Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tortillas De Harina

I had been putting off dealing with flour tortillas for a while. I had mistakenly though it would be fiddly work also the tortillas available in the shops here are great so I never took the time. They are small and dense, savoury with a speckling of small golden brown islands. They are nothing at all like the bready hubcaps that  I was used to from home.

They are very easy, and making them is the kind of kitchen work that involves a mix of routine and technique that is very satisfying. They require resting for a half an hour between kneading and rolling, however this is not as much of a nuisance as it sounds, it is short enough that preparing a batch of flour tortiallas on a whim is not a problem, and it is just long enough to go about preparing something to put in them when  they are done!

The conventional wisdom is that flour tortillas are most popular in the north of the country, I haven't seen enough of the country to contradict this, the only thing I have noticed is that flour tortillas seem to be more popular for breakfast tacos filled with things like chicharron or carne desherbrada, with corn tortillas being served at larger meals.

The Dough
I have tried using lard, vegetable shortening and butter. Rick Bayless recommends using a mixture of lard and vegetable shortening. Personally I find using lard alone gives the best taste and is what I use. Vegetable shortening is easy to work with but doesn't give the savoury taste lard does. Butter gives a slightly softer texture and (obviously) a nice buttery taste. I think in balance it is the better substitute if you don't have lard to hand.

The basic proportions are 5 to 1 of flour to fat. I work in 100g batches of flour, which would give 8 tortillas of about 7 inches diameter.  So for 100g of flour 20g of lard, a pinch of salt and enough warm water to bring the dough together. You won't need much water at all, just less than a quarter cup in this case, as you are aiming for a relatively tight dough, certainly nothing like the stringy mess you would have before you begin kneading a bread dough. Some recipes include some baking powder. There really is no point, the tortillas will puff up beautifully without it.

The quickest method is to cut the fat into the flour using a food processor, you can rub it in too, but the processor is much quicker. After combing the flour and lard, either in the processor or by hand, turn the mixture out into a bowl, add the water (with the salt dissolved in it) and bring together into a dough. Add just enough water to barely bring the dough together and knead the dough for a few minutes. Like I said earlier, it's not a bread dough so there is no need to break you heart kneading it, there is probably not enough water in the dough to create a lot of gluten anyway. A few minutes of kneading until you have a cohesive, homogeneous dough is plenty.

Roll the dough into a log, divide the log into eight pieces. Form each piece into a ball, roll the ball between your palm and the counter top to even it out, then flatten the ball slightly into a disk. Cover your eight little disks and leave to rest for about a half an hour.

Rolling the Tortillas
There is a knack to rolling, but it's still nothing to be intimidated by. Keep a small dish of flour in front of you as you work, keep the surface lightly floured. Take your first disk of dough and dip both sides of it into the flour, then you can begin to roll it.

The secret is to work from the centre of the disk, firstly away from you, then towards you. Work lightly, just a couple of inches at a go and rotate the disk about 1/8 of a turn each time. That's all there is to it - away a small bit, towards you a small bit and rotate a bit. Keep the board lightly dusted and flipping the disk over now and again as you work helps too. Don't go nuts, just work lightly but without hesitation. If you try to push the dough too much in a pass, you will find it impossible to make a round tortilla. You are aiming in the first full rotation to increase the size of the disk to about 3 or 4 inches then repeating the process to arrive at the final size.

Cooking the Tortillas
The tortillas cook fantastically quickly over a medium high heat, less than a minute each side depending on how hot the pan is, and often closer to 30 seconds. I use a cast iron comal, however any heavy pan would do fine. You will hear a sizzle as the tortilla is dropped on the pan and in a few moment blisters begin to form on the underside. It is very satisfying to see the tortilla begin to puff up, however I find it better to better to turn the tortilla before the smaller air bubbles begin to grow into each other and the tortilla balloons. This gives the speckling of golden brown spots that is most attractive. If you allow the tortilla to inflate completely then there will be just a single spot in direct contact with the heat. Like as with a corn tortilla you turn it twice.

