Mexican

SOPA DE FLOR DE CALABAZA
Courgette flower/squash or pumpkin blossom soup
Mexicans are crazy about the delicate flowers of their native courgette/squash plants and use them in all kinds of dishes. Here’s a fab summer soup, for which you’re going to need either to grow your own courgettes/pumpkins or raid the neighbour’s garden. The epazote (Mexican wormseed) is optional, but lends an inimitable and harmonious flavour to the flowers.

Serves 4-6
30-40 courgette or pumpkin flowers
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp oil or lard
2 large tomatoes (about 300g), peeled and chopped
optional: chopped fresh epazote (Mexican wormseed)
salt and pepper
1.5 – 2 litres chicken stock
sour cream to serve

  • Pull off the spiky bits from around the outside of the flower base and separate the flowers from the stalks
  • Remove the stamens (inside the flowers) and discard
  • Set aside 6 of the most beautiful flowers for a garnish
  • Chop the remaining flowers roughly and set aside
  • Strip the stalks as if peeling celery and chop roughly
  • Soften the stalks with the onion in the oil or lard without browning, then add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, till thick and somewhat reduced
  • Add the roughly chopped flowers, herbs and salt and pepper to taste
  • Moisten with the stock and simmer for about 15 minutes
  • Blend the soup till smooth (in blender or food processor, or in the pan with a hand-held blender) – check the seasoning
  • Spoon a blob of cream on top of each serving and place a whole flower on top

QUESADILLAS DE FLOR DE CALABAZA
Fried quesadillas with pumpkin/courgette blossom filling
Enough for about 10 quesadillas
20 pumpkin (or zucchini/courgette) blossoms
1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped
25g butter
1 tsp oil
chopped fresh herbs (epazote, or chives, tarragon or parsley)
salt and pepper
3-4 tbsp crème fraîche
½ quantity corn tortilla dough

  • Pull off the spiky bits from around the outside of the flower base and separate the flowers from the stalks
  • Remove stamens from centre of flowers, chop the flowers roughly and set aside
  • Strip the stalks (as if peeling celery) and chop roughly
  • Soften the stalks with the shallot or onion in the butter and oil without browning
  • Add the roughly chopped flowers, herbs and salt and pepper to taste
  • Cover and cook for about 10 minutes
  • Raise the heat, uncover and cook till the juices are evaporated
  • Stir in the cream and allow to cool a little
  • Press out rounds of tortilla dough, place a couple of tablespoons of filling in the centre, moisten the edges with water and fold the tortilla up over the filling like a turnover; press the edges together to seal
  • Fry in hot oil on both sides until golden brown and crispy

SALSA VERDE
Mexican green tomato sauce

Every year I get a spontaneous and delightful visitation of Mexican green tomatoes, which seed themselves most promiscuously all over my veggie garden. I make up batches of this sauce to keep in the freezer for when I need a totally Mexican sauce to go with quesadillas, or chicken or pork.

Makes about 1½  cups
20 tomatillos (Mexican green tomatoes)
2-3 fresh green chiles (serrano, jalapeño or peperoncini), seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed
plenty of cilantro, chopped
oil for frying the sauce

  • Remove husks from tomatillos and rinse them (they’re always rather sticky)
  • Put them in a saucepan with just enough water to cover
  • Simmer till tender – 8-10 minutes
  • Tip into the blender with their water and add the chiles, onion, garlic and cilantro
  • Season to taste and blend till smooth
  • Serve cold with grilled meats, or fish, or tortilla dishes

GUACAMOLE WITH TOMATILLOS

Guacamole’s great, however you do it, but if you have a few tomatillos to spare, they add a nice sharpness to this classic sauce or dip.

