The years we lived in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, were possibly the most exciting, beautiful and challenging in my four decades. I was just 30 when we moved there, with so much to learn. And I soaked it all in.
The culture is incredibly rich (it seems like every weekend is a “puente” (long weekend to celebrate some holiday they just celebrated the previous month), the people are hospitable and warm (although they have no problem taking for themselves what is rightfully yours) and the food is, in my humble opinion, some of the world’s best.
It was these aspects that kept us there–the flavors, the creativity, the culinary traditions, the amazing basil (so beautiful, it could be a floral bouquet), the vegetables and the seafood.
Ahhh, living on the Pacific Coast was magical. Waking up every morning and looking at the bay made me think I was dreaming…and some days all I wanted to do was go back to sleep…we never knew who or what was going to blow up. The joy (and pain) of owning a hotel and resort with 100 employees, 30 rooms and 30 acres.
And so when Chef Sabino, who came with the hotel, continued to serve week-old fish in our restaurant–a restaurant that was literally sitting ON the water, my husband, David, couldn’t take it anymore.
He stormed into the kitchen, threw the plate of grilled (week old) fish against the wall and told Sabino (in English, but screaming–they understand us better when we scream at them, in English, right?) that he had better start acting like a chef if he wanted to keep his job because the ocean is right there (pointing to the ocean just 30 feet away) and there is no reason to serve old fish!!
I loved Sabino and didn’t want him to get fired, so when I came home to San Antonio the following week, I picked up several food magazines (Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Cooking Light) and took them back to Mexico for, I hoped, inspiration so Sabino could keep his job.
There was one recipe in Cooking Light that David, Jaime, the General Manager, and I all thought sounded and looked pretty amazing. The next day, Jaime invited David and I to a special lunch and out came an exact replica of the dish in the magazine. Coconut Shrimp with Mango Sauce. And it tasted as good as it looked.
Sabino walked out of the kitchen smiling and David said, “Well, Sabino. Now, you’re really in trouble. You obviously know how to cook, so you are either lazy or not interested in keeping your job.”
The Coconut Shrimp with Mango Sauce dish remains on the menu today and is one of the top sellers. Like Sabino, who, today is a very accomplished chef and remains at the helm of the La Cala cocina (kitchen), I enjoy being “saved” by food magazines. I love it when they arrive in the mail, curious as to what is going to appeal to me at the moment and what I will cook.
I adapted this F&W recipe from the 2009 September issue and made it for my husband and his daughter, Katie, who is here for a week visiting from Seattle.
Chickpea Salad with Genoa Salami and Giardiniera Dressing
- 1 cup giardiniera stem the pepperoncini, plus 2 tablespoons pickling liquid from the jar (see Note)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
- 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons capers drained
- 1 small garlic clove finely chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 1/3 pound sliced Genoa salami halved and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1/4 pound sliced provolone cheese halved and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1/2 can of artichoke hearts halved
- 1 red pepper roasted and sliced
- 1 small head frisée chopped or 4 ounces of loose frisee
- 1/2 Boston lettuce torn
- 2 tablespoons basil thinly sliced
- Pepperoncini for garnish (optional)
In a food processor, combine the giardiniera vegetables with the pickling liquid, olive oil, red wine vinegar, capers and garlic and pulse until finely chopped. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, toss the chickpeas, salami, provolone, frisée, butter lettuce and basil. Add the giardiniera dressing, toss to coat, top with artichoke hearts and roasted red pepper and serve. Add a pepperoncini for garnish, if desired.
The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. The dressed salad can be refrigerated for up to 2 hours.