Summertime is here! These colorful, fun, and festive recipes are designed to keep you cool. Welcome guests with Ponche de Guadalajara, a tequila-spiked punch brimming with chunks of tropical fruits and citrus served from a big glass jar (like the ones on the streets of Mexico filled with agua frescas). It’s as pretty as a floral centerpiece, and since guests serve themselves (have an ice bucket on hand), it frees the host to mingle. For an appetizer, serve rich and creamy Salsa de Aguacate (avocado and fresh green tomatillo salsa) with corn tostada chips.
At the table, drizzle Sassy Citrus Tequila Vinaigrette over grilled Texas redfish, snapper, drum and/or shrimp. Pass a platter of corn husk “boats” (recipe follows) mounded with spicy black beans drizzled with Crema Mexicana and a pinch of ancho chile. Accompany with your favorite Mexican green rice (with lots of cilantro) or freshly grilled summer corn on the cob.
Long-stemmed margarita glasses filled with crunchy cucumbers and watermelon balls in a zesty and piquant tequila marinade topped with an icy granita and a sprig of mint will delight guests.
For a simple finale, serve vanilla bean ice cream from chilled bowls topped with Summer Marmalade and bites of crystalized ginger. Accompany with small snifters (or shots) of fine Reposado or Añejo tequila to sip or drizzle over the ice cream.
Excerpted from ¡Viva Tequila!: Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures by Lucinda Hutson (Copyright © 1995 and 2013 by Lucinda Hutson) used by permission of the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com.
Ponche de Guadalajara
Throughout Jalisco, this refreshing drink is served in large, wide-mouthed clay bowls, called cazuelas. Citrus wedges are eaten or squeezed into the drink. Partakers pop chunks of watermelon and fresh pineapple into their mouths and sip the tequila-laced libation through a straw.
Cazuelas inspired this party punch. Present it in an agua fresca jar to show off the colorful fruits and ladle it into long-stemmed jumbo margarita glasses (alternatives for clay bowls) with some ice. A guest once called this drink “the quintessential finger bowl”; I call it the “the ultimate fruit cocktail”! Make sure that guests get plenty of the spiked watermelon and pineapple.
1 fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 liter bottle tequila blanco
2 cups tequila reposado
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
6 cups fresh orange juice
46 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
4 oranges, cut into bite-sized wedges
1/2 medium watermelon, cut into bite-sized chunks or triangles with peel
3 lemons, sliced
6 limes, quartered
3 small ruby grapefruit, cut in bite-sized wedges
2 star fruit sliced into star shapes
4 cans (12 ounces each) Squirt
Place pineapple chunks in a wide-mouthed glass jar. Add tequilas, juices, and sliced oranges. Chill overnight. Add watermelon, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and star fruit and chill several more hours, stirring occasionally. Add Squirt immediately before serving.
Serves approximately 20.
Note: The flavor of this punch improves with age. It keeps for several days in the refrigerator; watermelon will lose its texture, and should be stored separately (if there’s any punch left!). Lemons, limes, and grapefruit become bitter when left in the punch too long.
Javier’s Salsa de Aguacate
My friend Javier Aviles shared this recipe, reminding me that it’s not guacamole, but a traditional avocado salsa from his hometown Luvianos, Mexico. Green tomatillos give a pleasing tartness to this creamy avocado sauce. It’s delicious drizzled over crispy flautas, grilled seafood, steaks, or salads, and it is addictive with chips and margaritas. Spoon it over poblano rajas, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds to celebrate the colors of Mexico’s flag.
4 cloves garlic
1 pound tomatillos (about 18)
4–8 serranos, seeded and stemmed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4–1/2 white onion, chopped
4 ripe avocados, peeled and loosely chopped
Juice of 1–2 Mexican limes
1/2 or more cup cilantro, chopped
Chopped green onions
Mince garlic in a blender. Add tomatillos, serranos, salt, and onion and blend, using short pulses. Set aside. Add avocados to blender, along with small batches of the tomatillo salsa and the lime juice. Do not overprocess. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with lots of finely chopped cilantro and green onions.
Corn Husk Boats
Use the corn husk boats for “containers” in which to serve colorful salsa fresca medleys.
Soak 8 dried corn husks (used to make tamales) in water for several hours; pat dry. Tear 2 husks into 1/2-inch strips for tying the ends of the corn husk boats. Place a whole small lime in the center of each moistened husk and wrap the husk around the lime, tying at both ends with the torn strips. Allow to dry; remove the lime, leaving a cavity for filling. Makes 6 “boats.” May be made days in advance and stored in airtight containers.
A recipe for “delicious beans” made in the traditional way: in an earthenware pot.
For me, a hearty bowl of beans is a meal in itself, made even better with a quesadilla or a chunk of cornbread. The innate peppery nature of tequila adds character to frijoles, especially when they’re cooked en olla, an unleaded clay pot (like the one pictured above), which imparts earthiness, authenticity, and depth of flavor.
1 pound pinto beans, rinsed and sorted
1 quartered white onion
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon comino (cumin)
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
Salt to taste
Place beans in a pot (preferably earthenware) and cover with 2 inches of water or broth. Bring to boil; immediately reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2–2 hours, adding salt the last 30 minutes of cooking (see sidebar for tips and additional flavorings).
Note: For frijoles negros (black beans) add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pot and 2 bay leaves, omit comino, and add a few sprigs of epazote, the “bean herb” along with salt, toward the end of cooking. Black beans require longer cooking time than pintos, simmering until thick and inky. Mound thickened and lightly mashed black beans (leaving some whole for texture) into corn husk boats. Use a squeeze bottle to drizzle Mexican Crema over top and drizzle with ancho chile.
