Breakfast in Paradise

We’re sitting on the bank of the River Colotepec, where it meets the sea, south East of Puerto Escondido on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

We drove down a dirt track for over 35 minutes before we came upon a simple palapa thatched with leaves of the royal palm.

A Mexican family restaurant with all four generations helping, Granda seems to be in charge of the grounds, he’s raking leaves off the grass and the sandy floor of the outdoor restaurant. The grandchildren help in the kitchen. The boy and his mother are knee deep in water wandering along by the edge of the river bank scooping up tiny shrimps from underneath the rushes in a large tin sieve. The vertebrae and jaw bone of a whale have been carefully reassembled from the remains of a pilot whale which was beached by the waves.

There are four or five white plastic tables and chairs provided by Coronas the Mexican beer company. The tables are covered with bright plastic oil cloth. Many Mexican cafes and restaurants seem to have their furniture provided by drinks companies.

Apart from one group of locals, we are the only customers on this beautiful morning. Everyone stares at the gringos, all except one little boy sitting under a coconut tree, who is intently reading aloud from the new book he got for Christmas, oblivious of the curious arrivals. The sky is blue, the white sand glistening in the early noon sun. The river is teeming with birds, pelicans, jacanas, vultures and cormorants.

It’s a blissfully peaceful spot. Local fishermen are returning from their dawn fishing expedition, nets slung over one shoulder and fresh catch of blanquitos, frey and cocineros hanging from a stick or string. We watch as they hide their simple fishing tackle in the reeds on the opposite bank. This type of fishing is completely sustainable in this environment.

Further along the beach there are turtle tracks where sea turtles laid their eggs before dawn and covered them with sand before they shuffled back into the sea to begin their journey back to the Galapagos Islands.

An eager youth arrives with pencil and paper to take our order. We order from the orange cardboard menu, sopes with refried beans, queso fresco and avocado. Quesadillas with Oaxacan string cheese and epazote, two red snapper, one cooked ‘naturel’ and one ‘al ajio’ (with garlic). Some of those tiny shrimps and of course, huge glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice and hot chocolate.

Breakfast is cooked on a comal ( a big flat earthware plate) in a simple open air kitchen, over a wood fire on a handmade adobe stove.

I watched the women cook in the open air kitchen, passing their skills from one generation to the next, kneading the masa (corn meal) to make tortillas and then slapping them on the hot comal to cook. Some formed the basis of quesadillas or others called sopes were pinched to give slightly raised edges, which enclose the refried beans and crumbled cheese. These are served with a slice or two of avocado on top. The tiny shrimp like camaroncitos were added to a huevos Mexicana mixture to make special little scrambled egg patties. They fry them in oil on a pan until crisp on the outside and soft and tender in the centre. They were totally delicious and must be an incredibly important source of calcium for the indigenous people who live beside the river. Simple fare, but truly delicious.

A gastronomic experience that memories are made of, to soothe the soul on a miserable February morning in Ireland.

Quesadillas with Tomato Salsa and Guacamole

Quesadillas are one of the favourite snacks in Mexico. On Sundays in Oaxaca there are little stalls on the streets and squares with women making and selling these delicious stuffed tortillas, they flavoured them with an aromatic leaf called Hoja Santa or Epazote, and shredded chicken and fiery tomato sauce.
Serves 4

8 corn tortillas or 4 wheat flour tortillas
4-8 ozs (110g) Mozzarella cheese, grated or a mixture of Cheddar and Mozzarella
2 green chillies, cut in strips (optional)
Accompaniments
Guacamole
Tomato and Coriander Salsa (foolproof food)

Heat an iron pan or griddle.
There are two ways of making quesadillas, one resembles a sandwich, the other a turnover.

To make the former, lay a tortilla on the hot pan. Put about 1 oz (30 g) of cheese on one half, keeping it a little from the edge, lay a leaf or two of epazote on top, sprinkle on a few strips or dice of chilli. Fold over the other side, seal. Cook for a minute or two, then carefully turn over.

Serve just as it is or cut into quarters with Tomato and Coriander Salsa and Guacamole and perhaps Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans).

