My Springtime Memories in the Kitchen

March 21, 2014

When Lent approaches, Chef Vicente Del Río’s childhood memories are stirred with the aromas of the season still very fresh in his head. The founder of the Taste of Mexico Association recalls with great detail his mom’s home cooked meals, always taking advantage of the freshest ingredients available while very cleverly omitting one thing: meat.

Cuaresma (Lent in Spanish) used to be a very special time of the year for Mexican cuisine,” shared Del Río.  “I remember my mom making a feast of seafood and vegetarian dishes on Wednesdays and Fridays, throughout my childhood. There was nothing like the appetizing smells that came out of her kitchen. They’re always vivid in my heart and mind.”

Del Río recalls how an afternoon spring meal would start with a delicious soup, either vegetable or Mexican sopita. “Mamá would whip up the soup of the day with lots of seasonal vegetables, readily available at the farmer’s market. Spinach, carrots or whatever beckoned at her would be part of the sopa.” He reminisces that her kitchen prowess helped get as many nutrients into every dish, especially soups, but in a way that the food was interesting and great tasting.

Topping Del Río’s most beloved dishes from his mom’s repertoire were her fish and shrimp recipes such as her Tampico-style Chipacholes (Seafood Soup), Pescadillas (Crispy Fish Tacos) and Camarones Rebosados (Breaded Shrimp served with a rich chile sauce on the side). “My mom was from Tampico, a port city located along Mexico’s Gulf Coast, so these recipes epitomize that region’s food, incorporating just the right balance of heartiness and flavor.” Accompanying the main course would be Calabacitas a la Mexicana (Mexican-style Zucchini) or Nopalitos (Cactus Paddles) to round out the menu with plenty of vegetables, perfect for a Lenten meal.

While Del Río sees several of these Lenten traditions waning, he tries to encourage these traditions with his kids but with a modern twist to make them relevant to the current younger generations. “There are ways to capture my childhood memories in today’s kitchen without all the prep time it used to take my mom.” One of Del Río’s shortcuts to replicate his mother’s recipes is tapping into high quality home-style sauces, like Las Palmas red or green chile sauces, available in most markets. “The sauce is the base for any dish. To make it taste like mom’s, I just perk it up a few more fresh herbs and spices once integrated into the original recipe. I’m magically transported to our kitchen table, with all the aromas and taste.”

Discover some of Chef Vicente Del Río’s childhood recipes by visiting