Authenticity is the buzzword on everyone's lips when they talk about travel right now. And we’re no different. At F&W we’re looking for authentic experiences wherever we go. From staying on a working farm to eating off the beaten path, we want to live like a local, even if just for a few days. One of the best ways to do that is to learn to cook the food of a particular place. Coming home armed with recipes and new skills is the ultimate souvenir. So that’s why I was especially excited to spend some time at the new El Pueblito cooking school in Mayakoba, a dreamy eco development on the Riviera Maya in Mexico. Chef Karla Enciso taught me how to make tortillas (which I will probably still leave to the pros), ceviche and lots of incredible sauces and salsas that I can use over and over. The key to the salsas: All the ingreidents were charred first–garlic, onion, peppers, tomatoes– giving them an incredible depth of flavor. Here is one of chef Karla’s recipes to hold you over until you can make it to El Pueblito.
Spicy Shrimp Aguachile
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4 banana peppers, stemmed and seeded
3 tomatillos, husked and diced
1/2 cup peeled chopped cucumber, plus 20 thin slices for garnish
1 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onions
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and pepper
18 large shrimp—peeled, deveined and halved lengthwise
1 Hass avocado--halved, pitted and diced
Cilantro, for garnish
1. Place the banana peppers on a hot grill or directly over an open flame. Cook, turning every 2 to 3 minutes, until the peppers are charred and blistered. Transfer to a heatproof bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the seeds and veins, but leave the charred skin on the peppers for flavor.
2. In a blender, combine the charred banana peppers with the tomatillos, chopped cucumbers, 1/2 cup of the lime juice and 1/4 cup of the onions. Add the olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Puree until completely smooth. Taste (it will be spicy) and add more salt and red onion if needed. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
3. On a large platter, lay the shrimp in a single layer. Cover with the remaining 1/2 cup of lime juice and season with salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
4. Drain the lime juice from the shrimp and divide onto 6 plates. Season with salt. Top with the spicy banana pepper sauce, diced avocado, red onion, sliced cucumbers and cilantro leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.