Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Other Red Meat

While I was in Melbourne I went to a bookshop I had only previously read about: Books for Cooks. Ever since I first read about this shop on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, I have known that I could while away an entire day there, perhaps a week if I had nothing else to do. I didn't spend quite that long there, but I did fulfill the other expectations I had for my behaviour: I ran from bookshelf to bookshelf, picking up one book, followed by another, and another, before finally having to sit down, wipe the drool from my chin, and have a deep think about the merits of the books I wanted relative to my budget.

I'll talk about the whole heady experience in more depth when I finally get around to completing the promised Melbourne posts, but for now let me tell you what I'm cooking for dinner tonight. Seasoned Chopped Beef (Picadillo) is a recipe from one of the books I bought at Books for Cooks, The New Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. It's the filling for Minced Beef Tacos (Taco de Picadillo) I'll be eating.

Ortiz instructs you to use half of the following recipe for Picadillo:

Brown 900g of minced lean beef in a large frying pan. I used that other red meat, kangaroo, because I can't really bring myself to buy beef at the supermarket anymore. I'll eat beef when I'm out, but between what I have access to and what I can afford, kangaroo is a more ethical, environmental, and cost-effective choice for me. Add 2 finely chopped onions and 1 clove of garlic, also chopped. When these are cooked add the following: 2 green cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped; 450g tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped--I made half the recipe and just added a drained tin of tomatoes here; 3 tinned or fresh jalapeno chillies, seeded and chopped--again I went for the tinned; 1/2 cup of seedless raisins; 12 pimiento-stuffed olives, halved--I only had jalapeno stuffed olives, but I figured they weren't out of place in this recipe; 1/4 tsp each of ground cinnamon and cloves--I just threw in a whole clove that I accidentally crunched on later; and finally, salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer over a low heat for 20mins. When this is done you can sprinkle it with 1/4 cup of slivered almonds that you've fried in a bit of oil--I missed this touch since I didn't have any slivered almonds and didn't feel like the trouble of blanching, chopping and frying regular almonds. I'd bother if someone other than me was eating this.

So that's the filling for the tacos.

The Tacos de Picadillo are just a matter of assembly. I used some small, soft tortillas and filled them with the Picadillo, added some Salsa Verde Mexicana Picante, and some shredded ice-berg lettuce that came in this week's organic fruit and vege box. Ortiz recommends guacamole as well, but as I didn't have any avocado, I substituted with some Greek yoghurt--I didn't have any sour cream either.

I should mention that while the recipe book has recipes for both tortillas and the salsa verde I went for the pre-made and tinned varieties. I don't think I'll be too hard on myself for not making tortillas from scratch. As for the salsa verde, it's a case of lack of availability of the key ingredient, tomatillo, the green tomatoes that seem to be used extensively in Mexican cooking. The closest I could find to this ingredient in my, admittedly, rather short search was an enormous tin of them, as big as those Golden Circle juice tins. On that shopping expedition, I went for the much smaller tin of ready made salsa. It seems to be quite simple, consisting of the tomatilloes, serrano chillies, onions, and coriander, to comprise a rather refreshing sauce.

Overall, I found this to be a really tasty meal. I hope I haven't come across as too flaky in my lack of purity about all the substitutions. I used to be really up tight about such things, but ever since the woman at the Indian Grocers advised me that 'you cook with what you have', I've felt a whole lot freer about making substitutions. Maybe what's worrying me is that I used tinned things instead of fresh, but again, needs must.

When I first flicked through the book in Books for Cooks, I thought that the ingredients would be a bit more accessible than they've proved to be so far. Much of my decision to get the book was based upon the use of pineapple and banana and other sub-tropical ingredients readily available in South East Queensland. I was intrigued by the use of fruit throughout--and perhaps it's no surprise that I've since learnt that the used of fruit derives from the Spanish influence on Mexican cuisine via the Moorish influence on Spanish cuisine. Here I like to think that my use of kangaroo adds an Australian influence to Mexican cuisine.

Another reason I bought the book was because there's a fellow post-graduate at uni who is Mexican, and on the subject of Mexican food in Brisbane, Australia even, she is dismissive. 'Tex-Mex' she sniffs when people ask her about Mexican food in restaurants. Her response has long piqued my curiosity because it made me aware that of course all I know of Mexican food is Tex-Mex, exemplified by the 'Mexican' section in the supermarket that consists entirely of Old El Paso products.

I guess at the moment I'm sort of stuck between wanting to know more about Mexican food and being faced with the trouble of getting the ingredients. I don't think I'm ready to give up just yet, because clearly there's a whole lot more to know--about all the varieties of chilli alone. First, I'll be a bit more concerted in my efforts to find suppliers in Brisbane or who deliver to Brisbane.


Zoe said...

I can has cross-post?

Kirsty said...

Your wish is my command ; )

I was a bit worried that there were too many references to things on this blog, but I've been a link whore and directed people this way if they want further explanation.

Ariel said...

You have made me miss Mexico ... or Mexican food, anyway. That sounds fantastic. Might just have to try it. I'd love to make my own tortillas - the only ones I can get my hands on are the El Paso brand or similar. Might have to track down that book. Thanks Kirsty.

Oh, and your friend is right, based on my observations when in Mexico. What we have here is Tex-Mex. Which I love anyway. But still ... There is an excellent authentic Mexican restaurant on Johnston Street in Melbourne, which you should try when you're down next. Near corner of Nicholson Street, dancing skeletons in the window. Can't recall name.

Kirsty said...

Hi Ariel. Yes I must admit I was also recalling your tales of eating in Mexico. The tortillas I found were quite delicious and chewy in a way I didn't expect from the supermarket, but I did also buy some maize flour so I guess I am hoping to make my own tortillas one day.

I'll look out for that restaurant next time I'm in Melbourne. I recently went to one here in Brisbane that has quite a good reputation. I had chicken in a chocolate sauce which was just divine. The rice they served with it was pretty special too. I'm not sure how it rates on the Tex Mex scale, but it was certainly more than crispy taco shells etc.

Zoe said...

yay! I think it actually reads well independently though.

Hope post-meeting life is cruisy.

Lara said...

Hi Zoe,

I found your blog via your comments on Though small, it is tasty.

I really believe that we can get a lot of stuff here in Brisbane, you just need to know where to look! That said, I've never looked for Mexican ingredients. :-/

This list from the poison doughnut might help you find them. I'm not sure I've seen tomatillos around town, but the Digger's Club sells seeds if you want to grow your own.

Good luck!

Kirsty said...

Thanks for those links Lara. I'll look them up and make plans. I might even take on the challenge of growing the tomatilloes... Kirsty

Lara said...

Sorry Kirsty! Got confused by Zoe's cross posting!

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