So, we've discussed my love-affair with chilies already on this blog. They really are conical little bundles of joy. Big ones, small ones, pointy ones, round ones, green, orange, reds so purple they're almost black - I love them all. I even got a very phallic-looking one recently. That one's hanging up to dry at the moment, and it makes me giggle every time I see it. And, of course, you run the gamut between sweet and innocent to Scotch Bonnets so hot they make you sneeze. I have a very scientific way of testing the heat of chilies that aren't readily identifiable - I chop the top off and give the cut side a big lick. This has led to me executing some very amusing dance moves around the kitchen. There is also the extremely happy news that eating chilies has been scientifically proven to raise your metabolism, as anyone who has ever had a particularly hot one can testify (I'm thinking specifically of some unfortunate dinner guests of my sister, to whom she once served raw habaneros in a salad, thinking they were just baby peppers.)
Of course, there's more to Mexican food than just chilies, and it's a common misconception that it's all blow-your-head-off hot. There's limes, coriander, cumin, chocolate, avocado - so many amazing, gorgeous flavours. Unfortunately, in Ireland it can be a bit tricky sourcing the more esoteric ingredients - tomatilloes, cactus, etc., but you can still do a fair bit of experimenting with what we do have.
The single easiest place to start is with fajitas. Everyone loves them, and they're a lovely, communal way to eat - bung everything into big dishes in the middle of the table, and allow everyone to help themselves. Now, most people only ever make fajitas out of those powdery packet things, but it's ridiculously easy to make your own fajita mix from scratch, and it's waaaaaay nicer than the packet stuff. Perfect Friday night grub, if you ask me.
Chicken Fajitas - makes enough to fill 4 large tortillas
2 large chicken fillets, diced 2 heaped tsp paprika
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika 2 tsp chili powder
Half tsp ground ginger Half tsp ground coriander
Half tsp ground cumin Half tsp sugar
Juice & zest of 1 lime 2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium chili, finely diced Bunch fresh coriander, chopped
Salt & pepper Sunflower oil
1 large onion, sliced 1 red & 1 green pepper, sliced
1. In a non-metallic bowl, mix all your dry spices with the lime juice - you'll have a very thick paste. Add enough oil to loosen the mix so it will coat the chicken, and stir in your chili, garlic, fresh coriander and lime zest. Season with the salt & pepper, stir in the chicken pieces, cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 5 hours.
2. Heat a wok or large pan over a medium-high heat - don't add any oil, there's enough in your fajita mix. Plonk the chicken into the pan, making sure you get all the lovely, tasty oil-paste in. Fry the chicken until sealed, then add the peppers & onion and cook briskly for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
As I said, I like to serve everything in the middle of the table. So, have a dish nice and hot for your fajita mix, and heat a plate to hold your warmed tortillas (cover them with a clean tea-towel) and a plate for each person. I also serve with a big bowl of salad leaves, grated cheese, sour cream, sliced jalapenos and these:
Lime-pickled Onions - makes 1 medium bowl (which you can just spy in the pic above)
1 large onion, finely sliced Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of sugar Salt & pepper
1. This is really complicated - toss all the ingredients together in a non-metallic bowl and leave in the fridge for a few hours for the flavours to develop, stirring every so often.
A Treatise on How to Build the Perfect Tortilla:
*First and foremost* You need a decent-sized tortilla - no point using those stupid saucer-sized ones they insist on giving you in restaurants. I use the Aldi garlic & herb ones.
Step 1: Spread a good dollop of sour cream on the bottom of your tortilla. Place a handful of salad leaves and some of the lime-pickled onions on top.
Step 2: Top with a couple of spoonfuls of the chicken & veg mix. Do NOT overload, or you haven't a hope of rolling it up.
Step 3: Scatter with plenty of grated cheese and a few sliced jalapenos.
Step 4: Roll up the bottom of the fajita, then roll in the two sides. Leaving the bottom open, as they do in the ads, will simply result in the carefully-contructed contents of your fajita falling out onto your plate as soon as you take a bite.
Step 5: Commence nomming. One fajita of this size does me, with extra salad and maybe a bit of garlic bread. Emmet, on the other hand, usually eats three. The one time in my life that I ate three, I had to be put to bed afterwards. The moral of this story is not to try and compete with a fit and hungry man in the fajita-eating stakes.
I'm very happy to announce that I'm submitting this post to the Groupon.ie blogging competition, so wish me luck, and get yourself over to www.groupon.ie to see if you can save yourself a few shekels in these extremely straitened times.