A date with Mexico

Down foodpath

A date with Mexico

It’s been about 25 years since I entered the culinary world. It seems like a long time back but I feel there’s still so much more to learn and explore in this field. I was raised in Amritsar and the place and cuisine hold a special place in my heart.

I was exposed to some great food and culture there; many food lovers claim that Amritsari cuisine is the best and I might just have to agree (laughs).

I first attended a culinary course many years ago. I studied at Indian Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai and my first job was with The Taj Group for three years.

 I then worked abroad for a few years, returned to India and have been working for a few hospitality groups since then. When ‘Sanchos’ came into existence in 2008, I devoted my time to developing the brand. Since then, I have explored many cuisines and recipes — it’s been a memorable journey.

However, being the culinary director at Lounge Hospitality for ‘Sanchez’ and ‘Singkong’ is a task by itself. When I started my culinary journey, the hotel industry was very different. There was a different approach to and know-how about certain things. Being a part of the industry wasn’t something many were proud of.

Today, things are a lot simpler and chefs are appreciated for their work. The kind of food that is dished out today has also undergone a transition. Only the future can tell what the next evolution of food flavouring will be like!

Even though Amritsari cuisine is my all-time favourite, I have been working with Mexican cuisine for about 10 years now.

I have to admit that I do favour the cuisine as it has so much to offer. I have travelled extensively to learn about this cuisine and each time I discover new things.
My latest discovery is ‘achiote’ which is commonly called the ‘lipstick tree’. I found out about this spice during my trip to San Antonio, Texas.

 It’s a shrub, best known as the source of annatto, a natural orange-red condiment used in lipstick. The achiote paste is a thick deep red seasoning popular in Mexican cuisine. It is usually rubbed on meats or tossed with vegetables. It imparts a deep red colour and warm mild flavour to the food.

For best results, the paste needs to be mixed with orange juice before use. The paste is made of crushed annatto seeds along with garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper,
allspice, cloves and orange juice.

I recommend that you try this recipe using the achiote paste. It’s truly an
eye-opener.

Chef Vikas Seth
(As told to Anila Kurian)


Achiote Summer Vegetable Taquitos

Recipe

Ingredients

For the filling

Yellow squash, cut into batons, ½ cup
Zucchini, cut into batons, ½ cup
Red, yellow and green peppers, thick juliennes, 1 cup
Broccoli florets, blanched, 1 cup
Green beans, blanched and julienned, 1 cup
Tomato juliennes, ½ cup
Onion, sliced, ½ cup
Garlic, chopped, 2 tbsp
Jalapenos, chopped, 2 tbsp
Olive oil, 2 tbsp
Achiote paste, 1 tbsp
Orange juice, 2 tbsp
Chipotle in adobo sauce,
1 tbsp
Salt to taste

For pickled habanero onions

Onions, sliced, ½ cup
Vinegar, 2 tbsp
Water, boiling, 1 cup
Habanero paste, ½ tsp
Sugar, 1 tsp
Bay leaf, 2
Salt to taste
Black pepper, 1 tsp

For mini corn tortillas

Masa harina, 1 cup
Salt to taste
Warm water, ½ cup

Method for mini corn tortillas

Mix masa harina, salt and warm water together to form a dough. Knead for about one minute adding more water if necessary.

Divide the dough into small walnut-sized balls. They should be about one inch in diameter.

Press each tortilla in a tortilla press or roll out between two pieces of a plastic sheet until it is about two to three inches across and thin.

Carefully place the tortilla on a hot griddle and cook for 30 seconds to one minute on each side. Tortillas cool quickly, so keep them warm in a tortilla warmer lined with paper towels to prevent condensation or cover them with a dish towel.

Method to assemble

Heat oil in a pan, add garlic, achiote paste and orange juice, cook a little, add in the chipotle.

At this time, add in yellow squash, zucchini, mixed peppers, onion and jalapeno. Sauté lightly for a couple of minutes and to this, add the rest of the vegetables and sauté for a few more minutes. Don’t overcook and keep the vegetables crisp. Keep it warm.

Prepare the pickled onions, mix all ingredients in a bowl and top it up with the boiling water. Keep aside for two hours to rest and then chill before using.

To assemble, warm the mini corn tortillas over a hot plate, place the filling and top it with pickled habanero onions. Enjoy!


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