Makes about 1 cup
1 clove garlic, peeled
a pinch salt
a handful fresh coriander leaves
1-2 fresh green chillies, stalks and seeds removed
3-4 tomatillos, husked and finely chopped
2 ripe avocados
juice of 1 lime
2-3 tbsp water

    • Reduce the garlic, salt, coriander, chiles and tomatillos to a paste in a pestle and mortar (if you have one); or chop them very finely and tip into a small serving bowl
    • Halve the avocados, remove the stones (pits) and reserve them
    • Mash the avocado flesh in with the garlic etc., season the guacamole with lime juice and loosen with a little water to give a soft, dropping consistency
    • Bury the stones (pits) into the guacamole – tradition has it that this stops it from going black – or better still, press a sheet of cling film (Saran wrap) closely to the surface of the guacamole
    • Serve with tortilla dishes, or with grilled meats or fish, or as a dip

PIPIAN VERDE DE PEPITAS (or MOLE VERDE)
Green sauce with tomatillos, sesame and pumpkin seeds

Serves 6
500g green tomatoes
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 fresh green chiles, topped and chopped
50g each sesame seeds and peeled almonds
75g green pumpkin seeds
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed
4 lettuce leaves, roughly chopped
plenty of cilantro or epazote (Mexican wormseed), roughly chopped
a good pinch of cuminseed
salt
250-300ml stock [or juice from cooking the green tomatoes]

  • Peel away the papery husk from the green tomatoes and discard
  • Put the tomatoes in a saucepan with the onion, garlic and chiles and enough water to cover them
  • Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft but not totally collapsed (they will burst open)
  • Drain the tomatoes and reserve the liquid
  • In a large frying pan or sauté pan, heat some oil over moderate heat and fry the seeds till evenly golden (the sesame seeds will pop about a bit) – don’t let them burn or they will be bitter
  • Scrape them into the blender and let cool
  • Fry the onion and garlic till just golden and add this to the blender, together with the lettuce leaves, cilantro or epazote, the cooked tomatoes/onion/garlic and salt to taste
  • Blend the mixture, scrape down the sides to dislodge any bits that have stuck, re-blend till smooth
  • Heat some more oil in the frying/sauté pan over moderate heat and tip in the blended sauce (it will plop away alarmingly, so keep a lid handy)
  • Lower the heat and let the sauce base reduce for 5-10 minutes or until quite thick and pasty
  • Add enough stock or reserved juice to thin down the sauce to a coating consistency
  • Simmer for a further 15 minutes
  • Serve with cooked chicken or pork (simmer in water till tender and use some of the stock to dilute your sauce base)

CORN TORTILLAS

You may have access to good corn tortillas – in other words NOT Old El Paso from a packet, which are inedible. If not, here’s how to make your own.

Makes about 20 x 15cm-diameter tortillas
500g masa harina (tortilla flour)
about 600ml warm water

  • In a mixing bowl or a food processor, mix together the tortilla flour and water to give a fairly firm dough
  • It should be wet enough to hold together without crumbling; if not add a little more water. NB: it should not stick unduly to your hands – if it does, work in a little more flour
  • From a plastic bag, cut two discs of plastic a little larger than your tortilla press and lay one on the press
  • Take a piece of dough the size of a ping-pong ball and roll it round in your hands to form a ball
  • Put in the centre of the press, cover with the second piece of plastic
  • Close the press, press down firmly
  • [Alternatively sandwich the ball of dough between the two plastic discs and roll them out as best you can, turning the plastic with each roll to get an even circle of dough]
  • Heat a heavy, ungreased frying pan or griddle
  • Peel the plastic off the top of the tortilla
  • Transfer the tortilla onto your hand, leaving about half of it hanging down over the outer edge of your palm
  • Peel away the plastic – make sure the tortilla is not stuck to your hand
  • With your palm upwards and half the tortilla hanging down off it, gently lay the overhanging edge down in the pan or on the griddle
  • As the overhanging part makes contact with the pan/griddle, slide your hand away so that the whole tortilla lies in the pan/griddle
  • [Do not hurl the tortilla upside down into the pan or onto the griddle, or it will land in a crumpled heap - once on the heat it can’t be straightened out]
  • Cook the first side until there are small brown spots
  • Turn with a fish slice and cook the second side, pressing down
  • The whole operation shouldn’t take more than a minute and the tortillas should be supple and bendy, not at all hard
  • Stack the tortillas up on a plate as they are ready
  • Use immediately, or keep for 3-4 days in the fridge wrapped in a teatowel and plastic bag, or freeze them

