Mexican food – a fiesta on your palate: Picadas Veracruzanas

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!)

My Picadas Veracruzanas

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!

The country

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?

Chichen Itza, Yucatan

Chichen Itza, Yucatan

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 Baja California

Mexican Baja California

The food

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.

TORTILLAS

Fresh tortillas

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.

MEXICAN SWEETS

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.

The drinks

DRINKS

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.

‘Pinched’ Tostadas

Picadas  Veracruzanas – “Pinched’ Tostadas

Filling:

  • 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

Method:

  1. Heat oil in a frypan, sauté onion and garlic till soft. add meat and on med-high heat, fry till brown.
  2. Add rest of ingredients and simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile cook the tortillas.
  4. Fill hot picadas with the picadilllo mixture, top with fresh salsa and chopped coriander and serve immediately.

For Tortillas:

  • 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

Method:

  1. 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.
  2. Roll out into 10cm rounds, or press in a tortilla press if you are lucky enough to have one.
  3. Cook in a hot dry frypan on both sides, immediately press and pinch the edges to form a small rim around the tortilla.
  4. Repeat till all are done, then  heat oil in frypan and fry till lightly brown on both sides. Drain on paper towel.

Frijoles Meneados

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

Method:

  1. Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight.
  2. 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.
  3. Add salt and milk and mash till smooth.
  4. Pre-heat oven to 180°/350°
  5. 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.
  6. Simmer dried chilli until soft, remove seeds, pat dry and cut into strips. Stir into beans, season
  7.  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.
  8. Quick Version: skip step 7,  simply reheat bean mixture to piping hot and stir in grated cheese

The Verdict

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.

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Salvadoran Pupusas Revueltas

Country 44 – El Salvador

The smallest and most populated country in Central America, its landscape ranges from high mountains and active volcanoes to over 300km of Pacific sandy coastline to its spectacular nightlife to the dozens of coffee plantations situated in the country. Nicknamed the Tom Thumb of the Americas, welcome to El Salvador.

Coatepeque Lake, El Salvador

Coatepeque Lake, El Salvador

El Salvador is a small country bordering Guatemala and Honduras in Central America. The official language is Spanish since it was part of the New Spain colony for over 200 years (between the 16th to 18th centuries).  El Salvador is situated on the Cocos tectonic plate, which has led to country to have hundreds of earthquake and volcanic eruptions.

San Salvador is the capital and is located Boquerón Volcano Valley in the south west of the country. The city is heavily influenced by Los Angles especially in architectural terms, with styles architectural styles like Googie, Populuxe, Modernist, Streamline Moderne, Art Deco and Futurist being present in buildings around the city. The city has a historic downtown area with numerous buildings being national attractions.

Teatro Nacional de El Salvador (National Theatre in the historic downtown)

Teatro Nacional de El Salvador (National Theatre in the historic downtown)

Salvadoran Cuisine

The indigenous Pipil and Spanish peoples have heavily influenced the traditional cuisine. Popular ingredients include; maize (corn), Loroco (an edible vine), Izote flower, plantain, yucca or cassava and Salvadoran cheeses such as queso duro, queso freso, and cuajada. Some of the most loved dishes include; Pupusas, Tamales, Sopa de pata (soup made from plantain, cow’s feet, corn and tripe),  yuca frita and panes rellenos. The national liquor of El Salvador is Tic Tack, distilled from sugar cane and the other popular drink is Horchata, made from milk and a mix of spices.

Tic-Tack

WHAT I MADE

I decided to make Pupusas , one of the most common dishes in El Salvador. I’d heard of them before from a TV show called Bizarre Foods America (its really good, I would greatly suggest watching if possible) anyway in episode 1 season 3 the host visits a Salvadoran restaurant and samples some Pupusas, so when I got El Salvador I knew I had to make them. After finding a recipe here’s the link  Pupusas Revueltas from fellow WordPress blog Latinaish. Next I had a quite large obstacle of trying to locate a store that sold MASECA Corn Flour (Instant Corn Masa Flour) in my area, let me tell you this took so long, at first I thought I had found a place but ringing them found that they only sold in bulk for businesses, so the search continued long and far with me scouring the internet for any mention of MASECA in Sydney. I finally found a small Latin American store in Fairfield that stocked it, success! So if any you dear readers live in the Sydney area and are in need MASECA or some other Latin ingredients go to  Tierras Latinas.

RECIPE

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

For the Filling

  • 500g pork mince (you can even use turkey or chicken if you don’t eat pork)
  • 1 tbs. minced garlic
  • 1-2 tbs. canola oil
  • 1 medium tomato, washed and quartered
  • 1 medium Poblano or the equivalent green pepper, washed, stem & seeds removed, and quartered
  • 1/2 a medium onion, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup refried beans
  • 250g whole milk mozzarella cheese, grated coarsely
  • salt to taste

For the Dough

  • 3 cups MASECA
  • 3 1/4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

For Salsa

  • 3 to 4 fresh large tomatoes (Roma are best), chopped
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 of a medium-sized red onion, chopped
  • 1/4 of a medium Poblano pepper, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce (also known as “Salsa Perrins.”)

Method

1. Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and garlic. Stir for a few seconds before adding meat and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until browned. Remove from heat, set aside. (Note: Many people use chunks of pork in place of ground pork and after cooking, run it through the food processor. This is totally up to you. I’ve used both methods and both work.)

2. In the food processor blend together tomato, chilli and onion till as smooth consistency. Pour into a bowl, add to the pork and mix to combine. Taste and correct with salt if needed. Add the refried beans. Stir to combine. Set the mixture aside.

4. In a large bowl sprinkle salt over MASECA and then pour in water. Mix by hand until combined, should be a smooth soft consistency.

5. To form pupusas, take a large handful of dough, (slightly bigger than a golf ball), and pat it into a tortilla. Cup your hand so the tortilla forms a bowl-like shape. In the hollow, place a large pinch of the pupusa filling. Close your hand gently to fold the sides up around the filling and form the ball again. Pat out into a thick tortilla shape, repeat with remaining dough and mixture.

6. Make salsa by combining all ingredients.

7. Place on a hot griddle, comal or non-stick frying pan. (No oil is needed, although I did some with oil and they were better) Flip to cook on each side. Serve with salsa.

 

My pupusas with salsa

My pupusas with salsa

The pupusas were alright, quite doughy. I’m not exactly sure what went wrong with mine, I think I didn’t put quite enough meat & cheese mixture but then I couldn’t fit much more in my dough “cups” without the mixture spilling out or being seen through the dough. Also I didn’t like the salsa that I made that much as it was very strong and acidic, I have changed the recipe from the one I followed, to something I think is a lot nicer.Maybe you’ll have more luck with both the pupusas and the salsa! And as for me I’ll just have to wait for some lovely Salvadoran to make some pupusas for me. Score 5/10

P.S Sorry for the lack of posts the last 2 months, we’ve both been super busy working and learning, hope you’ve all been eating some good food while we’ve been gone! Comment your favourite meal you’ve had in the last week below!