Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Essential storecupboard items
The heart and soul of Mexican cuisine, don't be fooled into thinking that all chillies are the same. Here are my top three:
Jalapeño - has a nice heat and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Chipotle - the hottest chili at the moment in terms of food trends, chipotles en adobo are a great ingredient for the Mexican cook.
Ancho - readily available from select stockists in powder form, this makes a great seasoning paste and is an easy and prep-free ingredient to spice up dishes.
For more info, see my earlier post on types of chillies.
No Mexican meal is complete without a side of tortillas. If you have the time (and patience), try making your own. Nothing beats the smell of fresh dough and a tortilla cooking on a hot griddle. If you just want to grab some from the supermarket, I think Discovery produces some of the best shop-bought flour tortillas but if you want corn, then Old El Paso sell these.
Another common side dish particularly in Tex-Mex cuisine, Mexican rice is usually fried with onion and then simmered in stock and seasonings. It was first introduced to the New World by the Spanish and quickly became part of the country's staple diet. Medium-grain white rice is used in Mexico but difficult to find in the UK so use long-grain instead.
Another staple of the Mexican diet, the type of bean varies depending on the region and. Black beans are widespread while pinto beans are more common in northwest Mexico and southwest USA. The pinto bean is one of the state vegetables of New Mexico and more commonly used to make refried beans (frijoles refritos) but either bean can be used. I love both but if forced to make a decision, I'd choose pinto. Both are becoming more readily available in UK supermarkets, both in tinned and dried form. You can also buy refried beans in a tin but I strongly advise making your own!
Many a Mexican sauce will contain tomatoes. Plum tomatoes have a rich, pulpy texture which results in a thick and flavourful sauce while cherry tomatoes are great for fresh salsas. There's nothing wrong with using tinned but if you want to add extra depth to your dish, buy them fresh. Make sure they are nice and ripe and roast them under the grill under charred and blackened. It's up to you if you want to leave the skins on, but I think little black flecks running through a brick red sauce looks very attractive.
Domesticated by the Aztecs, the tomate verde is NOT a green tomato, and is more closely related to a gooseberry. If you've seen one enclosed in it's thin, papery skin, you'll understand why. I'm yet to find fresh tomatillos for sale in the UK but they can be bought tinned from Mexican food stockists. They have a wonderful flavour and essential if you want to make salsa verde.