Food & Drink

Cook's Exchange: Hispanic foods are diverse and varied

The Hispanic Heritage food contest at the old Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Gulfport was established to honor the diversity and rich heritage of Hispanic Americans.

Not only is the culture and heritage of Spanish-speaking peoples varied and vibrant, but so are Hispanic foods. For instance, Cuban dishes are different from those served on the west coast of Mexico. Those in Puerto Vallarta are unlike those in Oaxaca, Mexico. Tex-Mex is certainly not the same as California Mexican foods.

That was true of the VA’s food contest. Recipes ranged from the American chile cheese dip to picadillo and ceviche. After our reader, named Robin, asked for Hispanic recipes, readers from Mississippi to Florida have sent in a diverse batch of recipes for her to try.

Lupe C. Hawes, who worked in the VA’s medical administration service, shared one of her contest recipes with me, which brought back memories of that event, that was held for more than 10 years. She sent hercacerola facil de enchiladas or easy enchilada casserole.

“Having grown up along the Texas-Mexico border in Harlingen, Texas, I love Mexican food,” said Arwen Blankinship of Bradenton, Fla. “I am sending one of my favorite ‘go-to’ Mexican recipes. Everyone I have served this to, adult or child, loves it. It is quick, easy and a little different from the usual fideo recipe, which is more commonly a soup. It is yummy Mexican pasta comfort food, and I usually serve tortilla and sliced avocado with it.”

Also from Bradenton, Alice J. White shares ensalada de calabacitas or marinated zucchini salad, which she says is a favorite with all her family and friends.

“Years ago, the local paper in Harlingen, the Valley Morning Star, ran this recipe in one of its food columns. I clipped it out and took it to the grocery store with me,” Blankinship said.

“While collecting the ingredients, I found the box of fideo noodles (Q&Q brand) that had the recipe featured on it.

“Since moving to Bradenton, I am not able to buy the same brand of noodles, so I’ve improvised by using regular vermicelli noodles that I break into 2-inch pieces,” Blankinship said.

“The only other modification I have made to the recipe is lowering the amount of chili powder to one tablespoon. I feel two to three is overpowering. I hope your reader gives it a try.”


1 pound ground beef or diced chicken or pork

5-8 ounces dry fideo or vermicelli

1 tablespoon oil

1 medium chopped onion

1 (15-ounce) can chicken broth

1/2 cup water

1 to 3 tablespoons chili powder (I use only 1)

Salt or garlic salt and pepper, to taste

Saute selected meat until done, set aside. In the same pan, heat oil and lightly brown fideo, stirring constantly. Add chopped onion halfway through browning. Add chicken broth and water. Return meat to pan. Add chili powder, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. For extra zip, add sliced jalapenos or ground cayenne pepper. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

-- Submitted by Arwen Blankinship

Hawes serves her enchilada casserole with either a guacamole salad or green salad.



1 (7-ounce) bag tortilla chips, crushed mildly

1 large minced onion

1-1/2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese

2 cans enchilada sauce, hot or mild

1 pound cooked hamburger meat, drained

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons cooking oil

Prepare sauce by browning1/4 cup minced onion in 2 tablespoons of cooking oil; adding the enchilada sauce and all the spices; letting it simmer for 15-20 minutes. Cook hamburger meat in another skillet; set aside.

In a casserole dish, place all the rest of the ingredients, including meat, and mix well. Leave 1/2 cup of cheese for topping. Pour all the sauce over mixture. Top with cheese and bake in 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

-- Submitted by Lupe C. Hawes



3 medium zucchini (about 6 ounces)

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons white vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup drained canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

1/2 cup sliced, pitted ripe olives

3 green onions, minced

1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, drained, seeded, minced

1 ripe avocado, pitted, pared, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/3 cup crumbed queso anejo or 3 tablespoons grated Romano cheese

1 head Boston lettuce, cored, separated into leaves

Cut zucchini lengthwise into halves; cut halves crosswise into1/4-inch thick slices. Place sliced in medium bowl; sprinkle with salt. Toss to mix. Spread zucchini on several layers of paper toweling; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes to drain.

Combine vinegar, garlic and thyme in large bowl. Gradually add oil, whisking continuously until dressing is thoroughly blended.

Pat zucchini dry; add to dressing. Add bean, olives and onions, toss to coat with dressing. Refrigerate, covered, stirring occasionally, at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Just before serving, add chile to salad; (I add a little at a time and taste, because it can get very spicy hot.) then stir gently to distribute evenly. Add avocado, (if some do not like avocado I skip this) and cheese; toss lightly to mix.

To serve, line shallow bowl or platter with lettuce; top with zucchini mixture.

-- Submitted by Alice J. White


Mary Creel of Biloxi shared her favorite king cake recipe, Susie Creel’s. Those who have eaten Susie Creel’s king cake say it is wonderful and easy.

King cakes for those who may be unfamiliar with the confection are traditionally served during Mardi Gras and are decorated with green, gold and purple icing or sprinkles. A baby is tucked inside. The person who gets the baby has to buy the next king cake or, another thought, has good luck.


1-1/2 (12 ounces) packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 egg separated

1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

2 cans crescent rolls

1/4-1/2 cup pie filling (your choice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and extract together until smooth.

Arrange rolls on pizza pan with points to center (overlapping sides a little). Let wide end hang over rim about 1 inch. Spread cream cheese on dough in ring around rim. Top with pie filling. Fold outer edge over filling and tuck, cove back with points to seal. Brush with beaten egg white. Bake 25 to 30 minutes and drizzle with glaze.

Note: Cream cheese mixture is enough for 2 cakes with using pie filling.


1/2 stick butter

1 pound powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup simple syrup (1/4 cup water and1/4 cup white sugar)

Dissolve together over low heat and drizzle over cake. Makes enough for 4-6 cakes.

-- Submitted by Mary Creel.


“Readers, please help me find Fisherman’s Wharf seafood gumbo recipe,” said an Ocean Springs reader.

“I want my children to taste the ‘best gumbo.’ Please, readers, ask your friends, look through your recipes for Fisherman’s Wharf gumbo recipe.”

OK, readers, you read this Ocean Springs’ resident’s plea. If you have the recipe or a similar one, please send it to me.

For Coast newcomers, Fisherman’s Wharf was a longtime Biloxi restaurant that sat on the beach in Biloxi and later became part of Lady Luck Casino’s restaurants. Both the casino and restaurant are gone.


Doris Harwell of Bradenton has been looking for Olive Garden’s gnocchi potato soup. “I bought a box of gnocchi and thought it would have the recipe on it, but it didn’t,” she said.

Readers, can you help with this? If so, please send the recipes to me.


Steve Leonard of Wiggins shares some northern Chinese recipes, and Joe Nahlik of Saucier offers one of his fast, easy and economical dishes.

Andrea Yeager, a freelance writer, can be reached at Send contributions or requests to Cook’s Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.