Friday 14 September 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook - Down Mexico Way 1

We're just about to head off to London to the Transition Conference and the launch party of the Transition Free Press (herbal refresher in hand), but all this week my heart has been in Mexico. Because next (Happy) Monday we're throwing a Mexican fiesta down at the Bungay Community Centre and I've been helping direct and organise the menu.

The main attraction of these community meals is their convivial and celebratory nature. It's not often you can cook for and sit down with 50 people for supper, and food with its provenance, memory and rich flavours brings us all together in a way that dry discussions about climate and cultural change can never do.

But still there is a deep Transition frame in which these monthly meals take place. All its drivers, including peak oil and the gift economy, are on the table, among the flowers and the leaves. Even though some of our dishes are global (Greek, Moroccan, Indian), nearly all the ingredients are local and seasonal. We are deliberately vegetarian to show how meals do not have to rely on resource-heavy meat or fish to be delicious and nutritious.

Everthing is cooked from scratch (in three hours flat) and so free from industrial processing. At the planning meeting earlier this month the recipes and ingredients were discussed in detail from the use of "dry" Italian rice (traditional paddy-grown wet rice creates extremely high methane emissions) to whether Nick's allotment maize would be ready in time for the Seared Corn with Coriander and Lime. I have spent a very happy fortnight sourcing local chillies (though most Suffolk growers who make their own sauces report very poor yields due to the wet and dark summer) and the house has been resounding with Mark singing old mariachi standards. Is he practising for something?

I'll be writing in more detail about the food and the gathering after the meal (happening just after Mexican independence Day). Needless to say beans, the staple of all Latin American meals, will be our cornerstone, followed by a classic-with-a-twist pudding made with late raspberries and blackberries.

Here is one of the side dishes to whet your appetitie. Sweet potatoes are sold ready-cooked from a barrel of honey in Mexican markets and this recipe by the wonderful Rick Bayless from his book, Mexican Kitchen, is full of all those sweet, warm and spicy tones of Indian summer.

Chilli-glazed sweet potatoes with cinnamon and orange
Serves 50 (with luck!)

20 garlic cloves
10 dried red chillies (Ring of Fire) or preferably 30 small anchos. stemmed and seeded
3 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cloves (best freshly ground)
800ml water

For dish:
8 kg or 25 medium sweet potatoes
14 organic oranges, zested (7 juiced)
14 tbsp honey
Olive oil for the pan

Garnish (optional)
Crème fraiche or sour cream
Chopped coriander

Orange zest

Time: 30 mins to prep paste; 1 hour to cook

Method: Paste: Dry roast garlic cloves (15 mins), cool and peel. Toast chillies (in same pan), cover in hot water and leave for 30 mins, stirring occasionally. Drain and discard water.
Combine oregano, black pepper, cinnamon and cloves, along with chillies, garlic and water in a blender or pestle and mortar to make a puree. Strain through sieve into bowl.
Potatoes: scrub and cut into wedges (4 per medium potato, 6 large). Lightly oil baking dish and lay them in a single layer. Combine paste with orange zest, juice and honey in the bowl. Spoon evenly over pototoes.
Preheat oven to 180 deg. Cover potatoes with foil and bake for 45 mins or they are almost tender. Raise temp of oven, uncover, baste and bake until they are glazed (10 mins). Garnish and serve con much gusto!

Huichol maize mother and her five daughters from Lore and History of Maize; home-grown epazote, the key ingredient in black beans; candy-floss stall in Mexico City (by Mark Watson); sunflower.

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