For Crema Mexicana: Heat 1 cup whipping cream to 85 degrees, stir in 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Leave at room temperature overnight, then refrigerate for a day. Salt to taste.
Hints for Cooking Frijoles:
- I don’t soak beans before cooking.
- Always add hot water to the pot, if needed, as beans simmer. Too much liquid dilutes flavor, so add a small amount.
- To prevent beans from toughening, add salt during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
- Add 2 or more dried red chiles–smoky, dried chipotles, anchos, guajillos, or New Mexico chiles colorados to the beans as they cook. Remove stems and seeds and plop chiles in the pot.
- Add a generous splash of tequila or mezcal during the final 10–15 minutes of cooking.
- Cook frijoles a day in advance of serving to produce a thick and flavorful broth. The beans will absorb more flavor, too.
Pretty Watermelon and Cucumber Salsa
You can eat your salsa . . . and drink it, too! This is a party in a bowl: colorful, vibrant, and a bit wild. Show off the pretty colors of tequila-marinated watermelon balls and slices of crunchy, green pickling cucumbers from small, clear, wide-mouthed margarita, sorbet, or champagne glasses. Top with a rosy granita (an icy sorbet) and garnish with a wedge of lime and a mint sprig. Pass bowls of Cotija cheese for added texture and enjoy a sweet, salty, piquant, cold, and refreshing surprise with each bite. Serve as a salad, between courses, or as a light, summery dessert.
Once eaten, sip the juice remaining in the glass (perhaps with a bit more granita), accompanied by (or mixed with) an ice-cold shot of tequila blanco.
5 cups sweet, seedless watermelon balls (chill and reserve any watermelon juice released while making them)
5 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) pickling cucumbers, medium slice (to produce a decorative edge, tine the length of the cucumbers all around with a fork before cutting them)
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon or more Cantina Classic Spicy Mexican Seasoning Salt (or a commercial brand)
1–2 red Fresno peppers, finely diced
1 serrano pepper, finely diced
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1 large bunch green onions, sliced with some green tops
3 ounces chilled tequila blanco (use 100-proof for less dilution)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, preferably from Mexican (Key) limes
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, loosely chopped
3/4 cup Cotija cheese, loosely crumbled
Rosy granita (for recipe, see note below)
Mint or cilantro sprigs for garnish
Keep watermelon balls chilled as you prepare other ingredients. Place sliced cucumbers in a 9 x 13 inch-glass dish. Sprinkle both sides of the cucumbers with the sugar, Spicy Mexican Seasoning Salt, hot peppers, citrus zests, and green onion, pressing well into the cucumbers. Drizzle with lime juice and tequila, as you toss in the watermelon balls, fresh mint, and cilantro. Add another light sprinkling of seasoned salt, if you wish. Chill, basting often, as lots of juices will release. After about half an hour, pour off enough of the liquid to make the granita (recipe follows), still leaving some liquid to baste the watermelon and cucumbers.
I can’t offer an exact recipe for the granita, as it will depend upon the amount and sweetness of the reserved watermelon juice and the flavor of the liquid rendered from the marinated watermelon and cucumbers. Here’s an approximation, but flavor to suit your own taste:
3/4 cup reserved watermelon juice
3/4 cup marinade drained from watermelon and cucumbers
Splash of tequila (not too much or granita won’t freeze)
Splash of Cointreau
Squeeze of lime
Cantina Classic Spicy Mexican Seasoning Salt
Pour granita ingredients into to a small, shallow stainless steel pan. As it freezes (within about 1/2 hour), scrape across the top of the granita with a fork to break up ice crystals. Freeze and scrape again, until granita resembles consistency of shaved ice–approximately 1 hour.
Serve the colorful cucumber and watermelon medley in chilled glasses, spooning some of its juices into each glass. Top each with a spoonful of the icy granita. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint or cilantro, a wedge of lime, and pass a shaker of the seasoned salt, bowls of loosely crumbled Cotija cheese, and icy shots of tequila blanco!
Serves 10 or more.
Why marinate fish? It can get soggy, and you discard most of the marinade anyway. Instead, drizzle grilled, baked, or pan-seared fish with this tangy reduction vinaigrette at the table. Serve Pescado Margarita as a main course, or flake it for fish tacos or tostadas, along with shredded cabbage, red onions, and cilantro. Sometimes I also offer Javier’s Salsa de Aguacate for drizzling on the seafood at the table.
Sassy Citrus Tequila Vinaigrette:
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons tequila reposado
2 tablespoons shallots, minced
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, freshly ground in a spice grinder
1/4 or more teaspoon cayenne (or 1/2 teaspoon paprika)
2–3 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh lime juice to taste
1–2 teaspoons agave syrup, optional
1 green onion, chopped
Zest citrus and reserve. Squeeze fresh juice. In a small saucepan, combine citrus juices, tequila, shallots, ground coriander, and cayenne. Simmer until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before adding zest. Pour into a small bowl. When cool, whisk in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and sweeten with agave syrup, if needed. Sprinkle with green onions before serving. Pass a small plate of lime wedges at the table.
Makes about 1/2 cup.
Note: Though coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, it’s citrusy and spicy, not pungent and strong like cilantro.
Variations: Use avocado or walnut oil instead of olive oil, for a lighter flavor. Replace shallot with grated ginger, and pineapple juice for the orange juice.
Here’s an easy dessert to impress guests. Place contents of an 18-ounce jar of best quality orange marmalade into a small saucepan. Add a big splash of tequila añejo, a smaller splash of Cointreau, grated zest of an orange, and a pinch of nutmeg. Heat briefly until ingredients are incorporated and fragrant. Cool to room temperature, and it will thicken. Spoon over ice cream with bites of crystalized ginger.