Quesadillas with Cheese and Zucchini Blossoms
A favourite filling for quesadillas in Oaxaca is simply grated Oaxacan string cheese (mozzarella is our nearest equivalent) and fresh zucchini blossoms. Thinly sliced green chilli is sometimes added for extra excitement!

Fundido con chistora

Artisan meat curing wizard Fingal Ferguson, makes a delicious chistora, a thin chorizo sausage, which I use for this recipe.
Serves 4

4 earthenware dishes (terracetta) 4½in (11.5cm) wide x 2in (5cm) deep
8oz (225g) cheese - Quesa fresca or Mozzarella
5oz (150g) chistora

Preheat the oven to 275C/500F, gas 9

Slice the chistora into 1inch (2.5cm) lengths.
Divide the grated cheese and chistora between the dishes
Place in the preheated oven for 6 minutes.
As soon as the cheese is melted, serve immediately with lots of hot crusty bread.

Duck Tacos

Serves 6 approx
2 roast duck legs or confit
12 small tortillas
Guacamole
Finely chopped fresh coriander

Remove the meat and crispy skin from the bone, chop in small pieces, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Warm the tortillas, wrap in a cotton napkin and keep warm.

Put a little mound of seasoned duck on each plate or do a communal bowl.
Serve guacamole, finely chopped onion and freshly chopped coriander as an accompaniment, so each diner makes up their own tacos.

Mexican Scrambled Eggs – Huevos a la Mexicana

Chiolita showed me how to make this favourite Mexican breakfast dish. One mouthful transports me back to Oaxaco - one of the most magical places in the world.
Serves 4

1½ ozs (45g) butter (in Oaxaca they would use lard)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-3 chillies - depending on how much excitement you would like in your life!
1 very ripe tomato, chopped
8 free-range eggs
2 teasp. salt

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, cook the onion and chilli until the onion is soft but not coloured, add the tomato and cook gently for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the salt until well mixed, add them to the saucepan and scramble, stirring all the time until cooked to your taste, serve immediately.

Huevos Camaroncitos

Ingredients as above plus 4oz (110g) tiny cooked camaroncitos or tiny peeled cook shrimps.
Molettas
Makes 12

6 soft rolls
Refried beans
Oaxacan string cheese or Mozzarella
Tomato salsa – pico de Gallo
Guacamole

Split the fresh rolls.
Spread each one with warm refried beans. Top with cheese and pop under the grill or into a hot oven until the cheese melts.
Serve with Tomato Salsa and Guacamole.

Foolproof Food

Tomato and Coriander Salsa

This sauce is ever present on Mexican tables to serve with all manner of dishes. Salsas of all kinds both fresh and cooked have now become a favourite accompaniment to everything from pangrilled meat to a piece of sizzling fish. Best in Summer and early Autumn when tomatoes are ripe and juicy.
Serves 4-6

4 very ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½-1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.
Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Cooks Book

Food Adventures - introducing your child to flavours from around the world
By Elizabeth Luard & Frances Boswell, published by Kyle Cathie

Elizabeth Luard is a multi-award-winning cookery writer whose previous books include Flavours of Andalucia, Sacred Food, The Latin American Kitchen and the Food of Spain & Portugal. Frances Boswell made her name as food stylist and food editor for Martha Stewart’s Living, she is also Elizabeth Luard’s daughter in law.

In most societies around the world, even quite young babies join the grown-ups at table, perched on a parent’s or grandparent’s knee, eating what the grown-ups eat – fresh, nutritious food in a child-friendly form. No need for smiley faces on the pizza; babies and small children are naturally adventurous. 

In 100 recipes from all over the globe, this book takes us from first spoonfuls to first schooldays, exploring and adapting the dishes that children are encouraged to try as soon as they’re old enough to sit up and take notice of what’s on the plate. 

It provides recipes which can be prepared by busy parents everywhere, using readily available ingredients and no great culinary skills. Dishes – mostly simple, some a little more sophisticated – are chosen not only because they look and taste good, but because they are the food children actually like to eat.

Food adventures are, after all, not just for babies – they are the starter for a whole new lifetime of enjoyable food.

