Mexican Wave

June 14, 2010


Fish Tostadas

Ever since I spent a sunny afternoon in Elephant, jamming dribbly tacos into my tequila hole with no concern for public image, staining my clothes or indeed the basic physical function known as breathing, I’ve had Mexican on my mind. Until that day, I just didn’t find a whole heap to get excited about. Let’s face it, most Mexican restaurants in this country are simply depressing; as if the prospect of ’10 ways with grey, sludgy mystery mince and molten cheese’ wasn’t bad enough, you have to face it in a place called something like ‘El Paso’, perched between two MDF cacti.

There are exceptions (Wahaca, Green and Red), but they are thin on the ground and for me, of course, the most pleasure comes from cooking at home. I’ve recently found myself with a copy of Thomasina Miers’ Mexican Food Made Simple and I want to tell you how much I’m loving it, while also trying my darnedest to stray away from clichéd adjectives like ‘fresh’ and ‘colourful’ but I just can’t because, well, it is those things and sod it, while I’m here I might as well just throw ‘vibrant’ into the mix as well.


Sorry. Anyway, the point is I just can’t stop cooking from it. My flat smells permanently of smoked jalapeños and blistered tomatoes. What was I thinking all this time, making salsa without blackening my toms, chillies and garlic in a dry pan first? Idiot. I couldn’t resist squeezing in some Peckham flavour with a bit of habanero action although TM isn’t shy of them herself. Why the fajita was I always charring my habaneros in the oven when I could have just been scorching them in a hot pan for 10 minutes the whole time? Again – idiot.


And then there’s the chipotles en adobo. Wrinkled smoked jalapenos, softened and cooked up with herb, spice, sweet and sour, into a smouldering auburn brew which you want to suck up by the tablespoon-full but seriously, don’t – if it goes the wrong way you’re in for a nasty ten minutes. I’ve added it to sandwiches, salsas, mayo and I’ve plans to smother it all over a hunk of pork, slow-cook it, pull it apart and then stuff it inside rolls and serve it up at my Big Lunch. I know this is going to be good so I’ll practice it several times in the hope that when the day arrives, there will be a chance I’m able to actually give it away to other people.

Maybe I’m slow on the uptake here, but it seems Mexican is only just really taking off in the UK. How many times have you heard a hungry American moan about the lack of anything ‘proper’? For years we’ve faced the grizzly options of ‘Tex-Mex’ or one of those sad little kits from the supermarket: dusty spice meets sweaty, clotted salsa – a congealed slimy lump from a foil-lined envelope. I don’t know, perhaps you’ve all been perfecting your magnificent mole since 1980; your guacamole may be the stuff of legend and whisper; your carnitas once killed a man with pure pleasure. For me though, this is the very beginning of my Mexican wave.

Chipotles en adobo



Roast Scotch Bonnet Salsa

(adapted from Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers)

6 ripe tomatoes
1 scotch bonnet chilli
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 handful coriander, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper

In a dry pan, cook the tomatoes, chilli and garlic until blackened and blistered. The tomatoes will take longer than the chilli and garlic cloves. De-seed the chilli and then smash it with the garlic in a pestle and mortar. De-seed the tomatoes and do the same. Finally, sitr in all the other ingredients. If you think it needs a pinch of sugar, add it. Thomasina points out that you can make a salsa like this one in a blender but you lose the rough texture, which personally, I prefer.

To make tostadas, cut circles from tortillas and toast, then fill with meat or fish, plus salsa, avocado, lettuce and sour cream. Chipotle mayo makes a greta combo with smoked mackerel.

Chipotles en Adobo

(from the very same)

200g chipotle chillies
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons fresh oregano or a few pinches of dried
1/2 tablespoons thyme leaves
2 fresh bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
350ml good quality white wine vinegar
50ml good quality balsamic
3 tablespoons tomato puree
7 tablespoons palm or demerara sugar
2 tablespoons sea salt

Wash the chipotles in cold water and drain. Snip of the very tips at the stalk end so that the water can penetrate them more easily. Cover them with water and simmer for 30-40 minutes until soft. Drain and rinse off any excess seeds. (I saved the cooking water here and used it in the next step). Put the onion, garlic, herbs, 200ml of water and the cumin into a blender and bled to a paste.

Heat the oil in a heavy based pan until smoking. Fry the chilli paste for a few minutes stirring all the time. Add the tomato puree, vinegars, sugar, salt and 100ml water and cook for about 5 mins then add the rest of the chillies and cook for a further 15. Test for seasoning (salt and sugar), cool and then pour into sterilised jars.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Sarah June 15, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Yum! Where do you get the chipotles from? Going to have to give that book a go.

