Mea culpa. I haven’t exactly been churning out the blogs recently – there’s just been too much going on plus a lot of work. Big trips nada, but lots of short ones round these isles that I know so little of. And plenty of London’s broad sweep of culture – from Juliette Binoche dancing rather brilliantly with Akram Khan, Kenneth Branagh returning to the stage in Chekhov’s Ivanov, Francis Bacon at Tate Britain, Rothko at Tate Modern to last night’s session of Mark Thomas‘ hilarious but no less forceful attack on the mighty Coca Cola giant – with some extraordinary, humbling stories of the Samson & Goliath variety.
But back to trips. A couple of weeks ago I was in York (see the massive Minster above – though I never got inside) for the first time in my life to participate at the York Food Festival with a Mexican friend, Juan Galindo, who just happens to be a fantastic cook of all things Mexican – and currently lives in York. The old town centre had been transformed for the 10-day event – lots of local producers showing off their wares & a full-on programme of taste workshops. We gave two sessions: one on the saturday about Mexico’s infinite range of moles (elaborate sauces) and another on the sunday about desserts – which became one mega tamale session. Beforehand I helped Juan prepare a mound of fresh tortillas and a pipian – a sauce that is normally green due to pumpkin seeds but that here was reddish thanks to tomatoes – yet still deliciously textural. That’s the beauty of moles – they are infinitely variable.
The tamales we made using masa, the Mexican maize flour which has undergone nixtamalization (try saying that – fast) which means soaking the corn kernels either in lime or in ashes. This results in greater digestibility and nutritional properties – an ingenious system that goes back thousands of years to the early Mesoamericans. Once the masa has been turned into a dough, we added lots of different fillings using pear, chocolate, bananas etc (the choice is yours) as fillings, then carefully wrapped them in corn husks and tied them in string. The result were pretty little parcels that then sat steaming for a couple of hours.
For the mole session we showed off a selection of dried and fresh chiles (including Scotch bonnets, which Juan had ordered through the local Indian specialist food-shop – they are as close to the fiery habanero as you can get), as these are a major component in the subtley layered flavours of moles. Ironically, that same day, my book on Mexican food, Viva la Revolucion!, was praised by Dan Lepard in his Guardian column – introducing what looks like an excellent recipe for Chilli Chocolate Fudge Cake. His inspiration for this was the mole poblano recipe in my book. So viva Dan! A pity it hadn’t come out a few days earlier, as we could have included it in our Mexican desserts.
Anyway, between Juan’s demonstration of steaming tamales accompanied by hot drinking chocolate (an Aztec invention, though the beans came from Mayan territory in the south) and the tastes of moles on reheated tortilles – most people in the audience seemed happy. And I was delighted to discover medieval York – in the sunshine no less.
On saturday I’m off to Syria, Jordan and the West Bank – a lengthy and exciting journey into the heart of the Middle East. Funny that over all these years of visiting Islamic countries from Indonesia to Mali via Oman, Egypt and north Africa – I’ve never set foot in the Middle East proper. I can’t wait – but the blog might just have to!