Hot kitchen table getaways 

Crafty cooks slay mid-winter blahs with the exotic

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - best salsa - Look for Best Salsa recipe at the end of the article.
  • best salsa - Look for Best Salsa recipe at the end of the article.

Is your place a little hollow and echoey now that the last guests are as gone as the yellowing Christmas tree? Can you believe how much is in that overflowing recycle bin stuffed with wrapping and empty boxes?

With the holidays officially over, we now get to stare the mid-winter blues and greys straight in the eye. And even if you have two weeks booked for Oaxaca or Varadero, one of the best things you can do for yourself this time of year is cook up an exotic storm.

It's cheap. It's easy. Best of all you'll face no border hassles and no outrageous carbon footprint from flying. It's also a great way to spice things up and get away from all those wonderful but now tired, tiresome holiday leftovers. Even a first-time cook can go Latino or Mexican in the kitchen with little stress and less mess.

Here are a couple of my favourite kitchen table getaways, centred on a good salsa. Two weeks from now I'll share my best bean recipes for a final getaway.

Good salsa: The January beast killer

A just right, full-bodied salsa is as great with simple corn chips or nachos as it is anchoring eggs, huevos rancheros style, or with fresh red snapper, Baja California style.

One of the best fresh fish meals I've ever had was when I was living in San Diego and we did a road trip down the Baja. We stopped for lunch in a tiny café perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, just south of Rosarito, which lies just south of Tijuana, and we were stunned by this sweet and savoury dish. I've been trying to replicate it since; the following recipe is pretty close.

For two people, heat vegetable oil in a frying pan and gently sauté half a large sweet onion, two-thirds of a medium green pepper, and as much jalapeño pepper as you like, all of it thinly sliced. Modern jalapeños are so large and mild, I leave the seeds and placenta in and use half a big one for that unique jalapeño flavour.

Wash and dry 2/3 to 3/4 pound of fresh, sweet red snapper (Fresh fish, by the way, always smells sweet, not "fishy"). Just before the onions and peppers are fully cooked, toss the snapper on top of them, sprinkle liberally with good salsa (see recipe below), and add fresh lime juice to taste. I squeeze on the juice of at least a whole lime using my low-tech, traditional aluminum Mexican lime squeezer. You can buy them on-line but why bother when you can grab one — along with a ton of authentic Mexican products, including the freshest corn chips north of the 49th parallel at the Que Pasa store and café at 12031 No. 5 Road in Richmond — a getaway unto itself.

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