Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Mexican chipotle chicken salad with avocado

With a little help from my friends: KANKUN chipotle sauce, Don Agustin tequila, and agua fresca de Jamaica from the Cool Chile Company
Summer's here and the time is right for eating salads in the street.

Or, you know, in your kitchen/dining room. Wherever.

Some people make a big deal about how the Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana (it was, you know).

What they don't talk about as much as that the chef, Caesar Cardini, was actually Italian, or that he was based in California but opened a restaurant just south of the border because the US had the whole Prohibition thing going on at the time.

But this salad weather we've been having got me thinking about a Rick Bayless recipe I've been meaning to rip off: chicken with avocados and chipotles.

Rick didn't intend this to be a salad. His recipe is more of a snack/taco filling. But I think this makes an awesome summer chicken salad, and shows you that Mexican food doesn't have to be heavy and stodgy.

Rick's recipe uses diced chipotles en adobo, which you can get from La Costena. If you do this, you have to dice the chiles very fine, otherwise you'll get random smoke-bombs while you're eating.

To make it easier to distribute the chipotles more evenly, you can make a chipotle sauce by combining a tin of chipotles en adobo, a tin of tomatillos, and a couple cloves of garlic.

I didn't have any tomatillos on hand. However, I did have a fresh bottle of KANKUN chipotle sauce, which is awesome. Basically, this stuff tastes exactly like a homemade Mexican chipotle sauce.

For the chicken, I poached some chicken breasts as I would for carnitas de pollo except I added some sliced carrot and potato.

When the chicken was done and shredded, I chopped up some romaine lettuce and avocados (do the avocados at the very last minute so they don't oxidize).

I also added some green tomatos (NOT tomatillos, which are actually not tomatoes at all but really a kind of gooseberry), because I have kind of a thing for Mary Louise Parker.

I don't wanna have dinner with you. You're covered in BEES!
I tossed everything together with the chicken, carrots and potatoes.

Rick Bayless says this should be topped with raw white onions, but I don't like raw white onions, so I made up a white onion version of Yucatecan Pink Pickled Onions:

Cebollas en escabeche

1 white onion
1 habanero, fresh or dried
6 allspice berries
10 black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
120 ml white wine or cider vinegar


Peel and thinly slice the onion.
Make a 1 cm slit in the habanero. (You can use more habaneros if you like it hot!)
Put the onion, habanero, spices, oregano, and vinegar in a bowl and add just-boiled water until the onion is covered by at least 1 cm.
Steep for about four hours.

Drain the onions, fish out the habanero and, if possible, the peppercorns and allspice.
Transfer to a serving bowl.

I served the salad covered with KANKUN (which I used as a salad dressing - seriously, it worked!) and with some sliced sourdough bread on the side.

Sourdough bread is kind of like a Guadalajaran bread called birote, but you could use a baguette or crusty white bread or (of course) fresh hot corn tortillas as well. 

For a drink I decided to keep with the summer thing and make a traditional agua fresca

Aguas frescas are non-alcoholic drinks made by steeping something in boiled water. There are lots of aguas frescas. Probably the most famous is horchata, which is made with ground rice and almonds, but I chose the hibiscus flower water or agua fresca de Jamaica

You can get this from the Cool Chile Company.

Instructions are on the bag, but what you do is combine half the bag with 1.5 L of just-boiled water and 150g of sugar, give it a good stir and le it steep over night. 

The next day, sieve it and serve!

I decided to make mine alcoholic by adding a shot of Don Agustin tequlia!

Because YOLO!

(I can't believe I actually wrote "YOLO". I feel like such a douche.) 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Breakfast with MexiGeek: Chimichurri scrambled eggs on blue corn tortillas with habanero sauce and queso fresco

...which is a mouthful to say as well as to eat.

First off: chimicurri is NOT Mexican. It is (I believe) Argentine. It seems to be kind of a "thing" just now. They sell it in supermarkets, and of course in Lupe Pinto's. It was even mentioned in the most recent series of MasterChef.

So this breakfast came together because I was near the end of a bottle of chimichurri, so I fried the sauce in hot oil, because frying sauce is one of the basic techniques of Mexican cooking.

When the sauce was sizzling, I cracked a couple of eggs and scrambled them until they were just done.

On a plate I had two warm blue corn tortillas from The Cool Chile Company and some slices of cured Spanish-style chorizo.

I put the chimichurri scrambled eggs on top of the chorizo, crumbled up some queso fresco from Gringa Dairy and some KANKUN habanero sauce.

Y provecho!

It ain't breakfast if it don't got chiles

It has never occurred to me to cook eggs without some form of chile. I'm not even sure that it's possible.

What I loved about this breakfast was that:

A) I made it up as I went along, and 
B) I made it with a little help from my friends: Cool Chile Company, Gringa Dairy, and KANKUN. Three of the reasons it is possible to cook Mexican food in the UK. 
Also, it was delicious, but that pretty much goes without saying.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Salsa de fresa con totopos dulces

This is blender salsa, but you can dice the strawbs for a pico de gallo style salsa or bash the holy living f**ck out of them in your molcajete
Because it's summer and strawberries are the best summer fruit ever, I thought I'd share this lighthearted take on tortilla chips and salsa.

I'm not great at desserts, so when I'm planning a three-course menu I really struggle with the finale.

But this "dish" is ridiculously easy to make and the comic transformation of what is usually a savoury snack into a pudding almost makes it a show-stopper.

The key element is the strawberry salsa.

