Lessons from the Markets to Best Selling Cookbook and more… 

At the MexicoFest 2009 organized by the Mexican Consulate, Vancouver — internationally renowned Mexican Celebrity Chef Susanna Palazuelos partnered with Damien Callaghan Executive Chef of Marriott Pinnacle Hotel to feature Guerrero Gastronomic Week. Joining the team was also Chef Feliz Gabino and Chef Alberto Velez from the Tecuan Restaurant and Mezcaleria in Chilpancingo.

Guerrero – Stunning Sceneries and Exquisite Gourmet

Sunset Wedding in Acapulco

Credit: Banquet Palazuelos: Sunset Wedding in Acapulco

Named after Vicente Guerrero, one of Mexico’s revolutionary leaders — the State of Guerrero lies in southwestern Mexico with the capital at Chilpancingo de los Bravo. Tourism, agriculture and mining are the main economic activities in this region.  

Acapulco , Taxco and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo encompass the Guerrero tourism “sun triangle.” Acapulco and Ixtapa are known for their beautiful beaches and sweeping ocean views — while Taxco, an old colonial silver mining centre is famous for its silverwork, handicrafts, and spectacular Cacahuamilpa caverns — one of the world’s largest cave systems with limestone formations dating back 80 million years.

Guerrero coastline hugs the Pacific Ocean and its’ geographical landscape of lush tropical lowland and temperate highland provides the State with breath-taking sceneries — and a plethora of fresh ingredients from the land and sea. Indigenous influence is prominent in its cuisine. Popular traditional dishes include Huaxmole — pork ribs cooked in chili sauce with guaje seeds; Pozole — a pork stew with hominy (dried white corn) epazote herb, ground pumpkin seeds and tomatillos; Huachinago pescado a la talla (grilled snapper) and Ceviche (marinated raw fish). Adventurous foodies may enjoy tasting Chapulines— toasted grasshoppers with lemon juice, garlic and sal de gusano (a seasoning made from salt, chili and worm). Gusano (worm), a delicacy is sold in fresh and dried form in local Mexican markets.

The first and most popular vacation spot in Guerrero is Acapulco. This once sleepy fishing village turned tourist destination has been welcoming tourists to her shore as early as the 1920s. In the 60s it was the playground of the “rich and famous.” Wealthy Mexicans and travellers from around the globe — including Hollywood celebrities and European jetsetters flock to Acapulco to relax and enjoy its endless miles of sun-drenched beaches, luxurious resorts, fabulous restaurants and crystal-clear lagoons. John and Jackie Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton chose Acapulco for their honeymoons. Today, this mature destination is undergoing an overhaul for the next wave of visitors. For Susanna Palazuelos, she calls Acapulco home.

Susanna Palazuelos – Chef, Caterer, Author, and Guerrero Culinary Ambassador
The “Julia Child” of Mexico, Chef Susanna Palazuelos was born into cooking. Her great granduncle compiled the first Mexican cookbook in the 1800s entitled, “The Cuisine from Puebla”, which featured about 2000 recipes. Susanna jovially explained, “In those days, saffron was used a lot — recipes were very Spanish — however, not all recipes have chillis in them. Mexican food is Spanish cuisine blending with native food like avocados, pineapples, peanuts and chillis. Not all Mexican food is spicy, perhaps, 40 or 50% have chillis in them — and it is more than beans, mole and rice.”

Food for Royalties
Having said that, Susanna gave an example of the dinner menu she prepared for Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Acapulco in 1983. To start, she made her a Cream Soup of Zucchini Flower — followed by Boiled Baja Lobster accompanied with a delicious sauce whisked together from olives, capers, fresh lemon juice and very light mayonnaise. Dessert was Mexican Vanilla Ice-Cream with chopped Pineapple drizzled with Grand Marnier. “The Queen loved my menu,” she commented with delight!

In the past 32 years, the Culinary Ambassador of Guerrero has not only cooked for Queen Elizabeth II, but also the King of Malaysia, several Mexican Presidents and a host of international jetsetters. Through her renowned catering company, Banquet Palazuelos, she has planned and organized many successful, memorable parties for corporate, individual clients and wedding couples. Lenora Hayman, a Vancouver travel writer who has attended several events organized by Susanna Palazuelos wrote:

“I was thrilled to remeet Chef Susanna Palazuelos from Acapulco at the Mexican Culinary Experience held at the Hotel Marriott Pinnacle in Vancouver on Sept. 16th, 2009. At the annual Tianguis Turistico (Latin Americas largest travel trade conference), I attended many spectacular galas put on by Susanna Palazuelos. Not only does Susanna create the exquisite multi-course cuisine but as the event planner — designs the unique table settings, hires the appropriate music, etc. and employs the most loyal, attentive waiters.”

