Lucinda Hutson, well-known to Austinites for her delightful cookbook, “The Herb Garden Cookbook“, her purple house in the Rosedale neighborhood, and her reputation as a local bon vivant. She has a new cookbook , called “Viva Tequila”, due out from UT Press in May). Not just a cookbook, it’s chock full of information about how tequila (and pulque and mezcal) are made, as well as their histories, and it’s also part memoir. I’ve enjoyed reading about her forays to Mexico to see agave plants being harvested, try her hand at cutting the sharp leaves away to get to the sweet heart of the plant, and watch it being roasted and distilled in the traditional fashion to make the powerful drink. I didn’t know how much there was to know about tequila! I have a new appreciation for its history, production and nuances in flavor.
It’s the cookbook section that will really rev you up, though. It will bring out your inner host/hostess and make you want to have a party this weekend! Celebratory beverages and mouth-watering foods fill the second half of the book, beckoning to be made. I’ve shared two favorites below (one drink, one food), but you should order a copy for yourself to see what other treasures you’re missing. It’s the perfect way to usher in the warm Texas weather!
Sangrita La Lucinda
• 4 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
• 1½ cups 100% natural pomegranate juice
• ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, preferably from Mexican limes
• 8–12 ounces commercially bottled Salsa Valentina, Salsa Tamazula, or homemade Salsa Puya
• Salt or Cantina Classic Sal de Sangrita, to taste
Mix ingredients together and chill overnight or longer (it just gets better). Adjust flavorings al gusto (to taste) for the perfect balance. Serve chilled in shot glasses to accompany shots of tequila blanco or reposado. Sangrita keeps for more than a week refrigerated. Makes approx. 7 cups (24 shots).
Melted Cheese Flambéed in Tequila
• ½ large white onion, cut into thin slices• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 2 teaspoons butter
• 4–6 New Mexico or Anaheim green chiles or poblanos, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into rajas
• 2 jalapeños or serranos, stemmed and seeded, chopped, optional
• 2 tablespoons tequila reposado plus 2 more tablespoons to flambé
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 12 ounces creamy white cheese, such as queso Chihuahua, queso asadero, queso blanco, Monterey Jack, Muenster (or any combination), grated
• Condiments: chopped tomatoes, avocado wedges drizzled with fresh lime juice, chopped green onions, chopped fresh cilantro, and your favorite salsa
• To serve: 12 warm flour or corn tortillas, tostada chips, or red bell pepper wedges and other vegetable crudités
Briefly sauté onion and garlic in the oil and butter; add chile rajas and jalapeños or serranos, 2 tablespoons tequila, salt and pepper to taste, stirring until the tequila is absorbed. Do not overcook.
Place grated cheese in a shallow 9 × 9-inch earthenware dish or in 6 individual flameproof ramekins. Top with the pepper/onion mixture. Place 6 inches under a pre-heated broiler and heat until bubbly, melted, and lightly browned (about 4–5 minutes). Serves 6.
To serve: Dim lights. Remove cheese from oven. Briefly heat remaining 2 tablespoons tequila in a small, heavy saucepan; do not boil! Bring to the table, carefully igniting warmed tequila as you pour it from the saucepan over the sizzling cheese. Accompany with small bowls of condiments, a basket of hot tortillas, crispy tostadas, or crudités.
Variation: Sauté a handful of sliced mushrooms or squash blossoms with the pepper/onion mixture. Or substitute about ½ pound of crumbled fried chorizo (spicy Mexican pork sausage) for the rajas.
(Recipes used with permission from UT Press.)