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    Reply Niamh June 15, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Lovely post Helen! I’ve not cooked from Tommi’s book yet but will be sure to now. Agreed on the dire state of Mexican food in this country. Chipotle has opened which some are excited about but surely there’s more to Mexican than farkin burritos!

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    Reply miss south June 15, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Oooh, I keep hearing such contradictory things about Wahaca that I’ve been dithering about whether to buy this book or not. I think you’ve convinced me to!

    I second the request for a good chipotle source. i usually get them from the South Devon Chilli Farm, but that’s faffy.

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    Reply An American in London June 15, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    After living in London for almost five years, I’ve resigned myself to cooking Mexican at home, with the primary challenge being the lack of fresh corn tortillas. Some of my friends in London have taken to making their own, but it’s just an extra step that I’d rather not have to make. I’ve taken to schlepping 100-tortilla packs from the US back to London, but it’d be nice if I could just pick them up at my local Sainsbury’s rather than going to specialist shops/slogging over to Taqueria to buy them.

    I’m glad you didn’t list Taqueria as a top place in London, by the way. I had a horrendous meal there a few years ago – it was so bad I won’t go back despite lots of people telling me they love it there.

    Wahaca has been pretty disappointing on my last few visits there, too. The tacos seem super greasy, and the guac overly-blended. But I’m looking forward to trying out that Elephant & Castle stand you blogged about a few weeks ago.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post. lol.

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    Reply bellini valli June 15, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    I want my kitchen to smell of smoked jalapeños and blistered tomatoes.

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    Reply Tommi Miers June 15, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    I so want to try those Elephant and Castle tacos..they look delicious. Do you know where he is during the week? Want to go and raid his taco stand…yummy!

    Re chipotles, is a great place to order all types of dried chillies. I always do a bulk order as they last for ages and you can always use a few chillies in the cupboard. However I have heard rumours that Sainsbury’s M&S and Waitrose are all getting on the Mexican Wave, and even the dreaded, dreaded TEsco’s have started selling a few anchos and chipotles here and there.

    That chipotle recipe is my favourite in the book. It lasts forever in the fridge and as you’ve said so eloquently Helen, you can add it to almost anything and it zips up the flavour (although I’ve yet to add it to my chocolate truffles). Thank you so much for the amazing, amazing post.

    tommi xxx

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    Reply Tommi Miers June 15, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    ps all you wahaca ‘not-surers’ please come back in and try us again. We have the most amazing potato taquito on at the moment, new potatoes, fresh lime, mint and our habanero salsa…its my favourite thing on…or grilled courgette and cactus tacos, or the corn bread and mole or the ceviche…nothing wrong with anyone….and we mix our guacamole fresh, by hand, everyday of the week, never, ever blended….xxx

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    Reply Caitlin @ Roaming Tales June 15, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    I’ve had several great meals and one ordinary one at Taqueria.

    I loved the Daddy Donkey burrito truck in Leather Lane when I worked near there. It’s definitely worth a trip.

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    Reply Katie June 15, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    What good lookin’ nosh Helen! My kids love it when I make toned down Mexican food coz they can get their hands on it and assemble it themselves how THEY want it.

    I’m certainly nowhere near the immaculate Gwyneth Paltrow making her Mexican Food for Chris and the kids…

    fasicinating to get a snoop in her kitchen though 😉

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    Reply Catherine June 15, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    I can just imagine the delicious smell in your kitchen. FYI, Panzers Deli store, purveyor of North American goods in St. Johns Wood, is now selling fresh handmade corn tortillas. SMBS in East Dulwich has lots of dried chiles (including chipotle) in stock right by the till.

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    Reply msmarmitelover June 16, 2010 at 12:49 am

    How bizarre, I spent yesterday making chipotle ketchup…great minds ect!

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    Reply nina June 16, 2010 at 6:06 am

    Luckily a wave of Mexican Restaurants have not yet hit us, which gives me a perfect excuse for cooking Mexican at home. Love the intense heat and flavor of this recipe!!!

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    Reply msmarmitelover June 16, 2010 at 8:10 am

    It’s quite easy to make the tortillas and makes your kitchen smell divine!
    So glad I have a copy of Thomasina’s book now, been wanting it for ages.

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    Reply Isabelle June 16, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Agreed! SInce Buen Provecho Mexican has been on my mind 24/7. Might have to get my hands on a copy of Mexican Food Made Simple, thanks!

