It is time for the yearly dose of sunshine to break up this gray winter and our trip to Mexico couldn’t have come soon enough for this lady. We just returned from Todos Santos where we rented a hacienda with some close friends and the guacamole, margaritas, beans and fish tacos were on repeat the entire time. I’m still in a vitamin D induced haze and have not accepted the reality that I am home and wearing socks and a wool coat.
Todos Santos is a small town in Baja California Sur, about an hour north of Cabo. It is one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos,” a select group of towns whose cultural, historical and natural treasures have been deemed, well…magical. Founded in 1723, Todos Santos is an oasis in the desert and boomed from sugar cane production but in the 1950’s fell into ruins when the area experienced a severe drought. Water has returned and the area is now an agricultural center, producing some of the best poblanos, avocados, papaya and mangos.
Since the paving of hwy 19, which runs from La Paz to San Jose del Cabo, Todos Santos has also become a tourist destination and a center for art & culture. It’s charming colonial town center has loads of galleries and shops full of local crafts and is also a host to multiple music, film and art festivals throughout the year. The area is also big on eco-tourism, birding, sea turtle conservation, surfing….. It really is a pretty magical place.
We stayed on a 5 acre property filled with sugar cane, banana, citrus, avocado, mango, guava and olive trees. Unfortunately it is winter so nothing was ripe for the eating, BUT we had a veggie garden and local markets to supply us with fresh organic vegetables, as well as a wine shop featuring only boutique baja wines, a tortilla shop and local fisherman to supply us with fish. The menu for the week pretty much set itself.
First thing was first. We needed to stock up on margarita, salsa & guacamole makings. 7:00pm arrival and we are immediately at the bodega buying tequila, chiles, tomatillos, avocados, onion, cilantro, limes and tortillas. The next morning we got a big pot of black beans cooking in the cazuela and eggs from the groundskeeper’s chickens. Life is good.
I was told there was a beach where the local fisherman come in every afternoon with their day’s catch. Our plan was to pick up fish for tacos. We showed up to the beach where one solo guy was fishing by throwing a line in the water with a prawn attached to the end then yanking it in when he felt something bite. No pole, just a fishing line wrapped around his duck taped finger. This dude was for real. We watched him pull in three huge grouper, but sadly they were not for sale. He told us a boat would arrive soon. After an hour of waiting a small boat whipped around the corner into the cove and straight onto the beach. We ran over to find them pulling out shark after shark after shark and proceeding to break them down at such a dizzying speed that I could hardly process what was happening. Shark was not the first thing I’d put on the menu and since I had brought my 4 year old daughter who was watching the fisherman hack away at a hammerhead with equal amazement and horror as well as my vegetarian friend who was watching only in horror, we decided to abort mission and head into town to the local Pescaderia where we picked up some nice red snapper.
There was the most amazing outdoor kitchen at the hacienda so I decided to wrap the fish in banana leaves and cook them over the grill. Also on the menu, grilled corn, squash & cactus tacos, black beans, and of course, guacamole, a fresh tomatillo salsa as well as a roasted tomatillo & chipotle salsa. To start, a kiwi & jalapeño margarita followed by a bottle of Vermentino and a bottle of Nebbiolo both from Baja and both really delicious.
fish tacos grilled in banana leaves with two tomatillo salsas
- 1 lb red snapper filets
- 4 canned chipotles in adobo, minced
- juice of 1 lime
- 4 large banana leaves, atlas 12″ long
- 2 cups shredded cabbage
- corn or flour tortillas
build a fire in a bbq. Run banana leaves over the fire to soften them and make them pliable. Tear off thin strips from the edge of each piece to use as ties. In each piece of banana leaf, arrange a piece of fish and top with a minced chipotle, a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt. Wrap up the fish and tie with the strip of leaf. Put the bundles on the grill and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Check one for doneness before unwrapping them all. Cooking time will depend on how thick the fish is and how hot the fire is. When the fish is done, toast the tortillas over the fire and top with fish, cabbage and salsa.
fresh tomatillo salsa
- 3 tomatillos
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 small jalapeño or serrano chile
- a few cilantro sprigs, about 1/4 cup
- 2 Tablespoons onion, minced
- juice of 1/2 lime
- salt to taste
Remove the husks from tomatillos and wash well. Combine tomatillos, avocado, chile, cilantro and lime juice in a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, stir in onion and season with salt.
roasted tomatillo & chipotle salsa
- 4 tomatillos
- 1-2 canned chipotles in adobo
- 1/4 onion
- 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon white wine or cider vinegar
- salt to taste
Heat broiler. Put tomatillos, onion and garlic on a baking sheet lined with foil and broil until charred and nicely roasted. Tomatillos will be soft and the juices will be running. About 10 minutes. Remove the husk from the garlic and dump everything, including accumulated juices, into a blender. Add the chipotles (1-2 depending on how spicy you like it) and puree everything until smooth. You may need to add a tablespoon or so of water to smooth it out. Pour into a bowl and stir in sugar, vinegar & salt to taste. Let cool.
cazuela black beans
- 1 lb black beans
- 1 white onion, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 sprig of epazote
- 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Rinse the beans well. Heat the oil in a large earthenware pot or dutch oven over medium heat and cook onion and carrot, stirring regularly until golden brown. Add beans and 2 quarts of water, removing any beans that float. Add the salt and epazote (or a few sprigs of cilantro if you can’t find epazote). Bring everything to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and cook partially covered for about 2 hours, adding water if needed to keep beans covered by 1/2″ at all times. Serve beans with a bit of the juice. I like to top them with a bit of chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of queso seco too.
kiwi & jalapeño margaritas
makes 2 cocktails
- 4oz tequila reposado
- 1 kiwi, peeled
- 1 jalapeño, seeded
- 1 oz lime juice
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
In a blender, puree kiwi and jalapeño. Add puree to a shaker with ice, the tequila, lime juice and simple syrup and shake well. Put salt on a small plate. Rub the rims of 2 glasses with one of the lime halves from juicing and dip into the salt to coat. Pour margaritas into the glasses and top with more ice if necessary.
- 2-3 avocados, depending on the size
- 1 whole serrano chile, minced
- 1/3 cup onion, diced
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 ripe tomato, diced (if in season, otherwise leave it out)
- juice of 1 lime
- 1/2 teaspoon white wine or cider vinegar
- kosher salt to taste
Mash avocados with the lime juice, vinegar and salt making sure to leave it fairly chunky. I like to have plenty of small chunks throughout. Fold in remaining ingredients until just combined then taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.