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


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)


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.

  • 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

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

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


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.