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This crazy weather demands a two-fisted cocktail. I’m a huge fan of the Mexican bar classic, the Sangrita cocktail, even though the drink has stiff competition from its fancier tequila cousin, the margarita. I can’t figure out why the Sangrita isn’t more popular, especially for those who don’t care for sweetened drinks and prefer a cocktail to a shot.
It’s time to warm up to Sangrita’s seduction because, simply, it’s a blast to drink.
In Mexico, always ask the bartender for a Sangrita Cóctel separado (separated) and then say which tequila you prefer. He or she pours your tequila of choice into one glass and a spicy juice blend into another, rather than mixing them in the same glass. You sip from each separately, hence the two-fisted cocktail.
Good tequila the key to making a Sangrita
To make your own, start with good tequila. Then you mix into the second glass tomato and orange juices, hot sauce and a squeeze of lime. No kidding. Just try it.
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Of course, I can easily get obsessive. Grab your favorite tequila reposado (100% agave, lightly aged in oak barrels for a smooth drink) and accept no substitute. Orange juice must be freshly squeezed, no discussion here. Tomato juice is from freshly squeezed summer-red-ripe beauties or as a last (winter) resort use bottled, organic, low-sodium juice. Hot sauce has to be made from red Mexican chilies and will be a Mexican import such as Cholula, Búfalo or Tapátio brand. Fresh Mexican (aka Key) lime is a must, and a variation is not open for discussion. Taste, and sprinkle in a pinch of sea salt if needed.
Put on ranchera music and bring out copitas, the tall pony shot glasses from your last trip south of the border. Now, where are those souvenir sombreros?
Makes 2 drinks. You will need 4 tall pony shot glasses, small snifters or similar glasses.
2 shots tequila
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup tomato juice
Bottled Mexican hot sauce
1 Mexican lime (aka Key)
Sea salt to taste
1. Pour a generous shot of tequila into each of two glasses.
2. Measure the orange and tomato juices in a clear measuring cup with a pour spout. Shake in a few squirts of hot sauce. Squeeze in the lime juice. Stir. Taste. Need salt? It should be brightly sweet, acidic and definitely spicy!
3. Pour the juice mixture into the two empty glasses. ¡Salud! Sip from the juice glass and the tequila one.
Top photo: The makings of the Sangrita Cóctel. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky
by: Nancy Zaslavsky
in: World w/recipe
Say hello to winter salsas that warm both tummy and spirit.
Thanks to weeks of holiday stuffing, little is more welcoming during the January blahs than bright dishes to guide you through bland diet foods. Yep, you know what I mean. Almost-fat-free proteins read like a who’s who of boring: the dreaded boneless, skinless chicken breast, flavorless fish fillets and soulless tofu — to say nothing of kale everything — are prime examples of depression triggers for our sins of holiday indulgence. Tasteless is one thing, but lovingly prepared, insipid homemade food is intolerable!
You can warm up from inside out with these easy-to-make salsas that bedazzle almost any low-cal dish. Dried chiles are available year round and aren’t so spicy as to cause a burn, but are definitely hot enough to ignite a grin — a wild, wacky grin — as your mouth does the Macarena.
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Winter Pear Table Salsa
Makes about 2 cups
2 dried guajillo chiles
2 dried ancho chiles
1 dried d’arbol chile
3 (8-ounce) firm but ripe pears
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice from Mexican (aka Key) limes, if possible
1 medium (3 inches) white onion, coarsely chopped
½ cup chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons sugar
Sea or kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Using scissors, cut the guajillo and ancho chile stem ends off along with the seed clumps. Cut the chiles vertically and open flat. With a spoon, scrape out the seeds and veins.
2. Bring a small saucepan of water with the guajillo and ancho chiles to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat.
3. Stem and seed the d’arbol chile and add it to the hot water. Let the chiles reconstitute and soften at least 20 minutes or up to a few hours.
4. Drain the chiles and put them in a blender jar. Add just enough fresh water to make blending possible. Purée until smooth. Remove about a third of the chile mixture and reserve in a small dish.