ENCHILADAS VERDES
Tortillas filled with shredded chicken and green tomato sauce

Serves 4
2 large chicken breasts or legs
salt, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme
500g tomatillos
2-3 fresh green chiles (serranos, jalapeños or peperoncini)
plenty of cilantro (fresh coriander)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 onion
oil or lard for frying the sauce and the tortillas
125ml crème fraîche
75g fresh white cheese or feta, crumbled
12 tortillas, slightly stale
chopped onion to garnish

  • Cover the chicken breasts or legs with water, add salt, peppercorns, bay leaf and thyme and simmer till cooked – about 20 minutes for breasts, 30 for legs
  • Remove chicken from stock, discard any skin and bones and shred the meat finely; reserve the stock
  • Husk the tomatillos, rinse and put them in a saucepan with the chiles and just enough water to cover
  • Bring to a boil and simmer till just tender – about 10 minutes
  • Strain the tomatillos, tip into the liquidizer, add the cilantro, garlic and onion and blend till smooth
  • Heat a film of oil or lard in a saucepan and throw in the pureed tomatillos
  • Season to taste and cook steadily for about 10 minutes, stirring, until reduced by half
  • Add enough chicken stock to give the sauce a lightly coating consistency and simmer for about 10 minutes more
  • Heat some more oil or lard in a frying pan and fry the tortillas briefly, turning once – they should be just stiffened, but not hard and crispy
  • Lift them out with tongs and dunk them immediately in the simmering sauce
  • Lay them in a serving dish, fill with shredded chicken and turn them over
  • Continue frying, dunking and filling the rest of the tortillas till all are used up
  • Pour any remaining sauce over the enchiladas
  • Sprinkle with chopped onion and crumbled cheese and serve at once
  • To prepare the dish ahead, do the whole thing up to filling the tortillas and set the dish aside. Reheat in the oven at 180oC for about 20 minutes or until thoroughly hot. Altrnatively, cover with clingfilm and microwave on maximum for 3-4 minutes. Then garnish with onion and cheese

AZTEC PIE
A sort of Mexican lasagne, with four main components: corn or wheat tortillas, shredded chicken, stewed peppers and onions and a spicy tomato sauce. The tortillas, chicken, peppers and sauce can all be prepared ahead and frozen if you wish, for final assembly and baking on the day. A huge and delicious recipe, great for a buffet or a big party.

Serves 16-20
20-25 tortillas, corn or wheat
2 x 1.5 kg chickens
(to give about 1.5 kg  cooked meat)
salt and pepper
thyme, parsley and a bay leaf
1 tbsp oil
500g  onions, finely sliced
4 green peppers, seeded, cored and cut in fine strips
2-4 green chiles, seeded and cut in fine strips
(about 800g cooked rajas)
2 tbsp oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed
2-4 green chiles, seeded and finely chopped
2 x 800g tins chopped tomatoes
(or tinned tomatoes with their juice)
(about 1 litre sauce)
500g sweetcorn, frozen or tinned
200g grated cheese

