Latina chef serves up some ideas for Lent

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By Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Chef Laura Diaz-Brown, aka Chef Lala

It’s April, and if you’re Catholic (or even a lapsed, dubious or recovering Catholic) you know that means only one thing, food-wise: giving up meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of lent.

For the vegans and vegetarians among us, this is not a big deal, of course. But for the rest of us, being Catholic in springtime brings a host of cooking quandaries.

Not to fear, though. Chef Laura Diaz-Brown, aka Chef Lala, has come to our rescue. Raised in Los Angeles, where she and everyone else in the family helped out in her dad’s Mexican restaurants, Chef Lala has made a name for herself by taking traditional Mexican recipes and retooling them to be healthier.

At right is one of her Lent-specific recipes. For more, visit her website:

Shrimp and potato fritters topped with spicy red sauce


8 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled
4 oz. ground dried shrimp
4 oz. cotija cheese, finely grated
4 medium eggs
As much oil as needed

26 oz. canned red enchilada sauce
1 medium onion, pureed
1 medium tomato, pureed
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water
32 oz. sliced nopalitos

In a large saucepan add enchilada sauce, pureed tomatoes, onion, and chicken bouillon. Simmer on low for 15 minutes. In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in water. Slowly add cornstarch mixture to sauce, stirring constantly. Simmer 15 minutes more. In a large bowl, place potatoes and mash well. Add dried shrimp, cotija cheese, and eggs. In a skillet, heat oil. (It is important that the heat is not too high, or the patties won’t cook inside, and not too low, or the patties will absorb all the oil.) With a tablespoon, drop about 1 1/2 oz. of the shrimp mixture into the pan, and flatten with the spoon into a patty shape. Carefully flip when golden brown on the bottom. Remove when cooked, and drain excess oil. Set aside. Add nopalitos to the sauce, cook until warmed. Add the patties, cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Can any self-respecting Latino still love the mojito?

If it’s possible for a cocktail to be overexposed in the way “Bennifer” was overexposed, our vote would go for the minty mojito. The traditional Cuban drink, a mix of rum, mint, sugar and soda water, was all but unknown in the U.S. until the 1980s. Since then, it has slowly gained momentum until – boom – it became gringo-trendy as butt implants a couple of years ago. Now we’re seeing things like the “cucumber mojito” at Scottsdale’s Camelback Inn; pineapple and blackberry mojitos at the Kierland Westin; the mojito martini at FEZ in Phoenix; and more than one gourmet hotspot now claims to marinate meat dishes…in mojitos. Pero dios mio! What would Ernest Hemingway think? We’re all for getting fancy-pants now and then, but when it comes to mojitos, we still say simple is best. For that reason, ZuZu at the Valley Ho gets a tip of our Panama hat, for keepin’ it real in mojitoville.

Scottsdale Culinary Festival Features Two Latino Celebrity Chefs

As the longest-running festival of its kind in the world, the Scottsdale Culinary Festival is to food as the Super Bowl is to football. In its 30th years, the festival takes place from April 8 to 13, and features more than two dozen of the finest chefs from across the nation.

This year, even though the festival remains obscenely male-dominated (like the rest of chef-dom) two of the featured celebrity chefs are Scottsdale-based Latinos: Mel Mecinas, executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North; and Douglas Rodriguez, head chef at Deseo in Scottsdale, and widely regarded as the father of the “Nuevo Latino” cuisine movement.

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