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Native Cooking

Cinco de Mayo was the day Napoleon’s troops were defeated in Puebla, Mexico, in 1867. It also happens to be my uncle’s birthday and that of a good friend, so, quite naturally, we all celebrated at our favorite restaurant. At the Mexican restaurant, they make jalapeno poppers to die for; no frozen tricksters these, they will cure any sinus problem in minutes so we bring lots of tissues.

Growing up on a Native New England diet of fish, corn, potatoes, beans and the like, Mexican or Southwestern food was a latecomer to my favorites department. Now, I can’t get enough of it. This holiday seems to ring in the social season when gatherings with friends and relatives are much more frequent and this cuisine fits right in. Quesadillas have replaced winter’s grilled cheese and refried beans, plain or jazzed up, and are a change from baked beans. Guacamole and salsas rule. Ole!

<b>Easy Tostadas</b>

4 flour tortillas

1 cup cheese, shredded (Monterey Jack, Cheddar, etc.)

1 small can chopped jalapenos

2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded or chopped

1 cup salsa

1 cup lettuce, shredded

2 fresh tomatoes, diced

3 tablespoons cilantro

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Sour cream and avocado slices as garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put cheese evenly on tortillas, spread a spoonful of jalapenos on top and bake for about 3 – 4 minutes to melt the cheese. Mix chicken, salsa, cilantro and cumin. Spoon over the tortillas and bake for 6 – 8 minutes. Top with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado slices and a spoonful of sour cream.

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<b>Jicama Salad</b>

2 cups jicama, julienned

1/2 cup carrots, julienned

1/2 cup red bell pepper, julienned

1/2 cup green bell pepper, julienned

2 stalks celery, sliced thin

1 small can black olives, sliced or whole

1/4 cup salad dressing, your choice or A Good Mustard Dressing (below)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat. Let the flavors marinate for about an hour at room temperature.

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<b>A Good Mustard Dressing</b>

1 large egg yolk

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

2/3 cup very light olive oil

4 tablespoons Dijon mustard (or any grainy mustard)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl. Add the vinegar to it, then add the rest of the ingredients and beat until smooth. Put in the fridge for at least an hour to chill.

This dressing is delicious, too, on salmon. Brush it on and let the salmon marinate before grilling.

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<b>Frito Misto

(Vegetable Fritters)</b>

Use an oil low in trans fats. Olive oil doesn’t do well at high temperatures, but you can use it for this because vegetables don’t need much time to cook through. It is also wise to have paper towels on a cookie sheet or something to drain the oil. You can do this recipe in small batches, cooking like things together and keeping them warm in the oven until ready to serve. You can use your deep fryer if you have one. My old cast iron Dutch oven works just fine. Sweet and sour duck sauce is good for dipping.

<b>Vegetable Choices</b>

Onion

Summer squash

Jerusalem artichoke

Bell peppers

Watercress

Parsley

Squash blossoms

<b>Batter</b>

3/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons light oil

2/3 cup water

2 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the batter, mix the flour and salt together in a bowl, stir in the oil and add the water slowly to make a smooth paste. Let this sit for a couple of hours. Before using, beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the batter gently.

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<b>Breakfast Burritos</b>

4 flour tortillas, burrito size (10 inch)

2 cups longhorn Cheddar, shredded

2 small ripe avocados

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 large garlic clove

1/2 cup butter or low-fat substitute

8 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

Salsa

Salt and pepper

Put tortillas on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the cheese. Set aside.

Peel and mash the avocado in a bowl. Add crushed garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Melt a little butter in a small pan. Beat two eggs at a time and salt and pepper them as they cook. As they set, roll them and set them aside. While they are cooking, put the tortillas in the oven for a few minutes at 350 degrees to melt the cheese. Put an omelet in the middle of each tortilla. Top this with the avocado mixture and roll up. Keep this warm in the oven while you finish the rest of the omelets. Lower the heat a little. Put a spoonful of sour cream on top to serve and a bowl of salsa on the table.

If you like, add a bit of ham or bacon to the egg while it’s cooking.