This dish is a sampling of the cuisine you would find, at an open-air restaurant, in the heart of Mexico.

Yield: serves 6


  • 5 pasilla or mirasol chiles
  • 2 medium tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tbsp. dried pumpkin seeds
  • 12 tsp. ground cumin
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 8 sprigs fresh cilantro
  • 2 12 cups dried shrimp
  • 23 cup fine dried bread crumbs
  • 23 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • 10 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 10 egg whites
  • 4 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp. masa harina
  • 1 cup canned nopalitos
  • 1 small piece ginger (about 2” x 1/2”), peeled and finely chopped


  1. Place a small skillet over medium heat. Halve chiles, flatten on hot skillet, and toast, turning once, 10-15 seconds in all. Place chiles in a small bowl and add 1 cup hot water. Cover and set aside until soft and pliable, about 30 minutes. In same skillet, cook tomatoes over medium-high heat until soft but firm, about 2 minutes per side, then remove from skillet and set aside.
  2. Drain chiles; remove stems and seeds. Combine chiles, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, cumin, cloves, ginger, garlic, and cilantro in a blender and process until smooth. Combine mixture with 4 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, then strain sauce and set aside.
  3. Process shrimp and bread crumbs in a blender until a fine paste is formed. Transfer to a medium bowl; stir in parmigiano-reggiano and egg yolks. In another bowl, whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold shrimp mixture into egg whites.
  4. Scoop out 1⁄4 cup shrimp mixture and press gently between your palms to form a 2 1⁄2” cake. Repeat with remaining shrimp mixture (yields 12 cakes).
  5. Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Fry shrimp cakes in batches until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side, adding more oil if necessary. Transfer cakes to a platter as they’re done.
  6. Pour 1⁄4 cup sauce into a bowl and whisk in masa harina until dissolved. Combine mixture and remaining sauce in shrimp skillet and simmer over medium-low heat. Add shrimp cakes and nopalitos. Cook for 25 minutes, periodically spooning sauce over cakes to moisten, and serve.