Report from the Mayan Riviera and Mexican tomato sauce recipe
We landed at Cancun airport a week ago after a short and reasonably comfortable Westjet flight from Toronto. We stepped outside into the colourful vegetation and fragrant air of the Mexican Caribbean and felt immediately at home in the familiar surroundings. Even my limited Spanish held up for the brief conversations along the way.
Next we had to endure the usual ordeal of car rental, having to do with mandatory insurance that can quadruple the rental rate quoted in the online reservations. We got through the unpleasant but familiar game, eventually settling on a car and an insurance package that was acceptable to us, but not before walking away from one agency and going across the street to another. We go through this every time and I get so annoyed that I say I am done with Mexico but you know how it is. It’s beautiful here and I love the people.
The rental ordeal over, we piled our luggage into the trunk of the vehicle and left the airpot, turning south onto highway 307 towards Riviera Maya.
Our place here is located about an hour south of the Cancun airport in a quaint resort village that was a development concept of Architect/developer Roman Rivera. The village is situated along the small Chac-hal-al bay, where the annual hurricanes in the fall keep diminishing the already narrow sandy beach. Some sand was trucked in and barrier reefs put in the water to prevent further erosion. In spite of this natural cycle the scene is pretty dreamy. Shallow turquoise water, soft white sand, beautiful adobe style architecture in earthy tones, tall palm trees swaying in the breeze and several new palapas on the beach shading the regular winter residents of this lovely resort village.
We arrived at our villa, opened the pocket-sliding-doors to the covered patio to merge the outside and inside and settled on the patio for a few minutes enjoying the view of the pool, garden, canal and fishing boats.
Instead of unpacking we decided to go for a walk first: walk along the beach, check out the center, watch the dolphins in the pools, buy our membership at the Omni hotel (serving as the clubhouse for the village) and see what has changed since our last stay here two years ago (last year was the Italy adventure). Unpacking can happen later. Whatever changes we found were all positive. Wider beach, brand new palapas, a couple more restaurants along the center of the village and a “hidden” new produce market that is open every day (thanks for the tip Joanne).
Eventually we made our way back to the villa and unpacked the suitcases in no time. I usually travel light, relatively speaking, and take only one suitcase(each) with clothes and one carry-on with electronics (me). Most of the time this works but I usually come back with double that amount if not more.
We have now been settled here for a week but for some reason and uncharacteristically, I haven’t spent much time in the kitchen. Usually it’s hard to drag me out of the kitchen but not this time. We have been eating out every day: breakfast at the Omni on the beach, dinner at one of the restaurants in the village center, or driving to nearby beaches for a walk and a late lunch or early dinner. I’ll tell you more about these excursions in upcoming posts. It’s fun trying out the local fare, get inspired by local cuisine and let’s face it, just being lazy for a while is also good.
A couple of days ago we did venture to the supermarket on the highway and came back with papayas, mangos and cantaloupes, rolled oats and Irish oats, little gem lettuces, tomatoes, avocados, jalapeños, queso fresco, dried beans and a stack of freshly made white corn tortillas, but this is as far as cooking has gone – a couple of breakfasts and a couple of salads. The rest is still eating out.
Today however, I felt inspired to start cooking and the first thing I made is a Mexican style tomato sauce that is basic and useful in many dishes that I am thinking about. I may not be in the kitchen cooking but food is always on my mind.
I made the sauce with fresh Roma style local tomatoes that I first blistered under the broiler but, with tomato season over in the 50th parallel, you can use canned tomatoes with equally good results.
Depending how spicy you like your food, use a hot pepper that suits your heat tolerance. I used seeded and deveined jalapeño (most of the heat is in the seeds and veins) but you could use a serrano chile or two, probably more authentic than jalapeno. You don’t have to roast the tomatoes either. I have done it in the past with just chopped fresh tomatoes and it was delish as well. I also leave the tomatoes skin on. Pureeing the sauce in the blender makes it smooth so why waste the skin?
I cook the sauce ingredients in a pot for a while until it thickens and then puree it in a blender until smooth. This is a versatile sauce that can go with several Mexican dishes as you will see in upcoming posts. Yes, I have plans to stay in the kitchen.
About 8-10 tomatoes or 28 oz canned tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1-2 jalapeño (or serrano) peppers
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4 tablespoons oil (I have olive oil but good corn oil is good)
1/2 cup water
Salt as needed
Cut the jalapeno in half, remove seeds and white pith. Work carefully as the peppers can be spicy and the oils from the seeds and pith burn your skin. Don’t touch your face while working with hot peppers and if you can, work with kitchen gloves. I speak from experience.
Place the tomatoes, onion, garlic and jalapeño on a baking sheet and either broil or roast at 400ºF for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes and pepper are blistered but not blackened. You can also roast these ingredients in a dry skillet for a few minutes instead. If you are using canned tomatoes skip this step altogether and just add everything to the pot.
Once broiled or roasted, chop the tomatoes roughly and place in a pot together with the onion, garlic, oil and water.
Add a little salt but keep in mind the sauce will cook down so don’t add too much salt now. You can correct later.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the tomatoes simmer and release their juices, allowing the sauce to reduce and thicken on low heat for about 30 minutes.
When the sauce is of good consistency (can be a little thicker or thinner, as you like it), remove from heat and let settle for 10 minutes or so.
Transfer to a blender and puree the sauce to a smooth consistency.
Pour it back into the pot and taste to correct for salt.
If the sauce is too thick you can a little water to thin it. If it’s too thin cook it a little longer to thicken it. See? can’t go wrong with this sauce, it’s quite cooperative.
Store in the fridge in a jar until needed. It should keep nicely for a few days if it lasts that long.
Use wherever Mexican tomato sauce is called for and watch for dishes using this sauce in upcoming posts.