Tacos or Leave It?
Catherine Fellows reveals the many delights of Mexican cooking that are too often missed by those who never venture beyond the tacos and tortillas.
When Dougie Bell arrived at Progresso. a small coastal town on the Yucatan Peninsula. looking for somewhere to stay for a few months and set up a testing kitchen, he was advised by the locals to walk down the street shouting ‘Lupe Pintos! Lupe Pintos! Lupe Pintos!‘ A truly nerve-wracking experience for a Scot. but his whispers gradually became audible. and a woman emerged from a doorway. obviously completely used to this procedure. She led him to another. she who assumed responsibility for accommodating all strangers who stumbled into town: Lupita Pintos. Lupe became a firm friend. and valued culinary advisor. and when Dougie eventually set up his Mexican deli in Edinburgh‘s Tollcross last year. there was no doubt about the name — it had to be Lupe Pintos.
The arrival of this little treasure trove of a shop, the only specialist in Mexican and Southern States food in Scotland. is exciting for foodies. and notjust because it stocks so many different types of tequila. Nor is it because it has enough dried and pickled chillis to constitute a fire hazard or to satisfy the most abstruse. most macho Mexican recipe. The thing is. Dougie Bell is on the crest of a wave of increasingly discerning interest in Mexican-things-edible. People. and most importantly restaurateurs. are waking up to the fact that while tacos may be tasty. they are only as pizzas are to Italian cooking — there is a whole wonderful. colourful culinary world beyond waiting to be explored.
It is ironic that the laid-back. spontaneous cuisine of the laid-back. spontaneous place that is Mexico, should have reached us. via the USA. as one of the most formalised — standardised — of eating experiences
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our restaurants are offering. Everybody knows what to expect from an enchilada here: it‘s a stuffed. rolled tortilla steeped in sizzling melted cheese accompanied by tomato and chillie salsa. guacamole and sour cream. In Mexico. on the other hand. it can be just about whatever its creator feels like — anything from a tortilla pocket stuffed at a roadside stall with fresh chillies andji'i/‘oIes (pinto or black beans) to an elaborate layered dish something like a tortilla lasagne. As Roger Hicks puts it in his Mexican Cooking. one of the few books on the subject available here. no hay reg/as ﬂjas — there are no fixed rules.
Dougie Bell also. when he was travelling around the country squeezing avocados and totnatillos. discovered that there is great regional diversity. and even the street or snack food can be totally different from this familiar commercial hybrid. Mexicans arejust as likely to be seen crunching a ehieharmn as they are nachos. The former is a piece of pork crackling. often used to hold one of the many
stews of which our chilli con came is
an inauthentic imitation. The juices seep into the crackling. so when he has finished the contents. the snackcr sensibly tucks into the plate. Alternatively. there are the many variations on a theme of lama/e. These are com doughs made with stock. either with pieces of meat. chilli and other vegetables tnixed in. or rolled around a stufﬁng. and steamed in corn husks. In Oaxaca. they can be particularly delicioUs. enormous things in banana leaves this time. and tilled with the savoury chocolate sauce that is the speciality of the region. This sauce ~ nmle pub/ant) is a staggering concoction ofchillis. sesame and coriander seeds. almonds. raisins. cloves. cinnamon. anise and of course chocolate. that is said to be very similar to an Aztec recipe served at the court of Montezuma in pre-Colombian days. Though Lupe I’intos will be getting a consignment of banana leaves in the next few weeks — and butchers here would probably pay you to take pig skin off their hands — it is really the long-established techniques of combining and enhancing ﬂavours. often new flavours. in dishes such as
FLAVOUR OF THE FORTNIGHT
CHILLI VERDE (GREEN CHILLI STEW)
' A stew to serve with rice and flour tortillas.
