Isolation Diaries: Why Mexican Food Is The Cuisine Of Lockdown
Jesse Mulligan turns to the colourful comfort and coherency of Mexican food
I’m thinking Mexican might be the cuisine of the lockdown. In my kitchen we flirt with Thai, Indian, Italian but, when the fridge and pantry feel empty and we’re forced to dig deep, we always manage to scratch together something that would fit in south of the wall — the wall Trump built to keep out immigrants but is now being employed by Mexico as a physical barrier against the country leading the Covid league table with three times as many Covid infections as Spain, in second place.
Spain is a good reference point for Mexican food — although the two cuisines are distinct, a lot of what would work on a tapas platter also slips comfortably into a taco.
At home we happily heap in roasted capsicum, pan-fried prawns and chorizo, or stew up a pot of beans with smoked paprika, tomatoes and a little sherry vinegar. Avocado, late-season corn, a jar of jalapenos and a little shredded leftover meat — it’s all delicious, colourful and coherent.
Sometimes it’s easier to throw this stuff into a salad bowl with lettuce rather than muck about with tortillas, and we’ve come across a dressing that I predict you’ll use on everything once you’ve tried it.
It’s a creation of vegetarian chef Anna Jones, who apprenticed on Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen TV series then started attracting her own huge following.
The dressing, from her book The Modern Cook’s Year, is pretty simple — you put olive oil, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and smoked paprika in a jar then shake it up with the magical ingredient, tomato passata. (Tomato seems like a weird addition but it works in the strangest places.
I remember gingerly trying a “Michelada” on a hot night at Melbourne’s Mamasita restaurant — it was beer with tomato juice in a glass with a salted rim and it was the most lovely thirst-quenching drink I’ve come across.)
Anna’s Mexican dressing tastes incredible (olive oil, apple cider vinegar and maple are the whole-y trinity of wholefood cooking and you’d be surprised how many internet-viral dishes simply take advantage of how well they work together) and the best thing is that the sharpness of the vinegar goes where you would normally put lime, a fruit which is confusingly not available in summer despite lime culture — margaritas, frujus, ceviche — strongly suggesting otherwise. Throw in some corn chips for crunch if you have them and, as they say in Spanish, voila!
Special shout-out to Chris and Amanda, of Remuera, who had a go at my pumpkin soup this week and sent me the photos. With the Prime Minister reporting cauliflower selling at up to $13 a head (I think she should start her post-Cabinet presser with this sort of info even after the lockdown, by the way) you’re much better off feeding the family with pumpkin.
I used to attack it with a knife like a crazed killer but Jess Daniell from Jess’ Underground Kitchen taught me a better way — pop the whole pumpkin in the oven at 170 for 50-60 minutes then let it cool, quarter it and scoop out the flesh in a leisurely fashion.
Jess’ beautiful business will no doubt be soaring in these takeaway-free days — an appropriate reward for somebody who started out making meals for friends and now finds herself feeding most of Auckland.
• Find Angela Casley's soft beef taco recipe (pictured above) here