When we don’t go to India, my husband and I go to Mexico for vacations. Like in India, the weather is always warm and sunny, the people are friendly to travelers, and the food is vegetarian-friendly and delicious!
We often book a hotel room with a kitchenette so we can experiment with recipes using local ingredients. Similar to Indian vegetable bazaars, food markets are bustling in Mexican towns, full of discriminating shoppers vying for the best quality produce. Herbs and spices are easy to find, and often sold in bulk so that one can inspect them for freshness. After trying some local entrees in restaurants, we copied the dishes in our kitchenette and created some interesting recipes. Here are two examples that combine the flavors of Mexico and India, two of the best cuisines in the world! These two dishes are ideal for a potluck dinner or a picnic basket.
Chilaquiles is one of the many recipes in Mexican cuisine that makes use of stale tortillas. The dish can take many forms, from a soup with tortillas floating on top to a hearty casserole like this one. The casserole can be made with a tomato or tomatillo sauce. In addition to traditional tortilla chips, ingredients can be added to create a substantial entrée.
2 cups of cooked rice and quinoa pilaf (recipe below)
4 cups Mexican Salsa Roja (recipe below)
1 dozen corn tortillas (dry, stale tortillas are best)
2 tablespoons canola, corn, safflower or olive oil, plus extra tablespoons as needed
2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese, queso fresco (Mexican fresh cheese), or a melt-able vegan substitute
Chopped cilantro for garnishing
Basmati Rice and Quinoa Pilaf
Rice and quinoa are nourishing and easy to digest. Indian Basmati rice has a unique fragrance that has been attributed to its native soil. Quinoa, an ancient Incan grain, is very nutritious, high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Like Basmati rice, quinoa cooks in 10-12 minutes, making the combination a perfect marriage of two grains.
2 cups hot water boiled with ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup white basmati rice and ½ cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon oil
¼ cup chopped almonds or cashew pieces
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Bring the water and salt to a boil. Heat the oil in a skillet and stir fry the nuts for 2-3 minutes. Add the cumin seeds and sauté for one minute. Add the grains and stir-fry for 3 minutes, but don’t allow them to brown. Add the grain mixture to boiling water. Allow the water to return to a boil, reduce the heat and cook covered for 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat but keep the grains covered. After 10 minutes, use in the casserole recipe as described below.
Yield: approximately five cups of pilaf.
Mexican Tomato Salsa Roja
2 pounds fresh red tomatoes
2 fresh jalapeno or serrano peppers, seeded and finely chopped
3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 to 4 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons corn or safflower oil
½ cup onion, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Boil the tomatoes in a water until their skins split. Transfer to a bowl of cold water to cool. Peel and cut them into chunks. Blend the tomatoes and other ingredients (except the onion) in a food processor. Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the chopped onion for 2 minutes. Add the blended tomatoes and salt. Stir and cook for 10 minutes. This salsa can be refrigerated for up to a week.
Yield: approximately 6 cups of sauce.
Guacamole always seemed to resemble the Indian chutney. So I wanted to create a recipe for avocado chutney that would taste distinctly different. The inclusion of ginger with the traditional herbs cilantro, scallion and fresh hot chilies used in a Mexican guacamole recipe did the trick. Here is my avocado chutney with an Indian twist. Enjoy!
2 soft, ripe avocados
2 to 3 tablespoons green onion (scallion), including some greens, finely minced
3 tablespoons cilantro
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, deseeded and finely minced
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
Salt to taste
Peel the avocados and remove the pits, reserving one pit. Place the chopped onion, cilantro, ginger and pepper in the jar of a food processor. Process them for a minute. Then add avocado, lime or lemon juice and salt and process the contents for a minute or two until pureed. Transfer to a serving bowl and place the pit in the center to keep the guacamole from discoloring.
In Mexico, traditionally a grinding stone called Molcajete and a pestle is used to mash the avocado and the herbs together into a puree. But you can use a food processor to puree the avocado chutney easily.
Yield: approximately 1 cup chutney
Preparing the casserole
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan and lightly fry the tortillas one at a time on both sides to soften them. Add more oil as needed, but just enough to moisten the pan. Do not allow the tortillas to become too oily or too crispy. Remove and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Cut the tortillas into 1½-inch-wide strips and set aside.
Lightly oil the bottom of a 9×14 inch casserole dish. Layer the ingredients as follows:
Line the bottom of the casserole with a cup of Mexican Salsa Roja. Cover the sauce with a layer of tortilla strips. Next, sprinkle a cup of cheese on top of the tortilla strips. Then, layer 1½ cups of rice and quinoa pilaf, spreading evenly. Repeat the process, layering salsa, tortilla strips, cheese, and rice and quinoa mixture. Lastly sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and cover the casserole with the rest of the salsa, making sure to cover the dry corners.
Cover the casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Uncover and bake for a few more minutes until the top is golden brown. Cool for a few minutes, cut into squares, and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve with avocado chutney.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
(1) Chilaquiles with Beans or tofu: Add a layer of 2 cups of cooked black beans, or tofu.
(2) Chilaquiles with Salsa Verde: Prepare a green salsa using the recipe provided below but substituting cooked, husked tomatillos in place of tomatoes. Assemble as described above.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, an illustrator and an art student..