A sprig of thyme

La Parilla the Mexican Grill by Reed Hearon

131 pages; Color Photography

Chronicle Books, San Francisco 1996

Reviewed for Good Cooking by Richard T. Chang 12/02

Reed Hearon has written a grilling cookbook like no other. It combines the love Americans have for grilling with the flavors and techniques of Mexico. Along with authentic Mexican recipes, the book contains wonderful color photographs of the food and people of the area, taken by Laurie Smith.
Chef Hearon uses many ingredients that may not be common to the average American palette. In the beginning of the book, he provides a detailed description of many of the exotic ingredients. As part of writing this review, I sampled several recipes and to my delight, these spicy dishes had wonderful exotic flavors. However, you may discover, as I did, that a few ingredients may be difficult to find in your neighborhood grocery or specialty food store. Luckily, the author provides several mail order sources in the back of the book.
Though many of us may be familiar with chicken brochettes (p. 69), skirt steak fajitas (p. 94) and guacamole (p. 43), the recipes that Chef Hearon put on paper are unlike any dishes you will find in your local Tex-Mex restaurant. The use of dried, smoked jalapeno peppers in the chipotle rub gives the chicken brochettes and the fajitas a wonderful smoky and quite spicy taste. The addition of either the authentic guacamole or the taqueria guacamole is a great addition to both dishes. The creamy fresh taste of the ripe avocados is refreshing after taking a bite of the spicy meat.
As a lover of seafood, I was happy to see recipes on this topic for the grill. For the book review, the first two dishes I prepared were the shrimp with tamarind recado (p. 51) and the seared spiced tuna (p. 55). The tamarind recado on the shrimp and the dry spices on the tuna gave the seafood vibrant flavor. The charred habanero salsa was extremely spicy but very flavorful for such a simple salsa. The simple salad with the orange vinaigrette that accompanied the tuna was very refreshing; the salad combined the sweet citrus flavors of mango and orange with the slight bitterness and crunch of the frisee and endive. The addition of the chopped mint leaf in the vinaigrette put the salad over the top. The orange vinaigrette was so good, my wife had it again on a salad for lunch the next day. The grilled snapper with charred habanero salsa (p. 57), like all the other recipes I tried, was outstanding. Any chance I can get to cook a whole fish is always a great experience.
There is one caution that I have to give to anyone attempting the recipes in this book. Be aware of the heat, the spiciness, of the dish. Many of the dishes require the use of recados, rubs and salsas containing quite a substantial amount of hot chilies, examples being the tamarind recado (p. 29), the chipotle rub (p. 31) and especially the charred habanero salsa (p.39). Chef Hearon has presented a great book on grilling and Mexican cuisine. Do not be taken aback by the spiciness of many of the dishes. By all means make the recipes, since they are well worth the effort, but hold back on the amount chili peppers. Add a little bit at a time, while sampling as you go, until one gets to the desired heat.
Good Cooking found this book helpful.  It covers grilling in the Mexican style all in understandable language. This book has been around since 1996.  It is well worth searching for!

Seared Spiced Tuna
Serves 4

Pan de cabazon, "shark bread," is a favorite of the port of Campeche. This contemporary version uses tuna instead of shark, serving it along with the traditional smooth black beans, roasted tomatoes, and a refreshing, bittersweet salad of mango, blood oranges, and greens. The effect is the same as pan de cabazon, but lighter and cleaner in flavor. This is one of the most requested dishes I have served over the years.

First prepare the Oaxacan-Style Black Beans and Charred Habanero Salsa. Light the grill and let burn down to a medium-hot fire. In the meantime, pull off the stem and remove the seed core from the bell pepper. Cut lengthwise between the lobes, cut out the veins, and shake out any seeds. Peel each section of outer skin with a sharp, swivel-bladed vegetable peeler. Chop the pepper; you should have 1/2 cup. In a medium-sized, nonreactive bowl, toss together with the mango, orange, frisee, endive, cilantro, and vinaigrette. Set aside.
Reheat the black beans. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the tortillas to the oil, 1 at a time, and fry on both sides until crisp, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels, salt lightly, and keep warm.
Mix black pepper, coriander, cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a small bowl. Dip tuna in egg white, then roll it in the pepper mixture. Score tuna to mark 1/2-inch-thick slices. Oil grill and grill fish until cooked approximately 1/2 inch deep on each side, about 1 minute per side. You want to leave a 1-inch square of red, rare tuna in the center of each piece of fish.
To serve, place 2 tortillas on each plate. Spoon black beans onto tortillas. Slice tuna into 1/2-inch-thick slices and arrange tuna over beans. Top with a spoonful of salsa and some of the mango salad. Serve at once.

