Habanero salsa – liquid sunshine

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At the beginning of January, I have a craving for bright food with bold flavours, hot red, uplifting orange & yellow colours, food that is fiery and warming – basically simulating sunshine when the days are dark and dank. Oranges*, lemons, persimmons, peppers, pomegranates, chillies – all seem to brighten the mood and tickle the taste buds. This is especially true for chiles habaneros, little orange lampions or lanterns, which have a pleasant flowery, fruity flavour and are as hot as the sun. So, a habanero salsa is quite literally liquid sunshine.

We pour it on anything and everything, tacos, especially fish tacos, Continue reading

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Chipotle-lime mix

Chipotle-lime mix by the james kitchen
Chipotle-lime mix, a photo by the james kitchen on Flickr.

We have got friends coming for New Year’s Eve and we are planning a great feast. No need to say that for a proper party one needs nibbles to go with the cocktails and drinks and since we are all spice-lovers and the food is sort of American/Mexican (write a blog and your husband only needs to point), logically the nuts should match the theme, too. Originally I had planned to make Lisa Fain’s recipe for Chipotle lime Texas trash but in the end used it as a pattern and fiddled to get a hot and spicy chile chipotle-lime nibble with more chiles, lime and no cinnamon. And let me say, this is quite something: it is smoky, spicy and hot, has a depth in flavour from the garlic, Worcestershire sauce and several layers of lime taste and is quickly becoming a real favourite in our house. I am just hoping there will be something left for our guests.

You may use it as a blueprint (as long as you stay within the 8 cups-formula), too and change the ingredients or quantities of nuts, pretzel & cracker around.

Ups, I just wanted to make those again and couldn’t find the recipe… I am not sure where the text had gone, if I had published it correctly in the first place or there were just too many tests to remember, so here it is. You live and learn, sorry to keep this from you.

Chipotle-lime nut mix
yields 8 cups, inspired by and adapted from The Homesick Texan

3 cups mini cracker & pretzel (Salzbrezel) mix (I used something called a Knabbermischung in Germany with little poppy seed crackers, alphabet pretzel pieces etc.)
1 cup unsalted cashew nuts
1 cup unsalted pecans
1 cup walnuts & hazelnuts
1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1 cup unsalted almonds
1 stick (114g) butter
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon (75ml) lime juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika (Pimentón de La Vera)
1½ teaspoon ground chipotle chile
2 teaspoons ground chiles (I use our mix of ancho, pasilla, chipotle & mulato chiles, make your own or use any other ground Mexican chiles)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
½ heaped teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lime (roughly 1 tablespoon)

To finish:
1 tablespoon lime juice
zest of 1 lime

Preheat the oven to 120°C (250° F), 110°C for fan oven is what I used and prepare baking sheets with parchment paper.

If the crackers and little pretzel pieces (like the Knabbermischung I used) are hardly salted mix them together with the nuts in a large bowl and set aside.
If your cracker & pretzel mix is already quite salty, place it in a separate bowl from the nuts so that a part of the seasoned butter can be added without the salt while the nuts are salted & seasoned in the other bowl.

Melt the butter over a low heat, add the lime juice, Worcestershire sauce and all the spices (see if you need to salt parts separately), reserve the lime zest. Stir to combine and pour it over the nut-cracker-pretzel mix. Mix well until everything is coated with the seasoned butter, add the lime zest and stir again. This should happen swiftly otherwise the crackers will get a bit too soggy.

Spread your spicy nut mix immediately out on the baking sheets and bake them in the oven for 45-50 minutes. Rotate your sheets after half an hour and stir the mix from time to time. When everything seems lightly browned & toasted dry take the mix out of the oven, sprinkle with the lime juice & zest and toss to spread the final lime flavour evenly. Leave to cool if you can.

Mexican meatballs in chipotle-tomato sauce

Something spicy and thoroughly warming for chilly November evenings: moorish meatballs which have an extra vegetable bonus hidden inside. But this is no sneaky way of hiding vitamins, I found that they add extra moisture and lightness to the meatballs which I will try out soon in other combinations. Cooked in this – admittedly – quite spicy sauce make them a real winter warmer. You can reduce the amount of chiles chipotles en adobo in the sauce and start with one or two and adjust the amount to your taste.

We still remember the first time I brought a tin home from my favourite Mexican market in Sunnyvale, CA (former home of Atari) and eating them as pickles. Well, don’t if you are not a serious chili-eater. Omitting them from the sauce or replacing them would be a mistake though. They provide a smoky, dusky, spicy, mesquite flavour and an instant depth to the sauce which is the real warmer in this dish.

And if you are in the market for trying something new, pick up some epazote at the same time you are buying the chiles for Esquites (corn cooked with epazote) to go with the meatballs.

Mexican meatballs in chipotle-tomato sauce
adapted from Diana Kennedy’s The Essential Cuisines of Mexico

340g (12 oz) ground beef
340g (12 oz) ground pork
1 medium or 2 smaller zucchini / courgettes
1medium onion
2 eggs
¼ – ½ teaspoon dried oregano (we liked a bit more)
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds (if you like, lightly toast them in a dry pan before grinding – total different flavour)
8 peppercorns
salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)

2 tins of organic chopped tomatoes (Kennedy uses fresh tomatoes, cooked for 5 minutes)
3-4 chipotles en adobo
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
185ml (3/4 cup) chicken broth
salt & pepper

Finely chop the zucchini and the onion, grind the cumin seeds & pepper corns in a pestle & mortar. Place all the meatball ingredients in a bowl and mix with your hands. Form ping-pong ball sized balls (4cm or 1½ inches), cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until needed.

Blend the tomatoes and chipotles to a smooth sauce. Heat the oil in a wide saucepan (large enough to fit all the meatballs), add the tomato-chipotle blend, bring over high heat to the boil and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and bring the sauce back to a simmer. Gingerly place the meatballs in the sauce, let it come back to a simmer again and close the pan with a lid. Reduce the heat and cook for about 50 minutes. Check the seasoning.