Thursday, 12 December 2013

Xmas Vacation and MexiGoals Review

Once again it's 12 December: the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico's Patron Saint).

Which means it's time for MexiGeek to go on Christmas Vacation.

2013 was quite a year for MexiGeek. Early on I set myself a some goals to try to accomplish by the end of this year. It feels like I did that yesterday, and here I am signing off until 2014!

Anyway I wanted to:
  • Make another mole.
Done.



This is kind of cheating, because mole verde is the easiest of the seven moles. But it still counts.

Also I haven't actually cooked with it yet. The whole batch is sitting in my freezer, waiting to be unleashed on pato en pipian and pozole verde. Having two kids has actually put the kibosh on most of my cooking for the foreseeable future. Sad but true.
  • Put up an ofrenda for Day of the Dead.
Nope. I still didn't get around to this. This Autumn has been nothing but hectic. I was lucky I got to cook something for Day of the Dead.

Maybe next year.
  • Cook for someone else.
Nope. Not unless you count my kids. Our home schedule has still not reached a level of stability where we can "entertain", so this too will have to wait until 2014 at the earliest.
  • Do restaurant reviews.
Does this count?

I have also visited another, more permanent restaurant in Edinburgh, but I haven't written up the review yet. It was part of the Summer of MexiGeek (where I did loads of cooking and eating and yet have not posted about at all).
Well, I have t-shirts (and other branded products) for sale. Whether anyone buys them is kind of out of my hands.

When I added this goal in January, I still hadn't created the products. They've been live for most of this year, so I'm going to call this a win.
  • Shoot a video
Done.


It's a pretty simple recipe (atole blanco), but it was fun to shoot and edit and it actually turned out quite well.
 
It was a slow-burner in terms of success, but it has now topped 900 views, 3 likes, and the feedback I have got from it is mostly positive.

I'd like to shoot more videos of course but I'm not rushing into it.

So that's 3.5 out of 6 goals accomplished.

That ain't great.h

On the other hand, here are some things I did that I hadn't planned on doing.

My blog reached 10,000 pageviews, compared with around 4,000 this time last year.

Also, while my cooking regime has shrunk, my networking has exploded. I have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and through them I have learned about a host of new and old suppliers of Mexican food and ingredients, and they have learned about me.

In addition to some old friends like Lupe Pinto's, The Cool Chile Company, and Gran Luchito, this year I've enjoyed connecting with:

All Things Mexico: a meetup group in London for people who love Mexico. 

Though I've never been able to attend this group, being way up here in Edinburgh, the group's founder, Laura, has shared some of my posts with the group, and from her I got an amazing recipe for pollo en salsa de cacahuates.

Gringa Dairy: the UK's first producer of Mexican style cheese.

Seriously, I cannot overstate how much I love this cheese. I was also honoured to work with the dairy's founder, Kristen, on some classic recipes that use her cheeses.

Queso fundido

Habanero Cafe: a Mexican restaurant in Birmingham that makes their own delicious habanero salsa in house.

KANKUN: the difference between KANKUN's chipotle salsa and pretty much everyone else's is that KANKUN's is what a real Mexican chipotle salsa tastes like.


I've been after a bottle of KANKUN since I first heard of them and I finally got hold of it this year. At first taste I knew it was something special.

Later I was honoured to submit two recipes using their salsas for their blog, and to meet the salsa's creator, Rolando Cardenas, at Lupe Pinto's annual Chilli Cook-Off.

I'm still putting their new habanero sauce on just about everything I eat. 


La Costeña UK: I've been a fan of La Costeña for years. An actual Mexican company, they're pretty much the leading supplier of Mexican ingredients and products in North America.

That they have been expanding their market in the UK is a welcome and exciting development.

They recently sent me some cuitlacoche (and other things), which I haven't cooked yet, but I'm hoping to get some time over the holidays. I already have a recipe in mind.

Mexgrocer.co.uk: a well-established supplier of quality Mexican products. I got some blue Maseca from them and made some homemade blue tortillas!

They also supply the piloncillo I use for sweet tamales and atole, though I technically bought this at Lupe Pinto's. 

Mexico Retold: an amazing blog written by an expat living in Oaxaca (I need her life!).

Her love of Mexico comes through in everything she writes. Plus there are amazing photos so you can see just how beautiful it all really is. This is a must-read!

Tamal.co.uk: which sells authentic tamales made here in the UK via the internet!


I love tamales, but I know a lot of people are unfamiliar with them.

Well, visit Tamal.co.uk for delicious, authentic tamales, which are after all one of the greatest of all traditional Mexican dishes.

I also got to try some excellent new products, including blue tortillas and "mini" 10 cm tortillas from Cool Chile Company and new salsa from Gran Luchito.




And last but not least I became a dad again: 


This is what he looks like now: 

With his big sister

So that about wraps it up for this amazing year. 2014 is going to have to work pretty hard to top this.

I won't be posting again until January, but I plan to make more sweet tamales, possibly some turkey pozole, tacos de cuitlacoche in a pasilla chile sauce with toasted walnuts and tarragon, and maybe have another go at sopaipillas, because they actually were pretty amazing.

In the meantime I will be launching my Christmas blogs, The Twelve Days of Crap-mas and the Twelve Days of Rock-mas, which count down the 12 worst and best Christmas songs, in my opinion at least. This all kicks off today.

Nothing Mexican in these blogs, but stop by if you want a good laugh.

¡Feliz navidad y próspero año nuevo a todos!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Leftover turkey, Mexican style: enchiladas (with La Costeña Doña Chonita mole)



So a couple weeks ago it was Thanksgiving, and since I'm American I basically force my Scottish family to eat a big-ass traditional turkey dinner with me, even though we're going to have another one in less than a month.

(To be fair, I've never heard anyone in Scotland complain about getting two turkey dinners a year.)

But what do you do with your leftovers when you're also MexiGeek?

Well, for me, leftover turkey means only one thing: enmoladas!