5. Peel, core and chop the pears into coarse chunks. Put them in the blender with the chiles. Pour in the lime juice. Blend 10 seconds. Add the onion and blend again. Finally add the cilantro, sugar, salt and pepper and pulse to mix. Taste. If you want the salsa to be spicier, pulse in some or all of the remaining chile purée; otherwise, discard it.
Toasted Pumpkin Seed and Sesame Seed Table Salsa
Makes about 2 cups
1 large (about 4 inches) white onion
8 cloves garlic
2 plum tomatoes
2 small, dried d’arbol chiles
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup sesame seeds
½ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (McCormick brand is good)
1. Heat a griddle or heavy skillet to medium-hot.
2. Cut the unpeeled onion lengthwise through the root and stem ends into 8 wedges. With the skin on, place on an ungreased griddle to toast. Put the whole, unpeeled garlic cloves and the whole tomatoes on the griddle to toast until black spots appear all over each. Cool enough to handle and peel the onion and garlic.
3. Core the tomatoes and cut off the onion and garlic root ends. Put in a blender jar or food processor, adding only enough water to make blending possible, and blend about 10 seconds.
4. Toast the chiles for about 10 seconds on each side, just until their color changes. Stem and crumble one of the chiles into the blender (with seeds) and blend again.
5. Heat a small, ungreased skillet to medium-hot. Dump in the pumpkin seeds and stir until they puff, turn golden and jump around in the pan, about 4 minutes. Pour into the blender. In the same skillet, quickly toast the sesame seeds until they turn medium golden brown. Add to the blender.
6. Add the salt and oregano to the blender jar. Blend, adding water only if necessary. The goal is a chunky, rustic table salsa. Taste. Adjust the seasonings if necessary. Now is the time to crumble the other chile into the blender if you want more spice and blend to mix.
Top photo: An ancho chile (top), a guajillo chile (middle) and a d’arbol chile. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky
It was a hot morning in Mérida, Mexico, and ballroom dancers were flaunting their stuff in Santa Lucía Park (nothing out of the ordinary). As a non-dancer trying to stay cool while sweat dripped down my spine in the pre-noon heat and humidity, I searched out shade and an icy drink.
Panuchos, stuffed corn tortillas, were the main attraction of the food-and-drink cart hogging the nearby shade, so I squished myself into the slightly cooler, compact area, bought a drink and tried a panucho. Alongside me, a woman with a stunning Mayan profile directly off a pre-Columbian sculpture casually turned her gaze from the dance floor and asked what I thought of the food — nothing about rhumbas or cha chas. We chatted about local dishes: what’s best bought off carts, elaborate street stands or at market fondas vs. home-cooked specialties. This lady knew her stuff.
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Rosario Chávez and I agreed to meet for drinks while she was in her Yucatán, Mexico, homeland to enjoy a long-planned Christmas holiday vacation. The following evening, even before frosty mojitos touched our lips, we’re back at food talk — this time with her two sisters, both outstanding home cooks. It was at this culinary roundtable that I soaked up glories of the region’s fabled Turkey Escabeche. They swooned over how every street corner would soon be heady with aromas escaping from ovens and outdoor wood grills on Christmas Eve. Wood grills? My ears snapped to attention.
Turkey escabeche grilled whole to crisp and brown the skin
The sisters explained that to achieve intoxicating fragrance and flavor, a small, whole trussed turkey (or pieces of a large bird for easy maneuvering) is simmered in seasoned water, but before it’s done it’s whisked off the stove, cooled a bit, thoroughly massaged with recado de bistec (Yucatan’s peppery spice paste), taken outdoors and plopped onto a hot grill. Yep, the whole thing. A whole turkey’s skin is browned first on the back and then turned over to the front, finally turning twice more to brown each side, all the while basting generously with more recado de bistec. Only when the turkey is fully cooked — deep, chocolate brown and crisp in every nook and cranny — is it lifted off the grill.
Not more than a few months had passed when I called Rosario to invite her to lunch in Los Angeles, where it turned out we both lived. (How lucky was I?) In no time we were fast friends and met regularly for lunch at various restaurants, where we talked food and recipes. Afterward we’d go back to her home kitchen to make supper for the family. I’d help prep, wash dishes, take notes and watch like a hawk as Rosario’s swift hands transformed simple ingredients into masterpieces from childhood memories.
