REGINA CORDOVA has solved the problem of entertaining large groups in her small Bunker Hill apartment: She borrows the houses of friends. To repay the favor, she invites her co-hosts to help plan the guest list and shows them how to prepare some of the dishes.
This is no mean bargain, because Cordova is an experienced caterer; her company is Los Angeles-based Southwest Catering. She is also a food-development specialist who consulted on the prepared dishes served at the Tianguis marketplaces in Montebello, El Monte and Huntington Park.
Born in Boyle Heights, Cordova is active in Latino business, cultural and social service activities. Once a week she appears on KMEX-TV in a food news segment titled "Consejos de Cocina" ("Kitchen Tips").
It follows that most of her menus have a Latin flavor. The dinner she gave recently at the Silverlake home of Dilys Tosteson-Garcia and Pierre Vogelenzang was basically Mexican, but there were also touches of Spain, Argentina and Cuba. Cordova's style is to serve plenty of appetizers through a long cocktail hour, then finish with a light dinner at about 10 p.m. The appetizers for this party were ceviche; Argentine empanadas filled with chicken, and tropical fruits and vegetables marinated in tequila, lime juice and margarita mix. Guests sipped sangria made from a recipe that Cordova obtained in Spain, or they selected non-alcoholic agua de limon con chia , limeade that includes tiny chia seeds.
Dinner featured grilled foods that guests ate taco-style with handmade tortillas. Side dishes were grilled poblano chiles and sweet peppers stuffed with panela , a Mexican-style cheese; Cuban black beans; rice with almonds, and the Mexican ensalada de nopales (cactus salad). Cordova ended the dinner with apples, grapes and an assortment of cheeses, accompanied by a fruity California Cabernet Sauvignon.
Food photography produced by Robin Tucker; table runner from Tesoro, Los Angeles
MEXICAN DINNER Sangria Agua de Limon con Chia Chicken Empanadas With Chimichurri Sauce *Tequila-Marinated Fruit and Vegetables *Brochetas de Pollo Assorted Salsas Roasted Peppers With Cheese Corn Tortillas Black Beans Rice With Almonds Nopales Salad Cheese, Fruit, Cabernet
BROCHETAS DE POLLO
(Grilled Chicken Skewers)
6 chicken breast halves, boned and skinned
1/2 cup olive oil
2 sprigs rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
Cut chicken breasts into uniform 1/2-inch cubes. Place 4 or 5 cubes on each wooden skewer. Combine olive oil, rosemary leaves and salt in bowl. Dip skewers into oil mixture and set in shallow pan. Pour remaining mixture over skewers. Prepare coals. When ready to cook, brush barbecue grate lightly with oil. Cook skewers about 3 minutes. Turn and cook 3 to 5 minutes longer on other side, or until chicken is no longer translucent. Do not overcook. Chicken should be very moist. Serve with tortillas and salsa. Makes about 12 skewers.
Note: For grilled swordfish skewers, cut trimmed center-cut swordfish fillets into 1-inch cubes. Place 3 or 4 cubes on each skewer. Substitute 1/2 cup lime juice for rosemary in oil mixture. Proceed as for chicken, grilling fish 2 minutes on first side and 3 to 4 minutes on second side.
ENSALADA DE NOPALES
1 (15-ounce) jar nopalitos (cactus)
1 medium white onion, cut into 1-inch strips
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon oregano, crushed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lime juice
4 plum tomatoes, cut into 1-inch strips
1 bunch cilantro, cleaned and chopped
15 romaine leaves, cut into spears
1/2 cup coarsely crumbled cotija or feta cheese
Drain nopales and cut into 1-inch strips. In a bowl, mix nopales, onion, garlic and oregano. Toss with olive oil and lime juice. Marinate for 2 to 4 hours. Remove garlic clove. Add tomatoes and cilantro and toss until well mixed. Arrange on platter lined with romaine leaves. Top with crumbled cheese. Garnish with lime wedges. Makes 6 servings.
TEQUILA-MARINATED FRUIT AND VEGETABLES
1 cup tequila
3/4 cup thawed frozen margarita mix
1/2 cup Rose's bottled lime juice
3 cups club soda
1 pound jicama, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch sticks
1/2 pound carrots, cut into 1 1/2-inch sticks
10 ice cubes
1 pineapple, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 cucumbers, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch sticks
1 pound Mexican papaya, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 (1-pint) box strawberries
Green leaf lettuce
California chile powder
5 limes, cut into wedges
Mix tequila, margarita mix, lime juice and club soda in shallow pan. Add jicama and carrot sticks. Top with ice cubes and refrigerate overnight. One hour before serving, add pineapple and cucumbers to cool. Drain marinade. Arrange marinated vegetables, fruit, papaya and the strawberries on lettuce-lined platter. Place chili powder in small dish on platter. Garnish platter with lime wedges. Makes 8 to 12 servings.