Dreaming of Mexico

D

I find myself dreaming of Mexican breakfasts weeks before I travel. On my last trip, without even trying, we ate a different dish for breakfast every day for two whole weeks and I have a feeling we only barely scratched the surface, not a bowl of cereal in sight.

There was always freshly squeezed juices, orange, mandarin, pineapple or watermelon to wake one up. And then Mexican hot chocolate or freshly ground coffee maybe from Chiapas or Oaxaca.

Next a plate of succulent, juicy, fruit with the sort of ripe flavours we can only dream of, mango, papaya, melon with a little segment of lime to make it really sizzle.

On day one, at a little hotel called Rancho San Cayetano near the Monarch butterfly preserve in Michaocan, we had Huevos Rancheros and Mexican beans with queso fresco crumbled on top. There were also delicious little rolls called bolillos to slather the local honey or guava and passion fruit jam onto. Sadly the hotel was very empty because of the drug situation in the area.

Next morning, it was a little cazeula with a layer of beans on the base then some scrambled eggs with chilli, coriander and chorizo, topped with a layer of melted queso fresco and a sprinkle of chopped parsley, unbelievably delicious and sustaining.

In Oaxaca, a city about one hour south of Mexico City,  Cholita Diaz, our Mexican friend’s cook , served us her spicier version of Huevos Rancheros  passed down in her family for many generations, This is how indigenous Mexican women learn how to cook, helping to slice and chop from the time they are tiny children. No written recipes just effortlessly learning the techniques and quantities by watching and tasting.

Next we flew down to Puerto Escondido on the Pacific coast in a tiny 12 seater Aero Toucan plane, a bird’s eye view of the remote villages tucked into the mountains and rocky hillsides.

Here Angelina Martinez Perez was waiting, putting the finishing touches to the sopes that she had hand formed from the fresh masa brought in the Mercado that morning.  While we are slowly savouring our plates of freshly cut fruit, Angelina cooked the sopes on the metal comal, (griddle), spooned some refried beans into each one and sprinkled it with crumbled queso fresco.  We ate several of these still warm from the comal, each with slivers of ripe avocado. A quintessential taste of Mexico.

Angelina has a myriad of dishes, many pre-hispanic, in her repertoire. Next morning, it was Divorced Eggs (Huevos divorciados), two crispy fried eggs on a warm tortilla, tomatillo salsa on one and a spicy salsa roja enveloping the other.  The tomatilla salsa was made earlier by boiling the green tomatoes with several serrano chillies until soft and then pounding them with a little chopped onion in a molcajete  – a pestle and mortar made of volcanic rock – with a small clove of garlic and a little salt. This and salsa roja with a base of tomatoes roasted on the comal are ever present on Mexican tables.

For our next breakfast we had quesadillas, but not just any quesadillas, these were made with Hoja Santa (piper sanctum), a large aromatic leaf which grows on a smallish bush all over Mexico these came fresh from Angelina’s garden. Again they were easy to make, she just tears a few pieces of the fresh leaf over a fresh corn tortilla, scatters it with some strips of Oaxacan string cheese, then slides it on to a hot comal. As soon as the cheese starts to melt, Angelina folds the tortilla to make a half moon shape, flips it over and cooks for a few more minutes until slightly crisp on both sides. Once again these quesadillas are served with a salsa verde and a salsa roja.

And there’s still lots more, next day its Huevos con Hoja Santa. First the fresh leaves are well washed, then fried in a little vegetable oil on a hot pan until crisp on both sides, then dried on kitchen paper.

Just before serving they are returned to the pan, one at a time, Angelina cracks two fresh eggs carefully on top and sprinkles each with a little salt, they are cooked sunny side up and transferred onto a plate as soon as the white sets, again served with spicy salsas.

Hoja Santa (piper sactum) is not something you’ll find in every supermarket in Ireland, but it is certainly available from your local garden centre and worth acquiring if you have a yen for Mexican food like me.

