Photo of Zarela Martinez
Photo of Zarela Martinez

Zarela Martinez

Zarela Martinez is a Mexican chef, author, restaurateur, food television host, and product developer. She and her son, celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez, host the podcast "Cooking in Mexican from A to Z".

Expertise: Mexican Regional Cuisines

Experience: Mexican-born Zarela Martinez rewrote the story of Mexican cuisine in the U.S. when she opened her game-changing New York City restaurant Zarela in 1987. This legendary dining spot replaced ignorant culinary stereotypes with brilliant, fearless explorations of regional Mexican specialties embedded in their own distinctive contexts. Zarela is the author of "Food from My Heart", "The Food and Life of Oaxaca", and "Zarela's Veracruz", which was also the companion to a 13-part PBS television series. In 2013 she was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America. In the same year, Harvard's Schlesinger Library acquired her unpublished papers, an invaluable documentation of a lifetime dedicated to enlightening food-lovers everywhere about Mexican cuisine and culture.
Here, Mexican cooking authority Zarela Martinez shares her rules for a successful career. 
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Mex Appeal
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With jungles, waterfalls and one of Mexico's best regional cuisines, little-known Veracruz is a great adventure.
In Veracruz, this versatile sauce is served with appetizers, as well as with grilled meats, chicken and fish. Zarela Martinez eats it like a lighter, spicier guacamole. The chunky-textured original version is made with a Mexican stone mortar and pestle, but you can also use a food processor or blender. Adjust the texture to your liking.Plus: More Appetizer Recipes and Tips
Cooking whole fish doesn’t get much easier or more delicious than this. Inspired by a dish she had in Mexico’s coastal Veracruz region, chef Zarela Martinez, of the now-shuttered Zarela in New York City, quickly fries red snapper, then cooks it in a vivid tomatillo salsa. Slideshow: Recipes for Whole Fish 
The original recipe calls for mashing the ingredients by hand with a mortar and pestle and mixing in the chopped avocado and the cilantro at the end so that they keep their separate character in a coarse-textured sauce. Do it this way or follow an unorthodox approach that Zarela Martinez has grown fond of, pureeing everything together until very smooth in a food processor or blender.Plus: More Appetizer Recipes and Tips
Mole Verde
Rating: Unrated
New!
Mole Verde, or just "Verde" for short, is the lightest and freshest-tasting of Oaxaca's "seven moles." Fresh herbs (rather than spice accents) are what distinguish mole verde -- a puree of green herbs has to be added at the last minute.
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This recipe, which exemplifies the Caribbean influence in the food of Veracruz, comes from Raquel Torres's wonderful collection of Afro-Cuban recipes, La Cocina Afromestiza en Veracruz.Plus: More Vegetable Recipes and Tips
The food of Tomasa Meléndez Hernández (of Las Brisas del Mar restaurant) is full of marvelous, intricate flavors. One of her secret weapons is this aromatic mellow garlic paste, which she adds to dishes shortly before serving. A stronger version of the paste, made with garlic and olive oil, is used in the same way in specialties from the Spanish province of Catalonia and from the Levant.Plus: More Seafood Recipes and Tips
Mole Verde
Rating: Unrated
New!
Mole Verde, or just "Verde" for short, is the lightest and freshest-tasting of Oaxaca's "seven moles." Fresh herbs (rather than spice accents) are what distinguish mole verde -- a puree of green herbs has to be added at the last minute.
This recipe, which exemplifies the Caribbean influence in the food of Veracruz, comes from Raquel Torres's wonderful collection of Afro-Cuban recipes, La Cocina Afromestiza en Veracruz.Plus: More Vegetable Recipes and Tips
The food of Tomasa Meléndez Hernández (of Las Brisas del Mar restaurant) is full of marvelous, intricate flavors. One of her secret weapons is this aromatic mellow garlic paste, which she adds to dishes shortly before serving. A stronger version of the paste, made with garlic and olive oil, is used in the same way in specialties from the Spanish province of Catalonia and from the Levant.Plus: More Seafood Recipes and Tips
