- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 25 minutes
- Serves 2 to 4
Originally from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, aguachile is refreshing, bright, and spicy—a perfect dish to tame the summer heat. Though aguachile traditionally showcases shrimp, its origins reveal a different meat. “For centuries before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, indigenous communities would carry dried meat from the rugged, inland hills that form modern-day Sinaloa’s eastern border down to the Pacific coast,” writes Michael Snyder for Eater. “They mixed that salt with chiles plucked wild from the forests and with water from the 11 rivers and countless streams that connected the hills to the seafood-rich coastal lagoons.” The dish was cured in a salsa made using chiltepines (a variety of chile) and water—getting its now-famous name from its two main ingredients, agua and chile. In modern Norteño cuisine, aguachile is synonymous with shrimp, which the Mexican Daily Post writes is due to the dish migrating closer to the sea.
This refreshing dish, traditionally served in a volcanic-rock molcajete, is so beloved by Norteños that it didn’t stay in Sinaloa long. It traveled across the Gulf of California to Baja California, south along the coast to Nayarit, up to the Sonoran Desert, and beyond. The dish can be found across the U.S. border, and has reportedly been in the L.A. scene since the 1990s. In San Diego, just a two-hour drive south (if you’re lucky), its boom might be traced to the opening of TJ Oyster Bar in 2002, an eatery famous for its Baja California offerings, which served the spicy sea-laden dish with chipotle mayo and saltine crackers—a favorite local dinner and, at times, hangover cure. Variations of it exist from verde to negro. Some add tequila or mango. And some serve it with a different fish entirely.
This recipe has even been veganized, for anybody who is up for a vibrant green summer platter, sans shrimp (plus a lighter carbon footprint). We’re subbing our crustacean friends here for tender garbanzo beans, with a miso twist for depth and umami while retaining the bite that characterizes aguachile. Enjoy with saltines (or tostadas) and vegan mayo, add avocados if you like, and crack open a couple of beers for a lime-cured experience that will live in your bones. —Andrea Aliseda
freshly squeezed lime juice (from 8 to 12 limes)
cilantro leaves and tender stems (about ½ bunch), plus more for serving
medium white onion, thickly sliced
small or medium serrano, halved (and optionally deseeded for less heat)
garlic cloves, peeled
extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
(15-ounce) cans garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), drained and rinsed
medium red onion
Saltines or tostadas, vegan mayo, and/or sliced avocado, for serving
- In a blender or food processor, combine the lime juice, cilantro, white onion, serrano, garlic, soy sauce, olive oil, and miso. Blend until smooth.
- Set a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl. Pour over the blended mixture and strain. Discard the pulp caught in the strainer, so you’re just left with the vibrant green liquid.
- Add the liquid to the garbanzos. With clean hands or a potato masher, gently mash the mixture until one-third to one-half of the beans are smushed (this helps them absorb the liquid, but you want some whole, too, for varied textures). Gently press down the garbanzos to immerse them as much as possible.
- Thinly slice the cucumber into rounds. Thinly julienne the red onion. For both, the thinner the better. Add the cucumber and red onion to the garbanzos and mix to combine. Let this sit for another 10 to 15 minutes minimum for flavors to really absorb; you can also cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
- When you’re ready to eat, transfer the aguachile to a serving dish. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a few cilantro leaves.
- Serve with crackers or tostadas, vegan mayo, and/or avocado slices. With a mezcal or beer, a beach mirage will unfold in front of you.