My morning cookery lessons continued, next it was chilaquiles con polo.

In common with many others cultures, Mexicans believe it is unlucky to waste even a scrap of tortilla, (their bread), so there are countless ways to use up stale pieces, in soups, salads and of course chilaquiles, here the crisp corn tortillas are layered with shredded chicken, cheese and covered with hot salsa verde or roja. They are eaten hot with a dollop of crema (sour cream) and crumbled queso fresco on top and of course Mexican beans.

I’ll mention just two more because as you can see I could go on and on.

Entomatadas con enfrigolada , yet another of my favourites and one that we  could easily reproduce here, Angelina first cooks a large pot of salsa roja and then purees it to make a silky sauce. White corn tortillas are then heated on both sides in a little oil on a hot pan, folded in half or quarters if the tortillas are very large. Just when you are ready to eat, dip the tortillas into the hot sauce and arrange overlapping on a serving dish, spoon a little more sauce over them and sprinkle some queso fresco and chopped parsley over the top.  We ate them with chopped onion, crema and chopped parsley. You can’t imagine how moreish these are!

On our last morning as an extra special treat, our Mexican friends asked Angelina to make a special type of tamale wrapped in banana leaves called Tamales Amarillia de pollo for our farewell breakfast, the mole sauce had 32 roasted guajillo and 7 costeño chillies (the latter is a rare chilli only found in a small area of Oaxaca) It was fantastically delicious but surprisingly not too hot.

No hope of making this here so I just have to return to Oaxaca to recapture the flavour as soon as possible, oh how I wish!

 

Mexican Scrambled Eggs – Huevos a la Mexicana

 

Cholita Diaz, a wonderful Mexican cook showed me how to make this favourite Mexican breakfast dish. One mouthful transports me back to Mexico – one of the most magical places in the entire world.

 

Serves 4

 

45g (1 1/2oz) butter (in Mexico they would use lard)

1 small onion, finely chopped

1-3 chillies – de-seeded and finely chopped (the amount depends on how much excitement you would like in your life!)

2 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

8 eggs, free-range if possible

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

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

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and salt well; add them to the saucepan and scramble, stirring all the time until cooked to your taste. Serve immediately on warm plates, preferably with Tortillas.

 

Tomatilla Salsa

 

Salsa Verde is always a surprise and varies with each cook’s interpretation – this one is quite hot but of course you could reduce the number of chillies.

 

6 tomatillas – (green tomatoes, covered with a papery husk)  approx. ½ kg

4 Serrano chillies

1 heaped tablespoon chopped onion

1 small clove garlic

a loose fistful of fresh coriander leaves and soft stem

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons water

 

Peel the husk off the tomatillas and discard. Put them into a saucepan with the chillies. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil and cook for approximately ten minutes until both are soft. Drain and put into a food processor, add the chopped onion, garlic, coarsely chopped coriander, salt and water whizz for several minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve with everything!

 

Salsa Roja

 

Angelina uses plum tomatoes for all her recipes, which are considerably larger than our standard sized tomatoes. It’s also worth noting that Mexican garlic cloves are about half the size of ours and this salsa is also quite hot but you can adjust the number of chillies as you please.

 

Makes about ¼ pint

4 large ripe plum tomatoes quartered or 6 – 7 of our tomatoes

4 Serrano chillies

1 small clove garlic

scant teaspoon salt

 

Wrap the tomatoes in tin foil and roast on the comal turning occasionally until soft – 20 minutes approximately. Alternatively pre-heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Mark 7 and roast for similar length of time until soft.

Put the tomatoes and the juices, roasted chillies, crushed clove of garlic and the scant teaspoon of salt into a blender and whizz for about 30 seconds. Taste and correct the seasoning.  Put into a bowl and serve as an accompaniment.

