Mojo is one of those culinary words that has so many similar—but not identical—definitions in so many related cultures that I hesitate to offer mine as definitive. The word originated in the Canary Islands, where it refers to a red or green sauce made with oil, vinegar, garlic, and chile peppers (the color of the pepper determines the color of the mojo). In Miami, where Cuban influence rules, most people (myself included) consider mojo a sauce made from olive oil, garlic, sour orange juice, and cumin, although other citrus juices can be used and chiles are often added. It’s most often employed as a marinade for roast pork and yuca (the tuber sometimes known as cassava), but I also use it for seafood and chicken.
½ cup olive oil
1 cup garlic (about 2 heads), thinly sliced, plus 1 tablespoon minced
2 tablespoons jalapeño, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon ancho chile powder
Generous pinch ground cumin
¼ cup fresh cilantro (leaves and stems), coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper
Heat the oil in a medium heavy skillet over medium-low heat until almost smoking. Add the sliced garlic and cook, shaking the pan, until the garlic begins to turn golden, about 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the jalapeño, chile powder, cumin, cilantro, lime juice, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. This is your mojo.
“Mojo” is excerpted from Cuisine a Latina by Michelle Bernstein, ©2008. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.