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    Reply Margaret June 16, 2010 at 10:10 am

    if we weren’t over here, we’d be round there like a shot!

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    Reply Lizzie June 16, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Holy fuckeroni. That looks AMAZING. Such great colours! I am looking forward to trying some of the recipes in that book. Where do you get your jalepeno chillis from?

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    Reply Maunika June 16, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    One day Helen I wish to be a guest at your dinner table to sample this! The food looks gorgeous to say the least and the photos are amazing as always. Fab post:)

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    Reply Helen June 16, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Hello lovely people. I bought my chillies from but I have no idea whether or not this is the cheapest place or indeed whether they do the best chillies. I was a frenzied animal when I purchased – they were one of the first places that came up but the chillies seem pretty good to me. I also want to check out the cool chilli place that Tommi mentioned.

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    Reply Helen June 16, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    p.s Margaret – hello 🙂 lovely to have a comment from you. I hope you and the familie are well. Love xxxxx

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    Reply Chris June 17, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Looks marvellous, and I’m sure it is. Strange how there are so few Mexican restaurants worth visiting in London though.

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    Reply Alex June 17, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Cool. Or hot. Whichever suits better. Love it.

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    Reply Rambo June 18, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    GREAT post. I’ve just yomped the biggest baguette imaginable and it still made me hungry.

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    Reply gastrogeek June 19, 2010 at 12:06 am

    This looks incredible, and the book is brilliant isn’t it? I’ve had my eye on the cold avocado/gazpacho soup recipe, but you may just have diverted me…

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    Reply tasteofbeirut June 19, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    I love Mexican food , even Tex-Mex if cooked properly; I hope I don’t start craving it too much here in Beirut. Love your salsa and hope you can continue to cook these Mexican classics.

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    Reply David Hall June 19, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    “jamming dribbly tacos into my tequila hole “. Now there’s an image?!? Anyway, lovely recipes as always, that roasted salsa sounds amazing! I’ve decided to Blog for a change today!
    Dave x

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    Reply forex robot June 29, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

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    Reply Kocinera July 4, 2010 at 7:20 am

    Oooh this looks muy delicioso! I love Mexican food, too! 🙂

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    Reply Polly August 7, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Made this salsa the other day, and it was really tip top. Have been telling anyone who would stand still to make it ever since. Keep up the good work. 🙂

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    Reply Tom Abbott May 19, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I just made this wonderful salsa and used it with another Thomasina Miers recipe, the Mexican Torta. It was fantastic. The only thing is, and I’m very new to cooking so I could easily have been doing something wrong, but when cooking the tomatoes, the chillis and the garlic, the smoke alarm immediately went off. I live in a Georgian house so it’s not that easy to turn the smoke alarm off whenever I want to cook as the ceilings are rather high, so was I doing something wrong? I assume a dry pan means exactly what it says. Anyway, it’s not that important. I don’t want to get the fact that I simply loved this salsa lost in a fairly small and picky issue.

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    Reply Helen May 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Hi Tom, yeah that’s normal I’m afraid! Because you blister the tomatoes in a dry pan, you’re going to get a lot of smoke. BBQ could be a good option though…

  • Avatar
    Reply Tom Abbott May 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks Helen, and with summer pretty much here, a BBQ sounds like a damn good idea..

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    Reply Tom Abbott May 30, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Because I couldn’t find chipotles, I replaced them instead with Dried Red Chillies of the Indian variety. Slightly sweeter and spicier, they’ve worked really well as a puree to add to just about anything.

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    Reply petesjoy April 16, 2012 at 2:31 am

    I love Mexican food so, therefore, have a soft spot for Thomasina and her show – how exciting that she commented on your post! I was particularly intrigued by her salsa recipe, but was more drawn to your adapted version. I was frantically preparing various dishes for my boyfriend’s b’day BBQ, so decided to cut corners by not deseeding the tomatoes, even with your very clear instructions not to. Future note to self [as I will be making this again and again]: DESEED THE TOMATOES!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 7:43 am

      Yeah it’s one of those processes – SO tempting to skip it but it really doesn’t take that long and makes such a huge difference.

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    Reply sara September 3, 2014 at 11:41 am

    This Salsa is mouthwateringly delicous! I’ve found your page and this recipe (which surely was made in heaven) by chance. Made the salsa and everyone absolutely loved it. can’t wait to find some other divine recipes on here. Thanks so much! 🙂

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