Patricia Mulvey discovered her favorite taste of summer during a disastrous trip to Mexico in 1995. The bright moment of that trip was the Ensenada Slaw. She describes it as "a lightly dressed, crisp vegetable salad with a touch of heat from hot sauce and a touch of acidity from lime juice."
Mulvey — who now lives in Madison, Wis., and runs a farmers market menu planning service — was on the trip with her husband. They had borrowed a Ford Escort from a friend in San Diego and were cruising down the Mexican coast when a large rock appeared in the road. It was being used by a construction crew in lieu of a safety cone. Mulvey had to act fast.
"Well, if I swerve left, I'm going to hit 60 mph oncoming traffic. If I swerve to the right, I'm going off a cliff," she says.
She elected to stay the course and drive over it. Mulvey's husband got out to survey the damage, which didn't seem too bad — but when she tried to start the car, she says there was "a hideous, shredding, shrieking, awful sound. [It] threw me into a tizzy and I just spazzed out."
Mulvey jumped out of the car and ran toward the construction crew. She waved down the man on the road roller and said, "Hay un gran pierna in la calle." Translation: "There is a big leg in the street." He ignored her. She then waved down the next car on the road and hitched a ride to nearby Ensenada.
Once in town, they called a tow truck and went back to the car. When they arrived, Mulvey was alarmed to see the area "teeming" with machine gun-wielding federales with drug-sniffing dogs.
"My stomach's doing flips as the guys come up to us with their guns and tell us we can go," she says. "And we so wanted to go."
When the tow truck driver examined the car, he found the entire oil pan had been torn out, and there wouldn't be a quick fix.
"We decide to just call it a night — find a restaurant, have a margarita, and we order the fish tacos, which are topped with this amazing slaw. It was a revelation to me. It was bright; it was crisp; it had just the right hint of heat," she says.
Mulvey nearly swooned — and it didn't hurt that the mariachi band was playing "Besame Mucho" (or "Kiss Me a Lot"). "The taste of the slaw and this music made it seem like our luck was turning around," she says.
Not quite. By the next morning the garage found that the timing belt was also shredded. "We just bailed," she says. "We couldn't stay."
The pair hitched a ride across the border and back to San Diego. They told their friend, Dave, that they had abandoned his broken-down car in Mexico and braced for his reaction.
"He looked at me and said, 'Are you OK? Did anyone get hurt?' And I started crying because I was so relieved that he wasn't freaking out," she says. "And he said, 'You guys are my best friends; why would it matter about a crappy car?' "
Mulvey describes the slaw as "the one bright, shining moment in that crazy Mexico adventure," but didn't attempt to re-create the recipe until a few years later when she went to culinary school.
"Now every time I make that slaw, I smile because I have a really great friend, and I'm still friends with him to this day even though I left his car in Mexico," she says.
Recipe: Ensenada Slaw With Fish Tacos
Mulvey says you can substitute other flaky white fish for the halibut. The spice rub for the fish is inspired by a recipe that appeared in Gourmet Magazine from June 2007.
1/2 head cabbage, cored and shredded (about 4-6 cups)
2 cups peeled and shredded broccoli stems
2-4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 teaspoons lime juice
Tabasco, to taste
Salt and pepper
Mix veggies together in a bowl. In separate bowl whisk together mayo, lime juice and Tabasco. Toss with veggies and sprinkle to taste with salt and pepper. Put in fridge while you prep the fish tacos.
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons lime zest
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound halibut fillets
Tortillas and additional condiments for serving
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make a spice rub by combining olive oil, paprika, oregano, garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes, lime zest, kosher salt and pepper, then rub it all over the fish.