Most Americans have heard of enchiladas. Even a fair few Brits have heard the word, though I have yet to see a proper enchilada served in the UK.

Well, "enchilada" means "(tortilla) smothered in chile sauce". But in Mexico you can smother a filled tortilla in anything.

If you smother it in bean sauce it's an enfrijolada. If you smother it in tomato sauce it's an entomatada. And if you smother it in mole it's an enmolada.

Of course, the purpose of a leftover dish is too be quick and easy. It should be pieced together with stuff you already have lying around.

In Mexico, you would always have tortillas to use up (enchiladas and their variations are usually made with stale tortillas briefly fried to "revive" them), and if it's the day after a holiday, there's a good chance you have some mole in the fridge as well.

This ain't necessarily the case outside Mexico.

One of the things I never shit like shut up about is how I made my own mole poblano one year. And I definitely did use the leftovers to make enmoladas.

But this year I had a little help from my friends at La Costeña, who sent me loads of awesome products from their Doña Chonita range, including mole poblano.

La Costeña is a well-known brand of Mexican food and ingredients. Unlike some brands, they are actually a Mexican company, and their core costumer base comprises Mexicans cooking in Mexico.

However, they have been expanding their international market, which is a great windfall for all of us, because of the high quality and authenticity of their products.

Two things from La Costeña I find indispensable throughout the year are their tinned tomatillos (essential when fresh ones are out of season) and their chipotles en adobo (my favourite brand; I cook with these a lot).

Their Doña Chonita range are ready-to-serve salsas, moles, etc, that you can just pour into a saucepan, heat up, and use.

So this mole, a leftover pack of tortillas and some shredded Thanksgiving turkey made for about the quickest enmoladas ever.

Seriously, this was the first time I ever plated up a Mexican dish less than 30 minutes after starting the prep.

I put the oven on to 160° C fan, then opened the mole and began heating it over medium.

You want it warm, but don't burn this beautiful sauce. Keep an eye on it and stir frequently.


Then I shredded the turkey by hand and fried it in about 10 g of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil.

When the turkey read warm through I added just enough mole to the pan to coat the turkey completely.


Then I filled some tortillas with the turkey, rolled them up, put them in an oven-safe dish and covered with the rest of the mole.

Ten minutes in the oven and they were done. I topped them with crumbled queso fresco from Gringa Dairy before serving.


This is gringo-style cooking, but delicious none the less. (In Mexico you would fry corn tortillas, then dip them in mole before folding them around the turkey.)

The mole, which after all was the star of the dish, was excellent. It had a real depth of flavour that you could only really top by spending four days making your own from scratch.

A lot of non-Mexicans are unsure about mole because it famously contains chocolate (as well as 23 or more other ingredients).

Of course, mole looks like chocolate sauce because of its rich brown colour, but this mole doesn't taste overpoweringly of chocolate because it has such a good balance of its many ingredients. 

It also has a noticeable chile zing, which is important because the real stars of mole are the Holy Trinity of Chiles: anchos, mulatos, and pasillas.

I'm always an advocate of making your own mole, if you have four days and 23 ingredients handy, but most of us don't, besides which it's a good idea to try products like these so you can get an idea of what mole is supposed to taste like.

Anyway, although I made this after Thanksgiving, Christmas is coming up, and I reckon we're all getting pretty tired of turkey curry. Trust me, there's no substitute for turkey enmoladas

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Experimental Mexican Hot Toddy (version 1)


In Scotland we do this thing when the weather gets cold and you discover that you have a sore throat.

We mix whisky, honey, hot water, a dash of lemon juice, and some warming spices and sip it slowly until we completely forget that we were miserable in the first place.

This is called a "hot toddy", and I believe it has caught on in other countries.

A while ago it occurred to me you could probably make a Mexican version by substituting the "Scottish" ingredients for corresponding Mexican ones.

But wait: doesn't Mexico have its own certain already?

Mexico certainly does have its fair share of hot drinks, both with and without alcohol. However, Mexico has a very different climate from Scotland. Even in the dead of winter you're not going to be as desperate to curl up under a blanket with what is essentially a sweetened hot whisky and hide from the freezing rain and the darkness that sets in at 4pm.

So this is purely an experiment; I will doubtless have to refine it and perfect it some more before I call it a success. But here's what I've got so far.

The starting point is a one-to-one substitution of the original ingredients with Mexican ones. I also added some chile, because why not?

Ingredientes


Don Agustín añejo almost tastes like whisky anyway
1 tsp agave nectar (instead of honey)
1 shot of tequila, preferably añejo (instead of whisky)
3 allspice berries (taking a cue from the Yucatán) 
Lime juice (instead of lemon juice)
A dash of tajín or a couple piquín chiles
Hot water
Procedimiento

Basically, put everything in a mug and give it a stir.

If you're using tajín, sprinkle it on top just before drinking; if you're using the dried chiles, they'll need to be in the mug at the start so they can steep and release their flavour (and heat).

Result

Delicioso!
My initial worry was the lime juice: would it clash with the agave and the allspice?

It didn't. In fact, it was such a good addition I used more than I originally intended (about half a lime for one serving).

My second concern was the chile. I was going to make it optional. Turns out it's not optional. It really makes this drink.

You might think it's strange putting chile in a drink that's meant to soothe a sore throat, but as always, you add the chile to taste. If you don't overdo it, you'll get a pleasant tingle in your mouth that won't actually reach your throat.

Also, if you have a sore throat, chances are you have other symptoms of a cold as well. Chiles are full of vitamins and antioxidants to help you get well, and are the best decongestant ever.

What ended up not bringing much to the party was the allspice. I had high hopes for this, but it was undetectable on the palate. This drink was all lime, tequila, and chile.

In that respect, it was somewhat like a warm margarita, which led me to question whether it needs the agave nectar either. But I have decided to keep it in for now because it adds texture as well as flavour, giving the drink a somewhat more silky mouthfeel.

