The menu for my Mexican meal consisted of the following:
- Horchada. A mexican milk-like drink flavoured with cinnamon.
- Baja Fish Tacos. Deep-fried fish served in soft tortillas with the following condiments:
- Guacamole: an avocado-based mash
- Salsa Fresca a.k.a. Pico de Gallo: a tomato based salsa using fresh ingredients
- Mexican Red Cabbage Slaw
- Corn on the cob
- Sweet Tamales.
I was most interested in cooking a Mexican meal because I know I like Mexican food and because this is one of the Spanish-speaking countries I’ll be visiting next spring. Also, I do not generally eat much fish or seafood, but lately I have been trying more of it and am discovering that I like it. Since both the places I’ll be travelling to this year have diets that are heavily based on fish and seafood, I figured this was a good opportunity to try out cooking a fish-based meal.
1/3 cup fragrant rice
1/2 cup almonds
600 ml (2 1/2 cups) water
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
You can make this drink using a blender, saucepan and cheesecloth, but we have a small appliance called a Soyabella that easily creates non-dairy milk, so I used that.
Soak the rice and almonds in 600 ml of water for 4 hours.
Process in Soyabella on “Milk” setting. Alternatively purée, then heat to simmering for 20 minutes and strain the solids off using a cheesecloth bag.
To the liquid, stir in vanilla extract, milk, sugar and cinnamon. Refrigerate and serve cold.
Juice of half a large lemon
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. finely chopped jalapeño pepper (to taste)
1/3 cup finely chopped mild onion
1 tsp. salt
Note: Avocados should be perfectly ripe. This means they are just ripe enough to indent slightly with a bit of pressure from your thumb through the skin, but they should not already be squishy.
Halve and pit avocados and then shell them out. You can dice them into chunks, and/or mash them smooth with a fork. For fish tacos guacamole should be pretty chunky, so I just diced.
Dice the other ingredients and mix them in. Adjust salt to taste.
Guacamole can be made ahead of time, but you need to prevent the avocado from oxidizing since this leads to grey discolouration. What I did was put a double layer of plastic wrap on top of it, in direct contact with the guacamole, and refrigerate. Then when it was time to serve, I removed the wrap and gave it a good stir. It stayed a nice bright green.
4 ripe tomatoes
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup mild white onion, diced
1/2 a large bunch of cilantro
1 Tbsp. finely diced jalapeño
1 tsp. salt
Dice tomatoes. Juice the lime. Chop the cilantro. Add all ingredients, with the exception of the salt, to a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Add the salt just a few minutes before serving, as it draws a lot of liquid out of the tomatoes and makes the salsa runny.
Mexican Red Cabbage Slaw
1 1/2 cups finely sliced red cabbage
2 Tbsp. agave nectar (or honey)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt, to taste
Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until served.
1 lb. white-fleshed fish fillets (eg. halibut, though I used basa because it was what my family had on hand)
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
oil for frying
8 – 10 small corn or flour tortillas
Mix together the flour, chili pepper and black pepper on a plate. Cut the fish into strips about 3/4″ by 5″. Dredge the fish strips in the flour mixture, then fry in oil heated to 375ºF until crispy and golden-brown on the outside. Set on paper towels to drain any excess oil.
Note about frying: Traditionally in Mexico the fish would be deep-fried for 2-3 minutes but I decided to shallow-fry, since I was only making a small quantity and didn’t want to waste a lot of oil. I put oil in a small wok to a depth of about 1 cm and heated it on medium-high. A good test for temperature is to put the tip of a wooden spoon in and see if it bubbles. The oil should be quite hot, but below the smoke point. With shallow-frying, only one side of the fish is immersed at a time, so I cooked it for a total of about 5 minutes, flipping it part-way through. This was my first experience frying in oil.
To assemble the tacos, place a strip of cooked fish on a tortilla and spoon on the three condiments (salsa fresca, guacamole and cabbage slaw) to taste.
A couple of dozen corn husks
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Optional: 2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
1/4 cup shortening or lard
1/2 cup masa harina
2/3 cup of milk (or a combination of milk and coconut milk)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
Note: I couldn’t find dried corn husks anywhere, so I added corn on the cob as a side to the dinner and used the husks that came off the fresh corn. I dried them in a very low oven for half an hour and then soaked them in warm water. This made them pliable and less prone to tearing and cracking than if I had used them fresh.
Note: Masa harina is a special type of corn flour used a lot in Mexican cooking. It has lime (calcium hydroxide) as an additive and that gives it a distinctive flavour. Traditionally lime was needed to swell the corn and loosen the husks on the kernels, making it easier to grind the dried corn to a fine flour manually using stones. Now that corn flour is produced in factories the lime is no longer needed for this reason, but the flavour is traditional so it is still used.
Set the dried corn husks aside to soak in some water for half an hour.
Combine the dried cranberries with a bit of hot water and/or the Grand Marnier. Set aside to soak.
Meanwhile beat the vegetable shortening until fluffy and then add half the masa harina. Beat in the milk.
Combine the remaining masa harina with the salt and baking powder and beat into the milk mixture. Drizzle in the melted butter, beating well.
Drain any excess liquid from the cranberries and fold them into the masa mixture with a spoon.
Remove the corn husks from their soaking water. To assemble the tamales lay a large corn husk on the counter and place 2 Tbsp. of the filling in the middle. Fold the sides in to make a tube, and then fold the top and bottom in. Stack the tamales in a microwave-safe dish.
Cover and microwave for 6 minutes on high. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes. To eat, unfold the corn husk to get at the filling.
Traditional sweet or savory tamales are a popular street food in Mexico. They are usually cooked by steaming over large pots of water for an hour or two. However we found that microwaving is a great way to cook them in small quantities. They stay moist and they cook well through to the centre quickly.