If you’ve ever found yourself staring into your store cupboard, wondering precisely why you have three separate mostly-used packets of cashew nuts, or a whole unopened bag of sesame seeds you don’t remember buying, or just why you have four types of lentil, then you’ll find my Sunday morning quite familiar.
“I should really” I thought “just use some of these bloody things to make some space”. Enter: mole poblano. A dry-goods tidy in sauce form. Well, if your dry goods include various nuts, seeds, and berries of unremembered provenance, and some fancy chiles. This ain’t helping with the lentils. Seriously, when do I ever use the big, non-puy green ones? What was I thinking?
Mole poblano is a Mexican classic, for years better known in the US than the UK. It’s fruity/sweet/smoky, thickened with nuts, and can take you most of a day to make. This is a veggie version, adapted both from Rick Bayless, and to what I had to hand. The nuts are different, and I’ve de-clawed the spice. It also takes less time.
That turned out to be good, because after tweeting about the annoyance of Bayless’ quarts/cups/imperial measure bobbins original, I needed that time back to block (or at least roll my eyes at) a parade of mansplaining neckbeards with no ear for tone.
Winter isn’t the most fun, and the foods that get you through it tend to attract words like “hearty”. Big one-pot stews, heaps of potatoes. It’s pretty great. But sometimes you want something with all the warming body, but a bit less of the stodgy heft. Vegetable soups, you’re up.
One of my favourites is the Mexican bean soup from the River Cottage veg book. You can squint at that and just about see the heritage for this I suppose. But it’s been on a little trip via Authentic Mexican, my enthusiasm for sweet corn, and the fact that I really really hate photographing soup.
Seriously, it’s just no fun. Which is probably why this goes in quite so hard on the corn, roasted corn, and peppers. Quite apart from tasting nice, that gives us something to look at, and a nice mix of colours. So yes, it’s both a little sweet and a little focused on corn. It’s like a nursery-tastes remix of a classic pozole soup, I suppose, and it won’t be for everyone. I do like the hot sweet and sour of it, and the bit of bite.
Lamb neck doesn’t exactly sound tasty. It’s that terminal ‘k’ sound, I think. It’s hard to sustain an appetite in the face of a harsh wet plosive. Indeed, lamb neck isn’t something I started cooking with until quite recently, having written it off as a slow-cooking cut less interesting than shank or shoulder.
A mistake, but an understandable one.
On the bone, lamb neck slow cooks nicely – there’s plenty of fat and flavour. But the filleted neck behaves a bit differently. Raw, it looks like a well-larded pork tenderloin, and you can almost treat it in the same way. It’ll flash fry, barbecue, or grill. It loves a bit of char, and a deep marinade to carry some flavour through that harsh cooking.
When I was a teenager, my dad taught me to cook. I mean, he tried. I was a truculent little fucker even then, and I doubt I really listened. Still he taught at a catering college, and somehow some basics of technique and flavour sank in. I don’t think I really learned to cook though until a bit later, living in a grotty shared house, having rage-quit the family home, post graduation.
As tantrums go, “I’m moving to Cambridge” was a bit dumb, and more than a little expensive. But not wanting to let the cooking shtick wither entirely, my dad packed me off with a few books. Some core catering texts, a well-thumbed Delia, and a couple of quirky extras that have since become two of my favourites. They were Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cookery, and Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican, and they massively influenced my early cooking forays. The latter introduced me to Tinga Poblana, one of the first things I learned to cook then really ran with.
It’s bound up in a whole bunch of memories – if I cook for you at all in person, the odds are you’ll have eaten some version of it. Hell, I’ve been titting about with Tinga Poblana for about ten years, and this won’t be the final version I settle on by any means.
I love empanadas, but rarely make them from scratch. Sometimes I’ll cheat with a pack of puff pastry, authenticity be damned. This works, is quick, and fits particularly well into the cram-more-cheese-up-it school of buffet food.
But I had a free afternoon, and Rick Bayless’ empanada pastry dough contains three tablespoons of lard, and is then fried rather than baked. How Could I say no?