Next steps: try steeping the allspice berries to boost their flavour before I cut them out completely. And maybe up the chile heat as well.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Tamale Pie (no, really)



I still remember when I first got Two Cooks and a Suitcase, the Lupe Pintos cookbook that effectively launched my journey into authentic Mexican food.

Near the beginning Doug Bell and Rhoda Robertson wrote "if you make only one recipe from this book, make tamales or tamale pie". I made both on the same night.

Now, "tamale pie" isn't something I remember eating as a kid. In California we mostly have norteña style tamales with a savoury filling, wrapped in a corn husk and steamed.

But the amazing thing about tamales is that they have about a million variations throughout Mexico.

One of those variations is a kind of tamale pie called Muk-Bil Pollo, typical of the Yucatán.

(The Yucatán is one of the regions where Doug Bell and Rhoda Robertson lived in Mexico; Two Cooks and a Suitcase is teeming with Yucatecan recipes.)

So this year, for día de los muertos, I decided to make a tamale pie as a kind of simplified version of Muk-Bil Pollo.

With limited success.

The main issue with anything tamal-related is time, because you but only have to mix up some tamal dough, but also make a filling, and then the dish will need 45 minutes to an hour's cooking time.

For the pie version, you can dispense with the faff of rolling the tamales into corn husks, but this doesn't save as much time as I'd hoped.

The other issue I had in particular was the filling itself. I read a traditional recipe for Muk-Bil Pollo and found it was another of these achiote-marinated fillings, which I've been eating a lot of recently.

I simplified the dish by omitting the pork (Muk-Bil Pollo is traditionally a combination of chicken and pork) and the banana leaves (again, traditionally you would wrap the pie in a banana leaf before baking it).

Even so, I was cooking for several hours.

The finished dish was good. But it wasn't really great. It was certainly not the best thing I've ever put into a tamal.

However, the kids loved it (I made them a chile-free version); my four-year-old ate about twice as much of it as she usually does of things I cook.

I just kind of ended up wishing it was filled with pollo en salsa verde.

Definitely not pollo en salsa verde
If you want too make this, you'll need to make the filling first.

I poached some chicken breasts with a quartered white onion, 3 cloves of garlic, 10 black peppercorns, and a teaspoon of Mexican oregano.

Then I shredded the chicken and reserved the stock for the tamal dough.

I roasted some red, yellow and green bell peppers on a hot dry frying pan until they blackened a bit, then cut them into strips (rajas).

I made a sauce by reconstituting two chiles guajillos and blending them with one recipe of recado rojo, adding enough of the chiles' soaking water to make it a loose, pourable sauce.

Then I diced half a red onion and sweated it for a few minutes in a frying pan over medium high.

Then I added the rajas and fried them a few minutes more.

Then I added the shredded chicken and fried it until the chicken took on some texture.

Then I added the sauce and continued cooking until everything was heated through.

For the tamal dough, I sifted 300 g of masa harina with 1/3 tsp of baking powder.

Then I poured in 150 g of melted butter (you can also use pork lard) and mixed it gently until it was fully incorporated.
Then I gradually poured in 250 mL of chicken stock, mixing all the time, until I had a soft dough.

Then I greased a casserole dish, lined the bottom and sides with dough about 5 cm thick.

Then I added the filling and covered it with the remaining dough. This is hard, because if you pat the dough down too hard the filling will squidge out.

Cover the dish and bake at 180° C for 45 minutes.

I sold this to my kids as "Mexican cornbread", and it does have a "breadier" texture than steamed tamales, verging on being too dry. It's possible I overbaked it slightly, or perhaps if I'd used the banana leaves I could have preserved some of the moisture.

In any case, I have to admit I still prefer steamed tamales, especially considering that tamale pie isn't much less work.

If you're going to spend three straight hours in the kitchen you might as well have classic tamales.

I served the tamale pie with some salsa verde I got from La Costeña, which was very good and the perfect complement to the richness of the filling.

On the side I whipped up a "winter salad" of watercress, avocado, sliced radish, satsumas, and pomegranates, with a dressing of lime juice, extra virgin olive oil, and minced shallot. Delicious!

This was the highlight of the meal.
Next year I think I'll opt for pumpkin and chorizo tamales. Can't go wrong with that!

By the way: if you wanna have a go at this but don't wanna use the same filling, try poaching the chicken and prepping the rajas as above, but fry them in salsa verde (store-bought or homemade) instead of the achiote sauce. You can even loosen it up with a bit of crema or sour cream. Simple but delicious.

And on a final geeky note, in Spanish, the singular of tamales is tamal, but in English tamale is an acceptable singular. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Breakfast with MexiGeek: the ugliest sopaipillas ever

So my mom sent me a small city's worth of Mexican groceries. Seriously, I could feed a suburb of Ensenada for twenty-four hours.

Among this collection was a packet of sopaipilla mix. As in add hot water to make a dough, roll it out, fry it, y provecho.

I did NOT grow up eating sopaipillas. In fact, I first heard of them when we moved to Colorado and went to this god-awful "Mexican" restaurant called Casa Bonita.

There were queues around the block to get in, but that doesn't because of the food. The restaurant was also a D-List amusement park with cliff-diving displays, a taking volcano, and other tacky crap like that.

And they have you free sopaipillas with honey as long as you kept pumping quarters into the arcade games.

So if you don't know, sopaipillas are basically a variation of flour tortilla dough fried until it goes puffy. You can dust them with cinnamon and sugar or tear a hole in them and fill it with honey. Or dip them in your Mexican chocolate.

I would have been happy to add these to the list of Things That Aren't Really Mexican, along with nachos and fajitas. Then I read in one of Diana Kennedy's books that she had found them in a small town in Chihuahua. So they're really Mexican after all.

