Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Dinner (la cena navideña): in defense of turkey

I hadn't planned on doing another new post until 2013, but I was inspired to write this after watching River Cottage Christmas Fayre, starring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

(I see he used ye olde Englishe spelling, despite knowing nothing about Old English. And fayre would be Middle English anyway.)

My beef is with how Hugh and his army of effeminate Aga-loving country fudruckers decry the Christmas turkey as "an American intruder".

Yes, turkey is "American", but not in the sense of "United States" (by which Hugh means "How dare another country have people in it who are wealthier than I am? A pox on them!").

Turkey is "North American" food, and it's an important part of Mexican cuisine.

Chicken is the most commonly eaten bird in modern Mexico, but it was introduced by the Spanish.

When the Spanish first arrived, they found turkey was the long-established culinary bird of choice.

Today it features in Mexico's national dish, guajalote en mole (turkey in mole sauce), which will be eaten in Christmas dinners throughout the republic.

In fact, as the Spanish conquest of Mexico comes about 100 years before the landing at Plymouth Rock, we might say turkey is first and foremost Mexican food.

Of course, our Christmas-style roasting has nothing to do with Mexico. In fact, the Castilian Spanish word for "roast" (asar) means something very different in the Mexican kitchen.

But the fact remains that when you eat turkey, you are partaking of Mexico's long and infinitely varied culinary history.

That's why turkey will always have a place on my Christmas table.

¡Feliz navidad!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and Christmas break

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint.

Mexico actually has one of the most appropriate patron saints of any nation.

The story goes that, not long after Spain took control of what is now Mexico, a priest was walking from his village to Mexico City.

A young girl appeared on a hill and asked him in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) to build a church on that spot.

According to the Catholic Church, this young Nauhatl-speaking girl was an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and is now known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.

There is still a church on that site, by the way, but it's quite old now, so they built a new one on the other side of the square.

Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to announce MexiGeek's Christmas plans.

I'll be winding down on posts until after New Year, but I plan to complete some of the redesigns I've been meaning to do for a while, including my reviews of US cookbooks and a list of Mexican food resources.

Because they were so poplar last year I will be reposting links to my series on mole poblano over the Christmas holiday, just so you don't forget about me.

For this year's Christmas cooking project, however, I will be making sweet tamales and champurrado.

Sweet tamales, of course, are just tamales that are sweet. But the champurrado will be a completely new experience for me.

Champurrado is a kind of atole, and atole is a Mexican hot drink thickened with masa (corn tortilla dough). Champurrado is a chocolate-flavoured atole.

Atoles of all varieties are the traditional accompaniment to tamales, and tamales are celebration food, very popular at Christmas.

I plan on having this for breakfast one morning between Christmas and New Year, so I won't post it until 2013, but if you're looking for a Mexican Christmas recipe (and you have a lot of time on your hands), have a go at turkey in mole sauce.

¡Feliz navidad y próspero año nuevo!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Breakfast with MexiGeek: huevos con elote y calabacita en chiltomate

...which means eggs, corn, and courgette (zucchini) in chiltomate sauce.

Chiltomate sauce is literally "chile and tomato" sauce, but because it's from the Yucatán I added "bitter orange" or naranja agria.

Bitter orange is a Seville orange. It grows year-round in the Yucatán but in Europe it's only available in January. You can make  "mock" bitter orange by combining orange juice, grapefruit juice, and maybe a dash of lime juice as well.

You add the bitter orange to a standard roast tomato salsa and you're instantly transported to the Yucatán. To step it up a notch, use habaneros in the salsa.

For the corn and courgette, I cut the kernels off a fresh corn cob and fried them with onion and garlic until they started to caramelize, then added shredded courgette and fried about ninety seconds longer.

Then I added a quick green sauce of coriander (cilantro) and green chile (jalapeños).

To this I added some scrambled eggs. Then I wrapped it all in a fried corn tortilla and covered with the chiltomate sauce.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Haggis and Luchito tacos: a Scottish Oaxacan fusion

The smokiness of Gran Luchito is such a perfect match for the rich, spicy haggis you'd think they were made for each other.

Having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if some of my non-Scottish readers are a bit dubious about this recipe.

I was inspired to make haggis tacos by of Saint Andrew's Day (30 November). Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and he's also my patron saint, proof that I was meant to live here.
So last Friday I decided to cook a Mexican/Scottish fusion dish, sort of like my blog logo in food form.

Of course, I.'m not the first person to put haggis in a taco. Illegal Jack's on Lothian Road does it; probably some other places as well.

But I may well be the first to add smoked chile to the famous "chieftain o' the puddin' race". However, before we get to the recipe, let's talk about haggis.

Haggis is one of those things that many people have heard of, but what they've heard isn't always right. So what are the common questions about haggis?

Is haggis cooked in a sheep's stomach?

No. It used to be. Now it is cooked in a large collagen casing.
Sausages, which everyone loves, used to be stuffed into pig intestines, but are now also encased in collagen. In the olden days people didn't have many artificial materials, and they had to use every part of the animal. Now they don't.

Is haggis made from, like, guts and lungs and shit?

By "guts and lungs and shit" I mean "offal", which rhymes with "awful".

