Sunday, December 10, 2006

A taste of home - the final chapter

In my quest to learn more about Mexican cooking (beyond the regional style that I grew up with) I asked for a Mexican cookbook as my Christmas present from The Boy's parents last year. I requested something by Diana Kennedy since I'd liked her books when checking them out at the book store. What I unwrapped on the day was not what I had expected but has ultimately proved to be more valuable. Diana Kennedy's From My Mexican Kitchen, Techniques and Ingredients is the perfect reference book for anyone wanting to educate themselves on Mexican cuisine. It's handy when buying dried chiles and understanding the sometimes subtle differences between the varieties. It covers regional differences of particular dishes like tamales- not all are made with corn masa, some are made with a type of wheat flour; not all are wrapped in dried corn husks- fresh husks, banana leaves and corn stalk leaves can be used. There aren't too many recipes in the book but the ones that are, are worth making.

But back to the London Mexican Day...

I have to admit that I had never had Rajas con queso (pronounced ra-hass con kay-so) before. Or if I have, I just never realised it. Poblano chiles are fresh yet have a meatiness to them that makes it very versatile. This dish is rich so if serving as a main, serve a salad alongside to cut the heaviness of it. It works great as a side dish for something like machaca or a simple meat dish.

Rajas con queso (Chile in creamy sauce)

Ingredients:

8 fresh Poblano chiles
100 ml milk
150 g Philadelphia cream cheese
250 g Lancashire Crumbly (or Queso Fresco, if you can get your hands on some)
salt

Preparation:

Clean the chiles and cut into 3 cm strips, removing all membranes and seeds. Either place under the grill until slightly charred or fry in a pan until browning and soft.Use half of them to blend in a liquidizer (ir with a hand-held blender) with the milk and some salt.Heat some oil in a pan and fry this paste to thicken. Add the cream cheese and cook until dissolved.
Add the remaining chile strips, and, as soon as it’s boiling, crumble over the cheese.

(Recipe Jo Wagner)

This is another staple in the Xochitl Cooks kitchen. It's fairly easy to make and makes great lunch leftovers the next day- it beats a sandwich anyday! You can use machaca (prounouced ma-cha-ka) as a base for many dishes- not just tacos. It can be a burrito filling, a sope topping or it can be stirred into other ingredients like scrambled eggs. Like Tinga de Pollo, Machaca can feed a lot with a small amount of meat.

Machaca (Taco filling with Beef)

Makes 6-8 tacos

Ingredients:
250g flank or skirt steak
2 tomatoes, chopped
½ onion

olive oil

Preparation:

Place the steak in a small stock pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and leave to cook for 30-45 minutes depending on the thickness of the steak.

Remove the steak from the pot and allow to cool. Reserve the liquid.

Once cooled, shred the beef, removing any excess fat or sinewy bits.

Heat a skillet to medium heat and add a little olive oil. Sauté the onions until translucent. Add the beef and a ½ cup of the reserved liquid. When the beef has warmed through add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid has reduced to roughly 2 tablespoons (just enough so the bottom of the pan has a thin coating to keep the meat from drying out and sticking to the pan).

Serve with tortillas.

(Recipe Xochitl Ireland)

Along with tortillas, frijoles (beans) are a staple in every Mexican household. The type of frijoles (pronounced free-ho-less) eaten is usually dependant on where you live. Iliana and I have family in the North so we prefer using pinto beans but Johanna, who lived in Mexico City, prefers black beans. Whatever your preference, the cooking method is the same- soak and simmer. My mother uses a slow cooker, I will get her timings and post it on the site soon. Once the beansare cooked, they can be eaten whole or refried (recipe below).

Frijoles (beans)

Ingredients:
Pinto (or black) beans
water
salt

Preparation:

Rinse beans, cover with water and soak overnight, or do this in the morning before work and let it soak during the day.
Remove any floating beans and bring to a boil and cover, cook over low heat so water does not come out the top. You will cook for 2-3 hours until beans are soft when squeezed between your fingers. About once an hour check water level so it doesn’t dry out.
When done add salt to taste, better to under salt. If you add too much salt peel a potato, add it to the beans and cook for half an hour, remove potato.
Store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for a week if desired.
When cooking beans, every time you put a spoon in the beans make sure it’s clean or beans will spoil faster.

Refried Beans (Frijoles refritos)

Heat oil in frying pan. Add desired amount of beans and heat through. Mash with a potato masher and let it keep cooking over low heat until you see the beans pulling away from the sides of pan.You can fry some onion first and then add the mashed beans – a favourite topping is queso fresco (use Lancashire crumbly).

(Recipes Xochitl Ireland)

Fish Tacos are a Baja thing. Several places in Baja California and in San Diego claim to be the home of the original fish taco; I don't know which place really started the trend but they have become a seller at Mexican restaurants all over the place. If it seems like an odd combination think of it this way (the way I sold it to The Boy)- it's like fish finger sandwich but with a tortilla instead of bread.

Fish Taco photo courtesy of Cooksister.

