© Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com
The Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) takes place from October 31st to November 2nd. Mexican families gather to honour the departed souls of their loved ones. To us, this may seem macabre, but, in reality, the festival is the exact opposite: it's a joyful occasion with much feasting, dancing and merry-making. Private altars are set up laden with colourful sugar skulls, fruit, marigolds, paper cut-outs and presents. It's an extraordinary, spectacular- and fascinating- carnival.
If you're interested in finding out more, there was a marvellous exhibition at the British Museum, The Skeleton at The Feast, and the accompanying book is still available. Malcom Lowry's neglected minor masterpiece, "Under the Volcano" is worth adding to your reading list. There was also an 'iffy' film starring Albert Finney, Jacqueline Bisset and Anthony Andrews.
I've had a thing about Mexican food now for several years. My first authentic taste was at a drive-in gas station in San Deigo. You paid your money, and a tanned hairy arm shot out of a hole in the wall with your food. I seem to remember empadanitas. Utterly, utterly delicious.
So for this year's Day of the Dead, I've dug out two authentic- and simple- Mexican recipes that could be cooked at home. I'm aware that getting hold of Mexican ingredients, in England at least, can be next to nigh impossible, unless you buy from an online Mexican food supplier. But then that's all part of the fun, isn't it? Both recipes are taken from Marilyn Tausend's excellent Mexican.
Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce
Take 20 raw shrimps (in England, prawns) and marinade them in 8 cloves of minced garlic, 1/4 cup of lime juice, sea salt and pepper. Toss, until well-coated and let them stand for five minutes.
Heat olive oil in a frying pan and add a finely chopped onion. Fry for a few minutes until golden. Add two tins of chopped tomatoes to the pan and let them bubble away. Transfer the lot to your Magimix and whizz. Add two tins of chiles chipotles en adabo, 1/2 cup of Coca-Cola and a pinch or two of dried oregano. Whizz. That's your sauce.
Remove the prawns from the marinade and pat dry. Fry them in olive oil (in batches so that they fry rather than steam) and cook until opaque. You'll find that this happens very quickly. Only takes a minute or so. Try not to over-cook them. Return the sauce to the pan and cook to taste- until the sauce thickens. Add the cooked prawns and toss through. Again, you just want to warm through the prawns, you don't want to over-cook them. That's it. Serve with rice.
Coca-Cola may seem like an odd ingredient, but apparently, since the 1940's, the Mexicans have been using it to replace piloncillo- after all, it's really just a caramelised syrup when you think about it. Mexican ingredients are available online from the award winning: http://www.mexgrocer.co.uk
Watercress Salad with Orange, Apple and Avocado
The original recipe used Jicama, rather than apple. Jicama is the Mexican Turnip, although, just to confuse you, it's not related to the turnip family. It looks a bit like a potato. It has a crunch. The chances of finding Jicama in Britain are remote. It just ain't going to happen- so I've substituted apple.
First, you make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl whisk together lime juice, a thinly sliced green chili, sea-salt and white pepper. Pour in 1/2 cup of olive oil, whisking as you go.
Secondly, the salad. This is just slices of orange, fresh watercress and crisp, peeled apple, cut into thin strips. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette, and carefully fold in sliced hass avocados. Adjust the seasoning with sea-salt, if you feel it needs it, and serve.