I just added warm water to the mix to make the dough, but I did some research and found that sopaipillas contain about half the fat of flour tortillas, so this is my estimate of a recipe:

250 g flour
40 g vegetable shortening
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (75 mL) warm water

I'm guessing what you'd do is sift the flour and salt together, then work the (softened) shortening into the flour, like the start of making pastry. This, by the way, is one of those times when traditionally you'd use pork lard. I've found evidence that shortening makes a good substitute, but I haven't come across a recipe that uses butter, so I wouldn't recommend trying that. 

Because of the lower ratio of fat to flour, don't expect this to get a breadcrumb texture. And when I opened my pre-mixed packet, it still seemed like the consistency and texture of normal flour. 

Add your warm water in a little at a time, trying to incorporate the water fully before adding more. This is to make sure the dough isn't sticky. You probably won't need the entire 75 mLs. If your dough does go sticky, add more white flour a dessertspoon at a time until it isn't sticky any more. 

Now knead this dough like you're on The Great British Bake-Off. Because this is a wheat flour dough it has glutens, so you can even do that thing where you slap it down on the work top. 

Then let it rest for five minutes. 

Now roll it out to about 1/8 inch thick. I was so impressed by the elasticity (remember, corn tortillas have no gluten, so they're not stretchy at all), that I flipped and stretched it like pizza dough!

Rolled out. I think this is thin enough
I was advised to cut it into 3 inch squares, but for some reason I chose to make "mini-sopaipillas". Keeping with the pizza theme, I used a pizza cutter.

I was not going for a Michelin-Star finish here
Now, the key to this is to get the oil hot. I heated about a half-inch of sunflower oil in a high-sided wide-bottomed pan until the oil was shimmering and nearly smoking. 

Then I carefully lay the irregular squares of dough into the oil. They puffed almost instantly. I flipped them once they seemed brown on the under-side, and removed them once they were brown on both sides.

The instructions on the packet specified they should be brown. I never noticed that they were brown when I had them at Casa Bonita, because the lighting was so "subdued". This was probably so no one could get a look at their disgusting food which almost certainly came out of packets of Old El Paso hastily mixed together by disenchanted teenage gringos who would rather be somewhere else. 

There was enough to make two batches of mini sopaipillas. The first batch, to be honest, got a little too brown. By which I mean slightly burnt. 

We'll just call them "caramelized"
The second batch turned out much better. 

I think this is what they're supposed to look like. Sort of.

And to be fair, both batches went down a treat. Mrs MexiGeek and both little kiddy MexiGeeks loved them. (Baby MexiGeek had a savoury one filled with cream cheese.)

I tried them with honey, agave nectar (runnier than honey so it leaked out. Not recommended), and Luchito Honey, which was awesome. I also had some peaches on the side and they complimented the Luchito Honey nicely. 

I don't have any pictures of this plated up, because my then my hands were too sticky to touch my phone. 

Although this was never top of my list of things to cook, I was actually so impressed that I will consider making them again, from scratch. Which will give me a chance to test my estimated recipe. 

Lastly, to show you what I mean about Casa Bonita, watch this video. And remember: this place is real.


Friday, 18 October 2013

KANKUN tacos al pastor



Tacos al pastor means "shepherd's tacos". I would expect British readers to have visions of mince and peas and carrots topped with mashed potato.

But "shepherd's tacos" has nothing to do with shepherd's pie. In fact, I don't think it has anything to do with shepherds, really.

Whereas in the US tacos have been corrupted by Taco Bell into a ridiculous (usually stale) U-shaped crispy thing nearly always stuffed with the same hardly Mexican ground beef filling, in Mexico a taco is usually a fresh (soft) corn tortilla which can be filled with just about anything.

There's even a verb, taquear, which means "to put (something) in a taco".

And yet despite this endless possibility, there are some fillings which are so popular they can be put on a Top Ten Favourite Tacos list. If tacos al pastor is not top of that list, it's got to be pretty close.

But that doesn't mean you can get them outside of Mexico.

I myself first heard of them in the book Fiesta en la madriguera. And a lot of Mexpat food bloggers complain of how much they miss them.

So what are they? Tacos al pastor are pork and pineapple tacos in a spicy sweet and sour sauce made of chiles and achiote paste (recado rojo).

I've read one recipe that uses chiles guajillos for the chile element, but my preference is for chipotles.
And one of the best - and most authentically Mexican-tasting - chipotle sauces you can buy is from KANKUN.

Now, before we get to the recipe, I have to warn you: these are "al pastor-style" tacos, rather than literal tacos al pastor. The reason for this is that there's more to these tacos than the sauce.
Normally you'd expect Mexican pork tacos to use fried pork or slow-cooked carnitas. You wouldn't expect this:



Again, I'm sure my British readers are thinking "Kebabs!"

And indeed, these most popular of Mexican tacos were apparently first developed by Lebanese immigrants! Which just goes to show that Mexico, home of one of the world's first "fusion cuisines", remains adventurous and open-minded even it comes to food.

However, this also means that in the absence of a spit-roaster you can't make proper tacos al pastor at home. The flavour will be right, but the texture of the meat will not be quite the same.

One Mexpat blogger, Mely from Mexico in my Kitchen was driven to extremes to replicate the authentic texture:

That's one hell of a piece of kit, Mely!

Perhaps we could all get together and ask the UK's kebab shops to add tacos al pastor to their menus. Who's with me?

KANKUN pastor-style tacos

Ingredientes

500 - 750 g pork shoulder for carnitas
Half a pineapple, diced (I actually used tinned pineapple)
1 red onion, diced
1 recipe recado rojo (about 50 g)
4 tbsp KANKUN Chipotle Sauce
90 - 100 mL pineapple juice
A few pieces of diced pineapple
Tortillas and some extra KANKUN (to serve)

Procedimiento

First make carnitas: trim the gristle from your pork, rub it with some ground spices like black pepper, allspice, a dash of cinnamon and a pinch of cumin, put in a casserole dish, cover with about 500 mL of water (taking care not to wash off the spices), cover and roast at 180° C (160° fan) for 3 - 5 hours.

When it's done, shred it and leave it to one side.

