Ensalada Xec: Mayan Citrus and Jicama Salad

We’ve been making an extra effort to eat healthy in our house, especially since we moved across the country and have access to more local produce than ever before (hello, California citrus!). This crunchy, spicy, juicy citrus salad from the Yucatan area of Mexico is the perfect healthy snack. Ensalada xec (xec is Mayan for “mixed,” and is sometimes spelled as “xeec,” “xek” or “xe’ek” and is pronounced “shek”) is a staple dish in the region and is sometimes also made as a salsa without the jicama.

Ensalada xec: Spicy Mayan citrus salad made with orange, mandarin orange, grapefruit, jicama, lime juice, chile habanero, cilantro and sea salt. #Recipe on theothersideofthetortilla.com.

This past weekend, I served my ensalada xec for a salad-themed Food Bloggers LA meetup and it was a big hit. I love this recipe because it keeps crunchy in the refrigerator for a few days in the event that you have leftovers. I find this dish keeps best when refrigerated in a covered glass bowl. Some recipes for ensalada xec call for ground cayenne pepper, which is perfectly fine, but I prefer to use fresh chile. Habanero is frequently used in the regional cuisine in the Yucatan, so I used it in this recipe. If your tastebuds can’t handle the heat from a habanero pepper, you can substitute a finely chopped serrano chile or just use a dried chile powder of your choice. You could also use  Tajín (the popular Mexican chile, lime and salt seasoning) sprinkled on top if you don’t want to use fresh chiles; if you use Tajín, remember to leave the salt out of the recipe…. 

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AGUA FRESCA: Agua de mandarina

As the weather starts to get warmer, I’ve gotten an itch for making aguas frescas. This happens to me just about every year. Toward the end of the winter, I always seem to fall into a rut in the kitchen as I wait for spring to arrive. And like clockwork, as soon as we get our first day of warm weather, I head to the store looking for fresh fruits to make aguas frescas. This year was no exception, and the first fruit I spotted was a large bag of mandarinas, mandarin oranges.

I love mandarin oranges both because of the refreshing, sweet juice they produce and their portability as a vitamin-packed snack. In fact, I’ve been carrying two mandarin oranges my purse at all times for the last few weeks so that I always have a healthy snack at the ready.

But I’ve also got some cherished memories of the early days of hanging out with my cuñada, when she used to take me out for aguas frescas and where we almost always ended up with agua de mandarina, one of her favorites—and consequently, now, one of my favorites too.

This is an incredibly simple recipe, but one I’ve been asked for time and again by friends. It’s perfect for serving with any meal, and any gathering—large or small.

A few notes: my husband likes his agua de mandarina to be a little sweeter, but I prefer mine to be more natural and without sugar. My advice: try it without sugar first and perhaps leave out the lime juice. If you feel like it’s not sweet enough for your liking, you can mix about 2 tablespoons of sugar with 1/4 cup of warm water to get it to dissolve, and then mix it with the remaining 1-1/2 cups of cold water.

I also like to use a handheld citrus press for this recipe because I found that my electric juicer doesn’t always extract all the juice due to the small size of the mandarin oranges.

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