Mexico from 35,000 Feet and Beyond

I did finally get my sea urchin. It was our last full day in Mexico, the water was calm, so I dove down into the rocky crevices off la playa de Conchas Chinas, and returned with a spiny prize.

It was the biggest one I could find. Yet, it looked smaller than I had thought once I got it onshore. I’d been talking about the erisos for a few days, still Marilu looked surprised when I brought the creature into the kitchen. I searched online how to open it and collect the prized roe. Sure enough, cracking into the shell, I found five small bands of bright orange uni. Eaten straight from the shell, it tasted — like all the seafood we had in Mexico — fresh and of the ocean. I never had a chance to taste the oysters that the rudimentary divers (i.e. guys with a mask and inner tube) were pulling up a stone’s throw from the Casa Tres Coronitas. Something to look forward to next time…

Mi amigo Nat heard that there were lobsters out there in those rock crevices, as well. Mario, the boatman who one morning took us snorkeling, caught an 8-foot marlin the following day. These are some rich, clean, productive waters. The plump camarones we ate several nights were definitely not imported from Indonesia.

I come home feeling inspired to cook. And saddened by the violence afflicting Mexico. I was standing with a vendor on Puerto Vallarta’s river walk, chatting, when he put his hand on my shoulder and sighed. “I hope business gets better.” The news reports of rival narco cartels dumping bodies in the streets of northern cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tamaulipas scare away tourists from one of the most beautiful, fascinating and welcoming places on earth. And the good people of Mexico — which is most of them — suffer.

The morning of the day we were leaving, besides the general desire to get home and get on with life, two things made it easier to go. The first was a classic case of Mexico stomach — or “Montezuma’s Revenge,” as it is popularly called. I think mine was due more to seven straight days of Euphracio’s killer margaritas and a few too many serrano chiles the night before, rather than the usual tap water bacteria suspects. The second was the largest bug I have ever seen, settled on the wall just outside our bedroom. It was the size of an avocado, positively prehistoric — one of those things you see dried and pinned inside a glass frame in a natural history museum. It was as if it was there as a reminder that, as much as we enjoyed our vacation, this was still the jungle and we were gentleman country folk.

Flying home over the Sea of Cortez, mainland Mexico out the right side windows and Baja California the left, I feel fortunate to live so close to Mexico’s wonders. In about the same time it takes to fly to Portland — right in the next state of Oregon — I can be sipping tequila and listening to mariachi in a vanilla-scented tropical jungle filled with jaguars, giant anteaters and iguanas.

The “bug”

Back at home, there’s an autumn chill in the air. Our first morning here, still feeling nostalgic, I make chilaquiles. Then we are done for the time, eating ciabatta, proscuitto and tomatoes for lunch, and pasta and wine at the home of dear friends for dinner. In the coming days we will eat sushi, pizza, salads, perhaps some Indian or Chinese food. But it won’t take much to trigger it again — a photo on the screen saver, perhaps, a few strains of ranchera from a radio somewhere, or some pleasantries in español with our gardener, Eloy — and I’ll be in the kitchen, squeezing limes and stirring agave nectar, flattening cornmeal into tortillas, grilling pescado or carne, raising a margarita glass to Marilu and Euphracio and toasting one of my favorite countries on earth.

*   *   *

Marilu’s salsa de Jalisco
makes approximately 1 pint

8-10 medium tomatillos (1 lb.)
2 medium tomatoes (1/2 lb.), cut in half
1/2 white onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
8-12 chiles de arbol (adjust for heat preference)
1 tsp. chicken bouillon powder (optional)
salt to taste

Place the tomatillos, tomatoes, onion and garlic in a saucepan with enough water just to cover, and bring to a light boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until vegetables are soft and half the water has cooked away. Let cool.

On a grill set over a stovetop flame, toast the chiles until they begin to blacken and blister slightly.

Place vegetables from the pot in the blender along with about 1/2 cup of the remaining water. Add toasted chiles and chicken bouillon, if using, plus a teaspoon or so of salt. Blend on high until completely pureed, 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on blender.

Taste to adjust seasoning (add more salt if needed, or toast and add more chiles to your taste.) Keeps in a container in the fridge for a week or more.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pal-O
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 00:32:39

    Uni! Glad you finally got some. Thanks for the “Yanquis en Mejico” series!


  2. g
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 03:15:01

    Wow, this is wonderful!


  3. Allison
    Oct 20, 2012 @ 02:14:14

    Cool! I’m not really a fan of uni– and I’ve even tried it relatively fresh in several restaurants in Japan– but I definitely wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to try eating it straight from the shell like you got to do! : )


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