This recipe works really well with leftover carnitas. Or, you could dice the pork shoulder, marinate it in the sauce (see below) for at least an hour (preferably overnight), then brown it in a frying pan along with the red onion, then cover and stick it in the oven at 160° C (fan) for an hour.

Now make the sauce. Blend the recado rojo (achiote paste) with the KANKUN Chipotle sauce and a few chunks of pineapple. Then add the pineapple juice a bit at a time until the sauce is thin but not watery. If you're using diced pork shoulder, this is what you use as a marinade.

If you're using carnitas, heat some oil in a pan and sweat the onion. Then fry the carnitas until they take on a bit of texture. Now add the sauce and continue cooking until the pork is completely covered and heated through. Then add the pineapple and continue frying a few minutes longer. 


Serve with warm tortillas (preferably homemade corn tortillas, though I once made this into a burrito) and a little extra KANKUN Chipotle sauce on the side.


The combination of the inimitable achiote paste with the smoky chipotle heat and the sweet and sharp pineapple is unbelievably addictive. I can really see why these are so popular.

Mrs MexiGeek called it a kind of Mexican Sweet and Sour, and there definitely is something "Asian" in the flavour profile, which isn't surprising considering the origin of these tacos.

If you've never tried tacos al pastor, you really need to. It's one of those things that will re-educate you about the flavours of Mexican food. And maybe some day we'll even get them from kebab shops!

Also, my mom sent me some jicama, so I whipped up a "Mexican raita" out of jicama and cucumber in sour cream and lime juice, sprinkled with some tajin of course, and served on the side. I "julienned" the jicama but peeled, seeded, and diced the cucumber. The tacos al pastor are pretty spicy, so it's good to have a "cooling" constrast dish on the side.


This recipe uses a fair bit of KANKUN (nearly 100 mL). Obviously I went for "hot". They make a mild version as well, if you're not such a heat freak. However I should warn you that it's Mexican mild, which is still pretty hot. For Edinburgh locals think of the so-called "mild" curries at Kebab Mahal.

One of the many reasons I love this sauce!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Quick post on mole verde


I don't usually do this, but someone was asking for a recipe for this on my Facebook page, and since my blog backlog is now so long, it may be a while before I get to post the full dish.

So over the weekend I made mole verde, which some people (including me) believe is the same thing as pipián. (Both are a rich Mexican stew/sauce thickened with pumpkin seeds.)

I haven't made all seven yet, but I believe this is the easiest of the moles. And this is how you make it.

Ingredientes
  • 6 tomatillos
  • 100 g pumpkin seeds, hulled (I used half pumpkin seeds and half sesame seeds; some recipes even add peanuts)
  • 1/2 a white onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Green chiles to taste (I used 2 chiles serranos, 1 chile jalapeño, and about half of a chile poblano)
  • A bunch of coriander
  • 1tsp of dried epazote
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • A 5 cm stick of Mexican cinnamon
  • A pinch of cumin seeds (say, 1/8 tsp)
  • Stock (homemade if possible)
  • Salt
  • Oil or lard for frying

This, plus some stock, is about all you need
Procedimiento

Peel the papery husks off the tomatillos and rinse them well under warm water - their skins will be sticky. Boil them for about ten minutes until they go a paler, translucent shade of green, just like tinned tomatillos.

If you're using tinned tomatillos in the first place, just open the tin and drain them.

You may recall that when making salsa verde I opt for roasting the raw tomatillos on a hot dry frying pan or comal. I still think that gives the best flavour for salsa verde, even though it's non-tradish. But for this recipe I go by the book and boil the tomatillos.

While the tomatillos are boiling, heat a dry frying pan over a quite high heat. Put the pumpkin seeds in the pan wait until the first one pops. Then stir constantly until they all (pretty much) pop. 

Remove them and let them cool slightly, then grind them in a molcajete (mortar and pestle).

If you're using any other nuts or seeds, repeat with one kind at a time, but stir constantly from the start, add most seeds will burn quickly (especially sesame seeds).

Roast the garlic in the pan with the skin still on until it comes up in black spots on all sides. Let it cool. The skins should come off easily.

If you're using whole spices, toast each kind separately in the hot dry frying pan until it releases its aroma, then remove and grind as with the seeds/nuts.

(The spices are only a guide, by the way. You can use any or all or none of these. The seasoning will be subtle in the finished sauce, but you'll know they're there. Don't use too much, though, because these are warm spices and you don't want to clash with the fresh green flavours.)

If you're using a chile poblano, use tongs to hold it over the open flame on your hob until the skin blisters on all sides, like this:

Back in black!
Put the poblano in a sealed plastic bag to cool for a few minutes, then peel the blackened skin off. Stem and seed the chile.

The other two types of chiles I just stemmed and sliced into rings. Because I like it hot. 

Roughly chop the onion. 

Put everything except the seeds/nuts, spices, and stock into a blender and blend to a smooth texture. Don't worry about over-blending, because the finished sauce should be very smooth. 

At this point you basically have a kind of salsa verde.

Now add the seeds/nuts and spices to the blender, about a quarter at a time, and continue blending. The sauce will get paler and thicker each time you add more of the pumpkin seed/spice mixture. By the end it will be very thick. 

Heat some oil or lard in a pan. when it's hot enough to make a drop of the sauce sizzle, add all the sauce (it will take some doing to scrape all of it out of the blender; I use a hand-blender and a plastic jar so I don't have to worry about the blades).

Stir constantly for a couple minutes until the sauce thickens even more. Then start adding the stock a little at a time until the sauce thins to a pourable consistency. 

It's nearly ready!
Taste for salt. If you're using a stock cube, you probably won't need any more salt. If you're using homemade stock, you may well do. 

The best way to get your own stock is to poach some chicken breasts with a chopped up onion, a couple cloves of garlic, maybe some celery and carrots, a sprig of some kind of herb like oregano, maybe some black peppercorns, etc. 