 

Chilaquiles Verdes con Rojos

 

Serves 4

 

6 –8 corn tortillas (stale is fine)

12 fl ozs (350ml) Tomatilla Salsa (see recipe)

8 fl ozs (250 ml) chicken broth approx

1 large chicken breast, cooked and shredded with fingers

1 large sprig epazote (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Accompaniment

2-4 tablespoons sour cream

4-8 tablespoons crumbled Queso fresco or Mozzarella and Cheddar mixed

1 onion, thinly sliced (optional)

fresh coriander leaves

 

Ovenproof dish 8 x 5 inches (20 x 10 cm)

 

Cut the tortillas into eights.  Dry them out in a moderate oven if they are moist, they are best stale and leathery for this dish.

 

Heat oil in a deep fry and cook the tortilla pieces in batches until crisp and light golden.  Drain on paper towels.

Just before serving, spread half the tortillas over the base of a deep sided serving dish.  Cover with shredded chicken, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

 

Thin out the sauce with a little chicken broth if too thick.  Put another layer of tortillas on top. Cover with the hot sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.

 

Heat through in a preheated oven 230°C/450°F/regulo 8 for 5-10 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

 

Serve immediately with sour cream, more grated cheese for sprinkling and fresh coriander leaves.

 

Hoja Santa Quesadilla

 

Serves One

 

2 – 3 white corn tortillas

1 Hoja Santa leaf (Piper sanctum) about 8 inches across

Oaxacan string cheese or a mixture of mozzarella and cheddar

Pinch of salt

 

Salsa Verde

 

Lay a tortilla on a chopping board, tear a few pieces of fresh Hoja Santa onto the tortilla then scatter some Oaxcan string cheese on top (we would use mozzarella mixed with a little Cheddar). Heat a comal (griddle) or frying pan over a medium heat. Cook the tortilla for a couple of minutes. As soon as the cheese starts to melt, fold over and cook the other side until slightly crisp on both sides.  Serve 2 -3 quesadillas per person with Salsa Verde.

 

Hoja Santa con Huevos

 

Serves one

 

a fresh Hoja Santa leaf  (Piper sanctum) about 8 inches across

a little vegetable or extra virgin olive oil

2 fresh eggs

a little salt

 

Salsa Roja

 

Wash the leaf well on both sides and shake off the excess water. Heat a little vegetable or olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the hoja santa leaf, it will splutter a bit, cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side until the leaf becomes crisp. Dry on kitchen paper.

Just before serving, put the leaf back into a hot pan, crack two eggs gently onto the leaf, and sprinkle with a little salt. Cook sunny side up until the white sets. Then slide onto a warm plate. Spoon a little salsa roja around the yolks and serve immediately.

 

Hot tips

Butter and cheese making is definitely one of those simple but deeply satisfying kitchen crafts that not only deserves to be resurrected but can also provide additional income or a vibrant business.  Learn how to make a long list of delicious dairy products including homemade butter, yoghurt, cottage cheese, coeur a la crème, labneh, paneer, and a simple farmhouse cheese on the half day Homemade Butter, Yogurt and Several Cheeses course on Wednesday 16th January at Ballymaloe Cookery School – from 9:30am to 2:00pm – phone 021 4646785 or book online www.cookingisfun.ie

The Standing Stone Garden Centre near Schull stocks Hoja Santa (Piper Sanctum) plants, or ask your local garden centre to order it for you.

East Cork Slow Food Event – Kathe Burt O’Dea will give a talk on her research project SPUDS (Sustainable Potato United Development Study) www.spuds.ie at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Tuesday January 15th 2013 7pm. Slow Food Members €6.00 Non Slow Food Members €8.00. Booking essential 021 4646785 or slowfoodeastcork@gmail.com. Proceeds to the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. www.slowfoodireland.com

Midleton Farmers Market reopens today after the Christmas break from 9:00am to 2:00pm on the Fair Green. Lots of Jerusalem Artichokes, kale, Vacherin Mont d’or cheese, Golden Wonders, local honey and gluten free baking to die for…. www.midletonfarmersmarket.com

 

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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