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An Enigma

Red Snapper Veracruzana

By Tim Hazell

We associate Mexico with the unique geography and the special characteristics of its mountainous landscapes. Brooding and rugged sierras frame Mexico’s spectacular sunsets, harbor plants, and animals adapted specifically to complex microclimates. The country is an enigma, easy to stereotype, impossible to categorize—from its high plains deserts and temperate central plateaus to the tropical paradise fronting the coastlines. Mexico is an impenetrable jungle, where timeless Mayan roof combs suddenly emerge from the crowns of trees.

Names of cities such as Palenque, Uxmal, Tula, and Tenochtitlan reach across millennia to fascinate us anew with their strangeness and allure. Impenetrable expressions of kings, gods, and monsters of the cosmos peer from within the iron grip of dismantling roots and creepers, recounting their histories in pictographs and glyphs of civilizations in flower and in decline.

Mayan portraits of monarchs such as Pakal, Chan Ballum, and 18 Rabbit have no parallels in Western art. Writers’ impressions of the Buddha, couples in Tantric reliefs, and carvings that adorn great temple complexes such as Angkor Wat have cultural connections. To describe Mexico as an Indian nation would be close to the truth. The wave of its last conquest, from Spain, was quickly assimilated by native societies with 3,000-year legacies of urbanism, upheavals, and bloodshed.

Mexican cuisine at its finest reflects the earthiness of its people, innovative combinations of flavors, exotic presentations, and refined food aesthetics. Ingredients for many of the dishes representing each ethnic group are also present in the cuisines of Southeast Asia—strikingly familiar, yet used in different ways. Tamarind, plantain, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, lemon leaf, and coconut milk are fundamental elements of Mexican, as well as Thai, Malaysian, and Nepalese recipes. Seafood and fish abound in Mexico’s lustrous green and blue waters. Here is a Veracruz hallmark that makes full use of capers, ripe tomatoes, chili peppers, and garlic. Red snapper (huachinango) is a carnivore with firm flesh and hints of shrimp, compatible with robust combinations of black beans, spices, and herbs. Buen provecho!

 

Red Snapper al la Veracruzana

Ingredients:

6 fillets red snapper, about 2 pounds

1/4 cup lime juice (2 large limes)

2 tbs olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 jalapeño chilies, seeded and finely minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

Black pepper

2 tbs capers

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground cloves

10 green olives with pimiento stuffing

Directions:

Marinate snapper fillets in lime juice for one hour, refrigerated. Heat oil in large pan. Cook onions over medium heat until translucent. Add chilies and garlic. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add chopped tomatoes and sugar, salt, pepper, then capers, cinnamon, and cloves. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes soften. Remove snapper from marinade. Add to the tomato mixture, spooning it over the fish. Add the olives and cook gently, partially covered, about 5 minutes. Serve with Mexican green rice or boiled red potatoes, black beans, coriander sprigs, and lime wedges.

 

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