The chicken will go great with the finished mole and you can use the poaching water as a stock. Just add the chicken breasts to the simmering sauce in time for it to heat all the way through. Then serve on a bed of arroz a la poblana (which will use up the other half of that poblano chile you'll have spent twenty minutes prepping).

This may well be my favourite Mexican sauce ever. 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Breakfast with MexiGeek: Mexican Egg-Fried Rice with KANKUN Chipotle sauce

So when I made cochinita pibil with KANKUN habanero sauce, I served it with Mexican red rice (arroz a la mexicana).

At least it was meant to be Mexican red rice, but I didn't put enough tomato in it, so it wasn't really very red.

Still delicious though.

I had some rice left over, so the next morning I heated up some butter and fried the rice until it was cooked through.

Then I cracked an egg into the pan, doused it with some KANKUN chipotle sauce, and scrambled the egg into the rice.

Then I put it all in a flour tortilla, added some more KANKUN, ¡y provecho!

Simple but delicious.

Mexican Red Rice

Ingredients
1 cup rice
2 cups stock
1 white onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
Peas (defrosted if using frozen)
4 tomatoes, roasted on a comal or a dry frying pan
Oil or fat for frying

Preparation

Heat the oil in pot with a heavy bottom and high sides.

Add the onion and fry until translucent, then add the rice and fry a few minutes more.

Add the carrot and fry a few minutes until the carrot begins to soften.

Blitz the tomatoes to a smooth puree.

Add the stock to the rice; then add the tomato puree and the peas.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium low, partially cover, and let cook for about ten or fifteen minutes (until the rice is fully cooked).

I only used two tomatoes, so my rice wasn't very red.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Spicy KANKUN Cochinita Pibil


Lookin' for some hot stuff, baby, this evening?

As a fan of Mexican salsas, extremely hot chile sauces, and KANKUN in particular, I was excited to get a couple bottles of their 85% Habanero sauce in the post.

I repeat, "a couple bottles".

85% habanero is, as they say, muy picante, so this supply will last me a while.

While I'm a big fan of pouring hot chile sauces on everything I eat, I have also been trying to think of ways to use this salsa as an ingredient. And because habaneros are typical of the Yucatán, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to make cochinita pibil.

I last wrote about Yucatecan pit-cooked (pibil) dishes when I made pollo pibil (pibil-style chicken). And ever since I've been looking forward to making the equally popular pork version: cochinita pibil.

To recap, the pibil dishes are meant to be cooked in a Yucatecan cooking pit called a pib (it's a Mayan word). You dig a hole, line it with hot stones and ashes, lay your food in the pit (wrapped in a protective covering like a banana leaf), and bury the lot.

Then let it slow-cook to perfection!

Well, I don't expect you to dig a hole in your back garden (if I tried this at home, Mrs MexiGeek would pit-roasting me in it).

Instead, you can compromise by slow-cooking cochinita pibil in the oven.

What you CAN'T compromise on, though, is the seasoning, which here means achiote paste.

Achiote paste or recado rojo is made with the hard red seeds of a tree native to the Americas. It is quite easy to make, lasts months in the fridge, freezes well, and is useful for other Yucatecan dishes (so don't be afraid to make a big batch).

Even better, recado rojo is made of easy-to-find ingredients, except for the achiote itself, which is available from specialist shops and on-line suppliers (it is often sold as "annatto", the Brazilian name).

Homemade achiote paste and the molcajete it was made in.
These same suppliers often sell ready-made recado rojo, so you can use that and save yourself a step.

The other thing a pibil dish requires is the juice of Seville (or bitter) orange. These are available year-round in the Yucatán but are restricted to January in Europe.

I bought a big bag last year and froze the juice, so I'm sorted, but you can also make mock bitter orange juice by combining two parts grapefruit juice with one part orange juice, then adding a dash of lime juice.

You can get the orange and grapefruit juices out of a carton but I would definitely recommend using fresh lime.

All pibil dishes, whether cooked in an actual pib or not, are traditionally wrapped in a banana leaf, which not only keeps the meat soft and moist but also imparts a characteristic flavour.

Banana leaves are available from some Asian grocers (look for ones with Thai ingredients), but if you can't find any, just wrap the pork in parchment (en papillotte, as the French would say).

If you have a good quality casserole dish, you could even do without the parchment.

Or you could make this dish in a slow-cooker (whether you use banana leaves or not).

KANKUN Cochinita Pibil

Ingredientes

Marinade
1 recipe recado rojo (about 50 g)
90 - 100 mL Seville orange juice (or bitter orange substitute)
1 - 2 teaspoons KANKUN Habanero Sauce (or to taste)

Pork
1 - 1.5 kg pork shoulder or loin
A banana leaf or cooking parchment (optional)

Procedimiento

First I made the marinade.

In a bowl, I combined the achiote paste (recado rojo) and Kan-Kun with enough Seville orange juice to loosen it to a pourable consistency. This turned out to be about 100 mL, which covered the pork nicely.

Then I added the KANKUN Habanero sauce. I used just about two teaspoons. Normally I would taste in between to get the balance right, but I'm not sure if you should eat raw achiote paste, so I had to test it using sense of smell.

If the mainade is gritty (which is likely if you made it in a molcajete), blend it with a hand-blender until it's smooth.

The three amigos of the Yucatan: achiote, bitter orange, and habanero!.
Then I prepped the pork.

My partner in crime Wee Sadie had bought me banana leaves from a shop on Leith Walk ages ago. I started trying to unfold the leaves (they are HUGE) and cut two pieces large enough to line my casserole dish and wrap around the pork.

Please resist the temptation to steal banana leaves from the Royal Botanic Gardens.
You will have to wipe the leaves clean and cut off any edges that are starting to go brown or curly. Some people also recommend you pass the leaves briefly though a flame so they soften a bit, but I found the ones I used were malleable enough without this step.

Handle them carefully, though, because they do like to rip at the seams!

I lined a casserole dish with one of the leaves, laid the pork in the dish, and poured over the marinade. 