Heat a nonstick pan over high heat until very hot. Dab a little oil in the pan and pan sear the fish, flesh side down until browned. Turn fish to other side, and place in oven and cook until fish reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees, about 6-7 minutes. Remove, cover and allow to rest at least 5 minutes. Serve on a tortilla, with a heaping pile of slaw and other condiments of your choice — salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Our Taste of Summer Found Recipe contest is now down to three finalists, and we're asking you to weigh in on which of their recipes and the story behind it should be the winner.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BLOCK: We met the first finalist yesterday, and now, to the second, listener Patricia Mulvey of Madison, Wisconsin. She runs a farmers' market menu planning service, and her Taste of Summer is Ensenada slaw.
PATRICIA MULVEY: It's a lightly dressed crisp vegetable salad with a touch of heat from hot sauce and a touch of acidity from lime juice.
BLOCK: And a touch of...
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)
SIEGEL: ...horror stories.
BLOCK: Because this recipe stems from a summertime trip from hell.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BLOCK: It's 1995. Pat and her husband borrow their friend's Ford Escort and set off from San Diego for a drive down the Mexican coast. Suddenly, there's a rock, a large rock smack in the middle of the road. A construction crew is using it as a safety cone. Pat has to make a fast choice.
MULVEY: Well, if I swerve left, I'm going to hit 60-mile-an-hour oncoming traffic. If I swerve to the right, I'm going off a cliff.
BLOCK: So instead, she drives over the big rock. The car, the borrowed car, is damaged.
MULVEY: My husband got out and looked and said it's OK. It's just a leak. I think we can make it down to Ensenada. So I started the car up when a hideous, shredding, shrieking, awful sound threw me into a tizzy, and I just spazzed out. So then I waved down the next car on the road, and my husband jumps in, and we explained to him we need a phone. So he drives us down to a resort where we called for a tow truck. The tow truck driver picks us up and takes us back to the car, which is teeming with machine-gun wielding federales, and their drug-sniffing dogs.
Now, the friend whose car we borrowed - Dave Hackney(ph) - was the assistant state's attorney in San Diego in charge of prosecuting drug violations.
So I have no idea whether he has ever or is currently transporting drugs. I don't know how this stuff works. My stomach's doing flips as the guys come up to us with their guns and tell us we can go. So the tow truck driver gets under the car and comes out laughing his head off because we have torn the entire oil pan out from the under car. There's a gaping hole.
So he drives us into Ensenada to El Senor Maximo's(ph) auto body and beauty supply shop where El Senor Maximo begins the process of tracking down (foreign language spoken), the oil pan. He finds one in Los Angeles, tells us he's going to have to drive there the next day. We decide to just call it a night, find a restaurant, have a margarita, and we order the fish tacos, which are topped with this amazing slaw. It was a revelation to me. It was bright. It was crisp. It had just the right hint of heat. And I fell in love with that slaw. It helps that the mariachi band was singing "Besame Mucho" to my husband and me while I ate it. But it was delicious.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BESAME MUCHO")
MULVEY: The taste of the slaw and this music made it seem like our luck was turning around. But no.
We returned to El Senor Maximo's, and it turns out the timing belt has shredded. And now they're going to have to return for the part. And so we can't stay. So we hitched a ride, get to San Diego and tell Dave exactly where in Mexico we left his car. He looked at me, and he said, are you OK? Did anyone get hurt? And I started crying because I was so relieved that he wasn't freaking out. And he said, you guys are my best friends. Why would it matter about a crappy car?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MULVEY: A few years later, I went to culinary school where I finally figured out how to make the Ensenada slaw, the one bright shinning moment in that crazy Mexico adventure. And now every time I make that slaw, I smile because I have a really great friend, and I'm still friends with him to this day even though I left his car in Mexico.
BLOCK: That's listener Patricia Mulvey with a story behind her taste of summer entry for Ensenada slaw, a crisp and refreshing vegetable salad with a hint of heat. You can get her recipe and check out our other two finalists on the Found Recipes page at npr.org. While you're there, tell us which of these recipes you think should be the Taste of Summer and why. We'll hear from our final finalists tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.