She interwove stories about growing up on a ranch in Espita, in the countryside east of Mérida, where food was prepared outdoors in a thatched-roof cooking hut with homemade longanista sausages drying from rafters. Christmas Eve Turkey Escabeche was certainly made there, like clockwork, every Dec. 24.
In 1999, Rosario’s husband, Estabán, and kids were busy with work, college and/or married life with babies, and important family dinners were left up to Mom when she suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Festive family meals with home-cooked Yucatecan food came to a screeching halt.
A tradition that won’t fade away
Now their daughters, Analuisa, Diana and Adriana, keep tradition alive with cherished recipes from their father and mother’s ancestral homeland. I’m tickled to say that I wrote down a number of them for the first time (in English, no less! … as Rosario liked to joke) for my cookbooks — recipes the daughters cook from along with their mom’s sauce-splattered, handwritten recipe cards that are even more coveted. Rosario died much too young, but her spirit will last forever along with flavor memories of her beloved Yucatán.
These days, Estabán, a terrific cook himself, enjoys making Turkey Escabeche for the whole family — not on Christmas Eve but in September for Adriana’s birthday, simply because it’s her favorite dish, a new Chávez family tradition. If you decide for the holidays to go the usual baked, deep-fried, smoked or indirect heat-grilled method of turkey cooking, consider Turkey Escabeche for another meal. The classic process is time consuming though shockingly simple for such an intense taste reward. This time of year is when you get the largest selection of birds (especially locally sourced) at the best prices — truly win-win all around — so freeze one and make Turkey Escabeche on the birthday of someone you love.
Serves about 8 to 12
For the Recado de Bistec, Peppery Seasoning Paste:
Makes about 1 cup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 head garlic, coarsely chopped
1 (4-inch) stick of canela (soft Mexican or pure Ceylon cinnamon)
6 dried d’arbol chiles, stemmed
8 ounces black peppercorns
2 white onions, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano (McCormick is good)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1. Heat the oil in a small skillet. Sauté the garlic until golden, and then scrape into a blender jar. Put the canela and chiles in the same skillet and cook a few minutes to lightly brown and release their aromas. Slide from the heat onto a plate.
2. Scoop the peppercorns into the blender with the garlic and blend to grind. Break up the canela and chile (using gloves if needed) into the jar and grind again. Measure in the remaining ingredients and blend about a minute until smooth, adding a little water as necessary. Scrape into a bowl using a pliable spatula to get every last bit. May be made weeks in advance and kept refrigerated.
For the turkey:
2 heads garlic, broken apart but not peeled
2 fresh habañero chiles
1 turkey, either a trussed 12-pounder to cook whole or a larger bird cut into a dozen pieces
3 tablespoons sea salt or kosher salt
6 large red onions
8 tablespoons Recado de Bistec paste
1 cup white vinegar, divided
4 bay leaves
Charcoal (mesquite if possible) for the grill
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Corn tortillas and/or baguettes
1. Toast the unpeeled garlic cloves and chiles on a medium-hot, ungreased griddle (or heavy skillet) until black spots show on all sides.
2. Put the turkey (whole or pieces) in a large stockpot. Cover with cold water, salt, garlic and whole chiles. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to a strong simmer with the cover askew. Cook until the internal temperature of the thigh is 150 degrees Fahrenheit and rosy at the bone, about 45 minutes, but time depends on size of bird.
3. Peel and thickly slice the onions about ¼-inch thick. Put into a very large bowl and cover with cold water for 15 minutes. Break into rings, drain and return to the bowl.
4. In a small bowl, whisk 8 tablespoons recado paste in ⅔ cup of the vinegar to dissolve. Pour over the onion rings. Break up the bay leaves, add to the onions and stir.
5. Start a charcoal fire. Place the grill about 4 inches from the coals.
6. When the turkey is ready, remove it from the broth, drain and put on a plate to cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Keep the broth at a slow simmer for the onions.