Lessons from the Marketplace to Best Selling Cookbook

Open Market in Mexico

Credit: Mexico Tourism Board: Mexican market

Susanna’s interest in cooking began at a young age. “At home, we ate well and food was very tasty, having lunch and dinner with the family was enjoyable.” Her father sent her to boarding school in San Antonio, Texas at 11 years old, — and later to hotel school in Glion, Switzerland where she craved for home-cooked meals. This prompted her to start her Mexican food recipe collection. After graduating, she worked in public relations as the youngest employee with the Hilton chain in Mexico. At 23, she married and moved with her husband (Mario Wichtendahl, current Hon. Consul for Germany in Acapulco) to his job in Puebla — gourmet capital of Mexico. As a stay-at-home-mom, her daily routine was cooking family meals, and shopping at local markets for fresh produce. Those routine market errands soon turned into study trips. She began taking great interest in learning the spices and food from the market vendors — while also actively involved in the local cooking circle.

Opportunity knocked when Harpers and Collins engaged her to write a Mexican recipe book.

Today, her popular cookbook, Mexico: The Beautiful Cookbook is currently the most comprehensive traditional Mexican cuisine book in the world. This well-written, brilliantly illustrated cookbook sums up the vibrant and intriguing gastronomy of Mexico in one impressive volume — with highlights on each region’s history, cuisine and unique recipes handed down orally through the generations.

Published in six languages — this is a book that will entertain and inform any food connoisseur or history buff. Her cookbook has sold over a million copies and had given her more exposure than she expected. Her second cookbook is due for release in May 2010. This book to be published by Random House will feature treasured recipes from Mexican families and homes with a story behind every recipe. In preparation for her two books, she said, “I learned so much from all the people who shared their recipes — and was amazed at the wonderful food they can produce with the ingredients they have.”

Awards and Rewards
Her many talents and exceptional services won her over 36 recognitions and awards including the prestigious National Tourism Award for her outstanding work on tourism in Guerrero. A significant contributor to her success was her father who had been her inspiration and mentor. He was a cultured man with a big heart — who believed in the importance of a good education and had great confidence in her abilities.

Her education, travel exposure to developed countries and training she acquired from the Swiss (being on time, precision and perfection) also provided the foundation for her success. With great enthusiasm, she stated, “If you prepare a dish, it has to be the most incredible looking, perfectly cooked dish. One must have pride to produce a dish that is perfect in flavour and everything, and give the best of all you have.”

It is a daily challenge to apply her discipline in her catering business as culturally it is not a norm for Mexicans to be on time. However, she remarked with great pride, “Mexicans are fantastic, hardworking workers — despite long hours they still serve with smiles on their faces.” Her clients engage her services because of her reputation in ensuring their events’ success. The most rewarding part of her work, she said, “Is pleasing people and the ability to create something unique, magical, beautiful and perfect — so every guest would have dined well, enjoyed the ambience and left with happy memories.”

Trailing in her Footsteps
She is proud her son, Eduardo Wichtendahl Palazuelos is following in her footsteps, and making a name in the Latin culinary world with his innovative Mex-Thai cuisine — a fusion of Mexican and Thai cooking. Educated in Glion, Switzerland (same school as Susanna) and Cornell University, Eduardo is the Owner and Executive Chef of famed Zibu restaurant in Acapulco. His creative gastronomic talent was recognized when he received from Mexican President Felipe Calderon — the national award for restaurant merit (provided by the National Restaurant Association of Mexico CANIRAC) in the category of Innovation.

Life’s Charitable Pursuit
Through her business, Susanna hopes to continue creating employment for the local community, contribute to regional highway development and support the underprivileged.

L. Hayman & S. Palazuelos

Credit:  Lenora. Hayman and Chef Susanna Palazuelos

A leader in Acapulco, she is also the Head of the Red Cross in Guerrero. When she discovered that the poorest place (according to UNESCO) in the world is in Guerrero, she contacted the Mexican Red Cross — gathered 6000 large boxes containing food, blankets, medicine, apparels and shoes — totalling 25 tons — and embarked on a 12 hours journey to the Sierra (mountains) to visit the Indians. The mission had a great impact on her life. One day she hopes to represent several organizations in developing a plan to help the community.