You must also be careful not to allow the tortillas to overcook. You are looking for the spaces between the golden spots to retain a certain translucence and to look ever so slightly pasty.

Stash them in a tortilla warmer or wrapped in a tea towel to keep them warm. They keep pretty well in the fridge in plastic, although a small batch can be knocked together so easily there is little reason to have leftovers. I'm sure they can probably be frozen too, not that I ever had the opportunity to find out!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Machacado Con Huevo

This is another breakfast dish (apologies for hopping around so much, looking back there is less logic to the progression of posts than I would have originally hoped), Marchacado Con Huevo is a combination of onion, chile and shredded dried meat lightly fried with scrambled egg.

Carne seca is salted, dried and shredded meat, normally beef. It is available to purchase in all of the supermarkets here, however Diana Kennedy does have instructions on making your own from very thinly sliced sirloin which is salted and air dried for a few days. It sounds straightforward however it is more of a palaver than I would be prepared for. The carne seca has a rough fibrous texture, a bag of it looks more like a bag of jute than meat. It is very different from American jerky which bears a much closer resemblance to the meat it originated from.

The dish itself, like most breakfast dishes, is fast and simple. A quarter cup of diced onion is fried in a little olive oil or lard until translucent, along with somewhat less than a single finely diced serrano chile. A scant handful (about a quarter cup) of carne seca is added to this along with another quarter cup of diced tomato. The mixture is fried for a couple of minutes before adding 3 lightly beaten eggs and scrambling lightly. Don't add any seasoning until after the eggs have been added as the dried meat will have a certain amount of salt.

The machacado is served in a tortilla, flour seems to be the normal with egg based fillings, but corn tortillas work fine too.
Carne Seca

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Flautas De Pollo

Flautas, also referred to as tacos dorados are rolled tacos fried in oil until crisp (or golden I guess, given the name). There are a number of approaches, the most common seems to use a rather dry filling of shredded chicken which is rolled into quite a tight and dense roll and fried. However you also see versions where the shredded chicken is bound in either a salsa verde or a salsa roja and then rolled. The flautas are then served with some crumbled queso fresco on top and some salsa.

I'm not going to go into a huge level of detail. The preparation of both salsa verde and salsa roja cocida have been covered already so generally the dish is just and assembly of already familiar items. I'm going to cover three variations, one with no salsa in the filling, another with a salsa verde and a final one with a salsa roja.

Tacos Dorados
In this version the chicken is bound in a salsa of cooked tomatoes.The fist step is to blend a ripe tomato, a clove of garlic and about a quarter cup of onion (about a half of a smallish onion, however the onions I have here are about the size of softballs, so I normally use about 1/8 of one of those) in a blender. You may need a splash of water to get the blades spinning, it's not a bog deal as the salsa is going to be cooked out and reduced before using anyway.

This puree of tomato onion and garlic pops up again and again in Mexican cooking. We have already seen it in the preparation of Rajas and it will appear again when I cover Arroz a  la Mexicana (Mexican Rice). The puree is placed into a pan and cooked down for 10 minutes or so until the tomato has cooked out and the salsa has reduced. At this point the shredded chicken can be added and warmed through.

To assemble the flautas (flauta means flute and refers to the shape) place a heaped tablespoon of the filling on one side of a warmed corn tortilla and roll up. You can use a toothpick to secure the flauta, but it's not really necessary. They stay together fine if they are stacked with the seam downwards and they will not come apart when frying as long as they are fried for a couple of second with the seam down to allow the tortilla to crispen.
The flautas can be deep fried, if you have a deep-fryer and could be bothered, however they are fine when cooked in a half inch or so of corn oil and rotated while cooking.

If there is some salsa in the filling I like to serve them with just some crumbled queso fresco (feta would be a good substitute here), but they can also be served with salsa over the top much as an enchilada would be and can also be served with crema or guacamole.

Flautas De Pollo con Salsa Verde
Pretty similar to the preparation above except this time the chicken is bound in a Salsa De Tomate Verde Cocida. 