7. Rub 2 tablespoons recado paste dissolved in 4 tablespoons vinegar and rub over the turkey. Marinate at room temperature meanwhile the grill is heating.
8. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot, dump in the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring, 10 minutes. Set the pot aside off the heat. Keep the onions a bit crisp. Toss the garlic on top of the onions. Place the whole chiles on a separate small dish for spicy food lovers to break into tiny pieces at the table, and set aside.
9. With a large spoon or bulb baster, remove as much fat as possible from the surface of the broth. Slowly ladle broth over the onions until they are covered with liquid. (Strain, cool and reserve the remaining broth for soup or another use.) Pour the remaining vinegar over the onions and mix. Taste for salt. The broth should be a little sour.
10. Place the turkey on the grill to brown. Thin the remaining recado paste with water to baste with a brush. Baste generously, turning the whole bird (or pieces) as it cooks. Bring the internal thigh temperature to 165 F. Be sure to brown every part and crisp the skin. Remove from the grill and let it rest 20 minutes.
11. Transfer the warm escabeche (vinegared onions) to a large bowl with some broth. Cut the crisp turkey into serving pieces and arrange on a platter. Serve with corn tortillas and/or baguettes to break apart and soak up juices.
Top photo: Turkey escabeche is flavored by onions, garlic, peppercorns, chiles, cinnamon and other seasonings. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky
Modern Mexican Day of the Dead festivities stem from indigenous religions intertwined with Spanish colonial Catholicism. Día de los Muertos is one of Mexico’s most beloved holidays, where traditions run deep in pueblos of the southern state of Oaxaca as they reflect ancient Zapotec and Mistec cultures.
Families plan for the celebration weeks, even months, in advance. Anticipation mounts while bank accounts get stressed as people buy hundreds of specialty candles, fancy sugar skulls, incense and burners, and sheets of brightly colored tissue paper with cutout designs to embellish homes, grave sites and altars. Loyal patrons swarm their favorite bakers far in advance with huge holiday bread orders. Kilos of cacao beans, sugar, cinnamon and almonds are stone ground, dried and then formed into disks for drinking chocolate and Oaxaca’s famous mole.
Fanciful foods part of Dia de los Muertos
When great-grandma’s treasured tablecloth finally gets unfolded, meticulously ironed and then draped over a simple table to metamorphose into a home altar, the magic begins. Similar in spirit to decorating a Christmas tree, convention rules in most homes a few nights prior to Oct. 31 as everything from heirloom candlesticks to beloved kitschy knickknack skeletons get pulled out of storage to be placed here and there by excited children.
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Day of the Dead traditions run bright and deep
Thoughts change gears from altars to grave sites Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 as relatives crowd into cemeteries to clean and decorate graves, especially those of children on the 31st. On the 2nd, deceased adult graves are again embellished with fresh candles, armloads of fluorescent orange marigolds, magenta cock’s combs and teeny white and gold wild field flowers. Candlelight and DayGlo colors guide souls back to exactly the right spot. Families often spend both nights graveside among hundreds of candles, where a smoky scene transforms to surreal as copal sap frankincense wafts through inky midnight air. Fires are lit in huge metal drums to provide warmth, additional light and yet more smoke. Later, middle-of-the-night cemetery picnics are common — mesquite blazes provide fuel for feasts of grilled meats, vegetables, tortillas and hot chocolate.
Elaborate, creative sand paintings are also popular grave art. Huge examples are meticulously done by church and school groups around town and on cemetery grounds, where they are judged and awarded prizes. From classic saint depictions to contemporary relief images of skeletons, many take days to make and are often there at dusk one day and gone the next, like a whisper of copal smoke in the night.
At sunrise, everyone staggers off to church before heading home for a quick nap. Families will soon begin to visit one another’s altars with bread offerings. Some callers bring flowers or a candle, but everyone places something on the altar of each house visited. Holiday foods of turkey in black mole, tamales and hot chocolate make their way onto a buffet table for visitors to enjoy as they travel from house to house. The scene is festive, with music, mezcal and reminisces of good times with departed loved ones. This is Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead, as it was hundreds of years ago and as it remains today.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
Mexican hot chocolate is a rustic drink made with water (or milk) and retains an earthy, coarse texture from being stone ground.