  • Make the tortillas and lay them out on a working surface for a few hours to dry out
  • Put the chickens in a large (e.g. preserving) pan, cover with water, add salt, peppercorns and herbs
  • Simmer for 25-30 minutes and allow to cool in the stock
  • Discard all skin and bones, reserve the stock
  • Tear the flesh in shreds, put in a bowl and season with salt
  • For the rajas, heat a tablespoon of oil in a large heavy frying pan or casserole
  • Fry the onions, pepper and chile strips fairly briskly for about 15 minutes, stirring, and season to taste with salt and pepper
  • For the sauce, chop the onions, garlic and chiles finely in the food processor, add 1 tin of tomatoes and blend smooth
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy pan until really hot
  • Have the pan lid handy, as the sauce splatters
  • Pour in the tomato mixture and clamp on the lid
  • Purée the second tin of tomatoes and add it to the pan
  • Lower the heat and simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes until well flavoured, check the seasoning
  • Make the quantity up to 1.5 litres with the reserved stock
  • Spread a little sauce in the bottom of a large ovenproof dish
  • Put 4-5 tortillas in the bottom, overlapping them slightly if necessary to cover the bottom
  • Follow with more sauce, a quarter of the pepper strips, chicken, fromage blanc and sweetcorn
  • Continue with three more layers like this
  • At the end put a layer of tortillas, more sauce, fromage blanc and the grated cheese
  • Heat the pie in a 200oC oven for 40-45 minutes or until thoroughly hot

GREEN ENCHILADAS
Enough for 16 tortillas
4 green peppers
2-3 green chiles
4 lettuce leaves
1 onion
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp mole verde powder
1 tbsp oil
3-4 cups stock
salt and pepper
about 1 kg cooked, shredded chicken

  • Roast and peel the peppers, remove seeds and stalks
  • De-seed and de-stalk the chiles, chop roughly
  • Put in the blender with the lettuce, roughly chopped onion, mashed garlic and mole verde powder and blend till smooth
  • Heat the oil in a large, wide pan and throw in the purée
  • Cook, stirring until well seasoned and thick
  • Add enough stock to give a coating consistency, simmer for 20-30 minutes
  • Check the seasoning
  • Fill tortillas with cooked chicken, roll them up, place in a lightly oiled ovenproof dish and bathe in the sauce
  • Bake at 180 C for 30-35 minutes or until hot through
  • Serve with fromage blanc, chopped coriander, chopped spring onion

RED ENCHILADAS
Enough for 12 tortillas
3 chiles anchos
3 chiles pasilla
3 chiles guajillo
2 chiles chipotle
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
a pinch of cuminseed
1 x 400g can tomatoes or passata
salt and pepper
1 tbsp oil
500ml stock
500g cooked, shredded chicken

  • Soften all the chiles on a griddle or ungreased frying pan over gentle heat – be careful they don’t burn
  • Using rubber gloves, remove from the griddle, cut off the tops, slit them down the side and scrape out all seeds and membranes
  • Put chiles in a large bowl and cover with hot water
  • Leave to soak for about 30 minutes or until soft
  • Put the onion, garlic and cuminseed on the griddle and toast gently until the onion is caramelised, the garlic soft, and the cumin fragrant.
  • Put them in the blender with the tomatoes
  • Lift the chiles out of their soaking water with a slotted spoon and add to the blender
  • Blend till smooth, add salt to taste
  • Push through a sieve to remove all nasties
  • Heat some oil in a wide, heavy pan and throw in the purée
  • Clap on the lid and cook over moderate heat for 10-15 minutes or until well seasoned and thick
  • Dilute with stock to give a coating consistency, simmer for 20 minutes more and check the seasoning
  • Fill tortillas with cooked chicken, roll up and place in an ovenproof dish
  • Bathe in the sauce and bake at 180C for 30-35 minutes or until hot through
  • Serve with sour cream, chopped radishes and chopped spring onion

BURRITOS WITH TOMATO SAUCE
Enough for 12 wheat tortillas
1 x 800g can tomatoes
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
2-3 green chiles, de-seeded and roughly chopped
salt and pepper
1 tbsp oil
500ml stock
1 onion, finely choped
1 clove garlic, mashed
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
500g cooked, shredded chicken
chopped coriander

