On Zarela's Mind: The Getaway

From the time my sisters and I were young girls, my mother set out to create an album of memories for us. She thought that women’s lives were always difficult and she wanted us to have at least those wonderful moments to treasure for life. And we do.

When we were living in Agua Prieta, Mexico, where I was born, she told my father that she was taking us to relatively nearby Tucson to shop, but instead flew us to New York to have breakfast in bed at the Plaza Hotel. She loved great hotels.

Curiously, her penchant for building memories helped my career take off. She wanted me to experience the magnificent service of the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where Julie Dannenbaum taught a cooking course. Then right before we were to leave, they called to inform us that the marvelous staff had gone on strike and everything was cancelled. I’ve always regretted it because I still have never gone to the Greenbrier.

We decided on New Orleans instead and I met my mentor Chef Paul Prudhomme and my life changed forever. But that’s another story for another time.

My grandmother, Ana Linda, had a winter home in La Jolla, California and when we got depressed during those difficult teenager years, my mother thought nothing of driving nine hours so we could listen to the breakers and see her. To this day listening to those waves crash against the craggy cliffs brings peace to my soul, one of the few things that can.

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So when my cousin Any (pronounced Ahnee) said to me: “Let me treat you to a little trip,” I jumped at the chance to go back. When she asked what I wanted to do, I said: “I want to sit in a hot tub and listen to the breakers.” She conveniently has a hot tub in her condominium facing the breakers.

I have many relatives in the area and want to see my two favorite aunts – my Tia Pancha and my Tia Suqui. There are also friends from childhood who used to spend summers in the ranch with us. They were the children of my parents’ friends, and I’ll see their children and their children’s children.

Though they want me to relax and don’t want me feel that I have to cook, I think everyone will be alright if I make them my salsa verde de aguacate—even one of my favorite nephews, Wayo, who sticks close to a macrobiotic diet.

It’s a beautiful thing to be with people who know your history from the start and know the obstacles you’ve had to overcome to succeed and rejoice in your victories.

Salsa Verde con Aguacate (Green Sauce with Avocado)
Makes about 2 1/2 cups


2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 small white onion, coarsely chopped
2 – 3 (or to taste) fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, coarsely chopped
6 – 8 average-sized tomatillos (about 1/2 pound), husks removed, cut into quarters
1 ripe Mexican-type avocado (Hass or Fuerte)
8 - 10 cilantro springs

Whether you are using mortar and pestle or a food processor, most of the process is the same. First, process or pound the garlic and salt to a paste. Add the onion, chiles, tomatillos; either process with an on-off motion to make a slightly chunky paste or pound and mash the ingredients together as fine as possible. 

Scoop out the avocado flesh. For a smooth machine-finished puree, add it to the other ingredients with the cilantro and process very fine. If using the hand method, chop the avocado flesh fine and mash it into the onion-tomatillo mixture; chop the cilantro leaves and stir in. Or for a compromise version, pour the machine-processed onion-tomatillo mixture into a bowl and mix in the chopped avocado flesh along with the cilantro. Serve as soon as possible, certainly within an hour.

Award-winning restaurateur Zarela Martinez blogs at You can also check out her how-to videos on YouTube.

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