Wordless Wednesday: Puebleando en Chelem, Yucatán

A few weeks ago, I visited the state of Yucatán on a press trip for a few days to get to know the city of Mérida and the surrounding area, which was incredibly charming. Though my visit was short, it was jam-packed with activities—including things I didn’t think that I’d ever do on my own, but that I had a lot of fun doing—such as kayaking in a mangrove and bicycling several miles on a path through an estuary, where I spotted wild flamingos. One afternoon, we had a little bit of down time before the bicycle ride, so we hung out in a tiny little beach town called Chelem near Progreso. Here are a few photos from the time I spent there.

A day in Chelem, Yucatan, Mexico

I loved the quiet beach and the water was like a warm bath, very calm with hardly any waves. I hunted for sea shells—a favorite pastime since I was a kid—and also walked around the town square, checking out the little neighborhood bodegas to see what kind of local produce they had available. More about this trip soon! In the meantime, if you’d like to find more of my photos from the trip, check out my Instagram feed (@MauraHernandez) and also search the hashtag #yodescubriyucatan on Instagram for photos from other travelers.

  • Have you been to any of the little beach towns near Progreso in the state of Yucatán?

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_TOSOTT

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 an habanero, 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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CROCK-POT COCHINITA PIBIL

When I found out that January was National Slow-Cooking Month, I knew exactly what recipe I was going to adapt first for Crock-Pot cooking. I’ve always wanted to test my theory that cochinita pibil can be done in a slow cooker, so the fact that it was a nationally recognized month-long culinary holiday-of-sorts was the perfect chance to take on the challenge.

And, ahem… Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner, so if you’re planning a party with some Mexican food, this is an easy and delicious way to treat your guests to something new!

Yes, we’ve posted a recipe here before for cochinita, but let me tell you why this one is different. We’re using a different cut of meat (boneless country-style pork ribs), an easy spice mix made from scratch (no achiote paste in brick-form here, amigos), and as with most slow-cooker recipes, you can set it and forget it, making it relatively hassle-free compared to the traditional method of making cochinita. If you’re making it for guests, you can still serve it wrapped in warm banana leaves to impress them. Just check out our original recipe for cochinita pibil for directions on how to heat the banana leaves so they’re pliable.

And finally, we’re not going to serve our cochinita pibil as a taco like you might expect–we’re going to make a version of panuchos Yucatecos instead. In some places, they put the black beans inside the little tortillas and fry it before adding the meat, salsa and any garnishes on top, but we’re going to use a simpler method using small store-bought tostadas. After all, the point of a slow cooker is to make your life easier by letting you spend less time in the kitchen preparing food, so there’s no need to deal with the mess of stuffing and frying your tortillas. Plus, this recipe is a bit healthier because we’re leaving the frying out. If you can’t find small tostadas or picaditas at your grocery store, you can make your own by either heating corn tortillas in the oven until they’re dry and crispy, or you can get the same result by cooking them longer on your comal…. 

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Back from Cancún…

coconuts growing in Cancun

I’m back from Cancun and finally starting to recover from the intense humidity–about 95 percent–and nursing some mosquito bites so nasty that it looks like I’m coming down with a case of the chicken pox.

But aside from the weather (Hurricane Ida couldn’t stop me) and some bugs, Cancun did not disappoint.

There’s something I just love about coconuts–and piña coladas don’t even begin to cover it. All over Cancun, I saw palm trees with coconuts growing on them. In some cases, I saw them ripe and brown and falling off the tree; in other instances I saw gardeners trimming the leaves and picking up broken coconuts that had fallen to the ground. To some, getting to see coconut trees is no big deal, but to a Chicagoan it was a little slice of heaven. How glorious to have these natural beauties growing in your front yard or on the side of the road near where you live. These are things I dream about during the long Chicago winters.

As I was only in Cancun for a few days and working when I wasn’t sleeping, I didn’t get much of a chance to explore local taco joints much to my chagrin. But I did eat a few noteworthy items and jotted down a few thoughts to share.

sopa de lima

Sopa de lima, the quintessential Yucatecan dish, was undoubtedly the culinary highlight of my short trip. This version was the traditional broth with the addition of shredded chicken, strips of red bell pepper and nopales (also known as cactus paddle, and new to me as an ingredient of this soup), a generous floating slice of lime and a handful of perfectly crunchy tortilla strips which I promptly devoured before I even managed to take a photo.

I’m big on soups, and as my husband might also remind me, I’m big on lime juice even when it doesn’t technically belong there. I’ve never made sopa de lima at home; my first authentic taste of it was at El Faisan, a Yucatecan restaurant in Cuernavaca (a stone’s throw from Mexico City) about a year ago. Sopa de lima is simply a chicken stock-based soup with a lot less lime juice than you’d think neccesary in order to be called lime soup. A number of the recipes I’ve been studying include either serrano chiles or habaneros, and many have interesting spices like cloves or bay leaves and peppercorns in the preparation as well.

I’ll be experimenting with some sopa de lima recipes from Spanish-language cookbooks this winter, and when I find one that I think is worth sharing, I’ll let you know. I’m hoping to also get some more authentic sopa de lima taste-testing in when I travel to Cozumel soon. If you’ve got a good recipe, please get in touch and share so I can try it out. I’ve seen so many variations on the recipe that it almost makes my head spin when I think about it. Of course, I’ll be seeking advice and recipe suggestions from friends and family in Mexico when I make my annual December visit.

Other food notables from the trip: each day with breakfast, I ate chistorra, a notoriously fatty, delicious, fast-curing pork or pork/beef sausage not unlike chorizo (except for its size). The first night, I had a torta de cochinita pibil with an elegantly sliced avocado garnishing the plate, and as you can probably imagine, it didn’t take me too long to enjoy it–avocado and all.

I’d love to see any comments about your favorite Yucatecan foods as I’ll be headed back to the region in January.

  • How do you like your sopa de lima?

This Tortilla is headed South of the border!

I’m very excited to share that I’m on my way to the Yucatan Peninsula this morning… Cancún to be exact! I must admit, I was a little stressed about the weather over the weekend with Hurricane Ida passing over Cancún, but it seems to have passed and my flight is scheduled to leave on time.

It’s my first time visiting Cancún, and while I’ll be there on “official business” almost all week (photographing a wedding), I’ll also be scouting for local tacos and other Mexican delights to please my palate. Please share with me in the comments your favorite Yucatecan dishes–I plan to try some new things there and hope to come back with some ideas for recipes to tinker with in my kitchen!

Cancun Map

map of Mexico (pinpoint on Cancún)

I’ve had several questions about where certain Mexican cities are located in relation to each other over the last few weeks, so I know some of you will appreciate this little geography lesson. Cancún is at the northeast tip of the peninsula–and is far from the centrally located capital, Mexico City, from where I usually take most of my culinary influence here on The Other Side of The Tortilla.

Yucatan Peninsula

The Yucatan Peninsula

 

Though Cancún is certainly a big tourist destination because of the beautiful beaches, there is much more to this region than beaches and resorts synonymous with spring-breakers. It’s rich with ancient ruins, cenotes, lush ecosystems and is abundant with remnants of pre-Hispanic civilizations.

I’ll be back at the end of the week with photos and stories to share.

I look forward to reading your comments about Cancún and the Yucatan Peninsula when I return! (And don’t forget next week is tortilla soup week.)

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