Flautas De Pollo
The names I am using are very arbitrary however finally we come to the simplest version, and the one most similar to what I see colleagues sometimes eat for lunch. In this case the shredded chicken is not bound with a salsa. You can add some sautéed sliced onion and pepper to the chicken. I like to use short slices, preferably less than 2 inches long, to avoid having long strings of onion flopping about as you bite the flauta.

There are a number of other possible fillings for a flauta. One suggested by Diana Kennedy is of Rajas de Poblano. The rajas would need to be drier than I have given in the earlier recipe to successfully use as a filling, however the principle is the same.

At some future point I will cover some of the other possible fillings. I'd particularly like to cover  some of the beef fillings.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Roasting Poblano Peppers

I've been considering adding some photos, but generally I hate the "here's-something-I-made-with-5-types-of-bacon-and 6-types-of-cheese-and-here-are-40-photos-of-me-making-it-do-you-like-it reddit-do-yo-do-you-do-you" type food blogs. Neither do I want to degenerate into the type of person who's first act is to photograph every plate that is put in from of them.

So. Occasionally you'll get a photo. As long as it's pretty.

While we are on the subject, the decision not to have ingredient lists followed by a method of preparation is a deliberate choice. I hate reading recipes like that. The body of the recipe normally omits the quantities so you end up going back and forth from ingredients list to the body of the recipe. And my giving an ingredients list, would just give an impression of a level of precision that I really, really don't work to.

If it works for Elizabeth David it'll do for me!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

And yet more book recommending....

There are a couple of other cookbooks I've been leafing through. Both are in Spanish and I'm not sure how available both are. The first is listed by a couple of Amazon marketplace sellers (who are clearly taking the piss with the prices! $112 for new and $156 for second hand?).

The title translates to "Alchemy and Atmospheres of Flavours".

As you can guess from the title it's not an everyday kind of book. The recipes are generally quite involved, but the book is beautifully photographed. If you have a pre-existing prejudice against Mexican cuisine, which I, coming from a French = cooking background, definitely did (the chef who I first worked with described Mexican food as dog food plus ketchup!) - this book will cure you. It is a insight in to the possibilities of Mexican cuisine; the subtlety, variety and most unexpectedly the elegance.

The second book, El Sabor De México is a much simpler. Much more of an everyday book.

There appers to be a couple of different books with this title. The author of this one Marlena Spieler, of whom I have never heard, seems to be a very prolific author with books covering various cuisines in various languages. I wonder would the name simply be a convention used by the publisher?

Whether this is actually a recommendation for the book or not.....

The book is in the style of those of Tasmin Day-Lewis, it has large photos on the facing pages with relatively simple recipes clearly and briefly described.

Some More Book Recommending.....

I had ordered this (available here and here) a few months ago from Amazon.

It had been quite some time since Amazon emailed to say that the order had shipped. The post here is slow at the best of times, and stuff does have a habit of going missing, so when nothing arrived I was resigned to the fact that the book had been stolen/mislaid/lost and I would have to reorder.

Before I placed the order I emailed Amazon customer service just in the hope that there had been a screw up on their part and that the book hadn't actually shipped.

Within 20 minutes of emailing I got the following reply:


I'm sorry your shipment was lost in transit. I've placed a new order that's listed below. We'll ship it to the same address as soon as possible.

Order Number: 102-0169797-1167455
Estimated Delivery Date: September 29 - September 30

To ensure your replacement order isn't held up by delays in customs, I created the replacement order with charges and refunded your original order. The charge for this order is $39.46, and the refund is in the same amount. Both the charge and refund will be applied to the credit card used on the original order; the refund will appear in the next 3-5 business days.

I’ve also upgraded the shipping method to Expedited International Shipping and refunded the amount of that upgrade on the replacement order.

Should you eventually receive the original package, you're welcome to keep, donate, or dispose of it--whichever option is most appropriate and convenient for you.

We hope to see you again soon.

Best regards,

Vishnu M.
Pretty impressive customer service!

