Ensalada de Lechuga Con Mazana (Little Gem Salad with Apples and Jalapeño Vinaigrette)
Source: Gonzalo Guzmán, Nopalito
Salads in Mexico are usually made with simple, rustic ingredients such as cabbages, tomato wedges, or fruit, so this lettuce-based salad has more of a California influence than Mexican. If you can’t find crisp Little Gem lettuces locally, you can substitute baby romaine.
To bring some Mexican flavors, we add jalapeños to this salad dressing. We smoke them first, which not only adds a unique flavor and complexity but also tempers the heat of the peppers. It is actually easy to do at home, even if you don’t have a smoker (instructions follow). But if you would rather skip this step, follow the directions in the recipe for boiling the jalapeños; this similarly helps tame their heat.
Speaking of shortcuts, you can also swap in store-bought spiced peanuts, rather than making your own, though this recipe makes a little extra for snacking on.
Serves 4 to 6
1⁄4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeño, smoked if desired
1⁄4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes), divided
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
Rice bran oil or canola oil, for deep-frying
2 soft corn tortillas (if using homemade, use 1-day-old), sliced into 1⁄4-inch strips
1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 cup rice bran oil or canola oil8 cups Little Gem lettuces
1 firm-ripe apple (Granny Smith or another tart variety), thinly sliced
6 radishes, very thinly sliced1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and diced
1⁄2 cup Spiced Peanuts or a spicy store-bought version
Shaved ricotta salata cheese, for garnish
Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Place the red onions in a small heatproof bowl and ladle some boiling water over to cover; let sit 5 minutes. Meanwhile, if you did not smoke the jalapeño, add it to the boiling water; boil until the chile is slightly softened and darkened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Drain the red onions and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice and the 1⁄4 teaspoon salt to the bowl; let sit so the onions pickle slightly, about 40 minutes. The onions should look pink at this point.
Set a paper towel–lined plate next to the stove. Use a deep fryer, or add enough of the oil to a medium pot so it comes 1 to 2 inches up the sides of the pan. Heat the oil until it registers 350°F on a deep-fat thermometer, then add the tortilla strips, working in batches if necessary to make sure they are completely submerged. Fry, turning occasionally, until very crispy, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove using a slotted spoon or spider and transfer to the prepared plate; season with salt while still warm.
To make the vinaigrette, transfer the jalapeño to a blender and add the vinegar and the remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice; blend until smooth. With the motor running, stream in the oils until emulsified; season with salt to taste.
In a large serving bowl, combine the lettuces, apple, and avocado; season with salt to taste and toss with 1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette (or more to taste). Garnish with the spiced peanuts and ricotta salata, the pickled onions, and the fried tortilla strips.
How to Smoke Jalapeños on the Stove Top (If You Don’t Have a Smoker)
Soak a handful of wood chips in water for 30 minutes, then set them in a medium pot. Ignite the wood using a lighter until smoking. Place a metal vegetable steamer insert atop the pile, add a few jalapeños, and partially cover the pot. The chiles are done when the smoke stops rising.
Reprinted with permission from Nopalito © 2017 by Gonzalo Guzmán with Stacy Adimando. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs © 2017 by Eva Kolenko.