COUNTRY 47 – MEXICO
La comidaMexicana es deliciosa! Now I know all you Americans out there love your food from south of the border and have great super fresh Mexican food available all the time, but down here in Oz, we aren’t so lucky! Mexican food still seems to be rather boring and stuck in a rut where everything tastes the same. (Did you know that we from New South Wales call Victorians, Mexicans? Why? ‘Cos they’re south of our border of course!)
I know how amazing real Mexican food can be, having done a cooking course years ago with a wonderful ex-pat home cook called Rolando. He taught me a lot about the subtleties of this great cuisine and I’ve loved it ever since and mourned the lack of any really good Mexican restaurants here. Having said that, there are a few places out there that have discovered the incredible flavours, textures and colours of Mexican food and are jumpin!
I also worked in a Mexican restaurant, many years ago called La Gaupa and they made the best chicken enchiladas! I couldn’t resist them and every night I would ask – una enchilada de pollo para mi por favour!
Smoking snow-topped volcanoes, steamy jungle, baking cactus desert and endless azure coastlines, fabulous ancient ruins, historic churches, colourful noisy (and frequent) fiestas and markets, outstanding museums, friendly locals and terrific food – Mexico has got it all and more – what’s not to love?
Personally I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico, I’d love to visit the fabulous ancient cities of Teotihuacan (Mayan) Tenochtitlan and La Venta (Olmec) Chichen Itza (Mayan) Tula (Toltec) Tulum and Uxmal both Mayan. Plus the rugged coastline of Baja California Sur is also on my bucket list (sigh, as if ……………….!)
Mexican food is founded on the holy trinity of corn, beans and chillies, backed up by a wealth of native foods that took the old world by storm. Can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes, Thai food without chilies, or a world without chocolate or vanilla ice-cream? Unthinkable! But there’s a lot more to Mexican food than the common taco or burrito, gluey refried beans and overly sweet flan. Although like the chappatis in India, or pasta in Italy, fresh tortillas are served with every meal, this simple mix of maize (or masa harina) can be transformed into endless and delicious variations.
Cooked properly, with its huge variety of spices and fresh herbs and native ingredients fused with European foods particularly meats like chicken, beef, pork, and lamb or goat, and dairy especially cheese, has produced a splendidly rich and complex cuisine up there with the world’s greatest.
Moles are a truly unique national dish, its rich depth of flavour and laborious cooking methods rivals in complexity anything from Europe. A balance of 5 tastes – hot (chillies) sweet ( fruit/sugar) sour (tomatillos) spices and thickeners (ground nuts/tortillas) , this dish can take several days to make, has many versions containing 20 – 30 ingredients and traditionally all painstakingly ground by hand.
The Spanish influence is very prominent in the Mexican love of (very) sweet desserts mostly based on milk such as the popular Pastel des Tres Leches con Coco, or Mexican/caramel flan. And don’t forget the huge range of biscuits many of them baked for special occasions such as weddings, religious holidays including the famous Day of the Dead.
Beer of course springs to mind, these have been brewed (from corn) since ancient pre-Spanish times, and there are loads of different varieties, the most famous is the ubiquitous Corona and thanks to German migrants, such beers as Bohemia. Beer is drunk ice-cold and with fresh lime.
Aquas Fresca are a range of refreshing drinks based on fruits, seeds and cereals blended with sweetened water, flavours such as tamarind, hibiscus, cantaloupe and lime. There is a unique range of fermented drinks made from corn such as Charanda, Tejuino and well-known Pozol.
Then of course there are the distilled drinks of the fiery kind called Aguardiente, the knock-back Tequila and Mezcal both brewed from Maguey, once a highly sacred plant. Corzo, Sotol, Pox and Pulque are all other spirits made from local ingredients.
Finally there is Mexican chocolate, a frothy spiced concoction very different from the sweet blandness of drinking chocolate in the West. Solid chocolate is sweetened and blended with milk and water with ground almonds along with cinnamon, vanilla and is whipped to foamy heights with a special tool called a molmillo in tall pots called chocolateros.
Picadas Veracruzanas – “Pinched’ Tostadas
- 1 tb oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 5oo gm. beef mince
- 1 tsp g. cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp thyme leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- salt & fresh ground pepper
- fresh chopped coriander to garnish
- fresh salsa to serve
- Heat oil in a frypan, sauté onion and garlic till soft. add meat and on med-high heat, fry till brown.
- Add rest of ingredients and simmer 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile cook the tortillas.
- Fill hot picadas with the picadilllo mixture, top with fresh salsa and chopped coriander and serve immediately.
- 3 cups masa harina/fresh masa
- 1 – 2 cups warm water (NOTE: do not add if you have fresh masa!)
- 2 tsp salt
- oil for shallow frying
- Mix masa harina, water and salt to form a pliable dough, or just roll fresh masa. Form into golf ball size, keep rest of dough covered while working.
- Roll out into 10cm rounds, or press in a tortilla press if you are lucky enough to have one.
- Cook in a hot dry frypan on both sides, immediately press and pinch the edges to form a small rim around the tortilla.
- Repeat till all are done, then heat oil in frypan and fry till lightly brown on both sides. Drain on paper towel.
Frijoles Meneados – creamed borlotti beans
- 2 cups dried borlotti beans
- ½ large onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tomato, diced
- 2 tsp salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tb oil
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 long dried chili – chilli ancho if possible
- ½ cup cheddar cheese, cut into small dice (or grated for quick version!)
- 2 sprigs epazote – Optional – Mexican herb that is a counter flatulent! (NOTE: If you live near Bondi Beach, it used to grow wild in the cracks of the road around North Bondi streets like Ramsgate Ave. It’s a tall straggly weed with narrow toothed leaves that smell strongly medicinal when touched.)
- chopped fresh coriander to garnish
- Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight.
- Drain, place in a saucepan or large bowl, cover with water again and bring to boil. Simmer or microwave with lid on until soft, about 30 min. Don’t let dry out, top up with more warm water if needed.
- Add salt and milk and mash till smooth.
- Pre-heat oven to 180°/350°
- Heat oil in fry-pan and saute onion and garlic till soft. Add tomato and epazote and saute till tomato is soft. Stir into bean mixture.
- Simmer dried chilli until soft, remove seeds, pat dry and cut into strips. Stir into beans, season
- Place beans in an oven dish, bake in oven 30 minutes, push cheese cubes into beans – don’t stir in – and serve with coriander on top.
- Quick Version: skip step 7, simply reheat bean mixture to piping hot and stir in grated cheese
Both these recipes are delicious and a real eye-opener for those who have only ever made tacos from a packet. If you have any beans leftover, they go great with fried eggs and bacon the next day for breakfast. Our family is pretty keen on Mexican flavours so we loved this meal, rating it 9/10 and a definite repeat. If you have never made your own tortillas before – please give it a go as it’s really easy, fun (especially if you have a tortilla press!) and the fresh taste will be a revelation! They taste so good you can understand why they are such a necessary part of every meal.