The replacement arrived a couple of days ago. It's not strictly Mexican, it covers Native American Latin American food and I haven't done much more than dip into it at this point, however it is very pretty and is interesting thus far.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


There are a couple of versions of this, primarily, breakfast dish, of fried wedges of tortilla fried in oil then smothered in sauce and heated until the tortilla has started to soften. Rick Bayliss describes it as a "tortilla casserole" which I guess is a good a translation as any.

The two most common variations use either tomato salsa or else a salsa verde, however I have also heard of versions which use a mole or a white sauce.

Preparation is quick and straightforward. Stale tortillas are cut into wedges or torn into chunks and fried in oil. It doesn't take a huge quantity of oil, enough to cover the bottom of a large pot to a depth of about 1/2cm is plenty. The tortilla can be fried in batches. It is important to get them golden brown so that they hold together in the sauce. Some of them, will of course turn to much, however it's nice to have some chewier parts in the finished dish.

I used a simple tomato salsa made from a couple of grilled plum tomatoes blended with onion, oregano and two serrano chiles and seasoned. I cooked this out for a few minutes before using it and I didn't add garlic as I didn't particularly fancy garlic in a breakfast dish, though if you were serving the dish as a lunch you could add the garlic and some chicken perhaps.

 To assemble the dish I removed the oil that remained after frying the tortilla from the pan, I poured less than half of the salsa into the pan, added the fried tortilla (which had been draining on some paper towels) and poured the remaining salsa over the top. I covered the pan and let everything heat through.

I served with queso fresco crumbled over the top, which seemed like enough elaboration for me, though you often see recipes that specify adding a melting cheese like oaxaca or adding crema (something like creme fraiche) to the dish.

It's an interesting dish. It makes for a more substantial breakfast then I would normally be inclined to eat, to my mind it's more suitable for a weekend than for everyday. The consistency of the tortilla, softening into the salsa is unusual, but not unpleasant and there are enough chewy parts left on the tortilla to give some contrast.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Rajas con Queso

There are a couple of types of recipes for rajas. The most common is rajas in crema and you sometimes see recipes for rajas composed of different chiles presented as a kind of salad. This version is in a light tomato salsa/broth.

Rajas refers to strips of chile, generally the larger chiles like Poblano or Anaheim. I used poblano. The quantites here aren't very exact, I used 2 poblanos and a tennis ball sized onion, along with over a half cup of diced panela cheese. Just keep in mind that the final dish should have quite a lot of broth for something that is served as a side dish.

Roasting the peppers
The first job is to roast the chiles. To did this I simply lay the chiles on the gas ring and turn it until they are blackened all over. The job can be done just as well under a hot grill (or even on a charcoal grill, though it seems like unreasonable amount of hassle to me). Once the chiles are black all over they are placed into a zip lock bag or into a covered bowl to steam and to cool enough to allow them to be handled. When they are cool enough to handle simply rub off the blackened skin, remove the stem seeds and membranes and cut the chile into slices slightly wider than 1/2cm.

There is nothing difficult in this and nothing that will be unfamiliar to anyone who has roasted a sweet red pepper. The only real knack is having the patience and confidence to wait until the chile is blackened all over before removing it from the heat.

Unlike sweet peppers, poblanos in particular, can be oddly shaped and fold over on themselves. This can make roasting them awkward, so it's best to pick pepper that are as symmetrical as you can find.

While the peppers are steaming saute a onion cut into similar sized strips. Fry the onions until they are translucent and just starting to pick up some colour. At this point add the strips of poblano and toss both together.

The salsa
The salsa is made by blending a couple of cups of water with a plum tomato, a clove or two of garlic, some onion, a serrano chile and some oregano. Blend this to a smooth loose sauce and add to the poblano and onion. Season and allow everything to come to a simmer.

Queso Panela
The cheese I use in this dish is Queso Panela. This is a white rubbery unaged cheese. It doesn't melt easily, you often see ricotta mentioned as a substitute, however panela is firmer. It works well here as it can easily be cut into small neat dice which hold their shape well and don't melt into the broth.