  • Blend together the canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, chiles and salt and pepper to taste
  • Heat the oil in a wide heavy pan over steady heat and throw in the purée
  • Clap on the lid, reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes or until somewhat thickened
  • Dilute to a pouring consistency with the stock
  • Heat a little oil in a wide, heavy pan
  • Soften the onion and garlic without allowing them to brown
  • Add the tomato flesh and cook till softened and mushy
  • Add the chicken, coriander and salt and pepper to taste
  • Cook for 5 minutes
  • Fill the tortillas with chicken, roll up and bathe in the sauce
  • Bake in a 180oC oven for 30-35 minutes or until hot through
  • Garnish with chopped lettuce, coriander, spring onion and serve sour cream on the side

POLLO EN MOLE COLORADITO
Chicken in a spicy-sweet chile, tomato and chocolate sauce

We once spent a terrific day learning to cook this classic dish (one of Oaxaca’s seven moles or sauces) with Susana Trilling, famous cook, teacher and expert on Mexican food who has a cookery school just outside the city (www.seasonsofmyheart.com). Mole coloradito is quite a production (though less so than some of the other moles), so using Susana’s recipe as inspiration, I’ve tried to simplify things, while hopefully remaining faithful to the original. Serve fresh tortillas and rice with fresh corn kernels as accompaniment, and a simple salad of mixed green leaves with olive oil and lemon juice to provide a nice sharp contrast to the rich, sweetish mole.
Serves 8
8 chicken pieces + 1 onion, 2 garlic, sprig of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 2 tsp salt + water to cover
1 banana
chiles: 4 chiles anchos + 5 chiles guajillos
1 onion, peeled and quartered + 3 cloves garlic, unskinned
spices: 1 tsp peppercorns + 2 cloves + a 2-cm piece of cinnamon
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp raisins
2 tbsp almonds
1 thick slice slightly stale French-type bread, cut in chunks
30g sesame seeds
1 x 400g peeled tomatoes or tomato pulp (not purée)
1 tsp salt
about 250ml (1 cup) chicken stock
a pinch of sugar
75g dark (semisweet) chocolate

  • Put the chicken pieces in a large pan with onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt and 2 litres water. Bring to a boil, simmer about 30 minutes till cooked. Let it cool in the stock.
  • Wrap the unpeeled banana in foil and put in a 180oC oven for about 20 minutes or till soft. Peel and reserve.
  • Cut the tops off the chiles, snip open with scissors, shake out seeds and veins. Heat a griddle or heavy, ungreased frying pan over moderate heat and toast the chiles very briefly (1-2’ each side), pressing down with a spatula and turning frequently till supple and fragrant – don’t let them burn. Remove the chiles to a bowl, and cover with hot water and leave for at least 30 minutes or until soft
  • Toast the onion, garlic and spices on the griddle/pan till onion is lightly browned, the garlic soft and the spices fragrant. Slip the garlic out of its skins. Put them all in a blender with ½ a cup of chicken stock (from cooking chicken) and blend till smooth. Pour into a bowl.
  • Heat some oil in a small frying pan, fry raisins till just puffed up; remove. Fry the almonds, bread and sesame seeds till evenly golden, shaking the pan frequently
  • Lift the toasted, soaked chiles out of their water with a slotted spoon and put them in a blender with the tomatoes, raisins, almonds, bread, sesame seeds, banana, salt and 2 cups of chicken stock (you may need to do this in 2 batches). Blend till perfectly smooth, then push the purée through a sieve, pressing down hard with the back of a spoon; discard pips etc.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, deep pan/casserole over moderate heat. Tip in the blended chile/tomato mixture plus the reserved onion/garlic/spice mixture, clap on the lid (it splatters horribly!) and lower the heat a bit so that the sauce simmers and reduces steadily for 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Stir in the chocolate, 2 more cups of stock, a pinch of sugar and salt to taste. Simmer 30 minutes more, check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary. (Mole can/should be prepared ahead: like many of us, it improves with age)
  • Shortly before serving, heat the chicken pieces in the sauce

ESTOFADO ALMENDRADO DE POLLO
Chicken in almond and sesame seed sauce

Another recipe from Oaxaca, this one from chef Horacio Reyes of the Hacienda Los Laureles in San Felipe de Agua, just above the city. Almond sauces are typical of the cooking of Oaxaca, and may be served with chicken, fish or vegetables.

