When we lived in Oaxaca, I liked to go the food stands that were right outside the university faculties downtown, especially the school of architecture, which was right next to a small park, with plenty of room for the food vendors to set up their ingredients and comales. Students are usually on limited budgets and know how to eat well on very few pesos, so the stands where they gathered in midmorning were a good bet. One of the favorites was a stand selling chileajo, a Oaxacan specialty consisting of cooked vegetables marinated in a really unique vinaigrette. I have cut down somewhat on the amount of chile frequently used, but feel free to add more if you like your mixed vegetable salad really hot. In Oaxaca, the vinaigrette is made with pineapple vinegar, but the more commonly found apple cider vinegar is a good substitute.
- 1 pound new, waxy potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
- ¼ pound each: cubed carrots, sliced green beans, cubed chayote, small cauliflowerets
- 2 whole allspice berries
- 1 whole clove
- 4 peppercorns
- 1-inch piece of a cinnamon stick
- 4 guajillo chiles, seeded and soaked in 1 ½ cups hot water until soft
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon crushed dried oregano leaves
- 10 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
- ¼ cup pineapple or apple vinegar
- salt to taste
Cook the vegetables in salt water, or steam them if preferred, until tender but still firm. Plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process, drain and set aside in a bowl.
Grind the allspice, clove, peppercorns and cinnamon in a spice grinder. (A coffee grinder set aside just for this purpose is recommended.)
Place the soaked chiles, ¾ cup of the soaking water, ground spices, thyme, oregano and garlic in a blender and puree until smooth. Push puree through a strainer or put through a food mill to eliminate pieces of chile skin.
Heat the oil in a skillet, add the puree and cook, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the vinegar and salt to taste.
Pour the chile puree over the vegetables, mix to blend well and refrigerate until cold. Serve as a salad on a bed of lettuce, or on tostadas, topped with white cheese and chopped onion. Serves 6.
May in Mexico: A month of holiday food
For summertime or anytime: Mexican salads