The dish will need some time to cook out and to allow the raw garlic, onion and tomato in the sauce to cook through and mellow. 15 or 20 minutes at a low simmer is plenty, the dish reheats well and the flavours are better after some time to meld.

I had a supply of good chicken stock frozen in cubes in the freezer so I added a couple of those. They were an improvement but are not absolutely necessary.

The dish has a fair amount of heat from the serrano in the salsa (I don't remove the seeds from a serrano. I find that a serrano without the seeds, while not as hot, is quite boring and offers nothing except just heat, the grassy and fruity taste you get with the seeds included is much more interesting. It is better to use less and include the seeds than to use just the flesh. Alternatively you could take a step down the heat scale and use a jalapeno rather than a serrano.) There is a smokey taste from the poblano and sweetness from the onion.

It works well as a side dish and as an accompaniment to tacos.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Some Links

Seing as I have mentioned both Diana Kennedy's and Rick Bayless' books a number of times, as these are what I am primarily using to guide me, here is a link to each:

The Art of Mexican Cooking - Diana Kennedy

Authentic Mexican - Rick Bayless

There was a recent episode of The Splended Table recorded in Mexico which included an interview with Ms. Kennedy, who sounds a formidable woman! Linky

There is a good article on Bayless here by, the always readable, Jay Rayner in The Observer.

There was a recent enough discussion of Mexican salsas in the NYT. There are a couple of recipes burried in the sidebars there as well.

Finally, as I have been meaning to tackle tamales for some time, I have been looking around the web at different ways of preparing them and I found this gem.

Isn't that sweet.

It's things like this on YouTube that make you realise how wrong Andrew Keen is about absolutely everything (one look at the photo on the front of that website will probably convince you of the same thing anyway - he looks like what would be produced if Simon Cowell and Richard Dawkins had a baby, he seems to be impressed with himself in a pretty big way).

Salsa de Chiles Chipotles - Salsa Ranchera

I am getting very very attached to the small little tins of Chipotle chiles you can get in the shops here. They hold roughly three chiles in adobe sauce, a perfect quantity for someone, like me, cooking for just themselves.

I have used chipotles before, although it was not always easy to source them in Ireland, to make BBQ sauce; being smoked they are ideal for this. Their smokyness also works well in a Salsa Ranchera, one that goes well with all kinds of meat and is also often also served with Mexican breakfasts.

There are a couple of variations here, Rick Bayless' recipe for Salsa de Chile Chipotles doesn't include onion and relies simply on the tomatillos, garlic, the chiles and seasoning. Other versions, are more elaborate including both onion and corriander. Diana Kennedy makes no mention of a Salsa De Chile Chipotle, however she does have a Salsa Ranchera, which oddly enough is made with serranos and has nothing to do with chipotles. You can take from all this disagreement what you like, all I will say is that Diana Kennedy is pretty exacting and dogmatic and if it came to placing a bet.....

I decided to split the difference between the Rick Bayliss version and the others. I certainy didn't feel corriander was a suitable addition for such a deep smokey salsa however neither did I want to exclude the onion.

The formula I settled on was to char 6 to 8 tomatillos on a saute pan while at the same time frying about half of a largeish onion in another smaller pan. When the tomatillos were charred on both sides and cooked through they were added to the slightly browned onions in the blender along with one of those small tins of choptles with the adobo (I removed the seeds). About a half a cup of water might be necessary to get the blades moving and get everything blended. All that is required then is as much salt as you think is necessary.

The salsa is hot and smokey, and works well with meat, it is also nice with eggs, I used it over an omlette and it was ideal. What it is lacking however is the bright flavours of a Salsa Mexicana which I am coming to appreciate more and more as the ideal counterpoint, in texture, temperature and flovour to a taco.

Salsa Borracha - Drunken Salsa

Two of the things that bug me slightly whenever I get a Salsa Mexicana, is that often the knife skills on display are quite crude and sometimes the salsa has been allowed to become quite dry while sitting around.