Fish Hash (Minilla)
Rating: Unrated
New!
Every cook in Veracruz makes a version of this piquant fish dish, and it's often a vehicle for using up the leftovers from a large grilled fish. Some people also turn the hash into a filling for empanadas. This imaginatively seasoned version is Zarela Martinez&339;s favorite. It comes from Tomasa Meléndez Hernández, the guiding light of Las Brisas del Mar, a restaurant in Boca del Río, just south of the port of Veracruz. The olives, parsley, thyme and other Mediterranean seasonings reveal the strong Spanish influences in Veracruz's cuisine. Amazing Seafood Recipes
Veracruzans prize seafood salads made either with medleys of different kinds or with one particular variety of seafood. The version Zarela Martinez gives here, a good appetizer or first course, is based on her own happy experiences with many Veracruzan ensaladas de mariscos.In dishes like this, garnished with raw onion, Martinez really values the freshness of Mexican onions, which are used much sooner after pulling than our common storage onions. Often, they are like the middling-sized pearly white onions with green tops still attached that you will find in some ethnic groceries as "bulb onions" or "spring onions" (don't confuse them with scallions). Red onions make a good substitute, especially the kind that are new looking and shiny, without papery skins.Plus: More Seafood Recipes and Tips
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This is one of many good dishes made in Veracruz where there are several palm varieties (Sabal spp.) that resemble the Florida "swamp cabbage," with a tender, delicious artichoke-like core at the center of the young trunks. Because the whole tree must be cut down to obtain a small yield of palm heart, it remains a highly limited crop in ecologically fragile areas like Florida, and I have never seen it sold fresh in this country. Suitable palm trees are much more abundant in Veracruz and are used for many purposes like building materials, so harvesting the fresh hearts of palm is not such a wasteful practice. Even in Veracruz, however, cooks are also known to resort to canned hearts of palm. Zarela Martinez visited a factory in Pánuco where they are put up, though she doubts that brand is available in the United States. Most of the ones sold here come from Brazil or Costa Rica. Can or jar sizes vary confusingly from brand to brand; don't worry as long as you end up with roughly 26 to 30 ounces in all. This simple but universally popular mixture is equally good as a side dish or an appetizer spread.Plus: More Vegetable Recipes and Tips
In the beautiful area around Lake Catemaco, chile-limón is one of the most popular sauces for seafood. It is served with freshwater and saltwater fish as well as with shrimp and langoustines. At its simplest, the sauce consists of jalapeños pounded with salt and lime juice in a mortar. Some people add tomatillos and cilantro. Zarela Martinez loves every version! Make it as complex or basic as you like; if you leave out the tomatillos and cilantro, the yield will be cut in half.Plus: More Seafood Recipes and Tips
Chicken Soup with Meatballs
Rating: Unrated
New!
Zarela Martinez is chef-owner of Zarela Restaurant in New York City and author of Food From My Heart (Macmillan), where this recipe first appeared. "When my mother comes to visit," she says, "I ask her to make meatball soup." Warming Soup Recipes
When Mexicans want to say "I couldn't care less," they'll remark "Me importa un cacahuete"—I couldn't care a peanut. The expression obviously does not refer to food, because peanuts are prized all over Mexico, especially in Veracruz. Amazing Chicken Recipes
This easy but intensely flavored dish was created by Santa Maria de Guadalupe Armenta, a stellar cook in the town of Los Naranjos, near Tuxpán. This area is in Huasteca, the pre-Columbian domain of the Huastec Indians, which lies in the northeast corner of the state of Veracruz. Fast Pork Recipes
In Veracruz, this ubiquitous dish goes by Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians) and casamiento (marriage). The first name refers to the Moorish occupation of Spain; the second, to the union of Old World white rice and New world black beans. Delicious, Quick Side Dishes
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