Fiesta-worthy food and drink in Vail Valley |

Fiesta-worthy food and drink in Vail Valley

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO Colorado
Vail Daily photoChef Paul Anders of Vail's Sweet Basil served his marinated halibut ceviche with a Ecuadorian sauce made with grilled tomatoes, onions and jalapenos, fresh citrus juice and spices

VAIL, Colorado –A cute, 40-something blonde woman tentatively shook a glistening silver cocktail shaker over her right shoulder at Vail’s Sweet Basil restaurant

“That’s right,” Sweet Basil’s Bar Manager K.J. Williams encouraged her. “Shake it like you made it. Make it go rat-a-tat-tat.”

On Monday night, 20 people gathered in Sweet Basil’s back room for the restaurant’s first Love Our Locals cooking class, aptly titled “Tres de Mayo: Just in Time for a Fiesta.” The idea was to show people how to make a few cocktails and appetizers for a Mexican-themed cocktail party. If you’re in the mood for an impromptu Cinco de Mayo party, you’re in luck.

“These flavors are great for summer – if it ever comes,” joked Paul Anders, Sweet Basil’s executive chef.

During the two-hour class, Williams taught participants how to make two cocktails, a traditional margarita and a paloma, and did a quick tequila tasting and tutorial with silver, reposado and anejo tequilas. Anders showed participants how to make salsa de primavera, guacamole and Ecuadorian halibut ceviche.

After Williams taught participants how to make the first cocktail, a smooth, well-balanced margarita, Anders took over center stage and gave a quick tutorial on different types of “salsa,” which basically means sauce, he said.

“You can do anything you want with salsa. It’s so versatile,” he said. “Raw or cooked ingredients, chunky or pureed. There’s no right or wrong way.”

Salsa de primavera, a grilled spring vegetable salsa, and homemade chips sat on the tables for people to nosh on while they mixed drinks. For a spicier salsa, Anders recommended adding more jalapenos.

“If you want to get the party going, spice up the salsa,” he said. “That’s an old bartender trick: put out something spicy and get them to down more drinks.”

Next up, Anders prepared a marinade for his halibut ceviche using jalapenos, red onion, cilantro, olive oil and fresh orange and lime juice. The acid in the citrus juices “cooks” the fish, Anders explained.

While the small hunks of white fish marinated in a stainless steel pan, Anders revealed the secret behind quick-yet-tasty guacamole.

In less than a minute, Anders deftly sliced eight avocados in half. Then he held up a six-inch-by-three-inch metal grate before placing it over a bowl. Using the palm of his hand, he smashed each avocado half into the metal to “dice” the bright green flesh.

“That is genius,” one attendee said as the rest of the class clapped.

“Now you’re getting the real tricks of the trade,” Anders said. “It’s about working smarter, not harder. In the kitchen here I like to use the french fry basket for this because it has the perfect size holes.”

In Anders mind, guacamole should be simple and taste like avocado. That’s why he adds a minimal amount of other ingredients: lime zest and juice, ground cumin and coriander, jalapeno, cilantro and salt.

“That’s it, it’s super simple,” Anders said.

While people scooped up the guacamole with chips, Anders showed participants the fish, a creamy white color after 10 minutes in the marinade. Next he plated it and topped it with an Ecuadorian ceviche sauce he’d prepared before class and fresh julienned radish.

“Now if this doesn’t wow your guests, I don’t know what will,” Anders said as he set plates of ceviche down in front of each student.

As people held out their plates for second helpings of the spicy ceviche, Williams stepped in front of the class again.

“Whose drink is empty? Let’s fix that,” Williams said.

The paloma, a refreshing “porch drink,” is made with fresh grapefruit and lime juice, tequila, and a floater of Squirt soda. As each participant mixed their own cocktail, Williams explained that in Mexico the drink is more popular than a margarita.

“I had it at a road-side stand and it was Squirt and tequila and you’re lucky if you can find a lime,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, Justin Wildman grinned as he shook his drink, holding the Boston shaker high above his shoulder as he made it go rat-a-tat-tat.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

2 oz. reposado tequila

2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice

1 oz. fresh lime juice

1/2 oz. simple sugar syrup

2 oz. Squirt grapefruit soda

Combine the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Float the Squirt soda on top and serve.

2 oz. silver tequila

1 oz. Cointreau

1 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

3/4 oz. simple sugar syrup

Make the simple syrup by combining one cup sugar in two cups of water in a saucepan. Heat until sugar dissolves, then remove from heat and cool. Combine all the ingredients and shake. Serve in a salt-rimmed glass and garnish with lime.

6 oz. red onion, cut into large quarters

25 oz. (about 4 large) beefsteak tomatoes, cored and cut in half

2 pounds tomatillos, husked

1 1/2 oz. jalapeno, membrane and seeds removed

4 oz. scallions

1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon of chopped cilantro

1/2 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon hot sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 oz. scallions, thinly sliced

1 lime, zest and juice

Toss the first five ingredients in 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and either grill or roast in a very hot oven until well charred and tender. Place the vegetables in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let set for 30 minutes. Once cooled, place them in a food processor and puree until slightly chunky. Once pureed, strain out about half the liquid or leave in if you prefer a runny salsa. Mix the vegetables with the last six ingredients and let stand for 1-2 hours before serving.

Yields: 1 quart

8 avocados, diced

2 limes, zest

1/2 lime, juiced

1/2 small jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed, minced

Pinch of cilantro, chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin seed, toasted

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander seed, toasted

Gently mix all ingredients together and serve. Keep the seed in the guacamole and cover it with plastic wrap until you’re ready to serve it to keep it from turning brown.

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