Lest you think I spent my entire vacation with my toes in the sand and a drink in my hand – while we were in Cozumel my dear wife signed us up for a cooking class with local chef Josefina Gonzales Luigi. The class offered a truly immersive cooking experience – from touring Josefina’s prolific garden (and playing with her four kitties), to deciding upon the menu, then trying out our Spanish while shopping San Miguel’s mercado for fresh ingredients, and finally assembling the goodies under Josefina’s guidance.
We walked from Josefina’s kitchen over to the market to pick up supplies. The mercado is a block-sized labyrinth of vendors selling everything from fresh meat and produce, to hand-made linens, cooking utensils, and clothing.
When we returned from shopping, Josefina’s assistant had a big batch of refreshing agua de jamaica (hibiscus tea) waiting for us.
1 cup dried hibiscus flowers (found in large bags in the ethnic foods section of most big grocery stores)
3/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, to taste
1/2 gallon water
Put 4 cups of the water and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat until boiling and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the dried hibiscus flowers. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain into a pitcher, discarding the flowers
Add the remaining water (or ice and water if you want it cold fast) and chill.
After enjoying the agua de jamaica we started the ceviche right away so it could “cook” while we prepared the rest of the goodies.
1 pound firm white fish, deboned and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup lime juice (about 4 limes)
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon habañero pepper, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Because there is a (small) risk of parasites if the shrimp are fresh, you’ll want to boil them before adding them to the ceviche – fill a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp to the boiling water, stir, cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 8 to 10 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and just cooked through. Drain shrimp off into a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
Put the fish and shrimp in a large, non-reactive bowl. Cover with lime juice and stir well to make sure everything gets coated in lime juice. Let sit in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, Stir and return it to the fridge for another 20 minutes. After 40 minutes in the lime juice the fish should be “cooked” through and change from being pinkish grey and translucent to whiter in color, firm, and opaque. Stir in the onion, cilantro, and chile. Return to the fridge for another 20 minutes to let the flavors develop.
Serve with tortilla chips.
There were 10 other folks in class, and all told we ended up making refried black beans, guacamole, nopale (cactus) salad, red and green sauces, ceviche, margaritas, mango and cucumber salad, achiote sauce, habañero salsa, corn tortillas, and quesadillas. It was quite a meal and a real joy to get to learn from a talented cook and get to use fresh local ingredients.
A huge thanks to my dear wife for setting this up. It was the highlight of our trip and a great way to spend my birthday!