Central Baja Ann Hazard's favorite Mexican recipes
When most people think of Baja California, what comes to mind is either the resort of Los Cabos at the southern tip of the peninsula, or the "Gold Coast," which runs from Tijuana through Rosarito to Ensenada. These are by far the most visited parts of the peninsula. However … there are nearly 800 miles between the two. The recipes for this week all came from either road or plane trips to some fairly remote places along Mexico's Highway 1. I've included some of my favorites from places like CataviZa, Bahía de Los Angeles, Santa Rosalía, Mulege, Bahía Concepción and Loreto. While Loreto is an up-and-coming tourist resort, CataviZa is barely a blip on the radar screen, out in the middle of nowhere. It boasts a hotel, a sometimes open Pemex (gas) station and a few other tiny businesses. Bahía de Los Angeles is a fishing village with a colony of gringo expatriates. Santa Rosalía is a fair-sized Mexican town with a French flair and Mulege-Bahía Concepción boast some of the best scenery anywhere. So travel on with me, amigos, then try these recipes. You can make quite the central Baja fiesta with them!
CANTALOUPE SOUP BAHÍA CONCEPCIÓN
Just southeast of the steamy subtropical jungle of Mulege, almost two-thirds of the way down the Baja peninsula, lies the incomparably lovely Bahía Concepción. It is one of the most-photographed spots in all of Baja, and justly so. Its pristine white crescent sand beaches surround an equally pristine, breath-takingly beautiful aquamarine bay. From one of our camping trips to the area comes this simple but distinctive chilled soup. The combination of cantaloupe and potato gives it a wonderfully rich flavor and texture. Serve it outdoors in the spring or summer and you'll be able to imagine yourself dining al fresco-under a palapa-on the shore of Bahía Concepción at Santispac Beach. Even if you can't be there, you're still guaranteed to get a flock of compliments. Serves six. Takes about five minutes to make and an hour to chill.
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup potato, cooked, peeled and diced
3 cups cantaloupe, peeled and diced
1/4 cup sherry
salt to taste
nutmeg and lime slices for garnish
Place the half and half, potato and cantaloupe in blender. Puree. Stir in sherry and season to taste with salt. Serve chilled in glass bowls, garnished with nutmeg and lime slices.
CRAB SALAD LORETO
Quick, easy and dyn-o-mite, this salad is guaranteed to transport you right to a palapa on the beach, where you're eating barefoot, with your feet digging aimlessly in the grainy sand-sand that's still warm from the leftover heat of the just-set-sun. Can you hear the waves quietly lapping against the shore in front of you as the new moon cuts a silver sliver in the early evening sky? Ah yes. Here comes the first star.
You are in Loreto, the oldest permanent settlement in all of Baja. Yes. It's true. Located nearly three quarters of the way down the peninsula, on the Sea of Cortez side, Loreto was founded by Padre Juan María Salvatierra, a Jesuit priest on October 25, 1697. The Misión de Nuestra SeZora de Loreto is located in the center of town. It was the first of 20 missions founded by Jesuit priests in Baja before they were expelled in 1767 for mistreating the Indians. Loreto was the capital of Baja until it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1829-at which time the capital was moved to La Paz.
So, how are things in Loreto these days? Well, it's been targeted by Fonatur, the Mexican tourist bureau, to become the next Cancún or Ixtapa-serious tourist resorts both. It has a lovely malecón, a walkway that runs right along the sea, a new marina and a swanky resort that offer tennis, golf, fishing and diving. It has daily air service from L.A. And it's growing-both in size and in fame since the big tricentennial fiesta in October of 1997.
So you're ready to go? Me too. Until such time as we get those plane tickets, or have the car packed and ready to roll, we can feed our Baja hunger by cooking up a storm! You'll find the medley of flavors in this tangy crab salad both scrumptious and inspiring. Serves two as a meal and takes less than 20 minutes to prepare.
1 pound cooked crab, diced and chilled (or 3 jars)
2 avocados, peeled, seeded and diced
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tomatoes, diced
1 3 1/2 ounce can sliced black olives
8 - 10 romaine leaves, rinsed and dried
1 1/2 cups tortilla chips
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp Mexican lime juice
1 tsp garlic powder
2 cups salsa fresca
Two to four hours before serving, combine all ingredients except lettuce, crab and chips. Cover and refrigerate. At mealtime, arrange crab mixture on top of lettuce leaves and garnish with chips.
Mix together ingredients for dressing in small bowl. Pour over salad, toss gently and serve.
BAY OF L.A. LOBSTER TACOS
The first time I ever heard of lobster tacos was at Mama Diaz' restaurant in Bahía de Los Angeles. (Bay of L.A., as we gringos call it, is a remote but spectacularly scenic fishing village on the Sea of Cortez, a third of the way down the Baja peninsula.) That trip was almost thirty years ago, before there was even a paved road south of El Rosario (barely the other side of Ensenada).
We flew in with Francisco MuZoz, a World War II ace who ran Baja Airlines and was a great buddy of both my grandfather and Erle Stanley Gardner. Francisco's leaflets advertised the Bay of L.A. as, " ... the Fabulous Fishing Resort in Baja." A flight left Tijuana every Friday morning at 11:00 and returned every Saturday at 2:00 pm. Round trip tickets went for $47.52. Flying time was a little over two hours in one of his two Douglas B-18's (World War II bombers similar to DC-3's). After we'd traveled with MuZoz a few times, he and my dad (who are the same age) became great amigos in their own right. Often, over the years, when we flew with him, one of my folks would sit up in the cockpit and hang out with him. Sometimes Nina and I got to also, but our favorite jobs were when we got to serve canned drinks, sack lunches and other snacks to the passengers-which to two girls under 12 was-in today's gringo lingo -- way cool.
