Holy Tamale! Salsa Makes a Fiery EntranceA thirst-quenching margarita accompanied by nacho chips dipped in extra spicy salsa and guacamole made from a Santa Fe-style recipe does not sound like a typical summer treat in Korea, does it? The addition of avocado burritos, cheese enchiladas with red chili and sopaipillas served with honey becomes a full-blown New Mexican food fiesta right in the heart of downtown Seoul.
Cara Rooney, the guest chef at the Hilton's Cilantro Californian restaurant is a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition that the Southwestern cuisine from her hometown is "extremely flavorful." For the special Santa Fe Food Fiesta, the chef has prepared traditional Mexican dishes blended with new influence of Santa Fe. They're New Mexican dishes.
It is Ms. Rooney's first trip to Korea to prepare her specialties. What makes Ms. Rooney's cooking of interest here is that she succeeded in blending imported ingredients with local varieties. Her guacamole is made from avocados sold in local markets and her pico de gallo, a kind of salsa, from local tomatoes. She said that the chili pepper she used in her cooking looked similar to the Korean variety, but in New Mexico there are 16 different kinds of chili peppers. Yellow rice cooked with chicken broth tastes superb thanks to the chef's creative method of making local white rice more New Mexican.
To make a special red hot chili paste, she blended the local variety with the super spicy chili peppers she brought into Korea. The result is a tasty red sauce that starts with the sharp zing of Mexican chili peppers and ends with sweet fire of Korean chili peppers.
She also prepared exotic sopaipillas, a kind of deep-fried puffed bread served with honey, which can be eaten on the side, along with corn chips and an alcoholic beverage. She recommends Santa Fe-style desserts such as Mexican chocolate cake and pine nut tarts. New Mexican desserts are prepared in a manner similar to European desserts, but are grainier. Her specialties include honey flan with sugar cookies. Flan is a kind of caramel pudding whose texture is coarser than ordinary puddings but tastes very rich and delicious. It goes beautifully with strong coffee or espresso.
Cilantro Californian restaurant is located on the first floor of the Hilton hotel in downtown Seoul. The festival runs until Saturday. For reservations or additional information, call 02-317-3062.
by Inēs Cho