Mexican Tostadas

Finally this week, I have been focused on Mexico. I think it just must just be the sort of vegetables that are in season right now – cherry tomatoes, chillies. sweetcorn, avocadoes and chard all lend themselves handsomely to Mexican flavours and as sweet potatoes appear back in the boxes, I am sure I will be making a whole lot more. Mexican food may at first seem complicated but the essence of it is a selection of fillings which pretty much always comprise of a few staple ingredients – meat or vegetables with chilli (a huge assortment), black beans, re-fried beans, avocados, lime, sweetcorn, cheese, sour cream, queso fresco, salsa of some sort and coriander. These can be put together in any combination of your choice. Then there is the choice of vessel.
I decided to make Tostadas which are little, fried corn tortillas. You can do this quite simply yourself by buying ready made all corn tortillas but if you wished you can make your own. There is a recipe in Thomasina Mier’s book Mexican Food At Home but beware – it does require the purchase of Masa Harina flour, unless you already have some in the store cupboard.
If you didn’t fancy Tosdadas, which just happen to be my particular favourite when we occasionally visit to Wahaca, the following recipes would make equally tasty fillings for a Burrito, Taco or a Quesadilla, maybe with a little extra cheese.

 
To make the Tostasas
All corn tortillas
Vegetable oil
Lay the corn tortillas flat stacking them neatly on top of each other and using a pastry cutter, about 8 cms, cut three stacks of rounds. If you trim up what you are left with, you should have perfect shape for Tortilla chips. Heat about 200ml of oil in a shallow frying pan until it is sizzling hot (you can test it with a piece of off-cut tortilla – the oil should really sizzle when it goes in) and fry them in the hot oil until crispy and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt. Fry the Tortilla chips the same way and serve with the salsa or avocado dip.

Chard and sweetcorn

Swiss Chard and Smoky Pan-Toasted Sweetcorn
Kernels from 2 ears sweet corn
1 tsp smoked paprika
Pinch of smoked chipotle chilli
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 handful red, yellow or green chard
Pinch of smoked chipotle chilli
Sea salt
Cut the sweetcorn from the cobs. Do this by first removing the husks and then top and tail each cob to give it a secure base and cut each one in half. (As in photo)

Removing corn kernals

Stand each piece upright and using a sharp knife cut downwards releasing the individual kernals. Heat a large heavy frying pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Add a little oil and the corn kernels and cook, shaking the pan and stirring, until the kernels brown, about 5 minutes. Be careful because the corn can pop. Season with salt and add the chilli and smoked paprika. Shake well and remove corn from the heat.

Steamed Chard

If the chard has a large stalks (this is not usually the case early in the season) separate the chard stalks from the leaves and chop both leaves and stalks roughly, keeping them separate. Add the stalks to a pan of boiling salted water and cook for 2 minutes and then add the leaves as well and blanch briefly. Remove and spread out on a dry tea towel to cool. When cool use the tea towel to squeeze out as much water as possible. Cut the garlic into very thin slithers. Heat a little more olive oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic until just turning light golden brown. Add the Chard and season with salt and mix well. Fry briefly and remove from the heat. Add the corn and stir through and check the seasoning. I like these topped with sour cream.

Cherry Tomato and Black Beans Salsa

Cherry Tomato, Black Bean and Coriander Salsa
8 ripe cherry tomatoes
½ tin of black beans (drained)
2 spring onions
1 lime
Small bunch of coriander
1 – 2 small fresh red chilli
Sea salt
A glug of extra virgin olive oil

Cut your tomatoes into quarters and chuck them in a bowl. Finely shred the spring onions and add them. Squeeze the juice from the lime and add ½ to the tomatoes with a good pinch of salt and a glug of olive oil. Roughly chop the coriander and add that two. Remove the seeds from the chilli and finely chop. Add ½ to begin with. Stir in the beans well and check seasoning. It should have a good kick, so if it is too mild add more chilli. Add move lime or olive oil to taste. Top with creamed avocado.