A few years ago I went back to the Bay of L.A. Sure enough, the Casa Diaz was still there, even though Mama and Antero had both passed away. And sure enough, they still served lobster tacos, even though they weren't on the menu. Some things don't ever change and one of those facts of life is that the best things in Mexico are not always on the menu! I like that. Lobster tacos are best served as soft tacos in fresh corn tortillas. Makes 12 tacos and takes about 15 minutes to make after the lobster is cooked.
2 pounds cooked, diced lobster meat
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 serrano chiles, minced (hot)
1 tbsp fresh Mexican lime juice
Heat all ingredients in medium sized saucepan. Serve as you would any tacos with a variety of condiments.
SHARK STEAKS SANTA ROSALÍA
Santa Rosalía, almost two thirds of the way down the Baja coast is the only place in Baja with a French heritage. It was first settled by the French in the 1870s and for nearly 80 years flourished as a manganese-mining town. Its church is still world-famous. It was designed by Gustav Effeil for the Paris World's Fair in 1898 and actually constructed by one of his fellow students. After the fair's completion, the church was dismantled and shipped in pieces to Santa Rosalía around Cape Horn.
These days the town still has the best bakeries in all of Mexico, the most famous being El Boleo, named after the French Mining Company. It has a new marina and has begun to attract a few yachties that travel the Sea of Cortez in their sail and powerboats during the pleasant fall, winter and late spring months. Other than that, Santa Rosalía is pretty much off the beaten tourist path as no major airlines fly in there. Caravans of motor homing travelers stop in to rest and stock up on supplies. A few folks, old school Baja types-the serious peace-and-quiet seekers-come to fish and hang out a while. Others stop in to catch the ferry to Guyamas on the mainland.
Serves six and takes 20 minutes to prepare.
2 pounds shark fillets or steaks
salt and pepper to taste
dash paprika and cayenne pepper
1/2 cup butter or margarine
2 tbsp lemon or Mexican lime juice
1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
Season fish fillets to taste with salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne. Melt butter in saucepan and add lemon or lime juice and garlic. Gently pour lemon butter over fish. Grill on barbecue on both sides until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
CATAVIYA CHICKEN ROLLS
I don't have the words in me to do justice to CataviZa. CataviZa is one of my sacred places. Midway between the Pacific and Sea of Cortez in the middle of the peninsula, a little less than a third of the way down Baja, you can find it on a map due west of Gonzaga Bay. The Baja highway slices right through it, providing the traveler with stunning views of high country cacti found nowhere else in Baja, prehistoric rock formations and endless, endless blue sky. Aside from being the perfect place to stop overnight at the La Pinta Hotel on the way south, it is also a place to connect powerfully with the ancient Indian mystics who walked these hills so long ago.
I created this dish on a motor home trip back in the 80s. We were staying overnight at the one campground (which consisted of a dirt lot surrounded by a fence) in CataviZa on our way to the Bay of L.A. I was trying to make a Baja version of that great Russian entree, Chicken Kiev. I made it from ingredients I had on hand in my cupboards, and we were so impressed with how it turned out that we named it after our stopping place, CataviZa. Serves six and takes an hour to prepare.
12 filets of boneless skinless chicken breasts
10 ounces diced green chiles (approx. 3 cans)
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cut in 12 strips
3/4 cup cornflake crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp American chili powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
8 tbsp melted butter or margarine
1 16 ounce can Mexican stewed tomatoes, pureed
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce to taste
Pound chicken pieces to about 1/4 inch thickness. Put about two tablespoons chiles and one strip Jack cheese in center of each chicken piece. Roll up and tuck ends under. Combine cornflake crumbs, Parmesan cheese, chili powder, salt, cumin and pepper. Dip each chicken in shallow dish of butter and roll in crumb mixture. Place chicken rolls, seam side down in oblong baking dish and drizzle with leftover butter. Cover and chill four hours or overnight. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
To make sauce, combine stewed tomatoes, cumin and green onions in small saucepan. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Heat well and spoon over chicken to serve.
FRIED BANANAS MULEGE STYLE
Fried bananas were transplanted to Baja from Vera Cruz. I first tried these on my first trip to Mulege and my mom was able to get the recipe to take home with us. This is a "must eat" dessert. Fried and lightly spiced with Orange and cinnamon, it's simple to make and will please everyone.
In case you haven't heard much about Mulege, let me clue you in on a couple of things. First of all, it has the only navigable río in all of Baja. The riverbanks are lined with groves of date palms, coconut palms and olive trees. Mulege has a lovely mission and some offshore rock islands that colonies of sea lions call home. There are prehistoric cave paintings in the nearby hills- and of cours-Bahía de Concepción. This recipe serves eight and takes about 25 minutes to prepare.
4 tbsp butter or margarine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Orange juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 green tipped bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise
Melt margarine in skillet with brown sugar, Orange juice and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add banana slices. Stir and cook over medium high heat for four to five minutes until bananas are golden and liquid is almost caramelized. Serve immediately.
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Recipe and tips provided by Ann Hazard.