Thomasina Miers, founder of Wahaca, on festive Mexican meals
Christmas fiestas in Mexico start from about halfway through December all the way up to the Reyes Magos on 6 January, when even more presents are handed out than on Christmas Day. Time is suspended in a magical haze of free time, friends, food and family. There are endless village processions with brightly coloured costumes and flags fluttering across the awnings of every building.
I spent a wonderful Christmas in Tepoztlan, an hour’s drive from Mexico City. The town was lit up on Christmas Eve with fireworks and candles. At my friends’ house we spent hours making a deep, dark molé flavoured with toasted nuts, chillies, spices and a grating of dark chocolate before going to mass.
A typical Christmas dish is romeritos, small shrimp threaded on to rosemary sticks and served in a rich molé. One year we made a glorious seafood concoction studded with smoky chipotle chillies and sun-dried wild mushrooms that we had collected. Smoked marlin and tuna are sliced thinly, cured in lime juice and chilli and served as luxurious, refreshing tostadas. And after the seafood you can expect to have another course of turkey, freshly slaughtered and cooked slowly in sauce.
Seafood with mushrooms and chipotle
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This combination of earthy mushrooms, sweet seafood with some smoky chilli heat is irresistible. I cook this in the autumn and spring when wild mushrooms are in season in Mexico, but try it for a treat at Christmas with dried porcini.
monkfish tail 1, at least 500g
dried porcini 30g
mixed mushrooms 750g sliced
olive oil 3 tbsp
chile de arbol 1-2 finely chopped
chipotle puree 1-2 tbsp
garlic cloves 4
white wine (a good Chardonnay or Viognier) 2 cups or glasses
creme fraiche 150ml
coriander and tarragon leaves a large handful, chopped
Clean the mussels and de-beard them. Chuck away any that don’t shut when they are tapped hard on the work surface. Cut the monkfish into 2-3cm chunks. Pour enough boiling water over the dried porcini to cover them and leave them to soak.
Heat a large, heavy frying pan over a high heat and add a knob of butter and half the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes by which time the mushrooms will have released a lot of water and then evaporated it off to produce fairly dry, intensely flavoured mushrooms. Repeat with the second batch of mushrooms, transferring the first lot to a large bowl. Transfer the second lot when they are cooked and then add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and sweat the shallots and chillies over a medium heat until the shallots turn translucent. Add the garlic, cook for another few minutes before adding the wine, the fresh mushrooms, the porcini and their soaking water. Cook for 5-10 minutes over a low heat.
When you are ready to eat, add the monkfish and langoustine to the mushrooms, along with the creme fraiche. Stir, cover and leave to simmer gently for a few minutes. The monkfish should turn opaque and the langoustine should turn pink when they are cooked. In the meantime heat a large wok until it is smoking hot. Add a splash of oil to the pan and when it is hot (it will only take a few seconds), throw in the mussels, shake them about and cover with a large lid. Cook 3-4 minutes until they have opened.
Transfer the mussels and all the juices they have released to the rest of the seafood and add the chopped herbs. Stir and serve at once with steamed or boiled potatoes which will absorb all the lovely rich juices and a fresh green salad.
Note: If you can’t get hold of chile de arbol, substitute with the tiny Italian dried chillies, peperoncino, or just use dried chilli flakes.
Smoked herring tostadas
In Mexico you find smoked fish everywhere but normally it’s tuna or marlin, sliced thinly and dressed in classic ceviche ingredients: fresh lime, chilli, onion and coriander. I cure smoked herring in the same way and it makes a delicious Christmassy starter or canape. By all means use smoked salmon if you can’t find herring, but try to make sure it is line-caught wild salmon or if farmed, that the salmon are fed with sustainably caught fishmeal.
smoked herring fillets 250g
limes the juice of 4-5
red onion ½ finely diced
Scotch Bonnet chilli 1
coriander 1 bunch
garlic clove 1 cut in half
cabbage ½ very finely shredded
medium carrots 2 peeled, shredded
white wine vinegar 4 tbsp
large corn tortillas (or pitta) 8
Hass avocados 1-2
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Skin the herring fillets (or get your fishmonger to do it for you). Slice the fillets across their length to create lots of very thin little wafer slices. There are bones in the fillets, but you will be cutting across them turning them into minute pieces.
Toss the herring slices in the lime juice, adding more lime if the pieces aren’t almost covered by juice. Add the finely diced onion and half the chilli, keeping the rest aside. Finely chop the coriander stalks and add this to the herring and season with freshly ground black pepper. Stir and put in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
In the meantime, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok and add the garlic to it. Cook for a few minutes until the garlic has turned golden and then add the cabbage and carrot. Stir fry for a few minutes, just enough to heat them through without cooking them. The idea is to keep them crunchy but not as crunchy as raw vegetables. Season them generously with salt, pepper and the vinegar and put them in a bowl in the fridge to cool.
Cut out small rounds in the tortillas about the size of the base of a glass of wine, or smaller if you want little canapes. Brush them with the oil and bake in the oven for about 5 minutes until they are crisp and golden (alternatively you can deep fry them). They will stay crisp for a few days so you can make these in advance.
When you are ready to eat, taste a bit of the ceviche and season it with salt and pepper if you feel it needs it. Roughly chop the reserved coriander leaves. Pile each tortilla crisp with a small amount of the cabbage mix. Using a fork so that you can drain the fish of the juices, scoop up a small amount of the herring and put it astride the pickled cabbage. Top each round with a slice of avocado. Serve the tostadas with extra wedges of lime to squeeze over and scatter with the roughly chopped coriander leaves.