Living in the Central Valley, there’s an abundance of delicious Mexican food around every corner. Whether you prefer to indulge in a favorite local taco shop or an old family recipe, there’s something special about gathering around authentic Latin cuisine. Chef Elaine Dakessian of Très Bien Tailored Cuisine is an expert when it comes to crafting creative and

inspiring fare, so we’re always excited to see what she has planned for Lifestyle. This month, Chef Elaine presents several Latin-inspired dishes, including a spicy Caesar salad with a unique crunch, pork belly flatbread pizza, pasilla roasted corn tamales with salsa verde, and for dessert, delectable churro cream puffs. All we can say is…esta excelente!

Pasilla Roasted Corn and Goat Cheese Tamales


    Tamale Dough Ingredients
  • 3-1/2 C masa harina for tamales (20 oz)
  • 3 C very hot water
  • 1/2 lb lard
  • 5 T unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking power
  • 1 C chicken stock
  • Tamale cornhusks, soaked in water for 30 minutes
  • Tamale Filling Ingredients
  • 4 corn on the cob, grilled and corn cut off the cob
  • 4 pasilla peppers, charred and peeled, cut into strips
  • Goat cheese
  • Salsa Verde
  • 12 medium tomatillos, about one pound, husked, rinsed, and chopped
  • 1/2 C chicken stock
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 C cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper


For the Tamale Dough

In a large bowl, stir the masa with the hot water until evenly moistened. Knead several times to make a smooth dough. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the lard with the butter at medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and baking powder and beat at medium-low speed until incorporated. With the machine on, add the masa in 4 batches, beating until smooth and scraping down the bowl occasionally. Pour in the stock in a steady stream and beat until the dough is fluffy and soft, about 2 minutes; it should have the consistency of thick corn bread batter. Refrigerate the tamale dough in the bowl for 30 minutes.

For Salsa Verde

For the salsa verde, blend all ingredients until smooth.

Assemble & Cook

Drain the cornhusks and pat dry. Tear 12 strips, 1/6-inch wide, from 2 of the huskers for tying the tamales. Place 2 husks together with the large ends overlapping by 2 inches for larger tamales or use a single husk for cocktail size. Repeat with the remaining husks.

Divide the tamale dough evenly among the double husks or single as desired, and spread in the center, leaving 1 inch at each end uncovered. Place the corn, pasilla pepper, and goat cheese on top of the dough, fold up the one end at the bottom and then roll the corn husks so the filling is completely enclosed. Take a strip and tie around the bottom to secure, leaving the top open. Steam the tamales in a conventional steamer or in a strainer or vegetable basket set in a saucepan and covered with a tight-fitting lid. It is important that little or no steam escapes while cooking. Steam for 30 to 35 minutes; the water should always be lightly boiling. The tamales are done when the dough comes away easily from the husk.

Place tamales on plate and slice them from end-to-end with a knife. Push the ends together as you would a baked potato. Dollop with additional goat cheese and salsa verde.

If you wish to make the tamale dough from scratch, you can use the recipe above (dough recipe from Food & Wine) or you can also purchase freshly made dough daily from Vallarta’s. Makes about 8 large tamales or 16 cocktail size.

Pork Belly Flatbread with Cilantro Oil and Caramelized Onions


  • Pork belly (recipe below)
  • Caramelized onions (recipe below)
  • Flatbreads, use favorite recipe or pre-made
  • Cilantro oil (recipe below)
  • 1-1/2 C Oaxaca cheese, pulled apart into pieces
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 4 T Mexican crema, to garnish
  • Cilantro, to garnish
  • Pork Belly Ingredients
  • 2 lb pork belly, prep ahead of time
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1 T ground coriander
  • 1 T ground chili powder
  • 1 T each, salt and pepper
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • Caramelized Onions Ingredients
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • Cilantro Oil Ingredients
  • 1/2 C olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 C tightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Prepare the Pork Belly

Prep the pork belly early in the day. Mix all ingredients and rub over the pork belly. Put in oven at 250 degrees, approximately 4 hours or until tender. Remove and cut into cubes. Turn oven on to 400 degrees and roast the cubes to brown them, about 8 minutes.

Carmelized Onions

Combine the butter and oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat until melted. Add the onions and cook until caramelized, stirring occasionally, about 30-40 minutes. Set aside.

Cilantro Oil

Combine the oil, garlic, and cilantro in a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake & Assemble

Follow your favorite pizza dough recipe for baking or use pre-made flatbreads. If baking your own dough, follow your recipe as instructed before assembling each flatbread. Once the flatbread dough is removed from the oven, divide the Oaxaca cheese, caramelized onions, and pork belly over the top of each flatbread and bake again at 400 degrees until the cheese has melted, about 3 minutes. Leave on the baking sheet while you assemble. If using pre-made flatbreads, rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake on a sheet pan for 5 to 6 minutes or until lightly brown. Sprinkle with caramelized onions, spread cheese around, top with pork belly, and bake in a 400 degree oven until the cheese is melted and the flatbread is golden brown. Finish the flatbread with the cilantro oil (I use a squeeze bottle and liberally sprinkle around). Top with cilantro leaves and drizzle with Mexican crema.

Not-So-Traditional Churros


    Churro Ingredients
  • 1 C water
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2-1/2 T white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 qt oil for frying
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • Pastry Cream Ingredients
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1/4 C powdered sugar
  • Chocolate Sauce Ingredients
  • 1/2 C cocoa powder
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3 to 4 T water


Pastry Cream

Beat heavy cream, chili powder, and powdered sugar in medium bowl until fluffy. Place fluffy cream between two churro rounds.

Chocolate Sauce

Add water to dry ingredients to get desired consistency. Drizzle over the churros.

Prepare & Assemble

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water, sugar, salt, and vegetable oil. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in flour until mixture forms a ball. Heat oil for frying in a deep fryer or deep skillet to 375 degrees. Form small rounds with the dough, 1/4-inch thick. Fry until golden; drain on paper towels and set aside. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Roll drained churros in cinnamon and sugar.

Serrano Caesar Salad with Polenta Croutons


    Salad Ingredients
  • 3 heads baby romaine, whole leaf, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 serrano chiles, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 2-2/3 C milk
  • 1-1/2 C yellow cornmeal
  • 6 C peanut oil
  • Serrano Caesar Dressing Ingredients
  • 1 C mayonnaise
  • 2-3 serrano chiles, seeded and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 small anchovies, drained and chopped (or 2 squeezes anchovy paste from a tube)
  • 2 T Italian parsley, chopped
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1-1/2 tsp Worcestershire
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 C grated Cotija cheese, to garnish
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly grated black pepper


In a saucepan, combine the serranos, cayenne, and salt to the milk and bring to a boil. Slowly add 1 cup of the cornmeal while stirring constantly. Cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Press the mixture into a 9-inch pie pan lined with plastic wrap. Place uncovered in the refrigerator to cool. Remove from the pan and dice into 1/2 inch polenta cubes.

In a medium saucepan, heat the peanut oil to 350 degrees. Dredge the polenta cubes in the remaining 1/2 cup of cornmeal. Fry the croutons in the peanut oil until crisp, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and keep warm.

For the Dressing

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree until blended. Top with Cotija cheese.