I have seen a couple of recipes for a salsa moistened with beer (sometimes even tequila, which I will probably try at some point in the future) and it seemed like an interesting thing to try. I was determind however to be as precise as possible in preparing everything, so as to arrive at pieces as small and as uniform as possible.

Quite a few recipes call for the tomatoes to be grilled first as they would be in a Salsa Cocida but what I was aiming for here was a regular Salsa Mexicana simply moistened with the beer.

I used a couple of plum tomatoes, skinned and seeded and finely chopped; less than half of an onion, again finely chopped; a couple of jalapenos; a clove of garlic and a scant handful of finely chopped corriander. I added salt, some oregano and a touch of crushed, toasted cumin. to that I added a fair quantity of Pacifico beer.

The salsa does well after some time for the flavours to meld.

I like it a lot. The beer gives the salsa a undertone of maltyness. It is very nice eaten cold on a tostada (which apparently is very unmexican - if the NYT is to be believed) but it also goes well with tacos. The time taken to seed the tomatoes and in chop everything as small and uniform as possible was well spent - as well as being more manageable the taste was subtler and the tiny pieces of tomato looked like little jewels.

I have fallen into a habit of preparing only a Salsa Cocida and a Salsa Verde and these are the two I generally have on hand in the fridge - I think that needs to change!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Aguas Frescas

Mexicans, from what I have seen so far, drink an extradinary quantity of Coke, however it is also common in restaurants to be offered an Agua Fresca, the three regular choices been Agua de Jamaica, Agua de Tamarindo and Horchata.

Agua de Jamacia
Agua de Jamica is and infusioin of the Jamacia (Hibiscus) Flowers. It is simple to make. The only warning I will give is to wear and apron, the stuff will stain! The drink itself is a dark blood red colour and the taste has a sharpness very reminiscent of cranberry but is more floral and herby.

For enough to fill a 1.5 L jug I used about two handfuls of the flowers (I'm not sure how accurate botanically, the descriptions hibiscus or flower are in this case, however that is how Flor De Jamaica is translated on the packaging). The water is brought to a boil, the flowers are added along with a half cup of sugar, everything is boiled for a few minutes and then set aside to steep.

After a couple of hours the liquid is strained into the jug, pressing the liquid from the flowers, more sugar can be added of the drink is too sharp or it can alos be diluted with more water.

Horchata (Almond & Rice Cooler) takes a little longer to make. It is however well worth the effort and is quite unusual in that it manages to be both very comforting and very refreshing.

It is a milky white colour and tastes of cinnamon and rice water.

The recipe I used comes from Rick Bayless, which he says has been modified to work with a blender rather then grinding the ingredients on a meteate.

Firstly 6 tbls of rice are pulverised in the blender, the pulverised rice is added to 1 1/4 cup of blanched almonds, an inch long piece of cinnamon and lime zest. All of this is added to 2 1/4 cups of hot water and allowed to stand overnight.

This slurry is returned to the blender and blended  for 3 to 4 minutes. It is then passed through a fine sieve (He reccomends a couple of layers of cheesecloth. A regular household sieve is not nearly fine enough but I used the finer type of sieve that would normally be used for icing sugar, which was acceptable enough, though a chinios or the cheesecloth would be better and leave a less chalky drink.), a couple of more cups of water are added and enough sugar to sweeten and the Horchata can then be cooled.

Although the ingredients require steeping overnight, the preperation time is still minimal and personally I never find things that require overnight preparation, like dried beans for example, a problem. They just require a small little bit extra foresight but there is never as much actual additional work as you, at first, think when a recipe mentions some advance preparation. And in this case the little extra effort is well rewarded.

The drink has the warmth and comfort of the cinnamon and the milkyness, yet it is not at all cloyingin and is in no way like a dairy drink. It is well worth the effort and unlike the Aguas de Jamaica and Tamarindo the ingredients for Horchata are available anywhere.

I might at some future point try the Agua de Tamarindo, I must admit however I am not a huge lover of tamarind so it probably won't be soon.