Creamed Avocado
This is simply Guacamole without all the ingredients. Since the same ingredients are in the salsa, there is no need to add them twice. I especially omit the chilli as the salsa should have more than enough. The avocado topping is there to cool your mouth down.

1 avocado (perfectly ripe)
Juice of ½ a lime
Tbsp. of sour cream
Handful of coriander, washed, drained and finely chopped
Sea salt.

Mash up the avocado until completely smooth. Add the lime, sour cream and finely chopped coriander. Add salt to taste.

Beetroot Tostadas

Beetroot, Cumin Seed, Sour Cream and Coriander with Feta
This one is not strictly Mexican. In fact I have no idea if they have beetroot in Mexico. However I just felt that these Mexican flavours go so well with beetroot, I had to try it and I was really pleased with the results.
Most Mexican recipes call for queso fresco, which literally means fresh cheese. It is hard to find in England unless you make your own but feta cheese is a good substitute.

1 large beetroot
1 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 tbsp sour cream
Large handful of coriander, washed, drained and finely chopped (save a few extra leaves for decorating.)
100g feta

Pre-heat oven to 180⁰C. Wash the beetroot and trim of the tops and tail. Wrap it well in tin foil and put in the oven. Cook for about 40 minutes to 1 hour. A skewer or knife should insert and pull out again without any effort. Allow to cool until you can handle. Slip off the skins with your hands. (You can wear disposable gloves if you have any.) Finely dice the beetroot and put in a bowl with the cumin seeds, sour cream and coriander. Season well with salt and taste. Serve with crumbled feta and a few extra coriander leaves.

Washed Chard

Kohl Rabi

This week I started with a medium vegbox less roots which contained wet garlic, bunched onions, broad beans, garden peas, swiss chard, mixed salad leaves, mini cucumbers, red pepper and the dreaded kohl rabi,

I decided to get to work straight away on the Kohl Rabi as it is one of those vegetables that no one really knows what to do with. Looking like an unwanted alien, it is of the cabbage family but with the smell of mild turnip. It actually doesn’t taste of anything much but it has a great texture. So many recipes seem to be merely an excuse to get rid of it, so I wanted to try embrace it but use gutsy enough flavours to hide the rather unappetizing smell – unless you are a turnip lover. On the plus side, kohl rabi is really good for you. Higher in vitamin C than oranges it is a powerful antioxidant and contains phytochemicals which appear to have an anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

I have researched long and hard on your behalf and come up with three salads which most celebrate the Kohl Rabi.

Kohl Rabi Remoulade

Kohl Rabi Remoulade
Remoulade is usually made with raw celeriac and delicious with cold meats.
1 medium kohlrabi
A squeeze of lemon juice
4 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Grain mustard
4 tbsp. Mayonnaise

Peel the kohlrabi and cut it into matchsticks about 3mm thick, either by hand or using a mandolin. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Season well and mix in the kohlrabi.

Asian Coleslaw with Peanuts & Chilli

Asian Coleslaw with Peanuts & Chilli
½ large kohl rabi, peeled and finely grated
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 red pepper, de-seeded and thinly sliced
100g beansprouts (optional)
2 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
1 bunched onions, finely sliced
Small bunch coriander
For the dressing:
1 tbsp thai fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp lime juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 red chilli, finely diced

Whisk all of the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside. Pick the leaves from the coriander. Mix together all the vegetables, add the coriander leaves and toss with the dressing. Pile on a serving plate. Sprinkle with the roasted peanuts.

