Introduction

Introduction

By
Paul Wilson
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742703992
Photographer
Chris Middleton

I left the United Kingdom many years ago, a classically trained chef setting out on a culinary adventure to Australia. Never did I think it would lead to an unrelenting enthusiasm for discovering more about our gastronomic universe.

Living in Australia I’ve realised we are blessed with so many food cultures that have formed a natural part of our life and make up our national cuisine. So it’s no wonder that now Latin and, in particular, Mexican foods are increasingly establishing themselves as yet another important and popular food genre. However, this is no trending fusion cuisine. The new wave of popularity is simply timely recognition for an ancient and intellectual food culture, about which we have much to learn.

I have travelled and studied this interesting and evolving cuisine and have come to realise that we owe so much to the ancient cultures of the pre-Columbian Americas. The Spanish conquistadores were introduced to an array of foods that we simply couldn’t live without today: from tomatoes, corn, avocados, beans, squash, capsicums (bell peppers) and chillies, potatoes and peanuts, to vanilla, strawberries, pineapple and chocolate, to name just a few.

The tomato, as we know it, came from Yucatán, where the Maya cultivated it long before the Spanish conquest. It made its first appearance in Europe in the mid-16th century and today it seems unthinkable for Italy to be without their much-loved napoletana sauce!

Corn is said to be attributed to humankind’s very existence. This domesticated strain of wild grass was originally cultivated by the Mayans as early as 2500 BC and is now one of the most important crops in the modern Americas.

Avocados originated in southern Mexico, where they were used as an aphrodisiac. The excitement about this fruit spread to the Rio Grande and central Peru, way before the Europeans learned about it. In the United Kingdom and Australia, the avocado didn’t really become popular until the 1960s, but since then we have truly embraced it.

Archaeological digs show that the cultivation of the black bean originated in southern Mexico and Central America more than 7000 years ago. It’s now widely used as a staple throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States and Asia.

Capsicums (bell peppers) and chillies have also been cultivated in the Americas for more than 6000 years. Today the Capsicum annuum species, with its many strains, has spread far and wide, and is crucial to nearly every fiery dish of the world’s many cuisines.

Vanilla, the elixir from a unique species of orchid, originally flavoured Mayan drinks. The jungle of southern Mexico is still the only place that this orchid grows wild, pollinated by native stingless bees that produce Mayan honey.

But perhaps the one ingredient we are most grateful for is chocolate. This Mayan ‘food of the gods’, made from the toasted, fermented seeds of the cacao tree, is arguably the New World’s greatest gift to world cuisines. It was so highly prized that, as well as eating it, the Aztecs and the Maya used cacao beans as currency.

All these ingredients are well documented but one thing my travels have taught me is that there are undoubtedly many more exciting ingredients awaiting discovery. The only problem is that there is not enough time to try them all!

This book is the culmination of my culinary journeys. Please look past the cheesy burrito and realise that there is so much more to discover about Mexican everyday cooking. I have done my best to introduce you to the real flavours of Mexico and Latin America. Many distinct regional and ancient recipes await you, with simply mind-blowing flavours, from magical moles and barbecoa, to cebiches, masa and the delectable wonders of Mexican street food.

While I’ve tried to stay true to my belief that there are no shortcuts to great complex flavours, I am sympathetic to the constraints of the home cook. I have included a useful chapter of recipes that represent the building blocks of Mexican cuisine. Here you will find out how to make amazing stocks, sauces, rubs, relishes, doughs and more. You will use these as the base of many of the other recipes in this book. If you want authentic flavour, then you should embrace these basic recipes. However, where appropriate I have suggested shortcuts. Some of the ingredients may sound unusual, but you should be able to find them in Spanish grocers and gourmet food stores. The glossary at the back of the book will give you further information on the more exotic items.

Not taking food too seriously, and having fun in the kitchen has always been a successful approach for me, so I hope you enjoy discovering the vibrant, complex, smoky and mysterious flavours of the cantina. Buen apetito!

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