Avocado with Tortilla Crisps and Black Beans –

Guacamole con nachos y frijoles
From Food Adventures by Elizabeth Luard and Frances Boswell

Mexico is where avocados come from and guacamole is the Aztec word for something mashed up. Avocados are a miracle foodstuff: they contain just about everything a person needs to keep body and soul together – particularly when eaten with maize-flour tortillas, the bread of the Aztecs. They’re high in protein, rich and fibre and carbohydrates, well endowed with all essential vitamins and minerals, and better still for babies, they’re easily digested. High levels of copper and iron in easily assimilable form make them good for anaemia. What more can anyone ask?

Combined with other things that taste good – shredded chicken, beans, fresh white cheese, a few slivers of fiery green chilli – this dish is an adventure in flavours as well as a complete meal in itself.

If your avocados are hard, wrap them in newspaper and store in a warm place for 3-4 days to ripen. Store ripe avocados wrapped in paper in the salad compartment of the fridge: if you keep them in the fridge in a plastic bag, they spoil as soon as they meet the air.
Serves 2 children and 2 adults

For the guacamole
2 large, perfectly ripe avocados
Juice of 2-3 limes or 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
½ teaspoon of sea salt
1-2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped

For the nachos
8 small maize-flour tortillas (or 4 large wheat-flour tortillas)
Oil for shallow frying

For the accompaniments
About 200g shredded cooked chicken
About 175g fresh, crumbly white cheese (Mexican queso fresca or Greek feta)
500g ready-cooked black beans

Halve the avocados, remove the stones, scoop out the flesh and mash roughly with a fork – don’t puree. Fork in the lime or lemon juice, chopped coriander and salt. You can add the chilli to the mash, or provide it on the side for people to stir in their own to taste.

Cut the tortillas into triangles – known in Mexico as nachos, these are the most convenient for scooping. For a tostada, leave the tortilla whole (makes a great edible plate); for chilaquiles, cut into strips (good for adding to soups); for totopos, cut into squares (good for salting and nibbling). Heat a depth of about 2cm oil and drop in the nachos, a few at a time, wait till they crisp and take a little colour (maize-flour tortillas take longer than wheat-flour), then turn to gild the other side.

Serve the crisp nachos with the guacamole. On the side for people to choose what they want, offer crumbled white cheese, shredded chicken and black beans – nicer heated and mashed in a little oil, a preparation know as frijoles refritos, re-fried beans.

Hot Tips

East Cork Slow Food Events
‘Overview of Edible Irish Seaweeds’ with Dr Prannie Rhatigan GP, Member of Board of Directors of The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Letrim – at Ballymaloe Cookery School at 7.00pm on Wednesday 24th January. €10 members, €15 non-members, including refreshments.

‘A Celebration Dinner of Local Food’ with Chef Gary Masterson, at Fire & Ice Café, 8 The Courtyard, Main St. Midleton, Co Cork, Monday 29th January, 7.30pm
€45 members, €50 non-members.
Booking essential – for both events call Miriam on 021-4646785, Miriam@cookingisfun.ie

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group –Meeting on 25th January at 7.30pm at the Crawford Gallery Café –- Passing on the Skills for Growing Your Own Food - Hear about Community Food Initiatives in Sligo/Leitrim from Dr. Prannie Rhatigan. Admission €6 including tea or coffee

Irish Seedsavers, Capparoe, Scariff, Co Clare, Tel 061-921866
info@irishseedsavers.ie to book a place

New series of courses starting this weekend –
20 & 21 January and repeated on 3 & 4 February – Woodland Footpath Construction
27 & 28 January – Introduction to Coppersmithing
7 February – Creating an Orchard, 10 February – Hedgerow Maintenance & Management
24 &25 February – Coppice Management & Rural Crafts
All courses 10-4 €60 for 1 day course and €120 for 2 days -10% discount for Seedsaver members. Bring packed lunch and wet gear.

Irish Hospitality Institute Hospitality Management Skillnet - Health and Safety Two-Day Training Module
Clarion Hotel, Cork - Wednesday 24th January & Thursday 8th February – 9.30am-5.30pm
Mullingar Park Hotel, Co Westmeath – Thursday 8th March & Thursday 22nd March – 9.30am – 5.30pm
For HR Managers, Training Managers, Head Chefs and Operations Managers
Contact Sarah Collins, Tel 01-6624790 - email:marketing@ihi .