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Another busy weekend for the lemurs began with blogging chum Thrifty Gal popping down from London on Friday night. She’s an old friend and a famously easy house guest – she tends to arrive with champagne, and she is completely happy to watch me cook, pour me wine, and then slob on the sofa with the cat. She is, however, a mildly challenging person to cook for as she’s both vegetarian and deathly allergic to nuts. It’s not really a problem – despite my porky qualities, I cook vegetarian as often as not, as I think all meat eaters should do. Just because we eat meat doesn’t mean we eat only meat and I am perplexed by those who expect hunks of flesh to show up on every plate. So the challenge of cooking for Thrifty Gal is more self-imposed: I like making her the things she’d never usually order because she’s afraid of stealth nuts. She rarely eats in ethnic restaurants as she is never sure if peanut oil or ground nuts might have been used. As a result, she ends up eating the boring crap that fancy European restaurants offer to veggies (why hello again mushroom risotto) and doesn’t get to experience the joys of Indian, Southeast Asian or Mexican cuisines. This is where I come in…

Over the years, I’ve cooked her Thai food that won’t kill her, Indian food that won’t kill her and Malaysian food that won’t kill her. (Er, we’ll draw a veil over the bowl of shrimp paste sambal I thought I could sneak in for myself, only to discover that the smell actually sent her running for the front door in horror. Oops-ee.) This weekend, I thought I’d take advantage of the summer corn to make her some Mexican food that won’t kill her.

Ever since I lived in the midwest, I’ve made some version of corn enchiladas every summer. The corn in Iowa is amazing and to be honest spoils you for all other corn. Especially the dried out pathetic husks in the UK that are, to add insult to injury, 69p each. Yes, Iowans, go ahead and laugh. I know. Trust me, I know. But not-quite-farm-fresh corn notwithstanding, I love the combination of sweet corn with good cheese and a zesty tomatillo sauce. I’ve made this dish with corn tortillas or flour tortillas, with goat cheese or sheep cheese, with all manner of summer vegetables or with a mix of corn and black beans. It truly cannot go wrong so long as you keep the filling seasonal and the sauce good and flavourful. This version is altered for what’s available in the UK. Thrifty Gal still pronounced it a triumph.

Corn and zucchini enchiladas

  • 2 ears of corn, kernels stripped off with a sharp knife
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 2 red peppers, diced
  • oregano, preferably Mexican (fresh or dried)
  • 1 tuma dla paja cheese (or other soft goat or sheep’s milk cheese)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 large green chilies
  • a handful of cilantro
  • 2 tins of tomatillos or 8-10 fresh tomatillos
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • vegetable oil
  • 9 flour tortillas or 12 corn tortillas
  • a little Mexican queso añejo or parmesan

First roast the tomatoes (and tomatillos if fresh) under a grill/broiler until split and slightly charred. Turn once to do both sides. Meanwhile, toast the garlic cloves (still in skins) and chilies in a dry skillet for about 10 mins, turning often. Peel all when cool. At the same time, sauté the onions in oil until lightly browned.

Put the peeled tomatoes, tomatillos, chilies, garlic and onions in a food processor along with cilantro and pulse till saucy but not totally smooth. Heat some more oil (I use the same pot I did for the onions) and, when hot, empty in the sauce and fry on medium high heat for 10 minutes, till thickened and a bit reduced.

While the sauce cooks, prepare the filling. Sauté zucchini, peppers and corn in a large frying pan until softened and slightly browned. Season with salt, pepper and a generous pinch of oregano. If you’re using corn tortillas, you’re going to want to fry them in advance (ideally in oil which isn’t so healthy but hey, the rest of the dish is pretty good for you). Flour tortillas can be used direct.

Assemble the dish: for each tortilla add a big spoon of corn mixture, top with a slice of cheese, roll tightly and place in a lasagna pan. When the pan is full, pour the sauce over the top, top with a grating of queso añejo or parmesan and put in a medium oven for about 30-45 minutes, or until bubbling and browned.

Serves 3-4

I served it with a simple pea shoot and avocado salad and followed with Mexican-style coconut paletas. But that’s another post…

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Another lazy day in Pirque and I’m beginning to settle into the rural lifestyle. Lemur-in-law has a gorgeous garden and even though Pirque is technically a suburb of Santiago, it feels like a million miles from the city. The surrounding area is full of vineyards and walnut trees, and the garden itself grows almonds, quinces, apricots and more.

I’m enough of a city mouse to be impressed by seeing recognisable fruits and vegetables growing on trees. A friend of mine was horrified as a child by the idea of eating a tomato that had grown in the ground (dirty!) rather than coming from the supermarket, and though this is the sort of alienation from the land that we all try to combat these days, I think those of us with an urban background can still carry a trace of amazement that things actually grow on trees. So, I wandered around the garden excited to see apples and avocados ripening all around me.

Lemur-in-law makes apricot jam, membrillo, and apple jelly from the fruits in her garden, although sitting out on the verandah, it’s hard to imagine doing anything more strenuous than mixing another batch of pisco sours and picking up something from the village for lunch. That’s pretty much what we did today, with another Chilean favourite – humitas – for lunch.

Chilean humitas are an Andean staple somewhat similar to Mexican tamales – they’re made from corn masa mixed with onion, herbs and milk and steamed in corn husks. But while tamales are often stuffed with pork or other fillings, humitas are served plain, with toppings to bring the sweet corn flavour alive. Traditional toppings in Chile include sugar, salt, chopped ají or pebre. I understand the concept of the sugar, as South American corn is not so sweet as the North American or European type, but it still seems a bit perverse to me to sprinkle sugar on one’s lunch. I don’t have quite the sweet tooth that Chileans have. So, I ate my humitas with salt, ají, pebre and a tomato salad.

Then, it was off to the vineyard to sample another of Chile’s main attractions. But that’s another post…

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