Saturday, 6 March 2010


Cuitlacoche is a fungus which infests ears of corn. The infected kernels swell and have a white rubbery texture, not unlike slightly wilted white cabbage, and they are run through with black spores.

It is regarded as a delicacy, so I was expecting something quite exciting. I was anticipating something strange and initially difficult to appreciate, in reality I found the Cuitlacoche quite ordinary. It didn't appear to me to have an anyway unusual or dificult taste or texture.

The most basic preperation is duitlacoche sauteed with onion and garlic which can then be added to a quesadilla. I tried a number of theses and they were perfectly plesant.

I am still perplexed by Diana Kennedy's talk of "inky black extravagance of flavour", this is certainly not what I found. I guess I'll have to try again, perhaps this time preparing the duitlacoche in the bechamel that she reccomends and perhaps I need to keep and eye out for it on full ears of corn rather than the packaged version I tried.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Salsa de Chile Passila - revisited

After the first unsatisfactory attempt at the Salsa de Chile Passila I've been anxious to try again. The recipe from Diana kennedy I tried the first time was somewhat involved; the passila were first fried in oil untill crisp, then the tomatilloes were fried in the oil, finally the onion was fried in this same oil and all the ingredients were blended with a clove of garlic. after that the resulting salsa was returned to the pan to thicken and cook out.

Many of the other recipes I have seen are much simpler with the passila simply being lightly toasted on a dry skillet before being blended with the tomatillo, onion and garlic.

I had some tomatilloes in the fridge from the weekend - the oven in the apartment is enormous and I like to be sure I am making full use of it on the rare occasions I turn it on - so it seemed an ideal opportuninty to have another go at the passila salsa.

I liked the idea of cooking out the sauce after blending it, particulary on a sauce like this with deep complicated flavours, however I wanted to skip the step of frying the passila in oil, which I think is fraught with danger and inclined to make the chiles bitter if not done very carfully. Neither did I want to spent time frying onions to be added to the sauce and then taking more time to cook the sauce out. So I compromised between the Diana Kennedy approach and the more basic versions.

I toasted three chiles passila in a dry frying pan. They puff up up slightly. (You need to turn them regulary and watch the heat under the pan in case they burn - if they do ditch them and start again). When the chiles were warmed through and fragrant I took them from the pan, removed the stem and seeds and cut the flesh into small pieces.

I blended the flesh of the chiles with three of the already cooked tomatilloes, a clove of garlic, a quarter of a bigish onion and less than a half a cup of water.

The resulting salasa was returned to the pan and cooked for 5 to 10 minutes until it had thickened slightly and the raw taste of the onion and garlic had cooked out. I fixed the seasoning and placed the salsa in a ziplock bag and stored in the fridge.

This time I was much hapier with the result and it was very close to what I had hoped it to be. It has a rich deep complicated taste, very different from the bright clean tastes you normally associate with Mexican cooking. It goes excellently with grilled meat.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Beans in Broth and Refried

Frijoles De Olla (Pot beans)

Lots of cooking dogmas and various disagreements apply whever you are dealing with dried beans - for example whether it is necessary to soak the bean, whether you should quick soak them by bringing to a boil first, whether they should be soaked overnight and whether the soaking liquid should be discarded, whether salt should be added and when you should add it.

I cook beans quite a bit and have come up with a system that works pretty well for me and I given up worrying and obsessing about the contradictory advice I read every time a pick up a cookbook with a bean recipe.

Personally I like to soak the beans overnight. While boiling first shortens the soaking time somewhat, I am at this stage, resigned to the fact that cooking dried beans is a process that will never be instant. Neither do I like to boil without soaking. The beans take much longer to cook this way, and that seems to me an awful waste of energy that can easily be remedied by 5 minues of preperation the night before.

The Frijoles de Olla is a basic recipe of beans (I use black beans, pinto beans or a combination of both) in a light broth. it is a nice dish in its own right but it also forms the basis for refried beans.

