“If I’ve learned anything from a fortunate life, it’s that the quickest route inside another culture is through its food.” —Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Denis and I love to travel. In his words, “It’s what we do best.” While we like the routines we follow in our daily lives at home, we crave the sense of adventure that traveling allows. For me, this adventurous spirit extends to having new food experiences as well. I love to sample local cuisine and try foods that are new to me. Eating teaches me about my travel destination. I can learn a lot about local customs, traditions and values, (why do people eat what they do?) about local landscapes and resources (what is grown locally? how is it harvested?) and even about the history of an area (has this recipe been passed down through the generations? what makes it a favourite?)
When I think of the food we have enjoyed the most in Mexico, fresh fruit ripened in the southern sunshine springs to mind. Jicama soaked in lime juice, tequila, hot peppers and fresh prawns all bring back fond food memories. I’m lucky that Denis is able to harvest our own spot prawns minutes from our home. I think of the following recipe as a blending of two geographic regions: fruit from warmer climates in the south and seafood from the cool waters of the Pacific Northwest.
This week’s Food Matters Project challenge was to come up with our own take on Mark Bittman’s recipe for Mexican-Style Fruit Salad with Grilled or Broiled Fish. You can view the original recipe on Sarah W.’s blog, Food & Frederick. Have look at all the variations by the other bloggers on the Food Matters Project page. I chose to give the dressing a bit of a kick by adding tequila and to keep it true to its culture by using agave syrup as the sweetener. I used shellfish instead of fish fillets or steaks because our freezer is rapidly filling up with prawns and I tossed in a little smoked salmon as an afterthought to provide a salty contrast to the sweet fruit.
Tequila Lime Dressing
2 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tsp lime zest
2 tbsp agave syrup or honey
2 tbsp tequila
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 bunch cilantro, washed and ends trimmed
freshly ground sea salt and pepper, to taste
Combine lime juice and zest, agave syrup and tequila in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add cilantro and process until smooth. With machine running, slowly add the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Mexican Fruit Salad
1 cup cantaloupe chunks
1 cup honeydew melon chunks
1/2 cup pineapple chunks
1 mango, peeled and cubed
2 oranges, in sections (or sliced mandarinquats)
1 cup strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup jicama, julienned or finely chopped
1 Tbsp. finely minced ancho chili
about 32 grilled prawns (see below)
1/2 cup smoked salmon chunks
Soak wooden skewers in water ahead of time.
Preheat the barbecue and lightly oil the grills if needed.
Shell the prawns, form them into a U-shape and pierce with the skewer through both ends so they remain flat on the grill. Brush lightly with a little olive oil (or your favourite basting sauce). Grill for 2-3 minutes on each side, or just until they turn white and opaque. Avoid overcooking them to keep them moist and tender.
The beauty of this recipe is that it is so easily adaptable. Not mango season? No organic strawberries available? No worries. Substitute any fruit that happens to be in season. Don’t have prawns? Use shrimp, or a white fish that is available in your area. Try adding other flavour boosters, like fresh goat cheese or chunks of fresh feta. Come to think of it, that’s why I like to cook so much–it’s a creative outlet. Create. Enjoy!