Much to my delight, our local Asian food store has diversified. It is now offering a range of authentic-tasting Mexican goodies made in New Zealand by Californian Faine Alexander. She and her Mexican-American husband David arrived in New Zealand 12 years ago only to find a lack of essential food ingredients they love.
A special tortilla machine was purchased to press corn tortillas from imported masa harina flour. The tortillas now sell under Faine's Tio Pablo label and demand is such that a more modern press has been ordered.
The ever-growing Tio Pablo range also includes pepitas (spicy pumpkin seeds), taco mixes, meat rubs, corn husks for tamales and a delicious traditional hot chocolate mix.
Faine also imports the Mexican La Morena brand of sauces and chillies. Check out www.tiopablo.co.nz.
A few Mexican basicsTortillas (pronounced tor-tee-yas): There are two types of tortillas. Flour tortillas are generally prepared from white flour and are very soft, great for burritos, enchiladas, fajitas (fa-hee-tahs) and quesadillas (kay-sa-dee-yas).
Corn tortillas are prepared from flour made from corn (masa harina), and are firmer.
Tostadas are fried corn tortillas piled with savoury toppings. Taco shells are folded and fried corn tortillas.
Make your own corn chips by cutting corn tortillas into wedges and frying.
Chipotle (chee-poat-lay): These hot jalapeno (hell-a-pen-yo) chillies are generally smoked before adding to sauces and seasoning mixes. They have an earthy flavour.
Tamales (ta-mar-lays): Tamales are little packages of golden corn dough encasing a tasty filling then wrapped and steamed in corn husks. (I use corn husks to line muffin pans when making savoury muffins.)
A little history
Mexican cuisine is tied to the culture, social structure and popular traditions that date back 7000 years. Corn, beans and chilli peppers are still the basis of their cooking.
Spanish conquerors introduced meat and cheese. From 1863 to 1867 the French occupied Mexico, and although the visit was short, dishes such as croquettes, creme caramel and baguettes have remained part of the local menu.
SALMON SALAD TOSTADAS WITH RED RICE
Chilli Dressing: 1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp lime juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
2-3 tsp chipotle sauce
salt and black pepper to taste
Red Rice: 1/2 cup long grain rice
1 & 1/4 cups water
2 tbsp Tio Pablo Red Rice Mix
Tostadas: 1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
1 each: small green, red pepper (capsicum), thinly sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
1/2 avocado, stoned, peeled and sliced
200g natural wood-smoked salmon
4 corn tortillas
1/2 cup coriander leaves
Dressing: Combine ingredients and chill until required.
Red Rice: Rinse rice under cold water until it runs clear. Place in a saucepan with the water and the red rice mix. Cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer on low until the rice has absorbed the liquid.
Tostadas: Prepare the veges and keep separate.
Drain the salmon and break into pieces.
Heat two to three drops of oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Add a tortilla and swirl in oil to coat evenly. Cook on one side until bubbles appear. Flip over and cook until slightly crisp on the edges. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
Place on a serving plate and top with the salmon and veges. Garnish with coriander. Dot with a little dressing. Serve with the red rice. Serves 2.
This family favourite was given to me more than 20 years ago by Maureen Wolf, the then-menu executive of American Airlines. It has been tweaked over the years.
Tomato Salsa: 4 tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 tbsp chipotle sauce or 1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
2 shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp each: chopped coriander, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, sugar
Salt to taste
Guacamole: 1 small avocado
1-2 tsp chopped red chilli
Salt and pepper to taste
1-3 tbsp lime or lemon juice
Chicken: 2 (300g) small skinned and boned chicken breasts
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp ground cumin or Mexican seasoning mix
Extras: 1 cup shredded lettuce
Light sour cream
1/2 cup finely grated cheddar cheese
4 flour tortillas
Drain excess liquid from the tomatoes. Add to all the other ingredients. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
Guacamole: Stone, peel and mash avocado. Mix with chilli, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Chicken: Brush the chicken with the melted butter and sprinkle with the cumin. Grill for about five minutes each side or until cooked. Cool slightly then chop.
Warm the tortillas through in microwave for about 30 seconds.
Place the lettuce, sour cream, cheese, salsa and guacamole in separate bowls. Take a flour tortilla and fill it with chicken and all the "fixin's". Roll up and enjoy. Serves 2 for dinner or 4 as a light meal.
QUICK MOLE SAUCE
Mole is a generic name for a number of sauces used in Mexican cooking.
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp spiced pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 tsp diced chilli
1/2 tsp each: ground cumin, cinnamon
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup water
25g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Toast sesame seeds in a frying pan until lightly coloured. Combine with the pepitas and place to one side.
Heat the oil in the frying pan. Saute the onion, until softened. Add the garlic and spices, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the barbecue sauce, water and chocolate. Simmer until the chocolate is melted.
Add the pepitas and sesame seeds. Cool a little then blend until smooth. Great served on baked chicken. Makes about 1 cup.
NIFTY MEXICAN-STYLE FRITTATAS
An experiment using dried corn husks - they line Texas-sized muffin pans and provide containers for a frittata mix.
1 cup whole kernel corn
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 each: small red pepper (capsicum), red chilli, seeded and diced
3 large eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped coriander or parsley
Preheat the oven to 190C. Lightly oil three Texas-sized muffin holes.
Soften three dried corn husks by soaking in warm water for about 20 minutes. Place a plate on top to keep them submerged.
Bring the corn to the boil in salted water for one minute then drain well.
Heat the oil in a frying pan. Saute the onion, until softened. Add the garlic, red pepper and chilli. Saute until the pepper is softened. Combine with the corn.
Dry the corn husks and line the muffin holes, pressing in firmly.
Spoon the corn mixture into each hole. Top with the seasoned eggs.
Bake for 15 minutes or until set.
These frittatas are great served with sour cream and a side salad. Serves 3.