The first time I ate Mexican Food was at Don Pepe’s in Madras. Back then; a lot of things were different. Madras was still Madras, not Chennai. The flyover at Alwarpet wasn’t there. We lived there and so did Ajja and Bapamma. I was a lot younger, but still very into food!
I clearly remember when we walked into the restaurant for the first time. The restaurant was ( I don’t know if it still exists) on the first floor of a bustling street in Madras, and we had to walk up a steep flight of carpeted stairs. Amma and Bappa walked up quickly while I slowly wandered up the stairs, distracted by all the beautiful black and white photos of Mexico on the wall. Don Pepe’s became a place where we would take groups of friends and family. Everything was fairly Mexican, which was quite a remarkable feat for that time (I think its atleast 10-12 years old now!) there was hand painted crockery and all the waiters wore sombreros. Everyone I knew loved the restaurant and the food.
The last time I went to Madras, I ate there and I wondered about how authentic the meal actually was. I was fairly sure that they would have changed and modified the tastes to suit the Indian palate. At the time, I didn’t think I would have the answer to that question so soon!
California, and LA in particular has opened my mind to the variety in Mexican and Tex – Mex Cuisine. Every 3rd restaurant in LA is a Mexican Restaurant. There are areas where entire restaurant windows have Spanish advertising (Korea town is similar too – I am yet to see a Hindi sign, but Im pretty sure they are around somewhere!) A couple of tacos, burritos, and quesadillas later, I realised that Don Pepe’s wasn’t so off the mark after all! J
Anyway, getting back to the actual reason behind this post – I did try one dish that I hadn’t eaten before. The first time I tried Chilli Con Carne, took my heart and soul away (Im convinced that they’ve gone straight to Mexico!) MG made Chilli when she stayed with us. We walked home after an exhausting day at school and were greeted by the most intoxicating aroma as we walked up the stairs.
“Oooh! What is that? Is that coming from our house?”
“Yes!! Its Mum’s chilli!”
Kidney beans, cayenne pepper, garlic and cumin. It smelt like home. It was velvety, packed with flavor and absolutely gorgeous. It was the kind of food that one bite took all the aches and pains away.
MG left, and a couple of weeks later, I was craving the same taste. Bootcamp was over, my leg was much better and I wanted a fulfilling, wholesome meal.Sunday was the day it had to be done. We had almost all the ingredients we needed, except the kidney beans. I had a black bean can and some dying corn on the cob in the fridge. They had to do.
I found a good recipe that vaguely matched the ingredients I had at home.
It was a long process but I enjoyed every minute of it. We did a lot of things in between too! We cleaned the house (vacuumed and and mopped!) did the laundry, did some work, watched some Fringe and somewhere in the middle the chilli got cooked.
I started by chopping an onion. The size of onions in America never fail to shock me. They’re HUGE but their pungency can never be trusted. This one was more sweet than pungent.
I put all the ingredients that I was going to use together. The coriander powder, Ancho chilli powder (its made from a mexican chilli called ‘Poblano’. It a dark red colour and has a smoky flavour) regular cayenne powder, I also added a finely chopped jalapeno.
It needed a little of some minced garlic as well. Yay!! I finally have a garlic press,. Im convinced that garlic presses are a boon to mankind. They make garlic-ing far far easier to do.
I asked L a hundred questions as I was browning the meat. This is still something Im nervous of doing.. It’s such a strange concept to me – I usually just put the meat in and let it cook. I crosschecked with a few other recipes and they all said ‘brown the meat’. Browning is supposed to remove the excess fat from the meat. We had bought our meat from (drumroll..! My current FAVORITE shop in the world!) Trader Joe’s, and we had picked a very lean mince. I browned it with no oil.
I took it out on a plate and let it sit..
and then washed and drained the beans.
The onions went in next – sautéed for a few minutes and then the assorted chilli powders.
Bobby Flay also uses beer in his recipe. I’ve come to trust recipes that have a dose of alcohol. In my experience, gives the dish a full bodied flavour. Here, the beer added a very slight and mellow undertone of bitterness. N had got me an “Indian Pale Ale’ carton for my birthday. He was really disappointed when I looked at him blankly when he said “IPA” and when I told him that the beer had NOTHING to do with the country. He didn’t believe me and we read the sticker together. This “IPA’ came from Hawaii and I unfortunately, didn’t like it. It had this very strong, funny tasting and funny smelling aftertaste. Since the recipe called for beer and there was no WAY that I was drinking that beer plain, I decided to cook with it.
Once the beer had boiled down, I added the mince and the chopped tomatoes and cooked it for a while.
After about 45 minutes of simmering – I added the beans and the corn.
15 minutes later – the chilli was finally done and it smelt really good!
L made a cumin whisked creme to go on top, while I made an avocado relish. I love how avocados are so easy to come by in the US, they’re actually have,”Ripe, Ready to Eat” labels on them! Back home, we had to go hunting to find decent and ripe avocado. If you took your chances with a one that wasn’t ripe, there was a 50% chance that it would never ripen – and that you would be left with a little rock, so hard that you could knock someone out with it.
It was really simple – except that I had forgotten to buy cilantro! 😦
I mixed the onions and the jalapeno with the avocado, lemon juice and salt.
Our meal was finally complete!
Black Bean and Corn Chilli
What you need:
1 lb/500 gms of beef mince
salt and pepper
1 onion finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp of Ancho Chilli powder
1/2 – 3/4 tbsp of cayenne pepper ( depending on the heat)
1 Jalapeno finely chopped
3/4 tbsp of cumin powder
1/2 a pint of beer
3 cups of water/chicken stock. I used chicken stock.
4 -5 medium sized tomatoes – chopped
1 cup of black beans
1 cup of corn kernals
I tbsp of honey
What you do:
In a hot pan, brown the beef mince. I added no oil when I did this – the meal had a fair amount of oil in it. Season with salt and pepper. Take out the meat. In the same pan, add the onion and fry for a few minutes. Add the chilli powders, the cumin, the jalapeno and fry for a minute or so. Add the beer and let it boil down. Then add the meat and the tomatoes. Add the stock, let it come to a boil and then simmer for 45 minutes. Rinse the beans and the corn. Add to the pot with the honey and cook for another 15 minutes. Squeeze in the lemon juice just before you serve.
1 ripe avocado chopped small
half an onion
small bunch of cilantro
Chope everything up fine. Mix in a bowl and season with lemon juice and salt.
1/2 a cup of yoghurt
1/2 tsp of cumin powder
Whisk everything up together. And its done!