But don't just pour the marinade. Massage it in with your hands. Work that flavour!

After I washed my hands (do this frequently: achiote is also a powerful dye!), I covered the pork with the other leaf and tucked it down on all sides so the pork was wrapped fairly tightly.

Snug as a bug!
I put the lid on and left it to marinate in the fridge overnight. If you're not into waiting 24 hours to cook something, at least give it an hour or two. But the more time, the better.

When you're ready to cook (which is hopefully the next day), preheat the oven to 180° C (160° fan) and cook for 3 to 4 hours.

I had to leave this to the ever-capable Mrs MexiGeek, because I was at work. The pork went in at 17.30, as per my instructions.

I checked it at 20.00 (after 2 and a half hours). I was looking for the pork to be soft, moist, and tender, so I even peaked under the banana leave and gave it a bit of a "test shred". I deemed it should go back in until at least 21.00.
Now it's ready.

You'll need to use your judgement here, but your pork may need as much as five hours, depending on your oven and the size of your cut of pork. If you're doing the slow-cooker method, my estimate would be 10 hours on low or 2 hours on high followed by 3 hours on low. (This is based on successfully doing carnitas in a slow-cooker.)

When the pork is done, remove it and shred it like pulled pork or carnitas: it should fall apart easily. 

I then poured the remaining marinade and cooking juices from the dish over the shredded pork and gave it a good mix.

Like the greatest ever carnitas. The serving dish is hecho en Mexico too!
You can serve the shredded pork with warm tortillas and make tacos, or serve with a traditional Mexican rice dish.

I chose Mexican red rice, but I didn't use enough tomato, so it didn't come out very red. Also, I used diced chiles poblanos instead of peas. 

Still, it looked and tasted awesome:

And of course I added some extra KANKUN. Because some like it hot!
Another classic way to serve cochinita pibil is shredded on top of panuchos, which are Yucatecan tortillas stuffed with refried beans.

But whatever you choose, make sure you top the pork with Yucatecan pink picked onions (cebollas en escabeche) and serve some more Kan-Kun Habanero sauce for those who really want to crank up the heat!

The thing I love about the pibil dishes, and really all Yucatecan food, is that it's a million miles away from the stodgy Tex-Mex cuisine that people sometimes assume is real Mexican food. 

These flavours are vibrant, fresh, and yet deep and complex. 

In particular, the pibil pork (as opposed to the chicken dish) is rich, but the citrus of the bitter orange (and the cebollas en escabeche) cuts through it nicely, which the achiote paste adds deep, complex undertones. 

And of course, the KANKUN. I used just about two teaspoons in my marinade, and the flavour (and heat) of the habanero sauce was present throughout the whole dish. It was not too spicy, though. I'd say I hit upon just the right amount. 

(Mrs MexiGeek found it scrumptious as well.)

And again, habaneros, with their characteristic fruity flavour, are the perfect chile to complement this dish. 

And this is a serious habanero sauce. KANKUN use true habaneros for this sauce, not Scotch bonnets (which are related to habaneros, but not really the same thing). This commitment to using the authentic chile is important, because you need that true habanero flavour in a dish like this.
Of course, habaneros are one of the hottest chiles; some of them can reach 350,000 Scoville Heat Units, I think. They're certainly over 100,000. So for readers who think they might not be able to cope with that, I have some final advice. 

I added KANKUN's new habanero salsa to the marinade, but many cooks make the marinade without any chile, instead serving some chile salsa on the side.

This approach works well if you or the people you're serving people don't like too much chile heat, as each diner can take as much or little extra salsa as they choose.

So if you or any of your guests are a bit wary of the fiery habaneros, feel free to halve the quantity of KANKUN, or even leave it out of the marinade and just have a bottle of KANKUN on the table, for the hardcore chileheads.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Recado rojo (Yucatecan achiote paste)

One thing I love about Yucatecan food is the achiote seasoning paste (recado rojo), which is, among other things the basis of the marinade used in the famous pibil dishes.

Achiote paste is made from the hard, red seeds of a native tree.

You can buy birth the whole seeds and pre-ground achiote from on-line suppliers and specialist shops (like Lupe Pintos). It's often sold as "annatto", which is the Brazilian name for it.

These same shops and suppliers usually sell a pre-made recado rojo (El Yucateco is a good brand), in case you wanna save yourself some work.

But being MexiGeek, I actually enjoy doing it the hard way, which is grind it yourself in a molcajete (mortar and pestle).

However, I do but pre-ground achiote, because those seeds are so hard even a spice-grinder needs a few minutes to cope.

(And you can, of course, do the whole thing in a food processor.)

Ingredientes

There is no one set recipe, but there are a few essential ingredients plus a few likely "extras". And there is a typical ratio of amounts to get the flavour balance right.

The essentials are:

1 tbsp achiote
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp allspice berries
1 tsp cinnamon (canela)
1/2 tsp cumin
5 cloves garlic
1-2 tbsp cider vinegar

You can also embellish this with:

1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp coriander seeds

You may also need to add an extra tablespoon or two of plain flour at the end if the paste is too loose.

Procedimiento

Keeping in mind that I use pre-ground achiote, I'm writing this in "grinding order".

(If you're using while achiote seeds, grind them separately in a spice-grinder.)

Peel the garlic and grind it down to a paste in your molcajete.

Crumble a one-inch stick of (preferably) Mexican cinnamon into the molcajete and grind it down.

(In Mexico they use canela or "true cinnamon", as opposed to the cassia bark we use in Europe.)

Add the allspice (and clove, if using) and continue grinding.

(The cinnamon won't break down completely until the end.)

Add the peppercorns and continue grinding. When they have broken down add the cumin.

Add the coriander seeds (if using) once the cumin has broken down; add the oregano and "mix" it in with the pestle.

Now add the achiote and grind it in until it looks well incorporated.

Now add the vinegar a little at a time and continue "mixing" with the pestle. If the paste is too loose, add some flour.