Kohl Rabi and Fennel Salad with Dill

Kohl Rabi and Fennel Salad with Dill
Great with fish, especially fatty fish like salmon or mackerel as the sharpness of the lemon cuts the fattiness of the fish.
I head of Fennel, tough outer leaves, stalk and tops removed, very finely sliced preferably on a mandolin
½ Kohl Rabi, peeled and very finely sliced preferably on a mandolin
½ lemon, juiced
Very good extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Small bunch of dill, finely chopped

Mix the lemon juice with a good pinch of salt. Mix well and add the olive oil, about 3 times as much oil as lemon. Taste and adjust. Add the fennel and kohl rabi and most of the dill. Serve with a little more dill or fennel fronds sprinkled on top.

Kol Rabi

Shakshuka

Next this week I turned to the peppers. Peppers are one of those veg which sometimes seem to hang about in the bottom of the fridge until they are no longer looking their best.  No more – this is one of our favourite Brunch recipes and is especially good for a bit of a hangover, although it is not essential.

In Israel they eat it for breakfast and specialist restaurants serve nothing else. Originally from North Africa it is best eaten with chunks of really good bread to soak up the sauce. The vegetables can be cooked beforehand but the eggs must be done last minute to get your exact preference of perfection. I like mine yoks runny but the whites firmly set. If you have a glut of fresh tomatoes, it is great for using those up too along with your peppers, but if you have none to hand then you can use tinned.

Shakshuka in bowl

Shakshuka
Serves 2
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium brown or white onion, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium green or red bell pepper, sliced
2 cups ripe diced tomatoes, or 1 can (14 oz. each) good quality tinned tomato
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Cayenne
Pinch of sugar (optional, to taste)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 eggs
1/2 tbsp. fresh chopped coriander (optional, for garnish)

Heat a deep, large skillet or frying pan (one that can go in the oven) on a medium heat and the olive oil. Add chopped onion, sauté for a five minutes or until the onion begins to soften. (You can cover the pan to help it along.) Add garlic and continue to cook a minute more. Add the bell pepper, sauté for 5-7 minutes over medium until softened. Add spices and sugar, stir well. Add the tomatoes (if you are using tinned add ¼ tin of water too.) Stir and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes till it starts to reduce. Meanwhile pre heat oven to 170⁰C. Taste the mixture. Add seasoning and more chilli if necessary. It should be fairly hot. Make little holes in the sauce and crack the eggs, one at a time into each one. Pop in the oven until eggs are just set and the sauce has reduced. Sprinkle with Coriander and serve with fresh bread or Pitta.

Shakshuka with spoon

Use-up Stir-fry

Spring greens are a thing of beauty, however I do understand when you have seen your hundredth one turn up in your veg box, you may not continue to think so.

I got a couple this week in my small fruit and veg box along with more carrots, another veg that often accumulates, spring onions, sugar snap peas and new potatoes. On the fruit front there was apples and raspberries. So to make sure that you do not despair of summer greens, I will be concentrating on them over the next few weeks starting with a fabulous use-up dish this week. This is the sort of recipe which clears out your fridge before your next veg box arrives because there are so many variants of ingredients you can use. And of course you could add some prawns, or chicken, pork or steak if you wanted.

I started with my spring greens, sugar snap peas, carrots and spring onions but I also discovered half a left over red pepper, some mushrooms and a few bunched onions, which all went in. The only staples that you really need are chillies, ginger, garlic and coriander and a lime, Teriyaki sauce and noodles.

There are several varieties of Teriyaki sauce. My kids like Waitrose own best probably because it is particularly sweet but if you want a healthier option Clearspring make an organic one. The sweetness is counteracted with some lime juice and if you want more salt, add a little soy or Nam Pla (Thai Fish Sauce) is also particularly good. On the noodle front, any will do. I used some old Pad Thai noodles which  where hanging around in the cupboard. More important is the ratio of veg to noodle. Your cooked veg quantity should be about equal to that of noodles otherwise it can get a bit heavy going. I have given you a rough recipe below but really it is up to you.

The only other thing which really is of help in use-up stir-fry is a Wok. If you don’t have one, don’t splash out on an expensive one. I got mine about 25 years ago for £10 and it is still going strong.

