Chef Claudia Sandoval shares her secret to spice up the holidays

Chef Claudia Sandoval shares some of her original creations to celebrate Christmas with spicy flavors.
(Jarrod Valliere/The San Diego Union-Tribune )

Tajín is a versatile ingredient for the ‘MasterChef’ winner, who will soon open a bakery in National City


Her life changed completely after she became the first Latina to win “MasterChef,” and she remembers the exact date: Sept. 16, 2015. After that, San Diego native Claudia Sandoval, 36, has been on many Food Network shows, became a judge on Telemundo’s “MasterChef Latino,” published a cookbook, and has appeared on many marketing campaigns with countless brands.

One of those partnerships traces its roots to that final “MasterChef” episode when Sandoval cooked some huitlacoche tamales with pork skin and cactus salsa with avocado cream. She seasoned the chicharrón (pork rind) with Tajín, a chili powder traditionally used in Mexico to sprinkle over fresh fruit, such as cucumbers, oranges or watermelon.

“They noticed that in a national ‘MasterChef’ final I was using this Mexican product. And the truth is that I use it in many ways, and now I have this opportunity to share those recipes that some may not even imagine,” she says.

Sandoval uses Tajín in her recipes as a condiment to add flavor. It is made with sea salt, dried lime and seven types of chilis. But even with that amount, Claudia says that the spice level is not that high, comparing it to ground black pepper.

In her recipes, Sandoval uses the chili powder to frost drinks, to marinate meat, and even to spice up a whole turkey. She recently shared three of her original recipes made for the holidays: Pineapple and Jalapeño Mockgarita, a 7-Layer Dip and her Beef and Veggie Skewers.

What’s next

The years after “MasterChef” turned Sandoval into a celebrity — one who, despite the bright lights of fame, remains genuine and humble, never forgetting her Mexican roots.

Next year, the bright lights of fame are bound to get even brighter.

“I just signed a contract with the Food Network, so next year, I’m going to work with them a lot more. I’m going to be in ‘Chopped Junior’ more regularly,” she says, adding that on Dec. 23, she also will begin appearing on the “Food Network Challenge.” (Check her out on today’s episode of “Chopped Junior.”)

Sandoval keeps busy with appearances on other programs, including “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and “Budget Battle.”

Chef Claudia Sandoval shared some of her original creations to celebrate Christmas with spicy flavors.
Chef Claudia Sandoval, seen here with her book “Claudia’s Cocina: A Taste of Mexico,” shares some of her original creations to celebrate Christmas with spicy flavors.
(Jarrod Valliere/The San Diego Union-Tribune )

As much as she loves her TV appearances, there is one project that she’s most looking forward to in 2020. Next summer, Sandoval will become a business owner by opening Cochi Dorado, a modern Mexican bakery. It will be located in the heart of National City, where she grew up.

Claudia says she plans to sell cakes and other traditional pan dulce (sweet bread) that will reflect her unique style.

For example, the cochito — a traditional sweet bread made with piloncillo or unrefined brown sugar — will have a golden layer that will make it look like a gold bar. The polvorones (shortbread cookies) will look like sand dollars. And the orejas (palmiers) will be heart-shaped and infused with wine and rose petals.

To build her business, Sandoval is counting on the support of her family and a network of companies in the region, including the vineyards of Valle de Guadalupe — proving that, despite her multiple occupations around the country, she remains connected to the area that she calls home.

The Pineapple and Jalapeño Mockgarita is the perfect combination of sweet and salty.
(Jarrod Valliere/The San Diego Union-Tribune )

Pineapple Jalapeño Mockgarita

Serves one

1 cup of pineapple juice
1 ounce of orange juice
4 pieces of pineapple chunks
1 jalapeño slice
2 sugar cubes
Tajín Clásico

Pineapple wedges
Jalapeño slices
Lime juice

Cocktail shaker

Rim your glass with lime juice and Tajín.
Add one jalapeño slice, pineapple chunks, two sugar cubes, and a dash of Tajín to the bottom of the glass. Muddle until fragrant.
In a shaker filled with ice, shake pineapple juice, lime juice and orange juice. Pour over muddled pineapple, jalapeño and sugar. Fill the cup with ice.
Garnish with a pineapple wedge and jalapeño slices.

The 7-layer dip is made with beans, cheese, cream, guacamole, corn, salsa, and olives.
(Jarrod Valliere/The San Diego Union-Tribune )

7-Layer Dip

Serves 10

Refried beans
2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 yellow onion, minced
1/2 cup lard or vegetable shortening
8 to 12 ounces of shredded cheese (Oaxaca, Monterrey Jack, or mozzarella)

Sour cream
10 ounces of sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons of Tajín

6 Hass avocados, mashed
1 lime, juice only
1 teaspoon of Tajín

Bell pepper pico salsa
1/2 cup of red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup of green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup of red onion, chopped
1 cup of tomato, chopped
1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juice only
Tajin to taste

1 can (15 ounces) yellow corn
1/2 cup of black olives, sliced

12-inch cast iron pan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
For refried beans: In a blender, add black beans, garlic cloves and yellow onion. Blend until smooth. In a large non-stick sauté pan, melt lard/vegetable shortening and add blended bean mixture. Refry beans by bringing them to a simmer and lowering heat to low for about 10 minutes. Beans should be homogenous and should separate from the pan freely when completely refried.
Transfer the beans to the cast iron pan. Sprinkle cheese over the beans and place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until cheese melts and is browning. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
For the guacamole, mix all ingredients and spread a layer over the beans, leaving beans visible around.
For the sour cream, place ingredients into a bowl and mix. Throw a layer on top of the guacamole, making sure the layers are visible.
Place another layer with yellow corn over the sour cream and keep making smaller circles so that the other layers are visible.
For the bell pepper salsa, add all the ingredients in a bowl and mix to combine.
Lastly, layer the salsa in the middle of the pan. Sprinkling and garnishing with olives and cotija cheese. Serve with chips on the side.

To cook a meat full of flavor chef Claudia Sandoval marinates it an hour before or all night long.
(Jarrod Valliere/The San Diego Union-Tribune )

Marinated Beef and Veggie Skewers

Serves 6

2 oranges, juiced (1 cup)
1/4 cup of yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup of grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons of Tajín Clásico

1 1/2 lb. of boneless beef sirloin, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 lb. heirloom grape tomatoes
2 zucchinis, cut into 1-inch half moons
1 corn, cut into 1-inch rounds
12 to 20 metal or bamboo skewers
2 tablespoons of Tajín Clásico

Preheat outdoor grill or pan to medium-high heat.
In a large Ziploc plastic bag, combine the marinade ingredients and sirloin cubes. Seal with little air left in the bag and toss gently to coat. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight, turning occasionally.
Thread beef onto six metal or soaked wooden skewers. Discard marinade. Thread veggies onto six metal or soaked wooden skewers. Generously sprinkle all with Tajín Clásico.
Using long-handled tongs, moisten a paper towel with cooking oil and lightly coat the grill rack or grill pan. Do not saturate paper towels with too much oil.
Grill steak and veggies skewers over medium-hot heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until beef reach desired doneness. Use a thermometer to check the beef temperature: 130 degrees for medium rare, 145 degrees for medium, or 160 degrees for well done.
Remove skewers from grill and allow beef skewers to rest for two to five minutes.