For cuisine offers by Tecuan Restaurant and Mezcaleria in Chilpancingo go to www.tecuan.com.mx.  Travel information on Acapulco and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo is available at www.visiteacapulco.com/switchlang/en) and www.ixtapa-zihuatanejo.com

To read about Banquet Palazuelos, log on to www.susanapalazuelos.com and for Zibu restaurant information, go to www.zibu.com.mx.

See below for delicious Recipes by Susanna Palazuelos.

CRÈME DE AGUACATE (Cream of Avocado Soup)

 The beautiful evergreen avocado tree is native to Mexico. Its fruit has long been prized by the Indians, and the early Spaniards savoured its buttery taste and rich flavour. The Hass variety, so popular in California, originated in Atlixco in the state of Puebla, but this soup is from Uruapan in the hot country of Michoacan.

CRÈME DE AGUACATE

Cream of Avocado Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients:
3 avocados, pitted and peeled
1 tablespoon lime jucie
7 cups (56 fl oz/1.75 l) chicken stock
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (coriander)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) thick cream

Directions

  1. Place the avocados in a blender along with the lime juice, chicken stock, cilantro, salt and pepper, then puree until smooth. If the soup is too thick, ad another cup of broth. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.
  2. Just before serving, stir in the cream and seasonings. If you like, sprinkle chopped cilantro on each serving.

ENSALADA DE NOPALITOS Y JICAMA (Cactus and Jicama Salad)

This is a refreshing composed salad that makes a colourful display of nopal cactus, jicama, tomato and avocado.

Serves 6

ENSALADA DE NOPALITOS Y JICAMA

Cactus and Jicama Salad

Ingredients
1 tablespoon oil
2 paddles of nopal cactus (12 oz/375 g), cut into strips ½ in (1 cm) wide
3 cups (1½ lb/750 g) peeled and grated jicama (yam bean)
¼ cup (2fl oz/60 ml) fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
Ground chile piquin (optional)
2 cups (3 oz/90 g) watercress, stems removed and rinsed
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into strips
3 tomatoes cut into wedges

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in the skillet; add the cactus and sauté for 3 minutes. Cover and cook over low heat for 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Set aside
  2. In a bowl, combine the jicama, lime juice and salt. Set aside.
  3. Combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir well and correct the seasonings.
  4. To serve, place the jicama in the centre of the platter, sprinkle lightly with the chile piquin and arrange the watercress, avocados and tomatoes around it. Place a circle of cactus strips around the edge of the platter. Pour the vinaigrette dressing over the salad and serve.

CEVICHE (Marinated Fish)

Almost every Pacific coastal state has its own version of this raw fish cocktail, which naturally cooks itself in lime juice. This recipe is typical of the ceviche served in Acapulco. All kinds of firm fish can be used, as well as shrimps and scallops.

Serves 6 – 8

Mexican Ceviche

Ceviche

Ingredients
2 lb (1 kg) mackerel, sea bass or red snapper fillets, cut into ½ inc (1 cm) cubes
2 cups (16 fl oz/500 ml) fresh lime juice
1/3 cup (3 fl oz/80 ml) olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 lb (1 kg) ripe tomatoes
1 cup (8 oz/250 g) chopped onion
1/3 cup (½ oz/15 g) chopped cilantro (coriander)
½ cup (4 fl oz/ 125 ml) ketchup (tomato sauce)
2 tablespoons Buffalo sauce (mild red pepper sauce) (optional)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped pickled chiles serranos
2/3 cup (3 oz/90g) chopped green olives
Whole olives, for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Place fish in a glass bowl, cover with the lime juice and marinate at room temperature for 2½ hours.
  2. Heat the oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and sauté for 3 minutes. Discard the garlic and let the oil cook.
  3. Chop the tomatoes, removing the seeds but reserving the juice. Place in a large glass bowl, add the onion, cilantro, ketchup, Buffalo sauce, oregano, salt, pepper, chiles and olives and combine. Add the oil from the skillet and set aside.
  4. Rinse the fish 3 times in cold water. Cover with water, let it stand for 5 minutes and rinse again. Add the fish to the tomato mixture. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
  5. If you like, garnish with whole olives. Serve cold with lime wedges and salt crackers.

HUACHINANGO A LA TALLA (Grilled Red Snapper)

Fish grilled in this manner is a specialty in the palapas (palm-roofed beach restaurants) of Barra Vista, on the outskirts of Acapulco. It is on a wood-fired stove made of clay.