Stir-fry in bowl

Use-up Stir-fry

Serves 2 very generously

150g Pad Thai noodles (or any will do but vary cooking as instructed)

1 head summer greens

1-2 fresh red chillies

Large knob of ginger

2 cloves garlic, peeled

4 spring onions

2 small bunched onions

4 carrots, peeled

8 mushrooms

100g sugar snap peas

½ a red pepper

Sunflower oil

1 lime

Teriyaki sauce

Sesame oil (optional)

Soy sauce, Nam Pla or salt

Small bunch of coriander

Boil the kettle and pour boiling water all over the noodles so that they are submerged. Leave for 15 minutes. Meanwhile shred your summer greens, wash and drain well. Grate the carrots. Thinly slice the mushrooms and red pepper, removing any seeds. Remove the outer most layer from the spring onions and bunched onions and finely slice. (Don’t forget to use the green of the spring onions too.) Top the sugar snap peas and string if necessary. Finely chop the chilli, removing the seeds. With a teaspoon remove the outer layer of the ginger. Grate the garlic and ginger. Drain the noodles. Heat your wok or large frying pan with a little sunflower oil. Add the garlic, chilli and ginger. Fry for a minutes, stirring well. Add the spring onions, bunched onions, mushrooms, sugar snaps and red peppers. Stir-fry for a minute or two more. Next add the summer greens and carrots. Stir-fry until the veg has wilted. Finally add the teriyaki sauce and noodles and mix really well. Take off the heat and stir in your chopped coriander. Squeeze over the lime and drizzle with Sesame oil if using, Taste. If it needs more salt add soy or salt. Make sure you have the balance of sweet, salty and sour. Serve with a wedge of lime.

Stir Fry in Wok

Gazpacho

Salad in a bag

I started this week with a salad bag which had two fat red peppers, a couple of baby cucumbers and some cherry tomatoes, two lovely baby gem lettuce and some cherry tomatoes and I immediately thought – soup!.  What with the sweltering weather this week, of course it had to be cold soup and nothing is more refreshing for lunch on a hot day.

Gazpacho is nothing more than a liquidized salad and you can add all sorts of different ingredients from lettuce to radishes to celery but the basics are red peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. I like to add a small red onion and one garlic clove but be careful because raw onion and garlic, if added too enthusiastically, can overpower the other vegetables. My only other addition apart from salt, pepper, Spanish olive oil and vinegar is a red chilli.

Gaz Salad

So simple, so quick, so delicious and so good for you. Just make sure you take the time to peel the vegetables before liquidizing to get a nice texture. You need a really efficient peeler for this so make sure you invest in a good one with a sharp edge. So many times I see people struggling away with a completely blunt peeler. I like the D shape ones best but if you can’t find a basic one then OXO always seems to make good equipment.

The balance of vinegar is important but just add a little at a time. It should be gutsy and not bland. I use a blend of half-half red wine vinegar to sherry vinegar. You can find some very good sherry vinegar in the supermarket which is worth the money, but for the red wine vinegar you can just go for the cheapest. Finally, it must be very cold. Add an ice cube or two when liquidizing if you are in a hurry.

Gaz in a Bowl Small

Gazpacho

1kg really ripe tomatoes

2 Red Peppers, peel of as much skin as possible with a peeler, de-seed and roughly chop

2 baby or one large cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped

1 very small red onion, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove

1 fresh red chilli, peeled and seeds removed

A generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

A generous glug of sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (I like to use half/half)

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make a small cross on top of each tomato with a sharp knife.  Blanch the tomatoes by placing them into a pan of boiling water for a few minutes.  Remove them and refresh in cold water.  Remove the skins.  Add all the other ingredients and either puree in a liquidizer or simply use a hand held blender.  Whiz until completely smooth.  Check seasoning and add more salt, pepper or vinegar to taste.  Chill in the fridge and serve very cold.