Lard and Espazote

There are a couple of slightly unusual additions to the Frijoles de Olla. The first Lard, is a fairly familiar, if not often used ingredient in European cooking, however it finds it's way into Mexican cooking quite a bit - particulary in the cooking of Tamales. A tablespoon of lard is added the beans as they are simmered - it gives a velvety feel to the resulting broth, it also gives the meaty tast that is achieved in European cooking by the addition of bacon or pancetta.

The second addition is Espazote. This was unfamiliar to me before I cam here. I has an odd medicinal taste, it is, to me, reminiscnt of the emanel paints I used as a kid to paint Airfix models.

Beyond that the recipe is pretty simple, add the soaked beans and the soaking water to a large pot, add water untill the beans are covered by a coupld of inches (this is more than would be added in a European dish, however what you are looking for is to be left with a light bean broth rather than cooking off all the liquid). Add about halfo of a chopped onion, a tablespoon of lard and I use a few sprigs of the dried espazote. I also add a crushed clove of garlic even though it does not seem to be a standard addition in any of the mexican recipes I have seen. Don't add any salt at this stage.

Bring the beans to a boil, reduce the seat and simmer until they are tender. The length of time depends on a number of factors - the age of the beans, how long they were soaked, even the altitude is you want to get picky - however you should allow for a couple of hours simmering.

Salt causes the skins to tighten so when it is added in the process is important, that is also whay it is not added untill well into the cooking process. If the beans are being used in a salad then it is best to salt the pot before the beans are completely tender to allow the beans hold their shape in the salad. In the case of frijoles de olla, where I am likely to be proceeding to make refried beans, I never add salt until the beans are completely tender.

Thes beans make a nice lunch. I have seen people a work here eat something very similar to this with tortillas. I doubt my tortilla skills are up to eating something so liquid with a tortilla, but it does make a nice soup.

Refried Beans

The beans can also be mased and fried. Again lard is used, however I have also used butter or olive oil. Butter gives pretty similar results to the lard, the olive oil version will taste slightly different.

Cooking refried beans makes me appreciate the Mexican fascination for non stick cookware, which I am generally not a fan of, however the idea of cleaning non stick cookware after a batch of refried beans has caught in it is not something I thnk I would enjoy.

The procedure is to heat the lard, add half the quantity of beans and the same quantity of broth (say a 1/2 cup of each). As the beans heat up begin mashing them into the broth to create a loose paste. At this point add the remainider of the beans and the same amount of the broth and mash these into the mixture. There is a specfic mexican implement to do this however a potato masher or the back of a  flat ladle would do fine too.

Once everything has been mashed together continue cooking and scraping for the bottom of the pan to prevent catching. As the mixture cooks and the water evaporates it will gradually form a coherent mass. at this point you it's ready.

The only addition I like to make is to occasionally add some smoked paprika which adds some of the smokyness you expect in refied beans.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A Pancake Tuesday Treat..

Flour and Masa Pancakes with Cajeta

I couldn't let the day pass yesterday without some sort of a pancake. Very nice they were too!

1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup of Massa de Harina
1 Egg

I made a thickish batter, let it rest for a half an hour or so and then made some pancakes and served with cajeta which is a Dulce De Leche but with an slight additional tang from the goat's milk.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

I'm not dead honestly...

I've been at home for Christmas and all of January and am just beginning to get myself back into some sort of a routine. Expect a flurry of posts over the next few days.

There are a couple of restaurants I would like to mention, not to review, but more so that I can record for myself what I found interesting about each and what might be worth trying at home.

I have been expirimenting with some things that are not necessarily Mexican, specifically pizza dough recently, and I am toying with the idea of occasionally posting any lessons learned.

Finally, I have a rough road map in mid for the next few posts, basically the staple items of Mexican cusine which I would like to cover, leaving myself free then to pick and chose from what interests me beyond that, knowing that there is a decent foundation in place. The items I have in mind are beans and rice, flour tortillas, tamales (there is a packet of corn husks in the cupboard which I bought a couple of months ago now, in antipitation of doing tamales, which eye me reproachfully every time I open the door), some more on salsas and then a few soups.