A few months ago, my Dad brought me a few bargains from Borders. Among them was a £3 book on Mexican Cookery. Whilst I’m always up for trying new cuisines, I thought that this particular one was a bit out of my reach. The book described a lot of ingredients I’d never heard of before. For a start, it mentioned more types of chilli than I knew existed, strange vegetables like sliced cactus leaf paddles and a few cheeses I didn’t think I could find.
The book lay unused on my shelf for months. Then, two weeks ago, I was reading the BBC food boards when I saw that Charlotte (from Great Big Vegetable Challenge) had been looking for some cactus and had been pointed in the direction of an interesting company called Cool Chile, which imports a lot of Mexican ingredients and storecupboard items.
The next Friday I visited their stall at Borough Market, hoping to get my hands on the most common items mentioned in my book: tomatillos, corn tortillas and nopales (cactus paddles). The very helpful gentleman running the stall sold me the last two, but he didn’t stock the tomatillos at Borough. Apparently no one bought them. I couldn’t help wondering why.
However, he did point me in the direction of Cool Chile’s Taqueria, which happens to be reasonably close to where I live. So the next morning, I set off, eager to get my hands on the elusive ingredient. I was in for a bit of a shock. This was the can of tomatillos I found.
I don’t think that picture does it justice. I think this one puts things in perspective.
Apparently tomatillos are only imported into Britain in cans about twice the size of my head! No wonder they weren’t sellingfast at Borough. These things weigh around 3 kg. Still, I was determined to have my tomatillos, so I bought them anyway. Then the shop assistant told me they didn’t have any carrier bags.
So I walked the three miles back to my flat with my tomatillos cradled in my arms like an oversized baby, getting some very strange reactions from passers by. A few people pointed and laughed. Someone even tried hitting on me. Apparently the thing to do if you’re single and really desperate in London, is walk around with a large can of tomatillos. You’ll attract Goldhawk Road weirdos by the dozen. By the time I got back home, my arms really ached and my throat was a bit sore from yelling at the weirdos to get lost.
The irony is that I still haven’t used the tomatillos. For my first attempt at Mexican cookery, I fancied beef enchiladas and, from what I saw in books and online, tomatillo wasn’t the best accompaniment. I’m saving them now for chicken and tomatillo burritos.
So, what did I make for my first Mexican style meal? Well, beef enchiladas like I said,
a salsa made from mango, finely diced white onion, lime juice, lime zest, green chilles and coriander leaf,
nopales and red pepper salad,
and sweet corn with fried onions and cream.
It was an interesting meal to make. Each particular dish was easy in itself but co-ordinating the lot was a bit challenging. I started early by making the beef. I sweated off one finely diced onion with 2 cloves of garlic and 3 chopped green birds eye chillies. Then I added 500g of chopped braising steak and browned it. I put the lot in a casserole dish with a about a level tablespoon of ground cumin, ground coriander, dried oregano and paprika, then covered the meat with beef stock, added salt and pepper and let it braise slowly at 130C for about 5 hours. While it was in the oven, I made the the creamed corn and let my tinned nopales soak in fresh water to remove the salt from them.
After that I took the beef out of the oven, poured off most of the liquid and shredded the beef. It had picked up the flavours from the spices very well so I didn’t add any more. I just put a dollop in the middle of each of my 8 corn tortillas and rolled them up into enchiladas. These went into a baking dish and were topped with sour cream and grated mild cheddar (as a substitute for Monterey Jack) and baked until the cheese bubbled.
While the enchiladas cooked I quickly assembled the salad and salsa. The salsa was literally just the ingredients mentioned above, mixed together in a bowl. The salad was made from grilled, skinned and sliced red pepper, thinly sliced red onion and the nopales slices in a dressing made from a chile and garlic oil and white wine vinegar. The nopales had an interesting flavour that’s hard to describe. They were very slightly bitter and quite leafy but had a bit of a salty tang from being pickled. Their texture was like cooked runner beans. We liked them a lot.
I’d have liked to submit the tomatillos to Weekend Herb Blogging this week, but since I haven’t yet cooked with them, I’ll have to talk about the nopales instead. Nopales are the paddles of the prickly pear cactus. Over here they are sold pickled in brine. Apparently these things are full of vitamins and fibre, which is very useful as they are very tasty too!
For more information on nopales, see the Wikipedia entry.
This week, Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted by Anna from Anna’s Cool Finds. Head over there to see the round up on Monday.