Recipes from the Swanky Casa de Don Julio Event: a Salute to Mexican Independence Day

Slowly but surely, I am making my way around the world via Houston's diverse restaurants and special events.

Last week, I was taken on a trip to India by way of Kiran's. A couple of days later, I had the pleasure of being transported to Mexico by way of Casa de Don Julio, a ritzy event put on by Don Julio tequila as a salute to Mexico's Independence Day on September 16.

Don Julio tequila took over a gorgeous, three-story Memorial Drive mansion, decked it out with swanky Don Julio gear and Mexican-inspired decorations, brought in Don Julio Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa to teach us about tequila, and had Mexican Chef Javier Plascencia (known for his efforts to revitalize tourism to Tijuana via his restaurant) conduct a cooking demonstration. Oh, and the company stocked the house with enough Don Julio tequila to get us from now until the apocalypse without any agave withdrawals whatsoever.

The night started off with a Don Julio tequila tasting, along with a crash course in some of the different styles of tequila -- blanco, añejo and reposado -- by charismatic Don Julio Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa. Of the four tequilas we got to try, the Don Julio 1942 was by far my favorite, with its smooth, creamy texture and its sweet, subtle citrus and white chocolate flavors.

After sipping on plenty of tequila, we had the opportunity to observe Chef Plascencia work his cooking magic, which he did while taking some nice tequila sips of his own -- er...I mean, adding a bit of tequila to his dishes.

Below are the recipes for the delicious Mexican-inspired dishes created for the event by Chef Javier, along with the recipe for one of the many Don Julio signature cocktails we tried that night:

I told you that nopales would be gaining recognition. If you didn't believe me, this unique salad recipe will help you fall in love with it.

Ensalada de Nopales -- Cactus Salad


  • 4 nopales, or cactus paddles
  • 1 large tomato
  • 2 ears corn
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Juice from one lime
  • 1/2 cup pinto beans (cooked)
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 4 tablespoons minced red onion
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
  • 4 oz queso fresco


  • Clean and prepare the nopales. Cut each paddle into 1/3-inch strips, leaving the stem end intact.
  • In a small bowl, mix together olive oil, minced garlic, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Pour mixture onto nopales.
  • Remove the husks of the corn but leave the core attached at the end so you have something to hold onto.
  • Grill the nopales, tomato and corn on a hot grill soft until slightly charred. Cooking times will vary depending on grilling method; nopales should take about 5 minutes on each side, turn corn and tomato so they can cook evenly all over. Remove from grill.
  • Allow the vegetables to cool, then cut nopales and grilled tomato into 1-inch slices, and cut corn kernels off the cob.
  • In a large bowl, combine nopales, corn and tomato with lime juice, pinto beans, cilantro, red onion and a light drizzle of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, garnish with sliced avocado and queso fresco.
  • Serve as a salad or side dish.

Serves 6

Barbecue and its Mexican equivalent -- carne asada -- are not the same thing. The next recipe takes the best of both outdoor cooking traditions to produce some chicken that everyone will be able to appreciate.

Oaxacan BBQ chicken


  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup Tequila Don Julio Añejo
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/4 cup plum tomato, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons mole negro
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded piloncillo, Mexican brown sugar (Substitute: 1/2 cup dark brown sugar and 1 teaspoon molasses)
  • 1/3 teaspoon Mexican hot sauce (Tamazula, Valentina or Búfalo)
  • 2 pounds chicken, cut into pieces (may be substituted with shrimp, mushrooms, onions)


  • In a large skillet over medium heat, combine the onion, garlic and tequila. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Mix in the black pepper, salt, ketchup, tomato, mole, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, piloncillo and hot sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Run sauce through a strainer if you prefer a smooth sauce.
  • Brush sauce all over chicken. Cook on a hot grill, brushing occasionally with sauce.

Serves 6

Up the class on your margarita with this refreshing watermelon-flavored version:

Margarita de Sandía


  • 1 1/3 ounce Tequila Don Julio Blanco
  • 2/3 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
  • 2/3 ounce Fresh Watermelon Juice
  • 1/2 ounce Agave Syrup
  • Lime Wheel for Garnish
  • Watermelon Chunk for Garnish


  • Combine Tequila Don Julio Blanco, fresh lime juice, fresh watermelon juice and agave syrup into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well.
  • Strain contents into a rocks glass over cold draft ice.
  • Garnish with a lime wheel and watermelon chunk.

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