Makes 1 quart (4 to 6 servings)
1 quart water (or regular, low-fat or nonfat milk)
1½ cups Oaxacan, Mexican or Mexican-style chocolate (such as TAZA, Ibarra or La Abuelita), coarsely chopped (about 4 disks)
1. Warm one cup of the water (or milk) with all the chocolate in a deep saucepan over medium heat, stirring, to melt the chocolate.
2. Pour in the remaining liquid, stir and bring the water to a boil (or the milk to a simmer).
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Beat the hot chocolate in the deep saucepan with a whisk, hand mixer, electric hand mixer or immersion blender until the top is covered with lots of bubbles or, best, with a thick foam.
4. Ladle into cups and serve immediately.
Or, pour the chocolate into a jarro de barro (a Mexican clay pot with a bulbous bottom and narrow top to keep chocolate from splashing out) and beat the liquid vigorously with a molinillo (Mexican hand-carved wooden chocolate foamer). Pour directly into cups with some foam in each cup.
Traditional flavor variations: Add ground canela (Mexican, or pure Ceylon, cinnamon), Mexican vanilla, powdered almonds or ground chile powder to the chocolate along with the cup of water or milk.
Top photo: Day of the Dead breads at the Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Sunday market. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky
I learned how to make radiant blackberry-citrus table salsa 20 years ago in the mountains of Michoacán, due west of Mexico City. The late José Cacho, a tireless advocate of the state and force behind the restoration of the pueblo of Tupátaro’s important Templo de Santiago Apóstol (St. James the Apostle Church), was an avocado rancher and blackberry farmer. Thanks to a coveted invitation, I first tasted the salsa with other guests in his colonial home on Morelia’s historic walk street, Calzada Fray Antoniode San Miguel. The stone-paved, tree-shaded stretch runs between the Las Tarascas Fountain (three maidens holding a tray of fruit) and the deliriously embellished baroque Santuario de Guadalupe church dating from the early 1700s.
People could easily spot José out for a stroll along the walkway because he always wore the traditional huetameño, a local hat with a wide brim, ribbon tie and small tassel jauntily swaying in the back. The fountain, churches and José’s salsa recipe continue to be Michoacán revelations.
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Over the years I have taught the recipe again and again in myriad cooking classes. I fondly remember one class held in an imposing auditorium with steep stadium seating at the Culinary Institute of America in California’s Napa Valley. I walked on stage down at the very bottom, behind the longest La Cornue range I had ever seen — in fact, the brand new, burgundy-colored Rolls Royce-of-the-kitchen was specifically fabricated for the imposing room’s culinary arena. Rising vertically immediately in front of me was a sea of white chef-jacketed students, dead silent and perfectly still except for a few ruffling papers. I must have been a sight. On each side of me stood a chef assistant, standing easily more than 6 feet tall in whites, sporting a toque elongating him to 7 feet, versus my 5 feet 4 inches wearing a home cook’s apron and anxious smile. Wanting to come through with flying colors, I made a few impressive Mexican dishes that day, but it was José’s blackberry-citrus table salsa that had the crowd wildly applauding and then stampeding down all those steps for samples.
Here is the hedonist’s salsa, simply a miracle in a bowl of luscious berries with a detonation from the region’s fiery chile manzano (aka perón). Feel free to use frozen blackberries year round. If you can’t find a fresh manzano use a red-ripe jalapeño (for color) a quarter of a spicy habañero or a green jalapeño or serrano when there’s nothing else. Whatever fresh chile you use, this bowl of happiness will be your new best friend with poultry, fish, meats, grilled vegetables, rice pilafs and anything that can use a dollop of unrestricted joy.
Blackberry-Citrus Table Salsa
Makes about 2 cups
A chile manzano, or perón (Capsicum pubescens), looks like a huge habañero, so to be sure you have the right chile cut it open. Manzano seeds are black.
