June 22, 2011

Tex Mex Cuisine

I was recently in San Antonio, Texas as an invited food panelist speaking to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). The conference was great, but what was even better were the vibrant sights, sounds and tastes of this Latino slice of Texas.

The opening reception was at the famed Mi Tierra restaurant, bar and bakery. It looks like a piñata exploded — and I mean that in the nicest way — with its murals, altars, streamers and, on this night, a chorus of beautiful singers. We had copious fresh margaritas and tasty nibbles like gulf shrimp ceviche on tortilla chips, and fried, stuffed jalapeños; my first authentic taste of Tex Mex. And the best part about this place? It never closes!

The conference arranged for a few of us to get a tour of the new Pearl Brewery complex, an impressive mix of work and live spaces, shops and restaurants, all along the River Walk. (We snuck back for late night snacks at La Gloria, which specializes in the street foods of Mexico — mmmm crispy chicken tacos.) I also had dinner at star chef John Besh’s new restaurant, Luke, also along the River Walk (not Tex Mex, but tasty barbecued oysters!).

The core of the new Pearl district is the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), which launched in 2007, but just completed a massive expansion. The CIA San Antonio campus is also home to the college’s Centre for Foods of the Americas (CFA). A research arm of the college, the CFA has two full-time chef researchers, including Elizabeth Johnson-Kossick, who travels through Mexico and Latin America to learn and document traditional cooking methods in the hopes of preserving and promoting this rich culinary heritage. Chef Johnson-Kossick demonstrated a unique (and totally delish) Brazilian dish called Bahian Coconut Fish Stew. Here’s her easy recipe.

Moqueca de Peixe Recipe

(serves 4)

2 lb. sea bass or halibut, skin and bones removed
1 tsp sea salt
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup dende oil (a deep orange palm-based cooking oil that’s key to many Brazilian dishes)
1 cooking onion, julienned
1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
3 cilantro sprigs
1-1/2 cups fresh coconut milk
Sea salt to taste
1 lime, juiced

Step 1: Mash garlic cloves and make a paste by mashing the sea salt and garlic together. Rub the cleaned fish with the garlic and salt mixture. Set aside.

Step 2: In a Dutch oven or clay pot, sauté the onions and bell peppers in 1/3cup dende oil over medium heat until translucent.

Step 3: Add the fish, tomatoes, coconut milk, and 1/2 cup dende oil. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the cilantro and cook for 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Drizzle remaining dende oil over dish.

Step 4: Season to taste with salt and lime juice.

Step 5: Serve hot with cooked white rice and farofa de dende*.

* Farofa de dende is used as a condiment for many Brazilian dishes, it’s a lot like couscous flavoured with oil. Delicious stuff.

On a completely different note, we’re putting together a special feature and we’d love to hear what your favourite recipes from House & Home have been over the past 25 years. We want to know which dishes you make again and again, and why you love them. Email us!

Photo credits:
1-7. Amy Rosen