I received Mexican Food Made Simple just over a year ago after reading my Sister-in-laws copy and loving it! Since I'm not particularly familiar with Mexican cooking this definitely looked like a great book to get me started. I know a lot of Mexican cookbooks can be off-putting due to long lists of hard to find ingredients and complicated, time consuming recipes, but this one really did look straightforward so it was time to put the book to the test.
For those of you unfamiliar with Thomasina Miers she was the winner of Masterchef (UK) in 2005. Her first book 'Cook' was published in 2006 but her true calling definitely pointed towards Mexican food after spending a lot of time living in Mexico and even opening a cocktail bar there. Her time in the country allowed her to explore the regions of Mexico learning about culture and of course food and even the opportunity to cook with some of Mexico's top chefs. Returning to live in the UK she since opened the cantina Wahaca (in various locations) which focuses on Mexican street food and has published Mexican Food Made Simple (2010) followed by Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home, in 2012.
Mexican Food Made Simple is packed full of recipes that are divided up into Chapters including Salsas, sauces & relishes (a favourite of mine!), Soups, Street food, Cheesy things, From the grill and Soul food. The chapter on 'Basics' is a great guide for introducing you to the way Mexican's eat, but more so is incredibly informative on classic Mexican ingredients you will use throughout the book and on ingredients you can substitute if you can't fend the authentic ingredient suggested. In the introduction Miers states that she can show how “easy, healthy and exciting Mexican food really is” using ingredients that are easy to source so baring that in mind it was time to put the book to the test!
The Tested Recipes:
When I pulled this book off the shelf I knew I was going to be in trouble picking some recipes, since the book was literally full of my little post-it stickers. When I first got this book I went to work straight away marking recipes and although I did cook a little from it, it wasn't much so I was delighted to finally be cooking from it properly. However as I started re-reading it I was once again in the same dilemma – literally every page had a recipe on it that I wanted to try....some pages had 3! It was going to be a l-o-n-g list of bookmarked recipes so in the end I decided my best option was to pick some full meals as a lot of them used some of the initial recipes as accompaniments. In the end I managed to try 12 recipes from the book which were:
Autumn Tacos with Onion Squash & Chorizo
Pink Pickled Onions
Fresh Tomato Salsa
Roast Chipotle Salsa
Hibiscus Agua Fresca
Meatballs de Mehico with Smoky Tomato Sauce
Layered Passion Fruit & Flower Jellies
A Blow-your-head-off Salsa
The first recipe that I wanted to make was the Chipotles en Adobe since they feature in a lot of subsequent recipes, however after a trip to my local cook shop I realised this recipe was a no-go since I couldn't buy the dried chipotles and I only had a few left in my spice drawer.... I could have ordered them online but they were expensive for the quantity and by the time they arrived it would have been too late so I had to give in with this one (for the time being) and use canned Chipotles in Adobe. (For those of you in the UK though you can easily order them online for a very reasonable price and larger quantity per packet.)
Hoping that was going to be my only obstacle with regards to sourcing ingredients for this book, I moved on to the next recipe which was Autumn Tacos with Onion Squash & Chorizo served with Pink Pickled Onions and Fresh Tomato Salsa. I started by making the Pink Pickled Onions which was very straightforward although I wanted to use gloves to “scrunch it up” as instructed due to the addition of a Habanero (Scotch Bonnet) chilli but I didn't have any! Thankfully the Habanero I used wasn't too hot and so all was ok and I was left with the most amazingly puce pink onions ever which had a lovely flavour to them and great crunch. Next on the list was to make the Fresh Tomato Salsa which again was very straightforward. I found it interesting that she includes some sugar as this is the sort of tomato salsa I make all the time but don't ever need to add sugar so in future I probably wouldn't bother (unless I overdid the lime!). I halved the quantities and used less than half the amount of the salt suggested and it was still a little on the salty side so next time I would also use my own amounts of seasoning and not what she instructs. Up next was the filling for the Tacos – Squash and Chorizo which was really easy and simple and had a good robust Autumnal flavour. To finish the meal off I had to of course make some homemade tortillas. It was my first time making them and I was happy that there was nothing complicated about them. I didn't manage to get them quite as charred on the edges as I wanted but they were delicious none-the-less and the whole meal was lovely together.
Next up and for a Friday night meal I made the Steak Burritos with Black Beans, Red Rice & Roast Chipotle Salsa. This dish had even more components than the first so it was a bit time consuming to make but it was well worth the effort and nothing was complicated. It was my first time making my own Black Beans (as opposed to opening a can!) and they ended up taking less time than the recipe suggested despite not having soaked them. From now on I will always make my own as it was so simple and much more cost effective. The Red Rice was also straightforward and absolutely delicious and I would enjoy it happily on it's own or as a side dish and the Chipotle Salsa was fantastic with just a nice amount of spice to it to give the dish a bit of a kick! The Steak for the Burritos was just a case of marinating and cooking although we opted to barbecue it rather than using a griddle or frying pan. All in all though it was another big success that everyone thoroughly enjoyed and was worth the effort involved.
Having recently bought a small bag of Hibiscus Flowers I was excited to see a recipe for Hibiscus Agua Fresca for a nice refreshing non-alcoholic drink. I opted to half the recipe otherwise I would have used my entire bag of Hibiscus Flowers and I wanted to make sure I liked it first! Made of just the flowers, sugar, water and lime it was completely straightforward, it just took a bit of time to make the cordial and then to to let it cool. The end result was a stunning and vibrant cordial that was delicious served as suggested over ice and topped up with sparkling water. With the left over flowers I made a quick sugar syrup and popped everything into a jar to keep for adding to drinks or drizzled over ice cream. (If you would like to try this recipe click here.)