2Ib stewing steak 1 cup water
‘ Salt ‘ 2-6 fresh chillies serranos (depending
1 Aoz can chopped green chillies 4 spring onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 no can chopped tomatoes
2 medium boiling potatoes, cooked
Cut steak in %in cubes. Place in large saucepan with water and salt to taste. Bring to boil, then simmer for 1 hour 45 mins until meat very tender. Drain meat, reserving broth. Mince chillies. Combine chillies, canned chillies,
green onions and garlic in large saucepan. Add undrained tomatoes
: and salt to taste. Bring to boil, reduce heat. Simmer for 20 minutes, mashing tomatoes with a fork. Add cooked
l meat and 3 tblsps of broth. Simmer. Just before serving add sliced cooked potato to pot.
Viva Mexico, 10 Anchor Close, Edinburgh, 226 5145 and 50 East Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, 228 4005.
mole pub/aim that are most exciting to cooks over here. Mexicans will go to great trouble. for example. to dry roast whole spices. nuts and seeds before grinding thetn. and to chargrill and then skin chillis. peppers and tomatoes before adding them to other ingredients. Another thing they do with great results is marinading. Fajitas have become extremely popular in the States recently: they were originally pieces of cheap skirt steak marinated in lime juice and barbecued very hot. but now the term is used to refer to any meat or seafood treated in this way. Not so different to prepare is eerie/1e. a delicious fish dish which is appearing on more and tnore menus in this country. Cod. mackerel. scallops. or a combination of these or other very fresh. tender seafood. is simply cut into bite-sized pieces. combined with chopped coriander leaves and onion. and steeped in lime juice. The acidic action of the juice is enough to ‘cook' the fish. or at least turn it opaque. and it is ready to eat in an hour or so.
Mexico has miles of coastline and consequently a fabulous repertoire of fish dishes. many of which depend upon the recur/us (ground herb and spice mixtures - principally oregano, cumin. coriander. cloves and cinnamon) and adolms (pastes of garlic. chillies and the same spices). combinations of seasonings comparable to Indian garam masalas. These are either smeared on the fish before cooking or used as the
' basis of sauces. Dougie Bell noted how often fish was served with fruit in
, Mexico. one of the most
j mouthwatering meals he tasted being a
) selection of seafood served in a
i pineapple shell.
And what of tortillas? It is probably clear from the emphasis of this piece that I can‘t stand them — there I said it. But I have to admit that these little flat corn breads are the most distinctively Mexican food: corn is the indigenous staple and. along with potatoes. tomatoes. peppers. chillies. avocados, chocolate. and vanilla. one of the most valued acquisitions frotn the New World by the Old. Tortillas are devils to make even if you can get your hands on masa liarina. the special flour required. In Mexico the vast majority are now produced in bulk by machine and are
not so different from those available l here. Lupe Pintos sells them for £1.30 a | dozen.
j Thanks to this little shop which
I happily doles out advice along with
5 cans of cactus shoots and jars of
! jalapenos. eating Mexican can be that tnuch closer to the real. delicious. exciting thing. Beware though. Lupe Pintos does stock an awful lot of tequila — not to mention Dos I‘Lquis. Sol. Bohemia. Corona. Negro Modelo, Tecate . . .
[.upe I’t'ntus' American and Mexican Deli. 24 [even Street. Edinburgh. ()3 I 228 624/. Open Mott-Sat 10am-7pm.
For knowing that Alice In Chains’ last hit single was ‘Would?’, the following ridiculously fortunate people have won ‘Slngles’ soundtrack CDs: Darren Murphy, ll. Squires (both Glasgow), Jeremy Horseburgh (East Kllbride), Paul Hardy (Fife) and Tim Blackwood (Edinburgh), while ‘Singles’ tops go to Peter Stephens, Jemma Chapman (both Edinburgh), Joanne Thompson (Benfrewshire), lynne Currie (Glasgow) and Janet Parker (East lothian).
Mrs J. Dixcey (Isle of Wight), Anthea Haddow (Glasgow) and Quentin ‘ lialliday (Edinburgh) all knew that ‘A Bout de Souffle’ was remade as ‘Breathless’ starring Richard Gore, and
for their pains they each win a set of three French New Wave films on video.
The List Is grateful to Virgin Retail for providing £10 vouchers to replace prizes for Mississippi Masala and A Brief History of Time.
78 The List I2 —25 March I993