A La Boca Loca taste of Mexico

La Boca Loca: Mexican Cooking for New Zealanders, Lucas Putnam and Marianne Elliott, Potton and...
La Boca Loca: Mexican Cooking for New Zealanders, Lucas Putnam and Marianne Elliott, Potton and Burton, $50
The popularity of Mexican food keeps on growing in New Zealand as its fresh flavours and casual style appeals to the Kiwi lifestyle.

Lucas Putnam, who grew up in California eating Mexican food, and Kiwi partner Marianne Elliott have been at the forefront of the movement here with their restaurant La Boca Loca in Miramar, Wellington.

Their aim back in 2011 was to bring the freshest flavours of Mexico to Wellington - using the fresh, locally available ingredients combined with carefully sourced traditional ingredients such as dried chillies, organic corn masa and boutique tequila.

The popularity of their cuisine led to cooking classes enabling people to learn how to make the food at home.

A cookbook was a natural progression. While ackowledging the wonderful Mexican cookbooks already out there, they often include ingredients hard to get in New Zealand.

''There's nothing more frustrating than trying to follow a recipe and not being able to find key elements.''

So the cookbook comes with a guide to the essentials needed to create Mexican food and where they are available in New Zealand.

''And for the items we haven't yet found - or we've imported to New Zealand ourselves - we suggest good substitutes.''

There is also a guide to the basics of Mexican cooking to help cooks master the skills of handling chillis, preparing masa or pressing tortillas.

New Zealand food writer Lorraine Jacobs says in the book's foreword the recipes transport her ''straight back to the North American continent''.

''They're colourful and delicious and most importantly they are achievable in your own kitchen, once you have the speical ingredients that are essential for that authentic taste of Mexico.''


Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied
Aztec omelette (Pastel Azteca)

Pastel is Spanish for cake, which this Aztec-style layered omelette resembles. It is one of Chris' family recipes - his mother would make it for breakfast when he was a child - and now it is Marianne's favourite breakfast. The cream and milk are optional, but their richness help the creamy egg-and-cheese layer to balance out the tangy salsa.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Salsa
2 roasted poblano chillies or capsicums, skinned
1 small brown onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic confit (peeled and simmered in oil), diced
400g (about 4) tomatoes, diced into 1.5cm cubes
1 cup vegetable stock
½ cup sweetcorn kernels
salt and ground black pepper

Pastel
8 eggs
50ml cream (optional)
50ml milk (optional)
vegetable oil for the pan
400g cheddar cheese, grated

Method
Preheat oven to 170degC.

To prepare salsa, cut chillies into strips. Saute onion and garlic until soft. Add chillies and cook for a few minutes to combine flavours.

Add diced tomatoes, stock and sweetcorn. Simmer for a few minutes until sauce starts to thicken slightly. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Whisk eggs and add cream and milk (if using). In a medium fry pan over medium heat, warm a little oil. Add one third of the egg mixture and cook for about 1 minute, then flip to cook the other side for 1 minute more. Set omelette aside, and repeat to make two more.

Place one omelette in the bottom of an oven-safe baking dish (trimming to fit, if necessary). Place a layer of salsa on the omelette. Sprinkle a layer of grated cheese on top. Repeat these three layers twice more, finishing with cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese is golden brown, about 10 minutes.


Chicken with mole sauce (Mole con Pollo)

This festive dish is guaranteed to impress your dinner guests and it's much simpler than it seems. Combining the bitterness of chocolate, the richness of pecans, the savour of spices, and the heat of arbol, pasilla, ancho and negro chillies, Mole con Pollo is a real flavour explosion.

Balanced by a simple base, the classic choice is chicken served with beans and rice on the side, it is the kind of dish your friends will beg you to make over and over.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1 chicken or 1.6kg chicken pieces, bone-in (about 1kg boneless)
1L mole poblano (see below)
1L chicken stock, plus more as needed
100g sesame seeds, toasted

Mole sauce
Makes 1L
serves 4 in a main course
5 dried arbol chillies
50g dried pasilla or ancho chillies
50g dried negro chillies
vegetable oil for the pan
30g pecans
30g raisins
sesame seeds for sprinkling
1 wheat flour tortilla, 25cm
1 small brown onion, sliced
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
125g Mexican chocolate
salt and ground black pepper
piloncillo (evaporated cane syrup juice) or brown sugar

Method
Preheat oven to 220degC. If using a whole chicken, joint into four pieces (whole legs and breasts), reserving the carcass.

Pour mole over the chicken, including carcass, and toss around in the sauce to coat the chicken pieces.

Place the chicken carcass on the bottom of a roasting pan or casserole and layer legs and breasts on top. (If you bought chicken pieces, simply place them in the roasting pan.)

Add chicken stock and roast for 45 to 60 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Add more stock, if needed, to keep moist.

Remove from the oven, discard the carcass and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with rice, beans and tortillas to mop up the yummy juices.

Variation: Marianne and Lucas love a vegetarian version of this dish using big, juicy portobello mushrooms as the base, and substituting vegetable stock for chicken stock.

Mole sauce
This is one of the best-known moles in New Zealand.

We make ours with bittersweet chocolate, pecans and chillies.

Preheat oven to 150degC. Clean dried chillies, removing seeds, stalks and ribs. Saute in a little oil for 8 to 10 seconds. The chillies will redden; be careful not to burn them. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels. When cool enough to handle, break into pieces.

Separately toast pecans, raisins, sesame seeds and tortilla in a baking pan in the oven until they begin to brown a little. Occasionally shake the pan so as not to burn them. Once evenly toasted, break tortilla into small pieces.

Heat a little oil in a pot, add onion and saute for about 3 minutes. Add pecans, raisins, tortilla bits and chillies. Cook all together for another 2 minutes.

Add stock; heat without bringing to a boil. Add Mexican chocolate and keep cooking until mixture simmers (but still do not allow to boil) and chocolate is all dissolved. Remove from heat and blend in a blender or food processor until very smooth.

Return mole to pot, bring to a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Add salt, pepper and piloncillo to taste. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top of mole when served.


Pot beans (Frijoles de la Olla)

Serves 8 as a side

Ingredients
1 large brown onion, char-grilled, then diced
3 cloves garlic confit (peeled and simmered in oil)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 charred tomato (grill over flame or saute in pan till blacken), diced
1 small potato, peeled and diced
800g dry black beans
1 bay leaf

Method
Pour the dried beans on to a tea towel and pick through to remove little stones or misshapen beans. Rinse and drain.

Saute onion and garlic confit in olive oil until starting to brown. Add tomato and potato, and cook until the potato is starting to break down. (The potato helps soften the skins of the beans.)

Add black beans and bay leaf; cover with warm water. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are just softened, about 3 hours.

Season with salt.

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