Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Avocados, Chiles, Tomatoes

This is my first post under my blog's new name. The story behind that is: the über-cool and talented @Book_Love_Sarah heard me carping on about how potatoes were discovered in Mexico and called me a MexiGeek. I said "I should change my Twitter handle to that." In the ensuing discussion it was decided to change everything to MexiGeek.

Y provecho: Edinburgh's first and only Mexican Food blog (prove me wrong, people, but only if your blog is exclusively or primarily focused on Mexican Food; I don't wanna see a lot of general food blogs with one measly recipe for baked enchiladas -which they don't really eat in Mexico - vying for the title).

Now, following on from my very popular post on chocolate (thanks to everyone who stopped by and tread it, and especially to Jess for posting a comment), I'm still taking Thomasina Miers' new book for a spin. One thing Thomasina and I seem to have in common is a love of breakfast. Especially Mexican breakfast. So I wanted to try her new recipe for corn pancakes and avocado cream, crispy bacon and roasted tomatoes. And I figured while I was at it I may as well make her avocado soup as well.

If chiles are my favourite Mexican indigenous ingredient (and they are), avocados are probably my second favourite. In fact, the only thing I miss about California are the fresh local avocados (and my family, of course).

Wanna get your mind blown? Avocado is NOT Spanish for "avocado". It means "lawyer". Is your mind blown? Please respond I'm the comments section.

The Spanish word for avocado is aguacate, which comes from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, which means "testicle". (Now your mind is blown, right?) Apparently this refers to a purported stimulating effect of eating avocados, though I've always felt the more likely explanation is that the stones look kind of like testicles.

By the way, in case you don't know, Spanish slang for "testicles" is huevos, which literally means "eggs". Another vulgar word for them is cojones.

The avocado soup was, of course, from Wahaca Cooking At Home. To paraphrase the recipe, take two avocados, two jalapeños (or one if you want less heat), some chicken stock, and some coriander/cilantro. Blend it all together, then season with salt and pepper and fresh lime juice and serve chilled. Garnish with chopped chives and sour cream.

This could not be simpler or more delicious, and was perfect for the warm summer evening when we ate it. Avocados, chiles, and lime juice are the trio that forms the backbone of guacamole (literally "avocado sauce"), so the flavour is like an old friend, but the cooling, silky texture makes this soup something very special.

The chives are from our back garden. We can't get rid of them.

However, as a main meal, I felt it needed something on the side. So I came up with a warm ensalada de rajas or "rajas salad".

And what are rajas? They are strips of asar-roasted chile, almost always chile poblano (the big fat green chiles, relatively mild, they use for making chiles rellenos).

Of course, fresh chiles poblanos aren't that easy to come by in Britain (the dried version, chiles anchos, are much more common). So I used a handy cheat based on an idea from Rick Bayless. Because he's me mate, of course.

In the absence of fresh chiles poblanos, you can use some assorted sweet peppers and one or two common green chilies to replace the heat.

This makes a delicious and colourful assortment of rajas, though, strictly speaking, chiles poblanos are always green have no sweetness. You can make it more authentic by using green bell peppers, but I like sweet red and yellow peppers, so I just went for it.

The colours! Dude!

Now, this time I remembered to take a few photos of what I call "asar-roasting".

For my new readers, asar in European Spanish means "to roast", but in Mexico it means "char on a hot, flat, dry pan or other metal surface (a comal)".

This was one of the indigenous Mexican cooking techniques and remains essential to getting that distinctive Mexican flavour into your food. In fact, Thomasina Miers' latest book has a chapter on asar-roasting called "Burn Your Food" - because that's what it looks like to the uninitiated.

Observe a sweet pepper asar-roasting:

The black spots mean you're doing it right
The idea is to get each side to come up in those black spots. Here's a picture of an assortment of peppers, chiles, and tomatoes after they have been asar-roasted:

This is so hot!

Once they have cooled for a bit, the skins slip off easily (in theory). For rajas, you asar-roast the chiles, skin them, de-seed and de-vein them, and cut them into long thin strips.

Rajas are often mixed with something else and used as a taco filling or other main dish. I'm not aware of them being served as a "warm salad" in Mexico. This was my own innovation.

To get the warm rajas salad to work, I needed a dressing. I had asar-roasted some tomatoes, so I decided to blitz them and use them as the basis of an impromptu Mexican-inspired vinaigrette. I call it a vinaigrette anyway, though it doesn't have any olive oil.

Although the soup and the rajas were both delicious, the dressing is the bit I'm most proud of because I made it up as I went along and it turned out brilliant.

Vinagreta de jitomate

3 medium-sized tomatoes
2 spring onions
1-2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Mexican oregano

Asar-roast the tomatoes and allow them to cool. As they will be blitzed, it is not necessary to skin them. Leaving the blackened skins on will give the dressing a deeper flavour.
Finely slice the spring onions.

Blitz the tomatoes in a blender. If you want a smooth textured dressing, blitz the spring onions as well. I left them sliced so the dressing could double as a rough salsa.
Add the Mexican oregano and mix well. Then stir in the vinegar a bit at a time until the flavour is just where you want it.

I used spring onions because I had them lying around, but you could substitute (or add) shallots, a bit of white or red onion, or even a couple cloves of garlic.

You could also add some chile. I didn't, because this was a dressing for chiles, and you don't want to pour chocolate syrup over chocolate ice cream, if you know what I mean.

This dressing couldn't be any simpler, but the roasted tomatoes and Mexican oregano give it that unmistakeable yo no que that just screams ¡Mehico! If you try this once, I think you'll find it hard to put up with store-bought salsa ever again.

Vinagreta de jitomate. Because "jitomate" is Spanish for "tomato"

We ate this on that one day when it was sunny in Britain