One of the most confounding aspects about living in Mexico — for me, anyway — was adjusting to the growing seasons. Contrary to what I’d known my whole life, summer here is not when things grow.
Well, wait – things grow, but not the things we want! (Except for mangos, eh?) Summer is the rainy season, the hottest time of the year, and in some areas of the country, it’s hurricane season too.
Why does this matter here in this column, you may be wondering. Well, because now is when “things” – i.e. lots of fruits and veggies – begin to be available. First come lettuces, leafy greens like spinach, purslane (verdolaga), radishes, string beans and more, followed by tomatoes, melons and peppers. I’m lucky to have a small farmer’s market here where I can watch and buy what’s seasonal, and I’d encourage all of you to look for one in your area too.
So it was really no surprise to discover Ensalada Navideña or Ensalada Nochebuena, a traditional Mexican Christmas salad made with seasonal fruits. While there are some standard ingredients – orange or mandarin sections, jicama, beets, lettuce, apples, pomegranates, peanuts — each region of the country has a different recipe depending on what’s available. Pineapple, pecans, guavas, fresh coconut – pretty much anything goes! The result is a vibrant, colorful and delicious salad.
Because I’m reveling in all the fresh lettuces that are suddenly available, I’ve included some salad dressing recipes too: a vintage Green Goddess, precursor to the ubiquitous Ranch found everywhere (recipe for that included here too); a spicy Thai vinaigrette that doubles as a marinade; and a basic oil-and-vinegar vinaigrette you’ll want always to keep on hand.
Two caveats: Ahhhh, buttermilk. Sigh. So hard or impossible to find here, although I have made it myself. And whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, anchovies add umami, a complex salty-richness that’s unique and irreplaceable. Just saying.
Mexican Christmas Salad (Ensalada Navideña)
Traditionally served as part of Christmas Eve dinner, use your imagination based on what fruits you find in your local mercado.
For the dressing:
- 3 Tbsps. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. orange juice
- Salt & pepper to taste
For the salad:
- 2 cups butter lettuce or other soft-leafed lettuce
- 2 small beets, roasted or steamed, cooled and sliced/cubed
- 1 cup fresh pineapple, cubed
- 1 cup jicama, cubed
- ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
- ¼ cup roasted salted peanuts, roasted pecans or slivered almonds
- Combine dressing ingredients in a small jar and shake well. Divide lettuce and other salad ingredients between two bowls or salad plates. Sprinkle with the nuts, drizzle with dressing and serve. Yield: 2 servings.
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup vinegar (red wine, Balsamic, apple cider)
- 1-½ tsp. Dijon mustard
- ¾ tsp. salt
- ¾ tsp. ground black pepper
- 1-½ cups olive oil
- ¼ cup minced shallots or red onion
Mix everything except the oil in a shaker jar or blender. Drizzle in the oil and blend until emulsified or shake well in a jar. Yield: about 2 cups.
Greek Lemon-Oregano Dressing. Use ¼ cup red wine vinegar & ¼ cup fresh lemon juice. Add 4 Tbsp.minced fresh oregano or 1 Tbsp. crumbled dry oregano.
Classic Green Goddess Dressing
This can also be served as a dip for veggies or as a delicate sauce over chilled poached salmon. Omit the anchovies if you must, but the flavor won’t be the same.
- 1 cup mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup fresh chives, finely chopped
- ¼ cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
- ¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped (if available) or cilantro
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 2-3 anchovy filets, minced
- Salt & pepper to taste.
Place all ingredients in bowl of food processor. Process mixture until smooth. Place dressing in a jar or bowl, cover and refrigerate several hours before serving. Serve as a dip with crudité or to dress delicate salad greens, such as a butter lettuce salad.
Spicy Thai Vinaigrette
Use as a salad dressing or marinade for fish, chicken, tofu or grilled veggies. Look for rice vinegar without added sugar.
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1-2 Tbsp. minced red onion
- ½ tsp. minced fresh ginger
- 3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 tsp. brown sugar or grated piloncillo
- 1 tsp. soy sauce
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- ¼ tsp. red chile flakes or hot chile oil
Combine all ingredients. Mix well.
Who doesn’t love this? Buttermilk is the key, but you’ll be lucky to find it here unless you’re making it yourself.
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup sour cream or crema
- ½ cup buttermilk or plain, unsweetened Greek or regular yogurt
- 1 medium white onion
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley, chives or cilantro
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1-3 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice
Blend sour cream, buttermilk, fresh herbs and onion in blender until onion is in tiny bits. Pour into bowl and whisk in mayo, lemon juice and salt & pepper. Pour into a jar and refrigerate. Keeps for up to a week. Yield: About 1-½ cups.
Janet Blaser of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life, and feels fortunate to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her work has appeared in numerous travel and expat publications as well as newspapers and magazines. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.