From the Archives*: Burgers and hot dogs are just dandy, but the residents of Alhambra also celebrate the grand birthday of our country with their own flavor: the delicate flake of a golden-brown fried Tilapia, the refreshing bite of a freshly cut cactus paddle salad, and, of course, the most traditional of all — the mouthful of a homemade chunky salsa with sushi vinegar!
Below are some stories about celebrating Independence Day and family recipes from high school journalists at the Alhambra Source. If you've got one, please share it with us!
My mother’s first memory of Independence Day in the United States was eating carne asada at her brother’s house in San Jose. She told me she loves the holiday, not because of its fireworks or barbecues, but because of the freedom it represents in her life. She left her small rural village in the Northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa at the age of 12, alone, in hopes of furthering her education in the United States. Now 50 years old, she has been an Alhambra resident for about 26 years. She holds a Masters degree in Education and is a school nurse for elementary schools in Alhambra.
The unmistakable smell of hot dogs, melting cheese and sulfur fill the air every time the 4th of July rolls around. Filled with American flags and loud fireworks, the day takes a special twist when it comes to my family’s culinary traditions. Straying from the usual path of buns and burgers, the mojarra or fried tilapia fish, is one of several celebratory foods that we fry up at my aunt’s house. This food is an integral part of my mother’s Independence Day memories, but more importantly it serves as a familial tie that represents happiness and a gratefulness to be in America with family and friends. While I no longer indulge in this non-vegetarian meal, my mother assures me that as a child, I would enjoy the fried fish, sparklers in hand.
My mom was a late adaptor to Independence Day. She did not start celebrating the holiday until several years after she arrived in the U.S. Even then, the celebrations were relatively mild. Back then, my family lived in a tenement in Chinatown. Fireworks and barbecues were not allowed, so instead, they celebrated by eating pizza and chips with family instead of cooking over a grill. It was not until my sisters and I were born that my mom started taking us out to see the fireworks around our neighborhood. Overall, my mother prefers fireworks over firecrackers. She loves the lights and pyrotechnics that emanate from the boxes. Firecrackers, to her, are just made fore loud noises. We made it a new tradition to go to Almansor Park on the Fourth of July to see the firework show there. My sisters and my parents would bring some chips, salsa, soda and large blanket. We would eat and talk and look up when the show starts. My aunt was at a party when she tried the salsa. She thought it tasted really unique and asked what was in it. It turned out the special ingredient in the dish was the sushi vinegar. This version was slightly sweeter than a regular salsa. It goes well on salad, sandwiches — and even spaghetti.
Esther Acosta-Perez’s Nopal Salad
5-10 large cactus leaves (de-thorned and chopped)
Clove of one garlic (minced)
1 large white onion (minced)
Small bunch of cilantro (rinsed and minced)
Salt to taste
First peel the cactus so that all spines are taken off the leaves of the plant.
Cut in long strips and add to a pot with enough water to cover the cactus.
Halve an onion and add into pot along with several cloves of garlic and roughly chopped cilantro.
Let water boil until the cactus is tender. Drain water and let cool.
Add chopped tomatoes, diced white onion and cilantro.
Salt to taste.
To make cactus salad tacos, heat a corn tortilla, add your freshly made cactus salad, carne asada and salsa.
2 medium whole Tilapia fish (with slits cut on the side, opened up, cleaned, scales removed by scraping in opposite direction with a knife, remove all guts by hand)
6-8 cloves or more crushed minced garlic preferably mashed to a paste
1 large or 2 small tomatoes (minced)
1/2 onion (minced)
1 Serrano chili pepper or jalapeno (minced)
1/2 cup cilantro (minced)
1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Mix garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper together, rub all over the fish, and fill the slits with it, too.
Heat generous amount of olive oil on medium high in a pan and add fish. Pan-fry fish for about three minutes on each side or until golden brown.
Saute onions and chili pepper until translucent and fragrant. Add diced tomato and cilantro season with a little salt. Add fish and cover with the sautee. Cover and steam for about 5-10 minutes until tomatoes release some juice.
Aunt’s Salsa Recipe
½ cup of sushi vinegar
½ cup chopped white onion
2 small jalapenos
10 Roma tomatoes
½ teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of sugar (Optional)
2 teaspoons of cilantro (Optional)
2 teaspoons of lime juice
Mix the vinegar, onions, salt and sugar in a ceramic bowl.
De-seed and finely chop the jalapenos, mix into the bowl.
Place mixture into refrigerator for 30 minutes. Begin preparing tomatoes.
Chop tomatoes into roughly the same size as the onions. Remove bowl and mix tomatoes in.
Add finely chopped cilantro and lime juice to taste. Mix well.
Let it sit for ten minutes and serve.
*This story was originall posted on 7.11.2011