About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007
My daughter P expressed a desire for some authentic Mexican food. So do you think the fact that I've never even been to Mexico, or eaten no better than Taco Bills would be an impediment? Not on your Nelly! My bookshelf has several quality Mexican cookbooks and one gem, The Feast of Santa Fe, written by Huntley Dent, on the foods of the American Southwest.

What I like about Huntley's book are the copious instructions written in plain English, and that he lists all the variations for a particular recipe; for instance, he gives a recipe for guacamole, then lists nine variations, which in some parts, is more than enough to start a bar room fight about which is right. He also writes with a good deal of common sense, for instance, when describing the making of enchiladas and the moment of making the tortillas pliable and coated with sauce, Huntley says, "The suggestion made in Mexican cookbooks that you dip the tortillas into the sauce first and then into the oil (the reverse of what this recipe calls for) leads to a nasty surprise once you try it - a not-so-minor eruption of hot fat and spluttering sauce."

P and I decided on a three course lunch of nachos, enchiladas and flan. Now nachos may not seem all that authentically Mexican, but it is, starting out as simply stale corn tortillas that thrifty Mexicans then fried until crisp, placed on a tray and covered with cheese then baked or grilled, depending on how high the corn chips are piled, topped with a sprinkling of pickled jalapenos and served with lime wedges. These days of course, we get our corn chips from the packet and like to serve them with salsa, guacamole and sour cream, for which we can probably thank Taco Bill, which I believe is Taco Bell in the States. But at least all the garnishes for ours, with the exception of the pickled jalapenos, were home made, no gloopy tomato salsa from the jar for us.

The second course of enchiladas was with a meat filling, not fully authentic and dismissed by Huntley as the dish of thousands of tourist's memories, he calls for cheese with onion in his, but I do like the meat version and even though it is probably ten times easier, we didn't use a kit, everything was made from scratch, including the red chili sauce, which if you make yourself, gives you all the Mexican flavour you could ever want, even, if like me, you use tomatoes in yours.

Now after all this full flavoured peasant style food, that creamy Mexican classic, the flan, is exactly just right to finish off. We had earlier agreed that I would make the first two courses and P the flan. You would think that compared to all my chopping, blending and cooking that a flan would have been a snap to make, especially given that it has to made before hand, but I was sadly disappointed to find no flans and P crept slyly to the shops to buy ready made cream caramels, flan's first cousin.

Fresh Salsa

4 ripe tomatoes, diced small
2 spring onions, finely diced
1 small green capsicum, diced small
1 small hot chile, diced small
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano or handful of chopped coriander (cilantro)
juice of one lime
salt & fresh ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and season to taste. A lot of recipes include oil, but we like it without, especially if being eaten with nachos. Because we were serving guacamole made with coriander, we used oregano, both herbs work equally well.


2 ripe avocados
1 small tomato, chopped small
handful chopped coriander (cilantro)
juice of one lime

Skin the avocados and remove the stone. Place the flesh in a bowl and mash roughly with the back of a fork, you can also make it smooth. Add the tomato, coriander and lime juice, season with salt and mix together.

(serves 4 to 6)

2 large onions, diced
50mls lard or oil
4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1kg ground beef or pork
2 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon paprika or smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 440g tin diced tomatoes
salt and fresh ground pepper
12 corn tortillas
red chili sauce
grated cheese

Gently fry the onions until soft and just starting to turn golden, add the garlic and cook for two minutes more. Add the meat and fry until browned, breaking up to prevent lumps forming. Add the cumin, ground coriander, paprika, oregano, tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for thirty minutes.

Red Chile Sauce

2 ancho chiles*
2 New Mexico chiles*
2 guajillos chiles*
2 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon flour
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 440g can diced tomatoes

Dry roast the chiles until fragrant in a frying pan, don't scorch, then pull each chile apart into pieces and discard the seeds and any fibrous bits, place them in a bowl and pour on the boiling water, leave them to soak for twenty minutes. Place all the chiles and half the water in a blender and blitz until pureed, use more soaking water if necessary. When completely pureed, strain through a fine wire mesh. In a pot, place the oil and flour and gently cook until slightly browned and nutty smelling. Whisk in the chile puree carefully, then add all the other ingredients, seasoning to taste. Simmer for thirty minutes, adding more soak water if needed.


You need a frypan with the bottom full of hot but not smoking oil and the red chile sauce nearby. Put some red chile sauce in the bottom of a baking dish, then take a corn tortilla, fry briefly both sides in the oil then dip both sides in the red chile sauce. Lay it out and fill with the meat sauce, roll up and place in the baking tray, continue until all the tortillas are used up. Coat the tops of the enchiladas with red chile sauce then sprinkle on some grated cheese. Bake in a 180c oven for fifteen minutes. Serve with a green salad and if you like, some Mexican rice.

A note about tomatoes: If you are being true to the spirit of Mexican cookery, you may choose to omit tomatoes from both the meat sauce and red chile sauce, just make up the difference with some other liquid, water or stock for instance. What you will have are authentic, earthy flavours, which are not to every one's taste, but are very good nonetheless. Also don't be frightened of the chiles, these ones, whilst hot, are not blisteringly so.

*Dried Mexican chiles are available in Melbourne from Aztec Mexican Products in Tullamarine as well as a wealth of hard-to-get Mexican foodstuffs.

Labels: , ,

  posted at 8:35 am

At 7:52 pm, Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Ole! This sounds like a great meal. The key is the chiles. Thank goodness for online grocers -- even here in the northeast US, it's not always easy to find great chile peppers.

At 8:46 am, Blogger Gigi said...

Taco Bell is Taco Bill Down Under? Who knew? I wonder how many little corporate name changes like this there are across the continents, and the cultural reasoning behind them. What do they call El Pollo Loco? ;D

I'm quite sure I've had some wonderfully authentic meat-filled enchiladas south of the border, but then again perhaps that's what makes me a tourist. In any case, these recipes sound heavenly. I'll bet P really regretted not making that flan...

At 1:33 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hola lydia, we thought it was pretty good, but it's funny when you don't have an authentic template to measure up against - you're never really sure how a native mexican might view the effort. I've known about the Mexican grocer for a number of years, I can't tell you how happy I was to find them, Old El Paso is a bit bland after a while.

Hi gigi, it sure isn't the only one, your Burger King is Hungry Jack's here. They even went to court to get the Australians to change the name back, last year I think, but lost. Since I posted, P does regret it too, lol.

At 1:22 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one told me the flan's set over night!!
I was reading recipes that said a few hours...

At 10:58 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Such a bad girl I am. I never worry about the real deal just want it to taste good. I love enchiladas and Mexican because it is so perfect to play around with variety. Still, it's the chiles that are key.
P seems to have the same problem I do with reading recipes! he,he.

At 12:50 pm, Blogger Blue Zebra said...

Neil I am sooooo with Tanna! In the end does it matter as long as it hit the right spot for you and P? (But it sure sounds like you did an awesome job at authenticity too! :D )

BTW, if you ever have a chance to nab any Rick Bayless books, they are pretty fantastic and the next thing to becoming Mexican! :D

At 2:38 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi honey, and to think I wasn't going to post anything until you mentioned it!!!

Hi tanna, I'm with you, if it tastes alright, go with the flow. That improper reading of recipes just might run in the family. I have a post about that coming up.

Hi blue zebra, me too. You have to chide me though, because I meant to link to your red chili recipe as well, but clean forgot.

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