I've made it my new year's resolution to improve my skills in Mexican cooking. This came about following many trips to Wahaca, a fantastic meal in Berlin, and many outstanding burritos about London. The quality of Mexican food you can eat out has come on massively in recent years; yet my cooking had not. I love the fiery spices, the ubiquity of coriander (up there with dill on my herbs top 10), the tangy flavours, the slow cooked meet, the avocados, the limes. I love the ceremony of making up a wrap, the colours, the combinations. But I felt that my cooking of it was stuck in Tex Mex, I was using my own techniques without seeking to understand some of the science and structure of Mexican cooking.
I'd been dropping hints for Thomasina Miers' Mexican Food Made Simple cook book for a long time and when I didn't get it (again) for Christmas (the outrage!) I bought it for myself. It's beautiful, informative and encouraging. 'Simple' is not a cop-out at all; rather, it explains the ideal ingredients and tells you how you can substitute accurately by using combinations of more readily available ingredients, and takes you through how to make some of the larder staples with just a few speciality peppers, for example. Once you've got the basics, you can easily put together some really exciting, authentic dishes at your local shops.
So last weekend I set about making my first Mexican food made simple. It was a Sunday and I had a whole chicken that needed using up. Rather than making a classic roast, I decided I'd make some kind of roast chicken burritos. With a couple of bunches of coriander and a packet of chipotle peppers from Lupe Pintos in Edinburgh, I set about my task.
I'd seen that so many recipes required a chipotle paste, I made that first. The dried chipotles were boiled in water for almost an hour, their steam filling the house and making us all cough at their potency. The smoky smell I recognised from BBQ sauce (love that stuff), so I'd already learned something. After a while I drained the peppers, mixed in white wine vinegar, lots of garlic, onion, salt, sugar and tomato purée and blended down to a paste. The house smelled amazing, although in the end I didn't actually need to use the purée for this meal. Well, at least it's in a jar now and ready for the next one.
I made a 'green rice', where you purée (notice a theme here?) lots of coriander, parsley, spinach together with garlic and onions, a splash of water and a pinch of salt, cook the paste and then mix in rinsed basmati rice before adding a mild stock. It was like cooking a pilav, and ended up very smooth, fragrant and tasty. I also made a smoky salsa, use the chipotle paste I'd just made. And when it came to the guacamole, though I'd made my own a hundred times, I carefully followed the steps set out in the book - a little lime then, a little later, a little chili first, then more in a bit. It was really, really very good. A lot of people don't like recipe books, believing them to stifle creativity and intuition in the kitchen. I agree to an extent, but I think it's always good to be open to learning from others and then build on your intuitive skillz!!
The finished product was delicious - the flavours all so fresh and light, the perfectly roast chicken going excellently with the fragrant green rice, the luscious guacamole, the zingy salsa and the slightly tart sour cream. The best wrap I've ever had. Lots of smiles on the other side of the table too.
Now that I've done that dry run, I should be ready to put on a super Mexican spread when hosting a dinner party in a couple of week's time!