I came up with this because my daughter hates chiles ("They're too spicy ") but she LOVES strawberries. So I tried to think of a way she could enjoy chips and salsa.

She's four by the way.

Basically everything I would put in the classic Mexican tomato and chile salsa has a corresponding sweet ingredient in the strawberry salsa.
  • Instead of tomatoes, I use strawberries (duh).
  • Instead of diced white onion I use diced apple.
  • Instead of fresh cilantro (coriander) I use mint.
  • And instead of chiles I use chiles.


Seriously though: you can leave chiles out of this one. HOWEVER, if you want to use chiles, try a bit of habanero. It's fecking hot, but the fruity flavour is ideal for this recipe. Just take it easy if you or your guests aren't hardcore chileheads.

So now that you have all this stuff, make it into salsa more or less the same way you would make standard (raw) tomato and chile salsa.

Then make the totopos (tortilla chips).

For these I uncharacteristically use flour tortillas.

First I preheat the oven to 160 C.

Then I cut the tortillas into triangular wedges using a pizza cutter (I kid you not).

Then I melt some butter and brush a baking tray with the butter using a pastry brush.

Then I place the tortilla wedges on the tray and brush them with more butter.

Then I dust them with ground cinnamon and sugar and bake them for about 20 minutes or until crisp.

(You can deep-fry them instead, in which case you would have to use oil, and dust them with cinnamon and sugar after frying, before they cool. But I never deep-fry my totopos.)

Y provecho!

I don't think they really eat these in Mexico, but they are still the bomb. 
I like to put a few totopos on everyone's plate and put the bowl of salsa in the middle, so it becomes a sharing activity and promotes socializing. 

You should also have a bowl of extra totopos to hand, because even after the strawberry salsa is finished, your guests will want more of these. In fact, so will you, then next day. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Product Review: Taza Chocolate Mexicano

What happened was, I was searching the internet for American candy suppliers in an attempt to find some Black Jack Gum.

This is the shit I was looking for.
Black Jack Gum is the first ever flavoured chewing gum. It tastes like aniseed or "black licorice". It was made mildly famous when Christian Slater's character chewed it in Pump Up the Volume.

I never tracked down the gum, but the search results included this chocolate called Taza, which is Spanish for "cup", as in una taza de chocolate ("a cup of [hot] chocolate").

And the photos made it clear it was defo Mexican style chocolate.

I thought "WTF, I've never heard of this brand". And it turns out that's because Taza is made in America, in Massachusetts, the most un-Mexican place on Earth.

So naturally I had to investigate.

This is nothing you can't find out from the company's own website, but basically the founder, Alex Whitmore, was travelling in Oaxaca (yay!) and discovered real Mexican chocolate. So he decided to bring it on home to MA.

If there's one thing I can dig, it's people being inspired by real Mexican food and wanting to spread it around the world.

Taza Chocolate is not just Mexican style chocolate made in the US. For instance, the main Mexican brands of chocolate (Ibarra and Abuelita) are actually very sweet and tend to be made with cacao extracts rather than pure cocoa beans.

Taza has more in common with the revival in authentic chocolate, probably best represented in the UK by Willie Harcourt-Cooze's "artizan" cacao.

What Taza does is source excellent cacao and other ingredients, but process them in a Mexican way (including stone-grinding) and with Mexican or Mexican-inspired flavours.

The result is a product that looks a lot like the classic disc of Mexican chocolate and acts like it too. For instance, you cook up a pot of Taza chocolate in water, rather than milk (you can use milk if you want to though).

So I had to try this, and I figured their Sampler would be my best bet. It comes with a variety of their flavours:

  • Cinnamon - classic, though in Mexico it would also have some ground almond
  • Vanilla - Vanilla is native to Mexico, and I checked: it uses real vanilla, not that artificial extract
  • Guajillo - one of my favourite chiles
  • Salt and Pepper - ???
  • Orange - I HATE chocolate and orange together, but that's a personal preference
  • Chipotle - nuff said
  • Ginger - How can you go wrong?
  • Dark chocolate - just the pure unadulterated stone-ground goodness

By now I've brewed up several pots of this chocolate (but not the orange, because yuck!). I also tried eating one whole, as their website suggests you can do this.

I always brewed it Mexican style, with water, whipping it with a whisk until it goes all frothy, just like in Como Agua para Chocolate.

For comparison, I used Ibarra and Cool Chile Company's own Mexican hot chocolate as benchmarks.

The cinnamon had the classic flavour you'd expect. It much more chocolate-y (in the sense of real, high-cocoa solid chocolate flavour) than Ibarra and on a par with the Cool Chile Company's product.

The vanilla was absolutely gorgeous.

The chipotle flavour had a nice heat, but I found the smokiness didn't come through very well, which is a shame.

The ginger was pretty much perfect.

I'll get Mrs MexiGeek to try the orange one.

All in all, this is actually a superior product to Ibarra and Abuelita, which are now widely available outside of Mexico. I'm not sure it trumps the Cool Chile Company's chocolate, but it's less gritty and comes in a wider variety of flavours.

By the way, one reason you really should be drinking Mexican chocolate is it's actually kind of healthy.

I'm not even joking. This kind of high cocoa solid chocolate brewed with water instead of milk leaves out two of the three things that make chocolate bad for you: oil and dairy fat. There's still a certain amount of sugar, but sugar burns off quickly, and it's natural sugar, not those chemical sweeteners that cause cancer in lab rats.

If this product became more available in the UK, I could really see it taking off. Plus it's just wonderful to see more people being inspired by Mexico and turning it into their life's work.