You should let this paste stand in the fridge overnight if you want it to really rock.

Then you can make cochinita pibil!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

How I spent my summer vacation

So despite not having posted much in the last three or four months, my pageviews have rocketed up from 6,000 to over 8,000!

¡Muchas gracias!

But though I haven't been writing, I have actually been cooking. In fact, I cooked so much I'm worried I'm going to forget some of it before I have a chance to post.

Over the next several weeks I plan to post as much of this "backlog" as possible. Most of it involves cooking with my mom, who visited in July to see the new baby.

You may remember she was meant to bring my (Mexican) great grandmother's recipe for mole rojo for us to cook. I even bought some real Mexican chocolate from Lupe Pintos for the occasion.

Well, she didn't bring it.

Her excuse was that the recipe was hand-written and Grandma Eva is no longer with us, so she didn't want to risk bringing it in a plane.

Fair enough.

So we cooked my recipes instead.

The other thing going on is that we've entered mes de la patria, "patriotic month", which is September, the month of Mexico's Independence Day.

(September is also my birthday month.)

On 15 September the streets of Mexico will ring out with people shouting el grito ("the cry") of "Viva Mexico!"

This commemorates the priest Hidalgo's grito, which kicked off the war of independence.

Twelve months ago I had some serious cooking plans for this month, but parenthood comes before cooking, so I'm officially running late on the chiles en nogada, but that, and possibly pozole verde, will happen at some point, along with cochinita pibil.

And I'm considering pato en pipián (duck in pumpkinseed sauce) before the year is out, because I've always wanted to cook this elegant dish.

And finally I have a restaurant review to publish.

So between catching up and doing new things, the next few months will be quite busy. Honestly, I'll be lucky if I can finish all this before el día de los muertos.

Clearly, I am still insane. I won't even talk about my plans to make Oaxacan black mole at Christmas.

Now, because this is an info/update post it has no food. But I have been receiving a lot of food from my various Mexican Food Heroes out there, including some incredible salsas from Kan-Kun.

These came with some clothing, so I thought I'd put them on and take my first ever selfie.

If this doesn't "unleash your inner luchador", nothing will!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Mini tortillas from the Cool Chile Company


Mis amigos at the Cool Chile Company have introduced a new size of corn tortilla, 10 cm (a standard size is 15 cm), and they were nice enough to send me some to try.

I'm always stoked about Cool Chile tortillas; as my regular readers know, they are the only tortillas in the UK I endorse.

Small but effective!
When I saw these little beauties, I instantly thought of making mini tostadas ("tostaditas" if you will).

Tostadas (literally "toasted tortillas": essentially tortillas fried until crisp and then topped with any number of delicious things) are something I've overlooked in this blog, despite the fact that they a popular and very satisfying Mexican snack.

I guess I often focus on more complicated recipes. But this year, what with the new baby and all, I've been rediscovering some of the less daunting, more doable dishes.

And tostadas are definitively doable, especially as you can top them with just about anything.

I had a "test-drive" tostada for breakfast to check the frying time. As you may have gathered from my method of making homemade tortilla chips, I don't always go for frying, but that is the most typical way to make tostadas.

Whereas for enchiladas (or just to revive a tortilla that has gone stale) you want to fry the tortilla for about ten seconds on each side, tostadas need a full minute on one side and somewhat less than a minute in the other.

I topped this little guy with a fried egg and some Cholula. Simple but delicious.

The fried egg is the same size as the tortilla!
However, for the main event, I reverted to my baking method.

Partly this was to save time. Even a full-sized tostada is really just an antojito (snack), so I figured we'd all need several of these mini ones to make a proper lunch. Therefore it was quicker to do six at a time in the oven instead of one at a time in the pan.

To make these "tostaditas": Grease a baking tray with olive oil, lay out your tortillas, and brush with more olive oil (I use a pastry brush).

Look how many fit on one baking tray!
Bake at 200° C for ten minutes.

Now you're ready for the toppings.

But first a note: while the baking method has the advantage of letting you do several at once, they tend to curl up more than if you do one at a time in a frying pan - where you can use your spatula to keep them flat(ter).

But no tostada is completely flat, so it's not a big deal.

Now, to top these bad boys I made some frijoles colados (Yucatecan style "sieved" beans) by frying some homemade frijoles negros de olla ("black beans cooked in a pot") and blending them until smooth with a hand-blender.

(I promise I have a post on frijoles de olla coming soon!)

I also had a jar of pickled cactus paddles on hand, so I used some of that.

(The cactus was surprisingly spicy; I later found a couple chiles serranos in the jar! Awesome!)

And finally I made a homemade smoked chile and tomato salsa by charring three tomatoes and two cloves of garlic on a hot dry frying pan until they all came up in black spots.

I then peeled the garlic and put it into the blender along with the tomatoes, a chopped white onion, a teaspoon of Mexican oregano, and a heaped teaspoon of Gran Luchito and blended it all to a textured sauce.

Then I heated a tablespoon and a half of olive oil in a pan and fried the sauce until it reduced and thickened.

The "silk-screen" effect is because one of these tostaditas is actually Cybill Shepherd
These "tostaditas" were  so delicious we had to make another batch right away.

Obviously the toppings were awesome, but I can't stress enough how delicious a good quality tortilla fried (or baked) crisp is. It is truly one of life's great pleasures.

Considering the size of these tortillas, you could almost think of these as garnachas, which some say are the true precursor to American nachos (others, like Thomasina Miers, award that title to chilaquiles).

Either way, you cannot go wrong with this dish.

Another top quality tortilla product from the Cool Chile Company.

Now a note on the photos...

I recently upgraded my phone. For the first couple weeks I noticed the camera had a peculiar bluish tint, and the image quality was somewhat blurry.

Then, after I took the photos for this post, I realized there was a piece of blue protective plastic covering the camera lens

FAIL!

In my defence the reviews of this phone indicated the camera would be quite a disappointment.

Next time the photos should be back to normal.