1 cup coarsely chopped white onion
Half a yellow/orange chile manzano, minced with stem and black seeds removed. (You can substitute a quarter of a spicy habañero or 1 stemmed, minced, unseeded jalapeño or serrano chile.)
1 cup blackberries (fresh or thawed frozen)
Juice from one orange
Juice from 1 Mexican (aka Key) lime (if possible)
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon organic agave syrup or sugar
¼ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1. Put the onion and chile into a food processor and pulse 2 seconds. Dump in the blackberries and pulse 2 seconds more.
2. Pour in the orange and lime juices. Add the cilantro, sweetener and salt. Pulse 2 seconds, keeping a coarse, chunky texture.
3. Taste for salt and add more minced chile for a spicier salsa if desired and then pulse 1 second to stir everything together.
Top photo: Blackberry-citrus table salsa in traditional Michoacán bowl and carved wooden spoon. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky
Stellar waves and sunsets attract surfers from around the world to Puerto Escondido on Mexico’s southwest coast, where beer is a major food group and simply grilled seafood comes along for the ride.
Years ago I tasted anise-flavored mussels at a nondescript joint overlooking the famous beach. As I watched cooks throw seasoned black bivalves onto an open-fire grill, I knew I’d be making this fast and easy recipe for years to come.
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Back home in Southern California, I used to get huge black mussels at my Wednesday Santa Monica farmers market from a Santa Barbara aquaculture company that, alas, no longer exists. Another local company, Carlsbad Aquafarm, Inc., showed up one Wednesday with smaller mussels, similar to Prince Edward Island’s. It’s not that I have anything against the small, sweet-fleshed beauties (perfect for garlicky moules marinière), but big mussels are simply easier to cook on a grill. Tiny PEI mussels tend to fall through the grates. And grates are necessary in this recipe to keep the mussels flat so their precious juices stay intact. Recently I started grilling New Zealand green-lipped mussels for their herculean size and significant meaty mouthfuls of sea goodness.
Grilled mussels a fast and easy appetizer
As far as a recipe goes, Grilled Anise Mussels couldn’t be easier. Dump cleaned mussels in a bowl, mix seasoning all over and place on the grill. That’s it.
I have an indoor gas grill that makes cooking a snap. If I’m grilling throughout dinner or feeding a large group I may switch to a mighty outdoor gas grill or a kettle grill when wood smoke is part of my flavor equation.
Seafood lovers go nuts over Grilled Anise Mussels. This recipe is such a cinch I guarantee it to be your new go-to appetizer. The important ingredient is anise seed, with its subtle licorice taste and softer crunch than harder, bolder-flavored fennel seed. You can find anise seed in well-stocked supermarkets, specialty spice shops and mail-order Internet sites.
Grilled Anise Mussels
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer
2 pounds New Zealand green-lipped mussels or black mussels as large as possible
1 tablespoon anise seeds
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the grill to hot.
2. To clean cultivated mussels, scrub them under cold running water with a brush and trim off their beards with a paring knife. As each is cleaned, set it in a colander and drain and dry for about 10 minutes. If there’s one that stays wide open and does not close, throw it away. Transfer the damp mussels to a large bowl.
3. Stir together the anise seeds, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Scatter over the mussels, and with your hands mix the seasoning throughout, deep into the bowl, covering each mussel all over.
4. Start grilling immediately, before the salt starts dissolving, by using long-handled tongs to quickly place each mussel on the hot grill with one of its flat sides down. (If an open edge is facing down, all the aromatic juices escape into the grill as soon as its shell opens.) In a minute or two, as each opens, place it on a serving platter, again flat side down. Some mussels take longer to open so turn them a few times with the tongs, being careful not to scrape off seasoning. Sometimes, too, tapping an uncooperative mussel with tongs encourages it to open. A few may char, and that’s fine. Throw away any that do not open.
5. Take the platter to the table to serve.
6. Here’s the fun part. Break off the top shell — it’s your spoon. With it, scrape the mussel meat from the bottom shell. Slide it into your mouth along with those valued juices while licking anise seasoning off the shell.
Top photo: New Zealand green-lipped mussels ready for serving. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky