required here, you will need to access my recipe in La Madrina's Salsas. Some of the chopping can be done ahead of time, but not too far ahead, (only a day at the most) because the freshness of the ingredients is key.

I tried these wraps tonight on a certain guinea pig I know who crowed that this version of Mexican food is a little frou frou in his humble opinion. But he made short work of it all and I was hard pressed to make them at a good tempo to keep up. Anyway, as I reminded him they're just appetizers! 

Shrimp in Jícama wraps

Recipe Type: Appetiser

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 15 mins

Total time: 35 mins

Serves: 4


  • 20 medium sized shrimp, deveined with skins and tail removed

  • juice of 3 or 4 limes

  • pico de gallo (see this blog for pico de gallo sauce)

  • extra cilantro for garnish

  • jícama sliced paper thin for wraps

  • sea salt

  • toothpicks

  • 1/2 cup flour to dust the shrimp

  • 1/2 cup oil


  1. Rinse and dry the shrimp, devein and remove skin and tail.

  2. Dry the shrimp with paper towels.

  3. Dredge the shrimp lightly in the flour until it is all covered and sprinkle with salt.

  4. Peel the jícama and slice in paper thin slices.

  5. Prepare a pico de gallo as found in this blog and set aside.

  6. Cook the shrimp in the heated oil in a heavy skillet, (the hot oil should not cover the shrimp.)

  7. Turn it until it is cooked on all sides, about 15 minutes.

  8. Place the shrimp on each slice of jicama, spoon onto it the pico de gallo, garnish with more cilantro, squeeze the lime on it, and add more salt if needed.

  9. Roll the jícama and fasten with the toothpick.

  10. Guests can make their own if you provide the ingredients on the side for them to wrap their own.


Another version of these is julienned or cubed mango and grated ginger, minced serrano pepper, lime juice and cilantro in place of the pico de gallo, wrapped with the shrimp in the jícama wraps.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Buñuelos

On Mother's Day six years ago, I lost my son, my only child, to the war in Iraq. Every Mother's Day, since that day, I have felt unable to write for this blog about anything else besides what this loss has meant to me. How could I? Our children, for better or for worse, define who we are. At whatever age, they are the sun around which our lives revolve. The loss for me, then, has meant reworking the way I live my life, to find purpose, meaning and direction in the chaos. And to learn to find joy again.

So, on this Mother's Day, I think about my own mother and the gift of optimism that she left me. She taught me to persevere in the face of utter hopelessness. From Floria I also learned that there is a moment when one must not shy away from calling something what it is: she taught me to have the courage to speak the truth even when it's inconvenient to the listener, let alone to me; indeed, she taught me to fight for what is right. She taught me to dream, to believe in myself. My mother gave me my 'mother tongue,' Spanish, even though we were Americans living in Laredo. She understood it was our identity that no one could take away. I inherited from her that 'radar' to 'read' a person, that my son also displayed; a certain sixth sense to understand what someone is saying between the lines. Whatever I am today, I owe partly to her. But there is also much owed to my child, whose wisdom taught me so much. That is what motherhood does, it turns us into complex human beings who learn from the children that are entrusted to us for that brief moment in time.

For now, I am blessed with other people's children, these young children, my students, who look to me for guidance and consolation (and instruction in Spanish) for the short time they pass through my life. And there are the young adults whose lives are interwoven into the fabric of my life, who are more or less contemporaries of Alex and about whom I fuss and worry and offer solicited or unsolicited advice. Life goes on...if I look up from my laptop, out the window, I can see my little poet-philosopher Marine, an image on a ray of light, on this sun-dappled morning, nodding approvingly, smiling, holding out white roses for me, wishing me a perfect Mother's Day.  I'm still a mother, after all.

My recipe for buñuelos is my mother's who made them on occasions when my little friends came over. She would make them with lemonade for us. Enjoy

Mother's Day Buñuelos

Recipe Type: Dessert, postre

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 10 mins

Total time: 30 mins

Serves: 6

Buñuelos should be light and airy. These fritters are best when you roll out the dough thinly and drop them into very hot oil. They make a perfect after-dinner dessert with tea, hot chocolate, or even a prosecco or dessert wine.

  • 1 egg

  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 tablespoon shortening

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1 tablespoon sugar for dough

  • oil for deep frying

  • 2 tablespoons sugar per 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon for dusting
  1. Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl.

  2. Make a well in the center of the flour and drop the egg and shortening.

  3. Mix well with your hands until it attains a corn meal consistency.

  4. Add the water a little bit at a time (you may not need it all) and knead until you have a pliable dough.

  5. Let the dough rest for about 1/2 hour in the refrigerator.

  6. Divide the dough into balls about 1/2 the size of golf balls and roll out thinly; or if it's easier, you can roll them out larger and cut into four wedges, but be sure to roll them out thinly on a floured surface.

  7. Heat oil in a skillet and fry the dough quickly on both sides until it is puffed up.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Crepas de Cajeta for Cinco de Mayo

The Battle of Puebla that took place on the 5th of May in 1862 holds little significance for us today.  Many people think that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico’s independence from Spain which, in fact, took place 41 years earlier and is celebrated on September 16.  What you need to know for the purposes of this post is that what began as a regional victory celebration upon the Mexican Army’s surprising (albeit temporary) defeat of French forces in Puebla over a century ago is now a virtual symbol for Mexican pride and heritage.

