Hearts of Palm Salad with Shrimp and Avocado

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I first encountered hearts of palm at Pampas Grill, a Brazilian churrascaria in the Farmers Market in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. I have no idea how I’d gone so long without coming across the vegetable, but it’s been a favorite ever since then. I used them in making what is now one of my favorite salads:

Hearts of palm salad with shrimp and avocado

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 cans hearts of palm, drained and rinsed
1 hard-boiled egg, shelled and chopped
1/2 pound cooked tiny shrimp
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper

1. In a bowl, whisk olive oil, vinegar, capers, lemon juice, shallots, mustard, and salt to taste. Cut hearts of palm in half lengthwise. Lay hearts of palm in dressing, turn over, and let stand for 5 minutes.

2.Lift hearts of palm from dressing and arrange on a large salad plate. Add shrimp to dressing in bowl and mix. Arrange avocado on salad. Spoon shrimp and all the dressing over the hearts of palm and avocado. Top with egg, and sprinkle with pepper to taste.

Black Sticky Rice Pudding

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After a whirlwind of a week, I can finally sit down again and post. Summer is over, but I made this black sticky rice pudding during warmer weather when all I was craving was something slightly sweet.

Black sticky rice pudding

Ingredients:

2 cups black sticky rice
3 cups water
2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup brown sugar sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 mango, sliced or chopped

1. Rinse rice a couple of times to remove any impurities until the water clears. Place the rice and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Let boil and stir frequently for 5 minutes, then cover, lower heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to low and let cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, place the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until dissolved. Add the coconut milk to the rice and stir well, then remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature and top with mango slices.

Day Nine in Mexico: Puerto Vallarta

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On my last full day in Mexico, I decided to take it easy. I’d been running around pretty hard for most of the trip, trying to pack in as much as possible, so I figured one day of rest was well-deserved. After stopping at Xocodiva to buy some chocolates as gifts to take back (I bought a chili-lime and a tequila truffle for immediate gratification too), I went back to the hotel and spent the better part of the day in the pool:

Playa Los Arcos pool

The sun never came out much during the trip, but it was nice to hang around in the warm water and lament how it came to be that I was in the same space as a large group of endless spring breakers.

For dinner, I made one last splurge at La Palapa, and I am ridiculously glad I did. I started with an amuse bouche of rice paper-wrapped tuna and bean sprouts:

Amuse bouche of rice paper-wrapped tuna and bean sprouts

If the concept of freshness could manifest itself into a dish, this would be it.

I had the seared sea scallops with orange miso sauce, bell pepper and saffron polenta:

Seared sea scallops with orange miso sauce, bell pepper and saffron polenta

I couldn’t taste the miso, but rather a light tamarind sauce. Which is just fine really, because they were the most perfectly sublime scallops I’ve ever tasted. Sweet, briny and tender enough to cut with a fork.

For dessert, I had the chocolate fantasmagoria with fresh fruit compote and coconut ice cream:

Chocolate fantasmagoria with fresh fruit compote and coconut ice cream

I’m usually not very fond of sweets, but this was ethereal.

I headed back to my hotel early, to pack and get a good night’s sleep before the flight back to San Francisco the next morning. This was my second trip to Mexico, but everything I experienced was new and exciting and as cliched at it sounds, a learning experience. I only wish I’d had more time to spend.

Day Eight in Mexico: Yelapa

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If it weren’t for Yelapa, my trip to the coast might have been a bust. Though I’m not a fan of boats, I had done our research beforehand and knew that I wanted to spend a day in Yelapa. A small village forty-five minutes south of Vallarta by boat, there are no roads that lead there, and no vehicles in town. I bought tickets for the morning water taxi and boarded at Los Muertos pier:

Our water taxi to Yelapa

The ride was bumpy. Really bumpy. The water was choppy and our boat went airborne several times, and passengers literally had to hold on to our seats to keep from falling forward. It probably didn’t help that it began pouring rain towards the end of the ride either. Once we arrived, I knew it was worth it:

Leaving Yelapa

I had heard about a picturesque waterfall in the Yelapa mountains, so I teamed up with a gringo group from New York who I met on the boat and began the hike up through town, not really knowing where we were going, but enjoying every minute of it. Despite the heat and humidity, Yelapa looks like it’s right out of a storybook.

El Tuito River

We used a boat to cross El Tuito River, and after about an hour of hiking, we arrived at our destination:

Yelapa waterfall

We spent the next couple of hours walking back downhill and along the coast, occasionally interrupted by crossing iguanas, crabs, and a donkey here and there. Once we got back to the river, we realized the boat we had used to cross the river was gone, and its owner was nowhere to be found. So what else to do but wade through it? We stepped gingerly through the water, looking for the shallowest parts with the firmest sand:

El Tuito River

I know it doesn’t look like that much water, but it was up to my hips. Plus I’m not the most comfortable person in water, so this was a big deal.

One gets hungry after conquering two fears in one day, so I quickly stopped by Hotel Lagunita’s restaurant for fish tacos before catching the water taxi back to Puerto Vallarta:

Fish tacos at Hotel Lagunita

Back in town, I settled on Brasil Churrascaria for dinner, which turned out to be an delicious choice, except for the Vallarta Adventures sales pitch towards the end of the meal. I’ll take this perfect top sirloin, thanks, but I’ll pass on the provocatively dressed women trying to sell me an eco tour.

Brasil Churrascaria

The accompanying sauces and side dishes were delicious too, though I wish they offered more traditional types of meat (chicken heart, anyone?). I suppose that’s not standard tourist fare, though, and I can’t really complain about the chicken wings or fillet.

Day Seven in Mexico: Mismaloya

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From the moment I arrived in Puerto Vallarta, I had been accosted by offers of booze cruises, snorkeling excursions, canopy tours and mass-produced souvenir knick-knacks. To get away from it all (and to kill time while I waited for my correct hotel room to materialize), I took a cab to Mismaloya, a small village where Rio Mismaloya meets Banderas Bay.

Rio Mismaloya

Mismaloya beach

Mismaloya found its fame as the site where the 1963 movie Night of the Iguana was filmed. I avoided the film tours and instead wandered around the bay, followed by an apathetic but adorable stray dog as I explored the shore. On the walk back, I stopped for a drink and chatted with the restaurant proprietor while I took in the view:

Sol at the beach

Mismaloya birds

Isn't he adorable?

Just about sums up how I was feeling

This one pretty much sums up how I was feeling. Mismaloya helped, but I had to take a cab back into the city to change hotel rooms again.

Back in Vallarta, I walked towards downtown to grab a bite to eat at Coexist Cafe. My ceviche was a curiosity:

"Ceviche" at Coexist Cafe

Where’s the ceviche?

I spent the rest of the day in the hotel pool, a welcome refuge from the humidity. By evening I was pretty tired and opted to stay in my room and read. No foam parties or dance clubs for me, thanks.