I am an avid watcher of Masterchef and can’t wait for it to return to our screens next week (BBC 1, Wednesday 16th February, 9.00pm).
The first series in the current format, aired in 2005, was won by Thomasina Miers, who has since gone on to write cook books, open restaurants and film a few cooking tv programmes. I have followed her career with interest since Masterchef as a fellow “spanglofile” and absolutely loved her “Cook’s Tour of Spain”, as predictable as that was!
In December 2009, on my first trip to London in many years I had Wahaca, the chain of Mexican cantina restaurants opened by Thomasina, top of the list to visit, and enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the Covent Garden establishment.
When I heard that there was a book to be published “Mexican Food Made Simple” it was ordered immediately. Released last year and with a tv show to follow this May on Channel 5, it has been a firm favourite in this household during the past few months.
The book has a good introduction to give you some insight into Thomasina’s love of the country and it’s food, followed by an overview of the key ingredients to make authentic Mexican cuisine accessible to everyone. There is a wide range of recipes included in the book with 11 chapters covering everything from sauces and salsas and nibbles to soups and salads. Main’s are categorised between street food, cheesy things, slow cooked mains, from the grill, or soul food, and there is a selection of puddings and drinks.
The first recipe I cooked first from this book has become a firm favourite in our household. The strange thing is that it’s not a Mexican dish but one that is frequently associated with the cuisine – Chile Con Carne.
Easy, Speedy Chile Con Carne
1kg stewing steak cut into large pieces (4-5)
4 cloves of garlic
300g spicy cooking chorizo
2 tsp ground cumin
2tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cloves
1 large cinammon stick
3 bay leaves
2 tsp dried oregano (3 tbsp fresh)
2 ancho chillies – or I have used 1 large one
2 chiles de arbol
2 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp cider or balsamic vinegar
2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
2 x 400g tins borlotti beans
Pulse in a food processor or chop very finely the onions and garlic. Heat 2tbsp of olive oil in a pan and sear the meat on all sides. Set to one side and another glug of oil to brown the chorizo. Remove and add the onion and garlic, spices, herbs and chillies and cook until soft. Season with salt and pepper and add vinegar tomatoes, ketchup and sugar.
Put all the meat back in and add 400ml of water (or red wine if you prefer) bring to a simmer and cook in a low oven for 2 hours. Add the beans and cook for a further hour. Alternatively as I did, put the mix into the slow cooker on a medium heat for 5 hours, and added the beans for a further hour. It’s ready when the meat falls apart when pulled with a pair of forks.
Depending on the acidity of the tinned tomatoes you made need to add a little extra sugar as I did.
Now I always thought I made a mean Chile Con Carne, and had happily fed friends and family my faithful recipe until I tasted this one. The addition of the range of other spices and the vinegar and sugar creates a taste-bud exploding experience that no chilli I’ve ever had before delivers.
I’ve made it without the chorizo and it’s still good. I’ve made it with minced beef and it’s still good. In this one I added one tin of borlotti beans and one tin of kidney beans. We had it served with simple boiled rice (eaten and devoured before a picture was taken, oops!) and it tasted even better the next day with a jacket potato.
So thanks to Thomasina for revamping a family favourite of ours, I will never go back to my original recipe now. This is so easy to do and hits all the right spots.
I’ve also tried a few other recipes from the book, and even did a Mexican Dinner Party for 8 with a selection of dishes which went down a storm.
Tortillas with Squash and Chorizo – simple but so tasty
Tamarind and Chilli Infused Belly of Pork – a melt in the mouth roast pork with a rich tangy gravy.
Chicken Adobado – chicken pieces marinated in a smoky and sweet sauce.
Fresh Tomato Salsa – fresh and fiery, perfect with some tortillas.
Guacamole – with and without coriander as hubby doesn’t do coriander
Frijoles refritos – refried beans, made at home these taste so much better than any shop bought equivalent. Definitely worth the effort.
With 7 other hungry mouths to feed there was no opportunity to take photo’s of the finished dishes but here’s the pork before it’s marinated and after. That colour change signifies a lot of flavour.
There are lots of other recipes that I have earmarked and from those I’ve tried and tasted so far I’m sure this will continue to be a well used book from my cookbook collection.
The recipes do include a few Mexican ingredients which may not be readily available from your local supermarket but there is a handy suppliers page at the back of the book which gives you a large selection of shops and online stores to buy from. My chillies were sourced from Mexgrocer who I can’t fault for service or quality of product. The main effort before trying some of the recipes is to make the Chipotles en Adobo, a chilli puree that is added to some of the dishes, but once made it keeps for months.
If you want to get a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine, and aren’t able to pop into Wahaca for a meal, then this is most definitely the way to do it. A practical, well written and inspiring book.
Mexican Food Made Simple, published by Hodder & Stoughton