THE Dish: Chef Pati Jinich's Cinco de Mayo feast

(CBS News) Pati Jinich didn't start out as a chef or with a focus in the culinary world; in fact she thought she was dedicating her life to politics and public policy.

Special section: Food and Wine

Jinich was born and raised in Mexico, and moved to Washington, D.C. to get a Master's Degree in Latin American studies from Georgetown University. She landed what she thought was her dream job at the American Dialogue, which is a policy research center.

Her dreams soon changed and in 2007 her career took a turn from policy analyst to Mexican food ambassador.

Today she hosts the popular PBS series "Pati's Mexican Table," is a food writer, the official chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C. and in March released her first cookbook, "Pati's Mexican Table."

She joins us with her ultimate Cinco de Mayo feast.

Jicama, Beet, Orange, And Caramelized Peanut Salad

Ensalada De Navidad

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium jicama (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch-thick sticks

3 pounds beets, cooked (see Mexican Cook's Trick), peeled, and quartered

3 oranges, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch-thick slices

1 cup coarsely chopped Caramelized Peanuts (below)

1. Combine the vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly add the oils in a thin, steady stream, mixing with a whisk or a fork until emulsified.

2. Place the jicama, beets, and oranges in separate bowls and toss each with about one third of the vinaigrette. Arrange the ingredients in a pattern on a large platter. I like to do parallel stripes, and I often start with beets in the center, placing jicama on one side and oranges on the other. Sprinkle on the caramelized peanuts and drizzle any remaining vinaigrette on top.

MEXICAN COOK'S TRICK: To cook beets, cut off the greens and most of the stems, leaving about 1 inch. Don't scrub them or cut off the thin root, or they will bleed their juices, sweetness, and color as they cook. Place them in a pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and cook until tender. Medium beets (about 2 inches in diameter) cook in 30 to 35 minutes. For this salad, you want them crunchy, so don't overcook. Drain, let cool completely, then peel and cut.

Caramelized Pecans or Peanuts

Garapinados

1 cup unsalted pecans or peanuts

1/2 cup real maple syrup

1/2 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, diced

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Place the nuts in a bowl, pour the maple syrup over them, and toss to coat. Spread the nuts evenly on one of the baking sheets and scatter the butter pieces on top. Bake for 10 minutes. Stir to make sure all the nuts are coated with syrup and bake for 10 more minutes, or until they are browned and the syrup is bubbling and has darkened and thickened to the consistency of caramel.

3. Immediately, before the caramel hardens, scoop the nuts off the baking sheet with a metal spatula or slotted spoon and place them on the other lined baking sheet, keeping the pieces as separate as you can; they will try to clump and stick together. Cool completely.

Shrimp Cocktail Pacifico

Coctel de Camaron del Pacifico

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup ketchup

5/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Maggi sauce or soy sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped white onion

1 jalapeno or serrano chile, halved, seeded if desired, and finely chopped, or to taste

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pimiento-stuffed olives

1/2 cup seeded and chopped ripe tomato

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves

1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican, or 1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh

1/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste

1 ripe Hass avocado, halved, pitted, meat scooped out, and cubed

Tortilla chips, store-bought or homemade (below), or saltine crackers

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute. Immediately drain the shrimp, and let cool.

2. In a large bowl, combine the ketchup, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, Maggi sauce, and olive oil. Add the shrimp and toss to combine. Add the onion, chile, olives, tomato, parsley, cilantro, oregano, and salt and mix gently until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 12 hours.

3. When ready to serve, stir the avocado into the shrimp cocktail. Serve with tortilla chips.

MEXICAN COOK'S TRICK: Fresh shrimp are always tastier, but most shrimp is sold frozen or frozen thawed. The good news is that shrimp freezes well and comes out of the thawing process in great shape. However, once thawed, it should be used as soon as possible. Shrimp should look plump and firm and have no "fi shy" smell. If you buy them with the shell and tail on, they hold their texture better and you can use the shells to make a lively broth. Thaw frozen shrimp under a stream of cold running water or in the refrigerator--never thaw them with hot water, in the microwave, or at room temperature.