Tacos de pescado (Fish tacos - Baja style)

Makes 4 tacos (depending on size of fish and tortillas)

Ingredients:

For the filling:
1 white fish fillet
1 cup beer
1 cup water
pinch of chilli powder
frying oil

To serve:
1 small white cabbage, shredded
sour cream
1 lime, cut into wedges
tortillas

Preparation:
Cut the fish into slices/chunks.

Combine the flour and chilli powder. Add the beer and stir until well mixed (batter will be thick).
In a deep pot/ skillet over medium high heat, heat enough oil so that the fish will be partially submerged (if you happen to have a deep fryer, this is even easier).

While the oil heats, coat each piece of fish in the batter and add to the oil being careful not to overcrowd the pot.

Cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown and fish is cooked through.
Place a couple of pieces of fish in each tortilla and top with some cabbage and a dollop of sour cream. Serve with a wedge of lime

(Recipe Xochitl Ireland)

I didn't get any pictures of the other salsas we made or the guacamole so I leave it to your imagination as to what they look like but the recipes are below if you want to give any of them a go. Salsas are quick and easy so no more buying ones in jars! I highly recommend the Chipotle Salsa one- it's spicy and citrussy and can be used as a dip or a sauce.

Chipotle Salsa

Ingredients:
10 chipotle chillies in adobo (deseeded and chopped)
5-6 tomatoes (excess juice drained and tomatoes chopped)
juice of 4-5 limes
1/2 red onion (finely chopped)

Preparation:

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. More of each of the ingredients can be added to tailor the salsa to your liking.

(Recipe Xochitl Ireland)

Salsa Mexicana (Pico de Gallo)

Ingredients:

6 medium tomatoes (diced)
1 medium onion (finely diced)
2 fresh serrano or jalapeño chillies, (seeded and finely chopped)
1 clove garlic (crushed)
Salt to taste
Juice of 1-2 limes, to taste
1 handful fresh coriander (chopped)

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients (except the coriander) in a bowl, mix through thoroughly and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes before serving. Stir in coriander just before serving.

(Recipe Jo Wagner)

Guacamole

Ingredients:

2 medium avocados (ripe)
1 shallot (finely chopped or crushed)
1 clove garlic (crushed)
½ - 1 finely chopped green chilli (seed them first if you can't stand the heat!)
1 medium tomato (finely diced)
juice of 1 lime
1 handful coriander leaves (chopped)

Preparation:

Cut through the avocados around the seed, scoop the flesh into a bowl and reserve the seeds for later. Mash the flesh up with a fork, mix with the lime juice and combine with all the other ingredients. Keep the guacamole in the bowl with the avocado stone, to prevent it from going brown.

(Recipe Jo Wagner)

Mexicans have a sweet tooth which could very easily rival that if the Brit. Because of the heat, sweets tend to be fruit or custard based rather than chocolate. Great helados (ice creams) that I remember buying on the beach in the summer in flavours like coconut and tamarind that were homemade, my dad's arroz con leche (rice pudding) that I still make whenever I feel ill and the ultimate dessert- flan. Flan can either be very good or very bad. Luckily, Johanna made a very, very good version that I know I will make again (even if I am the only one in the house who likes flan).

Flan de Fiesta

Ingredients:

230 g and 115 g sugar
6 large eggs
1 can (397 ml) sweetened condensed milk
2 cans (410 ml each) evaporated milk
1 vanilla pod

Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 160C. You will need 6 ramekins or other oven-proof dish and a large baking pan to put them in.
Pour 230 g sugar and 100 ml water into a non-stick pan over medium heat. Constantly stir sugar until browns and caramelises. Quickly pour into the dish (or divide between ramekins) tilting it to swirl the caramel around the bottom and the sides.

Beat the eggs together with the remaining sugar. Mix in the two milks, then the scraped vanilla seeds. Blend smooth after each ingredient is added.

Pour custard into caramel-lined dish. Place the dish in a large baking dish and fill with boiling water, at least half-way up the sides of the flan dish. Keep an eye on the water and re-fill if evaporating too quickly.
Bake for 60 minutes in the water bath and check with a knife just to the side of the center. If knife comes out clean, it's ready.

Remove and let cool in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Turn onto a plate, the caramel sauce will flow over the custard.

(Recipe Jo Wagner)

The day was long and labour intensive but it didn’t matter as everyone pitched in to chop, char, peel, bake, shape and gossip. It was a great feeling knowing that everyone who came wanted to learn about a cuisine that the three of us hold so dear. On a non-food, personal note, spending the day chatting to someone else (from the same city as my father) that grew up brown was a nice change (although I will admit that my childhood was a mix of both cultures- turkey at Thanksgiving, tamales at Christmas).When we eventually sat down to our feast it really felt like our love of Mexican food had been passed along and hopefully inspired everyone to go beyond the prepacked stodge that tries to pass itself off as Mexican food.

2 comments:

thepassionatecook said...

I KNEW there was something outstanding - I still haven't blogged about the mains we had that day... well, has to happen soon! in the meantime, i'll enjoy your write-up for some great memories of that day - and hope that you will publish the recipe for the Mexican wedding cookies soon???

Xochitl said...

Hi Johanna,

I promise to write up the Mexican Wedding Cookies soon. Glad I was able to jog your memory of our little fiesta.

Xoch