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Mexican Food Is a Family Affair

Try these favorite recipes from Food Network Chef Aarón Sánchez and his mom, Chef Zarela Martínez

Zarela Martinez and Chef Aaron Sanchez, Mother and son share relationship and recipes.

Photo by: Marisa Zanganeh

Mother (Zarela Martínez) and son (Aarón Sánchez) cultivate cuisine and culture.

En español | "You have to have gratitude and an understanding of where you come from to know where you're going," says Aarón Sánchez, 35, star of Food Network's Heat Seekers and author of the just-released Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes From My Kitchen to Yours. He credits his mom, Mexican culinary legend Zarela Martínez, for his love of Latin culture and food. Sánchez co-owns Centrico in New York City, and stars in the new all-Spanish TV show Aarón Loves NY.

See also: Interview with Puerto Rican chef Giovanna Huyke.

"Put the crema on the tacos," interjects Martínez, 64, during a joint interview with AARP VIVA. "Because I'm so proud of being a Mexican, I go the extra mile to make [everything] perfect." That's led to her success. She founded Michelin-rated Zarela restaurant in New York, recently shuttered after 23 years; has written several best-selling cookbooks and videos; and mentors young Latinos.

Cilantro-Cotija Pesto

By Aarón Sánchez

Makes 2 cups


  • 1 cup unsalted raw or roasted pumpkin seeds
  • ½ bunch fresh cilantro, stems trimmed 2 inches from the bottom
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup olive oil, plus extra for storage
  • ½ serrano chile or 1 jalapeño, coarsely chopped (seeds too, if you can take the heat)
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup crumbled cotija or shredded pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

  2. On a dry baking sheet, spread all of the pumpkin seeds in an even layer. Put in the oven and bake, checking the pumpkin seeds and gently shaking the baking sheet every 3 minutes, until the seeds start to dance, puff up and brown lightly. This should take approximately 10 minutes. Then take the baking sheet out of the oven, transfer the pumpkin seeds to a bowl and let them cool down to room temperature.

  3. Put the fresh cilantro, basil leaves and 1 cup of olive oil into a food processor, and purée for 2 minutes. Add the chile, the garlic, the pumpkin seeds and the cotija cheese, and pulse until you have a coarse purée. Season with salt and pepper to taste. To store, you can put the mixture into a container with a tight-fitting lid and pour ¼ inch of olive oil over the surface to keep out the air. Each time you use it, stir that oil in, and replace it with another ¼ inch of oil before closing the container. This makes an airtight seal that will keep the pesto tasting fresh for up to 10 days.

You may also like: Recipes with Latin flavor.

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