Colorful Mexican Menu

I’m not sure how I became such a fan of Mexican food—it just happened. I used to throw an annual Mexican Christmas party called Merry Margaritas. It was fun to shake things up with a nontraditional menu during the holidays. But my favorite time of year to enjoy Mexican is summer—especially with all of the fresh fruits and vegetables available.

My daughters have spent a lot of time in Texas, so they have taught me a lot about tequila—and about the Texas cocktail known as ranch water. I love the added sweetness the Ruby Red grapefruit juice gives to my version of the refreshing drink. Even if you are not a huge tequila fan, you need to give this one a try.

The Chicken, Spinach, and Green Rice Quesadillas recipe is my latest invention. My husband, Jon, swears it’s the best quesadilla he has ever had—and that says a lot. The filling could be used in enchiladas too.

On a cooking technique note, don’t be afraid of cutting a fresh mango yourself for the Colorful Mango Salsa. After a quick online tutorial, you will be a pro and will never pay more for the precut ones in the grocery store again!

- Sponsors -

I couldn’t resist throwing my favorite Cumin Black Bean recipe (from my cookbook, Leslie’s Party Diaries) into the mix. It goes beautifully with the rest of these recipes—plus, it comes together fast. And make Mexican Street Corn with Manchego Dust while corn is at its peak for your next Mexican feast or BBQ cookout.

Summer is here—pop open some Mexican beer, mix up some ranch water, and start cooking!

Recipes and Photography by Leslie Byars Register

Mexican Street Corn with Manchego Dust
Mexican Street Corn with Manchego Dust

Mexican Street Corn with Manchego Dust

Makes 8 servings

1 stick of unsalted butter
8 fresh ears of corn, husks removed
½ cup chopped cilantro, reserving a little for garnish
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Juice of 2 limes
1 cup finely grated Manchego cheese
Lime wedges for serving

Preheat oven to 400°. Place butter on a large, rimmed baking sheet or in a large disposable foil pan. Place in oven until butter is melted. Remove from oven, and place corn into pan, rolling each ear around to coat evenly with butter. Sprinkle with cilantro, paprika, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Roll corn to coat evenly. Cover with foil, and return to the oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until corn is tender, turning midway through. Place on a platter, and sprinkle with Manchego and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

Learn from Leslie:
This can also be done on a grill in a foil pan if desired.

Spicy Grapefruit Ranch Water
Spicy Grapefruit Ranch Water

Spicy Grapefruit Ranch Water

Makes 1 drink

3 jalapeño slices
1 ounce tequila (silver/blanco)
3 ounces pink grapefruit juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice
3 ounces Topo Chico Twist of Lime flavor
Grapefruit slices and lime wedges

Add the jalapeño slices to a highball glass. Pour in the tequila, and muddle with a muddler or wooden spoon. Add enough ice to fill the glass, and top it with grapefruit and lime juices. Add Topo Chico, and stir. Garnish with a grapefruit slice and lime wedge.

Learn from Leslie:
Special Salt Rim: Combine 1 tablespoon kosher salt with 1 teaspoon chili powder and zest of 1 lime on a small plate or bowl. Turn glass to the side (before filling) and moisten one side of the rim with a lime wedge. Dip area into the salt mixture to coat artistically.

Mango Salsa
Colorful Mango Salsa

Colorful Mango Salsa

Makes about 3 cups

2 ripe mangos
½ red bell pepper
½ green bell pepper
½ of a purple onion
1 to 2 jalapeños, seeded
½ cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
Juice of two limes

Chop mangos and next 4 ingredients into a small dice as uniformly as possible, and place in a medium-size bowl. Add cilantro and remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use. This can be made up to 1 day ahead. Serve with tortilla chips or along with Chicken, Spinach, and Green Rice Quesadillas.

Chicken, Spinach, and Green Rice Quesadillas
Chicken, Spinach, and Green Rice Quesadillas

Chicken, Spinach, and Green Rice Quesadillas

Makes 8 (8-inch) half quesadillas (3 triangles)

1¼ pounds chicken tenders
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 bunch green onions, sliced thinly
2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
3 cups Cilantro-Pesto Rice (recipe follows)
3 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese, divided
3 cups grated Cotija cheese, divided
8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream (recipe follows)
Pico de gallo or salsa

Preheat oven to 375°. Place chicken tenders in a baking dish, and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cover with foil, and bake 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, and shred with two forks into small pieces.

In a large bowl, combine spinach, green onions, jalapeños, Cilantro-Pesto Rice, and half of both cheeses. Add the cooked chicken, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place a little of each cheese on one half of the tortilla. Add one cup of the chicken mixture, and a little more cheese on top; fold over and press to seal. Repeat with other tortillas. Heat a large nonstick skillet to medium-high, and cook two at a time until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Keep the remaining quesadillas warm in a low-degree oven.

Serve with Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream and pico de gallo or salsa.

Cilantro-Pesto Rice

2 cups firmly packed cilantro
½ cup toasted pine nuts
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup olive oil, plus more if necessary
2 cups cooked white rice (I like Basmati)

Place cilantro and next 6 ingredients in a food processor. (I like to use my mini-chopper for this for less cleanup.) Pulse until smooth, and toss with hot cooked rice. (A quick-cooking or instant rice will also work fine for this.)

This Cilantro-Pesto Rice can also be made ahead; then simply add to the chicken mixture before assembling.

Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream
Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream

Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream

Makes 1¾ cups

1½ cups sour cream
¼ cup chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Lime slices for garnish

Combine all ingredients except garnishes in a small bowl. Refrigerate for an hour or so until ready for use. This can be made a day or two in advance. Garnish just before serving.

Serve with Chicken, Spinach, and Green Rice Quesadillas.

Cumin Black Beans
Cumin Black Beans

Cumin Black Beans

Serves 6 to 8

3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup water, plus more if needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Sliced green onions, cilantro, and sour cream for garnish

Sauté garlic and onion in hot oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until tender. Stir in beans and next 5 ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with green onions, cilantro, and sour cream if desired.

Leslie Byars Register
IG: @lesliespartydiaries

Get the best of Birmingham delivered to your inbox

Stunning local homes, inspiring before & after projects, southern-style recipes, entertaining ideas and more!