Despite the unabashed commercialization of Cinco de Mayo, the day is an opportunity for Americans to share in the love of Mexican culture and tradition.  For some of us, it is a moment in which to give ourselves over to the beauty and depth of our shared mexicanidad.  To remember—perhaps even learn—about our history, both in Mexico and in the United States.  This, more so than beer and tequila specials, is what draws people to the festivals around the country during the first week in May.
The holiday is an emblem of American diversity but also a cultural marker that buoys an increasingly diverse Mexican-American community.  We are multi-generational, newly-arrived and assimilated, of mixed heritage, biracial, sometimes bilingual, sometimes not.  Yet, we remain committed to a common culture and tethered to time-tested traditions every day of the year much like a nation that annually celebrates its independence but works daily to protect its democratic principles.

It is these sentiments that manifest in the art and music and dance so closely associated with Cinco de Mayo celebrations, examples of human expression and perseverance that stamp our arrival and affirm our sense of belonging.  There is power in symbolism and celebration.

So, whatever your heritage, celebrate Cinco de Mayo!

Toast to the power of art, music and dance that defines a culture. Belt out a Lola Beltran ranchera or join a trio of mariachis for a serenade. Witness the glory of folklorico dancers whose elaborate dresses bloom color with every beat of beautiful music.  Surrender to the rhythms of a spontaneous zapateado on your kitchen floor. Sip a margarita. Read a Laura Esquivel novel or a Gloria Anzaldúa poem.  Write your own poem. Cook an authentic meal completely from scratch with your abuelita and invite your friends to dinner.  Speak Spanish…or Spanglish.

Study the Chicano civil rights movement.

Honor the countless contributions and sacrifices that Mexican-Americans have made to and for the greater good—from the lawyers who litigated landmark civil rights cases in the 1950s to the men and women who served (and serve) in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Above all, remember the power of the people—not just those around you but also those who came before you.

Crepas de Cajeta for Cinco de Mayo

Recipe Type: dessert

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 2 hours

Cook time: 15 mins

Total time: 2 hours 15 mins

Serves: 6


  • 1 cup milk

  • 1 1/4 cup (150 g) all-purpose flour

  • 3 eggs

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

  • 3 tablespoons butter (melted) and 1 tablespoon canola oil to combined to grease the crepe pan with a brush

  • 1 cup cajeta de cabra or regular milk cajeta (can be bought at any store that sells hispanic products)

  • ½ cup chopped walnuts

  • Optional: Mandarine or orange liqueur for 'flaming' the crepas.


  1. Throw all ingredients: milk, flour, eggs, water and melted butter in a blender and blend well.

  2. Refrigerate it for at least one hour.

  3. Heat the crepe skillet at medium high flame for 5 minutes.

  4. Dip a kitchen brush (pastry brush) into the melted and combined butter and oil and brush it (you must work quickly) across the hot skillet.

  5. With a ladle dip into the blender jar and pour onto the hot skillet, until it coats the entire bottom of the skillet; tilt it from side to side to get it even and pour our any excess.

  6. When the edges brown, unstick them with a spatula and then flip it to the other side.

  7. Cook the other side, this will brown quickly.

  8. Fold in four and place on a warmed plate.

  9. Butter the skillet again until you are finished with all the batter (you can adjust the heat if it gets too hot or too cold).

  10. Arrange folded crepes on individual plates, sprinkle the walnuts, and spoon the cajeta onto the plate over each crepa.

  11. If you like, pour orange or mandarine liqueur and 'light' the crepas for a flambé dessert.

The crepas can be prepared a day ahead and then warmed quickly in the microwave (covered so they don't dry out).

***A version of this post originally appeared last year on  Post by Gilda Claudine. Photos and recipe by Gilda Valdez Carbonaro.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Recipe Signed, Sealed, Delivered

It's been about two weeks since my niece sent me an email asking for some of my old recipes. She's a college student here in town, but she's doing a semester abroad in Uruguay. When she's in town, here at the university, we have a standing date on Tuesday nights when she comes over for dinner, sometimes bringing a friend.

We catch up over dinner talking about her life as a university student, her classes, her quirky professors, her political activism.  I sigh to time has passed. I allow myself to imagine our son at the table with us too. At the end of the evening, we load Natalie down with her uncle's homemade bread and enough leftover meals to last several days.

When she asked me for a certain recipe recently, or even any of the things she's eaten here, there wasn't an obvious answer.  I needed to know what was available or seasonal. Cooking is about looking around to see what inspires you and it became difficult to narrow down my choices without imagining what she might find in what is currently the fall in Uruguay. And then there's the cooking paraphernalia that she may or may not have, not to mention the small amount of time she might have for cooking.

I settled on this recipe for huevo con calabacitas, a kind of Mexican style frittata.  It's easy, the ingredients are accessible, and it's what Natalie is hoping to make for herself.

Huevos con Calabacita a la Florentina

Recipe Type: Appetiser, Entree

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 20 mins

Total time: 35 mins

Serves: 8


  • Ingredients

  • 6 eggs

  • 3 regular sized zucchini or 6 baby zucchini (about 400 gr) cut lengthwise and sliced thinly

  • 1 1/2 to 2 leeks sliced thinly, using only white and pale green parts

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1/2 jalapeño sliced thinly

  • bunch basil leaves sliced in ribbons

  • salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Preheat broiler.

  2. Rinse the sliced leeks in a pot of water and swish around and separate to clean.

  3. Drain well and dry well with paper towels.

  4. In a large oven proof pan at medium heat melt the butter with the oil.

  5. Add the leeks and cook until they soften, for about 4 minutes.

  6. Raise the temperature slightly and add the zucchini and cook until slightly brown or golden, for about 5-8 minutes.

  7. When everything is just about cooked, add the basil.

  8. Arrange everything evenly with a spoon on the pan, then pour the beaten eggs on top.

  9. Add salt and pepper.

  10. Lower the heat and cook slowly, running a spatula or knife along the sides of the pan to keep it form sticking.

  11. When the sides and bottom are set and the center is loose, put the pan under the broiler until the top is firm and golden, about 3 minutes.

  12. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.