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~ Texican Tomato, Cucumber and Green Olive Salad ~

IMG_2583Olives in Mexican food?  It's controversial.  So-called experts will flatly state that olives in Mexican food make the dish Spanish, not Mexican, meaning "don't".  That said, with some of the largest concentrations of green olive trees in the world being located in regions throughout Mexico, areas bordering Texas, and, the Guadalupe Valley in Northern Baja California, common sense would and should lead one (it did me) to a different conclusion, meaning "go for it".  While a Mexican dish with olives in or on it can't be labeled "authentic", the addition of olives is fine.  

A good deal of research on this subject revealed to me:

IMG_2552It's not that Mexicans don't eat olives, they just don't put them on tacos, or use them in dishes accompanied by, or wrapped in, tortillas.  Mostly, they eat olives as snacks, add them to salads or drop them into alcoholic beverages -- who doesn't love a jalapeño stuffed olive eaten out of hand, on their salad or in their martini.  It's also worth noting that, for a time,  during the colonial period, 1521-1821, the Spanish government forbade the planting of olive trees and/or groves in New Spain (as Mexico was named during this period), which, quite possibly, is the sole reason why olives weren't used in vintage family recipes and classic Mexican dishes that have been handed down from generation to generation -- olives were forbidden fruit.  It's also (understandably so) plausible that Mexican resentment toward the Spanish in general caused many to flatly refuse to cook with and serve them their beloved fruit. That said, olive trees did make their way into Mexico anyway (read below), they exist in Mexico today, and, nowadays, Mexicans do, on occasion, just like the rest of us, eat and enjoy olives.

Green olives are not indigenous to Mexico, but they are no stranger to Mexico or the Mexican people or Mexican cuisine.

Wild olives (oleaster) once grew all over the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, but bore little resemblance to the modern olive tree until about 5,000 years ago when it was cultivated in Crete and Syria into what we are familiar with today.  Once established, olive trees flourished in Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, and other Mediterranean countries for thousands of years, and, were featured in many culinary specialties. The Spaniards were the first to realize this fruit could have international appeal and took the first cuttings to Peru in the early-to-mid 16th century.  From there, Franciscan Monks introduced olives to Central America, then smuggled them North, where olive trees thrived within the walls of their missions of Mexico.  In 1769, olive cuttings were planted at the San Diego Mission where they found yet another happy home in California.

Americans might love black olives, but, they're not even a part of the small part olives play in a Mexican kitchen.  Black olives are an all-American addition, catering solely to the American palate.

IMG_2550For the Texican-style chopped salad:

1-1 1/2 cups quartered and sliced cucumber, peeled or unpeeled, your choice

1-1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

3/4-1  cup coarsely-chopped deli-salad-bar-style green olive mix, preferably one containing garlic and sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 thinly-sliced scallions

1/4-1/2  cup queso fresco cheese crumbles + 1/4-1/2 cup additional crumbles for garnish

For the red wine vinaigrette:

1/2  cup vegetable oil 

1/4  cup red wine vinegar

1-2  tablespoons sugar, to taste

1  teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

The difference between cotija and queso fresco cheese.

IMG_2394 IMG_2394 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2568~Step 1. To prep salad, slice, dice or chop ingredients as directed, placing all in a medium bowl as you work.  To this point, salad ingredients can be prepped, covered and refrigerated 2-4 hours prior to dressing and tossing.

IMG_2545 IMG_2545 IMG_2562 IMG_2572~Step 2.  To prepare the vinaigrette and dress the salad, in a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and a pourer top, place the oil, vinegar, sugar and oregano.  Place the lid on the container and vigorously shake it until ingredients are combined.  Add 4-6 tablespoons of the vinaigrette to the salad.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the dressing into the salad.

Note:  This refreshing relish-esque salad, goes great with grilled chicken, steak, ribs, and fish or seafood too.  Got leftovers?  Pull or slice the the protein into bite-sized pieces, toss it into the salad and stuff it into pita pockets for lunch the next day.  There's more.  If you want to serve it as a starter course to a sit-down meal, spoon it atop a bed of crispy lettuce chiffonade -- it's dressed to pucker-up, briny perfection.  That said, because it's marinated, it's best served within 12-24 hours, so, don't make more than you and yours can eat in within that time frame.

This refreshing chopped relish-esque, condiment-type salad...

IMG_2580... pairs great w/chicken, ribs, steak, fish or seafood (pictured here w/Southwestern Cheese-Topped Corn & Bean Pudding):

IMG_2589Texican Tomato, Cucumber and Green Olive Salad: Recipe yields 4-6 cups side-dish salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; large rubber spatula

IMG_2426Cook's Note:  With a few cuisine-appropriate substitutions, this salad can be transitioned to pair with food from any number of cultures.  For example:  To prepare ~ Greek-Style Chopped-Salad w/Red Wine Vinaigrette ~, use a kalamata black and green olive blend, red onion, feta cheese and Mediterranean oregano (in place of  green olive and sun-dried tomato blend, scallions, queso fresco and Mexican oregano. Or, to make it Italian, go with basil and small, fresh mozzarella balls.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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