Serves 6
6 chicken legs
onion, garlic, peppercorns, thyme
salt
2 tbsp oil
30g blanched (peeled) almonds
1 slice slightly stale bread or brioche, cut in cubes
30g sesame seeds
a pinch of thyme
a 2 cm piece of cinnamon stick, crumbled
½ tsp peppercorns
2 cloves
2-3 tomatoes (about 300g), peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, mashed
1/2 onion, chopped
2 tbsp stoned (pitted) green olives, chopped
1 tbsp capers
2-3 pickled red chillies, seeded and finely chopped

  • Put the chicken pieces in a large saucepan or casserole, add 1.5 litres water, a quartered onion, some whole garlic cloves, a sprig of thyme and 1 tbsp salt
  • Simmer gently for 25 minutes
  • Leave the chicken to cool in the stock, then lift the chicken out and reserve the stock
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a high-sided frying pan or sauté pan and fry the almonds until golden – turn them once
  • Add the sesame seeds and allow them also take a little colour (beware: they burn easily)
  • Use a splatter shield as the sesame seeds tend to pop about
  • Add the bread cubes and spices and continue frying until over moderate heat until nicely toasted and the spices smell wonderfully fragrant
  • Add the tomatoes, garlic and onion and fry for a few minutes more until the mixture is quite dry
  • Scrape the pan contents into the liquidiser and add 1 cup of chicken stock. Blend till smooth
  • Heat the rest of the oil in the same pan and fry the olives, capers and chillies for a few minutes
  • Have a lid ready and tip in the blended sauce
  • Cover the pan to avoid splashback and when the worst of the explosions have died down, remove the lid and cook the sauce, stirring, for a few minutes
  • Add enough of the reserved chicken stock to thin the sauce to a lightly coating consistency
  • Simmer for 20 minutes
  • Put the chicken into the sauce and simmer gently for 5-6 minutes to heat it through

ARROZ BLANCO CON ELOTE
Mexican rice with corn kernels
Mexicans have a great way with rice (always long-grain), which is soaked first in hot water to remove excess starch, then drained and fried with onion, garlic and chilli. The rice is then cooked with just enough stock until al dente, and in this case corn kernels and green chillies added for extra bite.

Serves 4-6
300g untreated long-grain rice (e.g. Carolina)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 fresh green chillies, seeded and cut in strips or chopped
salt and pepper
oil
500-600ml chicken stock
1 x 300g can corn kernels, drained

  • Soak the rice in hot water to cover for 10 minutes
  • Heat a film of oil in a heavy pan and soften the onion, garlic and chillies in it
  • Tip the rice into a strainer and shake it dry
  • Add it to the pan and fry it, stirring, for 5 minutes or so until the grains are glistening and glazed-looking – they should not brown
  • Reduce the heat, add 500ml of the stock, season to taste with salt and pepper
  • Stir again, then cover and leave it to cook over a low heat for 10 minutes – do not stir during this time
  • Fork in the corn and cook for a further 5 minutes (about 15 in all)
  • After this time the stock should all be absorbed, holes should appear on the surface of the rice and it should be just al dente. If not, add the rest of the stock. Conversely, if it is still rather liquid, raise the heat and cook hard to boil off the excess stock
  • Fork the rice up and serve at once

BUDIN DE CALABACITAS
Courgette (zucchini) gratin
Mexicans love budín – literally ‘pudding’. This sometimes takes the form of a dessert, but more often it’s a sort of vegetable pudding/soufflé. In this one, the courgettes are grated, squeezed and briskly fried, then mixed with eggs, fromage blanc and cheese and baked. A tasty dish that’s good for a party as it can be made ahead ready for baking – or good for supper.
Serves 4-8 depending on the rest of your menu
700g courgettes (green, yellow or a mixture), sliced
salt
1 tbsp oil
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 fresh green chile, seeded and finely chopped
2 eggs
4 tbsp fromage blanc
50g grated Parmesan
optional: 150g canned or frozen corn
4 tbsp soft (not toasted) breadcrumbs