Offal is the collective name for the edible internal organs of an animal, such as hearts, liver, etc.

Although everyone used to eat this stuff (and a lot of posh restaurants still serve it), many modern diners find the idea of it "awful" indeed.

Yes, haggis is made with offal. So are sausages (especially cheap ones). And let's not even talk about what goes into hot dogs.

But the truth about haggis is it doesn't contain all that much meat of any description. For all that everyone knows about the sheep's stomach thing, people forget the other famous ingredient in haggis: oatmeal.

Haggis was poverty-food, so the scant bits of offal were bulked out with dried oats. Then the whole thing was mixed with spices to make it taste better. This is still done today.

Does haggis actually taste good?

Yes, haggis is delicious. Unusually for a traditional British dish, it is full of flavour, and even quite spicy (these days it is seasoned with a lot of black pepper).

It also goes beautifully with a dram of single malt Scotch whisky. And as my favourite Scotch is the smoky Ardbeg (an Islay malt), it occurred to me that haggis and smoked chile would make an excellent taco filling.

Now, the recipe...


500 g haggis, cooked according to the instructions
1-2 tbsp Gran Luchito Oaxacan smoked chile paste
6-8 warm corn tortillas
Radishes, finely chopped or shredded
Salsa of your choice
Oil or fat for frying


 Heat about 2 tbsp of oil in a saucepan. Then add the Gran Luchito.

You have to estimate your taste on this. Luchito is pretty spicy. You don't want to exceed your limit, but you do want the smoky flavour to come through. I used 2 tablespoons, but I'm a chile fiend.

When the Luchito has started to loosen a bit, add about a third of the cooked haggis and gently mix it in as if you were folding it into a larger mixture.

When it's well incorporated, fold in the next third of the haggis and repeat until it's all fully mixed.

The haggis will now have a reddish-brown colour running through it.

To serve, place about 2 dessert spoons of the haggis into a warm tortilla, top with finely chopped or shredded radishes and a salsa of your choice.

The peppery radishes are a good complement to the haggis and also provide a bit of bite (haggis is very soft).

For the salsa, I think a salsa picante made from chiles de árbol works well and adds a nice splash of colour, but it's very hot!

A milder roast tomato salsa could also work.

Alternatively you could double up on the smokiness by using a smoked chile salsa.

Or, if you want to turn the heat down, try some Mexican crema or commercial sour cream.

When I first conceived this dish, I planned to use chipotles en adobo, but I'm glad I opted for the Luchito instead.

Adobo sauce is so bit on the sweet side, which I think may have clashed with the haggis. Luchito has a more subtle sweetness which blended well, and the depth of flavour was more than able to stand up to the haggis's rich seasoning.

If I haven't convinced you on Scotland's National Dish, you're unlikely to try this, but I definitely see this becoming a MexiGeek household tradition.

Fair fa' yer honest, sonsie face!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Tequila tasting at Lupe Pintos

Tequila is one of those things everyone knows about Mexico. Or do they?

Last Saturday I took my MexiGeek crew (@Book_Love_Sarah and @EdinburghIsla) over to Lupe Pintos, the spiritual home of Mexican cooking in Edinburgh, for their annual tequila tasting.

I have a confession to make: although most of the time I'm enamoured of all things Mexican, my Achilles' Heel is tequila. I'm a whisky drinker, as in single malt Scotch whisky, which I drink neat (or, if it's cask strength, with just enough water to cut the noseburn).

It's really whisky's fault that I don't like other distilled spirits. Whisky sets the bar to an unreachable height. Really, how are you supposed to compete with something that's been aging in a barrel for 12 years or more?

Add to that, my only previous experience of tequila is some rough José Cuervo drunk from a shot-glass perched on the belly button of an inebriated sorority girl with no self-esteem (this is called a "body shot").

But the good news is Lupe Pintos' tequila tasting is just the thing for someone who isn't sure they like tequila.

First of all, Doug Bell, owner of Lupe Pintos, is the original MexiGeek, and really knows his stuff. He's passionate about all things Mexican, and his knowledge and enthusiasm really come through as he takes you from the more basic Casa Casco Viejo to the elite (though American-owned) Patron.

You learn the history of tequila (which is to mezcal what champagne is to sparkling white wine), how it's made, how it's actually drunk in Mexico, and the recipe for the perfect margarita. The tasting comes with some delicious homemade botanas (Mexican tapas, essentially), including the traditional diced fresh fruit and tajín (ground chile and lime salt).

But the two most important things I learned were:

  • Tequila can be delicious
  • Mexico takes the same pride and care in producing its national drink that Scotland takes in whisky
So did it convert me?

Well, I did buy a bottle of tequila: Don Agustin anejo (meaning it has been aged in a barrel for at least a year).

This was less intense than the Patron, and probably empirically not as good as the family-owned Herradura (Doug's favourite), but it was the one I liked best.

Leave it to me to go for the tequila that tastes like whisky!

The Edinburgh tastings are over for the year, but the Glasgow ones are up next. If you would like to know the truth about this world-famous but often poorly understood drink contact the store to book your place.

I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Other exciting news is that the shop is now stocking tajín and pilocillo (Mexican unrefined sugar). This place just keeps getting better.

Two MexiGeeks and two perfect Margaritas