Serves 4

Ingredients

HUACHINANGO A LA TALLA

Grilled Red Snapper

1 red snapper, about 5 lbs (2.5 kg)
5 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup (4 oz/125 g) butter, melted

SAUCE:
10 chiles guajillos, seeds and membranes removed
5 chiles anchos, seeds and membranes removed
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) water
4 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon white vinegar
3 whole cloves
1/3 onion
½ teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme and marjoram
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons (1 oz/30 g) butter
2 tablespoons oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Have your fish dealer slice the fish open to prepare a “butterfly” cut; remove the gills and intestines from the fish, but leave the scales. Rinse the fish and pat dry.
  2. In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, lime juice, salt and pepper. Rub the fish with the mixture and marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  3. To prepare the sauce, soak the chiles in hot water to cover for 10 minutes. Drain, transfer to a blender and puree with the water, tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, cloves, onion, oregano, thyme, marjoram and cumin until smooth.
  4. Heat the butter and oil in a small saucepan and add the pureed chiles. When the puree comes to a boil, lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Add slat and pepper to taste. Let it cool to room temperature.
  5. Preheat an outdoor grill and lightly grease the rack. Position the rack about 8 in (20 cm) over a charcoal fire. Place the opened fish, scales side down, on the rack and grill for 15 – 20 minutes, basting regularly with the sauce. Turn the fish over, baste with the melted butter and grill for 10 – 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked.

AGUA DE JAMAICA (Jamaica Flower Water)

 

AGUA DE JAMAICA

Jamaica Flower Water

This scarlet-coloured drink made from the dried calyxes of the Jamaica flower is perfect to serve with antojitos. For a more spirited drink, a light rum can be added to it, or mix it into a sangria or wine punch. Lightly diuretic, this is a favourite drink for dieters who can tolerate it made without sugar. It is acidic, so only store it in a glass or plastic container. The dried Jamaica is available in specialty Mexican markets or can easily be brought back from a vacation trip to Mexico.

Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients
2 cups (5 oz/155 g) dried Jamaica flowers
10 cups (80 fl oz/2.5 l) water
¾ cup (6 oz/185 g) sugar

Directions

  1. Rinse the flowers briefly to remove any impurities. Drain
  2. Place the flowers in a saucepan and add 6 cups (48 fl oz/1.5 l) water. Bring the water to boil; reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for 10-20 minutes.
  3. Strain the water into a pitcher, dilute with 4 cups (32 fl oz/1 l) water and add the sugar.
  4. Serve well chilled.

CAPIROTADA (Syrup-Coated Bread Pudding)

Every region of Mexico has its own version of this traditional Lenten dessert. This northern recipe is unusual in that it includes layers of cheese. It is sturdy and nourishing enough to be served as a late supper.

Serves 6

Ingredients

CAPIROTADA

Syrup Coated Bread Pudding

20 – 25 slices bolillo (hard bread roll) or baguette, 1-2 days old
2/3 cup (5 oz/155 g) butter
10 corn tortillas, toasted (optional)
2 cups (8 oz/250 g) grated queso anejo or queso Chihuahua (or Monterrey Jack or medium-sharp cheddar cheese)
1 ¼ cups (6 oz/185 g) raisins
1 ½ cups (6 oz/185 g) chopped walnuts or peanuts

SYRUP
1 cone (5-6 oz/150 – 180 g) piloncillo (raw sugar)
3 cups (24 fl oz/750 ml) water
1 stick cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) milk

Directions

  1. To make the syrup, mix the sugar, water, cinnamon stick and cloves in a saucepan and boil, stirring until the mixture forms light syrup. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk.
  2. Toast the bread until lightly browned. Spread the butter on the bread.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C). Cover the sides and bottom of a cazuela or casserole with the tortillas. Dip each piece of bread into the syrup and arrange a layer of bread in the bottom of the cazuela. Sprinkle with part of the cheese, raisins and nuts. Continue making layers of bread, cheese, raisins and nuts until all the ingredients have been used.
  4. Strain the syrup that is left over and pour over the pudding. Cover the cazuela with foil and bake the pudding for 20 minutes, uncovering periodically and smoothing the surface of the pudding with a wooden spoon. Lower the oven temperature to 300° F (150° C) and bake for another 30 minutes. Serve lukewarm.
  5. Variation: Cover the pudding with meringue and bake in a 500° F (260° C) oven for 5 minutes or until the surface is golden brown.