Orange Vinaigrette: This is a great, all-purpose Mexican salad dressing. Makes about 1/4 cup.

Mix all the ingredients together in a small, nonreactive bowl. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Oaxacan-Style Black Beans with Avocado Leaves (page 106)
Charred Habanero Salsa (page 39) 
1 small red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced mango
1 small blood or regular orange, segmented 2 handfuls frisee (curly endive) or escarole
1 small head Belgian endive, cut into1/4-inch-thick rings
About 20 fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup Orange Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons corn oil, plus more for oiling grill 
8 small tortillas
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper 
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste 
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 pound fresh tuna fillet, cut into 2 pieces, about 2 by 2 by 6 inches each

Orange Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice 1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon pineapple vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil or olive oil 
1 fresh mint leaf, chopped

Oaxacan-Style Black Beans with Avocado Leaves
Serves 4 to 6

These are the best black beans there are. The fragrance of the avocado leaves is exotic, transporting you to a pre-Hispanic Mexico. Once the beans are cooked and pureed, they should be very loose, soft, and perfectly smooth. If you add a little more water and some crumbled, fried pasilla chiles, the beans make a perfect soup. These beans can also be baked in a 300F oven for about 2 hours.

Ingredients 

4 avocado leaves
2 cups dried black beans, picked over 11/2 quarts water
1 small white onion, thickly sliced, pan-roasted until brown and soft
4 cloves garlic, pan-roasted until brown and soft, then peeled
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put the avocado leaves in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast until browned and fragrant, about 10 seconds. Combine the avocado leaves, beans, water, onion, and garlic in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until very soft, about 1 1/2 hours, adding more water as needed if beans begin to dry.
Drain cooked beans, reserving cooking liquid. Working in batches, puree beans in a blender until smooth, adding just enough cooking liquid to allow them to blend. Return to a saucepan and stir in salt. The mixture should be thick yet pourable. Reheat gently and serve immediately.

Charred Habanero Salsa
Makes about 1 cup

Salsas in the Yucatan are usually quite simple, while recados tend to make the dishes they season complex. Perhaps that is why simplicity is seen as a virtue when it comes to salsas. But I think there is another reason: the habanero chile, reputedly the hottest pepper in the world. In addition to the heat, habaneros have a citrusy aroma and flavor that are best savored on their own. This salsa is the classical accompaniment to meats and seafood cooked in achiote. 

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Use within several hours.

3 Roma (plum) tomatoes, pan-roasted until blistered, deeply browned, and soft
3 habanero chiles, pan-roasted until dark brown, then seed cores removed
1/4 cup water
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Here is an additional recipe for Adobo Recado that Good Cooking feels will provide some zip to your next barbecue! Look at what it can do for Grilled Pork Chops and Fried Onions---Marinate the chops overnight in the Adobo, light the grill, drain the pork and wipe dry.  Grill until charred and cooked through while basting with more sauce.  Serve over soupy re-fried beans and top with fried onion rings--Yum!

Adobo Recado
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

Adobo could be called Mexican barbecue sauce. Just about every cook has his or her personal version. The balance of ingredients shifts by region as well. Adobo was originally used to preserve meat. The paste was smeared on strips of meat, which were then hung up to dry. For a hotter version, leave the seeds and veins of the chiles in, although you will then lose the subtle contrast of flavors that is the soul of adobo. The final frying of the sauce pulls the flavors together and adds a smokiness.

Ingredients

1 cup corn oil
6 guajillo chiles, seeded and deveined 4 ancho chiles, seeded and deveined 1 chipotle chile, seeded and deveined 1 cup boiling water
8 whole allspice, freshly ground 4 whole cloves, freshly ground
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, freshly ground
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano, freshly ground
5 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
2 Roma (plum) tomatoes, pan-roasted until blistered, deeply browned, and soft
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat the oil in a medium-sized saute pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Fry the chiles, 1 or 2 at a time, until puffed and brown, about 10 seconds. Do not let them burn or the adobo will taste bitter. Shake off excess oil from the chiles and place in a medium bowl. Reserve the cooking oil. Add the boiling water to the chiles and let soak until soft, about 20 minutes. Toss occasionally to make sure all the chiles soften evenly.
Put the softened chiles, their soaking water, and all the remaining ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. (You can use a food processor, but you will not get as smooth a texture.)
Heat 2 tablespoons of reserved chile oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Pour the blended mixture into the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to reduce, sizzle, and becomes darkly colored, about 10 minutes. If it boils too vigorously, lower the heat. Keeps, tightly covered, several weeks in the refrigerator.