We may not have scorching summers like Mexico, but with the temperature rising, now is the perfect time to feast on the country’s tasty fare. One person who needs no convincing of this is former MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers.
So enamoured is the chef with the Latin American food that she co-founded street food chain Wahaca, and in 2011 presented a Channel 5 series called Mexican Food Made Simple.
And while warming your palette with fiery chillies may be the last thing on your mind on a sizzling day, the chef thinks Mexican food is just the tonic.
“Mexican food is ideal to eat during the summer,” says Miers, who spent her gap year travelling around the country. “Unlike the UK, it’s hot all year round in Mexico and the food has been adapted to suit the hotter weather.”
As well as being cooling, it’s perfect for summer entertaining.
“The great thing about Mexican food is that it’s brilliant for sharing,” she says. “Some dishes, like the Pork Pibil, are so easy to make and can be slow-cooked in advance. When it’s ready, the meat is so soft, it just falls away.
“Things like the Summer Slaw don’t take as long to make but are equally tasty. Everyone can pitch in and help with making the food and, once it’s on the table, the meals look really vibrant and appetising.”
As well as being tasty, Miers also rates Mexican food for its nutritional benefits.
“Mexican food is so healthy,” she says. “Chillies are great for your digestive system, packed full of vitamin C and, on top of that, are delicious.”
It’s lucky that Miers, who’s currently working on a book about chilli peppers, isn’t the only Mexican food lover in her family.
“My youngest daughter is four months old, and my eldest is two. They’re just enchanting. Already my eldest is mad about chillies,” she says, laughing.
“I did a talk recently and I was discussing the different flavours of chillies. We had a range of Wahaca hot sauces for people to taste and my daughter was at the front, completely hoovering them all up – it’s ridiculous!”
If you fancy trying some of Miers’ favourite summer dishes, here are three recipes from her book Wahaca: Mexican Food At Home.
Wahaca is supporting the London MexFest, a four-day celebration of Mexican culture taking place in London from July 11-14 (mexfest.mx)
Wahaca: Mexican Food At Home by Thomasina Miers, Hodder & Stoughton, is priced £20.
Mexican Summer Slaw (serves 4)
1tbsp pumpkin seeds
¼ firm white cabbage, finely sliced
Small head of baby gem lettuce, finely sliced
6 large radishes, finely sliced
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1 large carrot, sliced into matchsticks
½ red chilli, finely sliced
2tbsp chopped fresh mint
1tbsp chopped fresh coriander
For the dressing:
1tsp cumin seeds
1 egg yolk
½tsp Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Large pinch of sea salt
2tsp red wine vinegar
Juice of ½ a lime
170ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sour cream
Start by making the dressing. Lightly dry-roast the cumin seeds in a small frying pan for a minute or so to release their flavour, then grind to a powder. In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk, mustard, garlic, cumin, salt, vinegar and lime juice, then gradually whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the sour cream then taste and add more seasoning if needed.
Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan for a minute or so, until lightly coloured.
In a large bowl, mix all the slaw ingredients together, but save some of the pumpkin seeds for garnish. About 10 minutes before you sit down to eat, toss the slaw with the dressing and sprinkle with the reserved pumpkin seeds.
THOMASINA’S TIP: Try the summer slaw with slow-cooked meats like the Pork Pibil.
Scallop and Prawn Aguachile (serves six as a starter or two for a main)
200g sustainably caught king prawns
Juice of 4 limes (about 200ml)
1-2 green chillies, roughly chopped
1tsp fish sauce
1tsp flaky sea salt
2½tbsp demerara sugar
1 small cucumber or ½ a large one
2tbsp reposado tequila (or ordinary tequila)
1 large banana shallot or 4 baby ones, finely sliced
About 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Handful of chervil, coriander or mint (or a combination of all three)
1 Hass avocado, diced
Prepare the scallops by slicing off the tough muscles that run along one side.
Cut off the roe (you can save this and make a delicious salad topping, fried with some bacon at a later date).
Peel the prawns and use the tip of a sharp knife to remove the black vein that runs along the back. Rinse all the seafood and cut into 1cm dice.
Pour the lime juice into a blender, adding half the chilli, the fish sauce, salt, sugar and a 5cm chunk of the cucumber. Blitz the lot, pour in the tequila and taste for seasoning. Depending on the heat of your chilli, you might want to add the remaining half to the blender, or even add another one.
You are looking for an extremely hot marinade, albeit one you can actually taste. Add more fish sauce, salt or sugar if you think it needs it.
Transfer the marinade to a bowl. Add the shallot, cherry tomatoes and the seafood and mix together.
Cut the rest of the cucumber in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and cut the flesh into slices about 5mm thick.
Add to the bowl of marinade, then cover and put in the fridge for one to four hours so that the lime juice has a chance to ‘cook’ the seafood.
When you are ready to eat, roughly chop the herbs and stir most of these into the Aguachile (the name for what you’ve made!).
Ladle modest servings into small bowls and top with the avocado, a scattering of the herbs and serve with either some totopos, nachos, tortilla chips or buttered granary bread on the side.
Pork Pibil (serves 10-12)
3kg neck of pork, cut into a few large pieces
1 habanero or Scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
For the marinade:
1tsp allspice berries (if unavailable use equal parts ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper)
2tsp freshly ground cumin seeds
100g achiote paste (optional, see note below)
3tbsp cider vinegar
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 fat garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Large bunch of fresh oregano or 1tsp dried oregano
3 fresh bay leaves
2tbsp sea salt
3tbsp olive oil
Juice of 6 oranges (about 450ml)
First make the marinade. Warm the spices in a dry frying pan for a few minutes, then grind to a fine powder. Place in a blender with the achiote (if using) and vinegar, onion, garlic, herbs, salt and olive oil, and pulse to start breaking up the achiote. Slowly pour in the orange juice with the motor running to form a smooth paste.
Pour about two-thirds of the marinade over the pork, ensuring it’s thoroughly coated. Refrigerate overnight. Freeze your remaining marinade or keep it fresh for a week in the fridge (and try it with something else, like barbecued chicken).
Preheat the oven to 130®C/250®F/gas mark 1. Transfer the pork and its marinade to a large casserole dish and add the chopped chilli and butter. Bring to simmering point then cover with foil and a tight-fitting lid, and cook as slowly as possible for three to four hours, until the pork is soft and falling apart. Serve chunks of pork in deep bowls with rice or steamed potatoes.
THOMASINA’S TIP: You can buy achiote online or from specialist shops. If you prefer your food not too hot, simply leave the chilli out. We use neck end of pork, which is marbled with delicious fat that melts into the sauce. For the tastiest, most tender pork, marinate it the day before cooking.