Cooking Like a Mexican

Mango-Coconut shrimp
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

One of my favorite fruits is Mangos. They are fleshy, juicy, tasty, and they have that perfect balance between bitter and sweet. They are also great for cooking especially with sea food. So let me tell you something about a dish that will enhance your table anytime.

The best shrimp and all kinds of seafood come from the state of Campeche which is one of the three areas that make up the Yucatan peninsula. From Words “Can” (Snake) and “Pech” (tick) meaning “the place where the boa snake was worshiped” (The boa is a reptile that accepts the tick as a parasite to cohabitate). In and around the Mayan monuments of the site, the Spanish found huge snakes. In the metaphorical sense, more accurate to the meaning that people from this place translates is: Campeche is; rather than “place of snakes and ticks,” as reflected in the Mayan language, means “God and Priests.” or “Place of God and Priests.”  Yeah, it’s a stretch.

Campeche state history formally begins in the first half of the sixteenth century. Before that, the territory now known as Campeche and in general, the whole Yucatan Peninsula was a territorial stronghold.  Probably for more than a millennium, the people and the Mayan culture were all by themselves and were called by the Mayan, the Mayab. This term still in use today.

They were the guardians of an advanced culture, also they were farming communities, although most of their subsistence was based on the exploitation of marine resources. Along the coast of Campeche waters there are more than 25 species of edible fish, shellfish and many others, as well as six varieties of shrimp that are recognized throughout Mexico as the best in the country. The extraction and sale of salt was also an important activity.

Shortly after the Spanish colonization English pirates came seeking to exploit the wood, which  is very coveted not only for its beauty but because it was excellent for staining fabrics with a bright red color. Pirates first occupied the island of Tris-late, now called Isla del Carmen, in 1558. Campeche, which was by nature the most warm and quiet area in the Yucatán Península, was turned into the most dangerous place because of the pirates. The best known were mostly of British origin, such as William Parker, Henry Morgan, James Jackson and other Cuban-born, Dutch, French and Spanish. Our own San Jose was also infiltrated by pirates who waited by the estuary for Spanish galleons to come in for fresh water.

The state of Campeche has a gastronomical personality well defined and the varied diet of the Mayan was further enriched with the arrival of the Spanish. But the innovations did not end there, as later the pirates brought to the local gastronomy new ingredients and methods of preparation.

Recipes developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and it reveals a rich cuisine. However, the sum of the ingredients used in those days, (such as turtles and alligators), are not allowed anymore because the species are in danger of extinction. However, these recipes are a testimony to the culinary diversity of the region.

In Campeche it is a tradition for men to go to market. This tradition dates back to the pirates’ times, when women were so afraid of being raped and abused by them that they hardly left their houses.

Another interesting tradition is that all families prepare a specific dish depending on the day of the week. For example, Mondays they serve stew, fresh fish on Fridays and “chocolomo” (stew of meat and kidneys) on Saturday nights.

The people in Campeche are very hospitable. In their homes, the food is important and the hosts welcome their visitors with abundant and delicious dishes, all offered from the bottom of their hearts. And they like to show their guests the traditions and beauty of their state.

 Of all these wonderful recipes, coconut shrimp with apple compote and mango sauce is one that has gained popularity worldwide, so here I offer it up to you.

 

(I am going to start with the mango salsa because it will take eight days to get the right consistency and flavor). No, this doesn’t mean that you have to spend eight days cooking ok?

Mango Salsa

Ingredients:

2 mangoes cut into small pieces

4 teaspoons chili powder

1 pinch of salt.

1 ½ teaspoon of curry powder

½ teaspoon of mustard

½ teaspoon olive oil

 

Preparation:

In a skillet with a few drops of oil put all the ingredients until you have a paste for around 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool for a while.

Add the mango and blend until you have a marmalade consistence, cover and keep it in the fridge for around 8 days so it will take the right taste.

You may want to add a little distilled vinegar, it is good to preserve freshness and color.

Ingredients

½ cup of flour

2 eggs

Milk (as much as needed to make a mixture similar to a pancake dough.)

 

For the breading:

1 ½ cups of crushed cornflakes.

2 cup of sweetened shredded dried coconut (you can find them in any supermarket)

Oil for frying.

Apple Compote:

3 tart apples peeled and diced

1 cinnamon stick.

24 jumbo size shrimp, peeled, leaving the tails

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt to taste

Preparation

Dough:

Mix the flour with the egg and a pinch of salt. Add enough milk to form a thick porridge.

Apple Compote: Cook fruit with sugar, cinnamon, and a little

water until the apple is tender and liquid thickens.

Shrimp:

Open the back of the shrimp in half to clean them and leave the tail, then soak them for a few seconds in water with lemon. Drain, dry them with a paper towel and dip into the paste. Pass the shrimp in coconut mixed with corn flakes and fry in enough hot oil. Separate constantly so it does not overcook or stick into the pan. Drain on absorbent paper and serve with apple sauce. Enjoy!

 

Alejandra,