  • Heat the oven to 180C/350F
  • Lightly butter an ovenproof dish, charlotte mould or soufflé dish
  • Grate the courgettes finely (grating disc of food processor or rösti grater), put them in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for about 30 minutes so that they release some of their water
  • Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the onion, garlic and chile till soft
  • Press the courgettes down firmly to get rid of excess water
  • Tip them into the pan and fry briskly for 5-6 minutes or until just tender and water evaporated
  • Mix together the eggs, fromage blanc, cheese, corn (if used) and salt and pepper in a large bowl
  • Add the courgettes and stir in the breadcrumbs
  • Tip the mixture into the buttered dish and bake for 30-40 minutes till lightly golden, slightly risen and firm when you press it (with a shallow gratin dish this will go faster than with a deep soufflé dish)

 

CHILES EN NOGADA
A gorgeously baroque, classic Mexican dish of peppers stuffed with meat, fruit and nuts with a fabulous fresh walnut sauce. The dish is really only feasible in the autumn when the walnuts are fresh and pomegranates just coming into the shops. It’s a huge production, but you can make the whole thing ahead, and the result is so wonderful, it’s worth it

Serves 6
24 fresh walnuts, shelled (about 100g shelled weight)
250ml/1 cup milk
1 thick slice white bread, crusts removed, cut in cubes
200ml/scant cup crème fraîche épaisse
125g low-fat cream cheese (e.g. St Moret)
salt
6 chiles poblanos or green peppers
2 tbsp oil
800g ground/minced pork (e.g. neck or shoulder)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed
2-3 fresh green chillies (peperoncini), seeded and finely chopped
1 x 400g tin tomato pulp or passata, or peeled tomatoes in their juice
3 cloves
a pinch of cuminseed
a 1 cm piece of cinnamon stick, crumbled
a few black peppercorns
3 tbsp raisins or sultanas
2 tbsp peeled, chopped almonds
1 firm pear (e.g. Abate), peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
seeds from 1 pomegranate
plenty of flat-leaf parsley

  • For the walnut sauce (nogada), cover the shelled walnuts with boiling water, leave for 10 minutes
  • Peel away the brown papery membrane as best you can and drop them in the milk. (Add freshly boiled water if they become difficult to peel.)
  • Put the nuts in the blender with the milk and bread cubes
  • Blend till smooth
  • Add the cream and cream cheese and blend briefly until smooth (don’t overdo it, or the sauce will curdle)
  • Season with salt
  • Refrigerate the sauce for a few hours and up to 2 days
  • Sear the peppers over a gas flame or under an overhead grill (broiler) until thoroughly blackened and blistered, turning regularly
  • Rinse off the skin under running water, retain the stalks (helps hold them together), cut a slit down the side and remove seeds
  • Heat some oil in a large heavy pan and fry the ground/minced meat until it stiffens and loses its pink colour
  • Lift it out with a slotted spoon, add a little more oil if necessary
  • Fry the onion, garlic and chillies gently until soft but not browned
  • Crush the cloves, cuminseed, cinnamon and peppercorns in a mortar, or chop them roughly
  • Raise the heat and add the crushed spices and the tomatoes
  • Stir and mash over moderate heat until thickened
  • Put the meat back in the pan with the raisins/sultanas, almonds and fruits Add salt to taste and cook for 15 minutes
  • Fill the peppers with the mixture, arrange on a large, flat dish, spoon the cold sauce over the warm peppers and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds
  • (For a longer wait, fill the peppers, cover with foil and refrigerate. Heat in a 180oC oven for 20 minutes, then add sauce and seeds.)

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