The recipe to be put to the test next was the Meatballs de Mehico with Smoky Tomato Sauce. I found the recipe really interesting as it included capers, rice and hard boiled eggs in the Meatballs but I continued on anyway, hoping the interesting combination would taste good and be worth the effort! I was definitely apprehensive as they were so soft as I put them in the oven to cook but she did warn that they would be. The Smoky Tomato Sauce was very straightforward and had a nice flavour to it. I cooked it a little longer than she suggested as it was very runny after 20 minutes but I didn't want to overdo it as I knew you need it to be runny for the meatballs (to cook and be absorbed by the rice I'm guessing). As it turned out after the suggested 45 minutes of cooking, the meatballs weren't ready. The rice was still super crunchy so I put them in for another 10 minutes after which time I turned the oven off and left them for probably another 5 minutes while I cooked the noodles which were suggested to accompany the meatballs. Unfortunately though when I lifted the lid of the pan the meatballs had almost exploded and there was virtually no sauce left – I couldn't believe it! That being said they still tasted great, there were just missing the extra sauce. I ended up serving them with some sour cream and coriander to make up for the lack of sauce and it was still delicious but for the leftovers we had (which was a lot) I made an extra batch of sauce up and enjoyed them even more the next night. I think I will make these again as the flavours were so good but I would definitely have to keep a closer eye on them when cooking them and I would be tempted to double the sauce quantities.
For a sweet treat I couldn't resist trying the Layered Passion Fruit & Flower Jellies as they not only sounded delicious but looked stunning. It was incredibly easy to make, all you need is time on your side as you need to allow the Passion Fruit layer to set before adding the hibiscus layer. I decided to make one large jelly in the mould I have rather than individual cups but you could do either. The taste was amazing – the passion fruit really shone through and although the hibiscus layer was subtle, it complimented the passion and orange layer perfectly. Scott even went so far as to say it was by far the best jelly he had ever had!
Finally I couldn't complete this book review without trying A blow-your-head-off Salsa! Unfortunately though the day before I used one too many carrots in my soup so only had 2 rather than the 3 the recipe called for. Since they were both big carrots however, I decided to give it a go anyway since I had all the other ingredients and was desperate to try it! It was really easy to make and didn't take long at all. One thing I should note is that although this is called a salsa it's actually a sauce which is why I had to try it because I love all kinds of hot sauce and loved the idea of making my own! The end result of this one was great! It had so much flavour and a good kick to wake up your taste buds. To really put it to the test I tried it with eggs since it's impossible for me to have an egg without hot sauce of some sort and it was really delicious and flavourful but definitely not as spicy as I was expecting. In fact by the time I ate it with the eggs there was hardly any heat at all. To be honest for some reason whenever I have bought Habaneros recently from my supermarket they haven't been nearly as hot as I was expecting and I don't think it's because I'm immume (far from it) so if you make this do go carefully as I think it really does depend on the chillies you happen to get. Another thing I have to say is that for this recipe the books says it makes about 1 cup whereas I got 750ml/ 3 cups!! If I had known that I would have halved the recipe for sure. I'm not quite sure how there was such a difference as other than the missing carrot I followed the instructions and quantities exactly. Anyway I certainly won't be running out of hot sauce any time soon and may be giving some of it away!! Still it was a great way to end the testing of this book and now I know I don't need to buy Habanero hot sauce anymore.
As well as the above tested recipes I have also made (in the past) the Mexican Crudites (served at a party and went down very well!), the Prawn coctel (see my Prawn Cocktail trio for a similar version of this) and her recipe for The great Mexican breakfast was the inspiration behind my own Huevos Rancheros.
And of course I'm only just getting started with this book so I have many more recipes bookmarked to try next including:
Searingly Hot Salsa
Chopped chilli relish
An easy-peasy peanut mole
Corn & green chilli soup
Sweet & spicy squash & chickpea soup
Sweet & Spicy Pecan Nut & Goat's Cheese Salad
Spicy Bird Tacos
Chorizo, Potato & Thyme Quesadillas
Grilled Lamb Chops with Chilli Jam
Mexican Scrambled Eggs with Chorizo
Mussel Linguine with Smoky Chipotle Cream
Poached Plums in Rose Syrup
Churros y Chocolate
I have to say that after testing the above recipes I really did feel that she delivered with her statement that she can show readers how healthy, easy and exciting Mexican food can be if you just watch what you make, how you prepare it and of course by using the freshest ingredients. In the last month I have tried so many different flavours and love that I have made my own tortillas and hot sauce for the first time! My only criticism to some of the recipes I tried was that there is too much salt in them so I would suggest to go easy with the salt, since you can always add but you can't take it away! The methods she uses for cooking the dishes are really straightforward and you don't need any fancy equipment which I love. There is great information on making tortillas but also how to properly eat a taco or fold a burrito which I think is a lovely little touch to the book and ensures you aren't left with overfilled tacos spilling everywhere or burritos that fall apart as soon as you pick them up! For those of you living in the UK there is also a great list of suppliers so you won't ever be without your essential ingredients and for the rest of us a little research on the internet should result in finding a supplier close to you. I really do love this book. It is so bright and vibrant which to me is what Mexican food and culture is all about and it really has opened the door to cooking great tasting, authentic Mexican food at home which I'm delighted about as well as my husband! (Even Wee One enjoyed a lot of the dishes providing the spice levels weren't extreme!) Without doubt Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops stamp of approval.