So hot right now
Spice grill ... barbequed paprika chicken with haloumi and pico de gallo. Photo: Marina Oliphant
Mexican food has surged in popularity in Australia, with a spate of themed restaurants opening in the past couple of years. It's no surprise, as this style of eating suits our climate and palate. It reminds me of the Thai revolution when everyone fell for the spicy, salty, sweet flavours of that cuisine.
Chipotle chilli is smoked and dried jalapeno chilli. It is a key Mexican ingredient, often eaten in the form of a relish called chipotle adobo. Its smoky, sweet flavour is incredibly versatile, great for flavouring meat braises or spooning over fried fish. I like it on nachos, and mixed with mayonnaise for a spicy boost to chargrilled corn.
Pico de gallo, also called salsa fresco, is a vibrant, chunky sauce of tomatoes, onion, chilli and coriander, with a splash of lime bringing it all together. This salsa is fantastic with guacamole or in a taco with refried beans and grilled prawns. Here I have served it with a simple dish of grilled haloumi and barbecued paprika chicken.
100g dried chipotle chillies*
1 large brown onion, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 tbsp oregano leaves
4 tbsp thyme leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
4 tbsp olive oil
300ml cider vinegar
90g brown sugar
6 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp salt
Toast chillies in a dry pan, then cover with water and simmer for 30 minutes until soft. Cool in cold water, then snip the stalk off the chilli with scissors, rinse out excess seeds, then roughly chop half the chillies. Put the onion, garlic, herbs, cumin and 300 millilitres of water in a blender with the unchopped chillies and puree until smooth. Heat oil in a heavy pan until smoking hot, add chilli paste and cook for 3 minutes, stirring continuously to stop it burning. Add vinegar, sugar, tomato paste, salt and remaining water, then cook for 5 minutes before adding chopped chillies. Cook for a further 15 minutes, checking whether it needs more salt. Pour into sterilised jars and seal while hot. The sauce will keep refrigerated for two months.
Makes 500 millilitres
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 chicken breasts
4 large ripe tomatoes, diced
1 Spanish onion, finely diced
1/2 bunch coriander, leaf and stalk, washed and chopped
1 jalapeno chilli, finely diced
2 limes, juiced
400g haloumi cheese
Mix paprika and oil in a bowl, add chicken, then mix well until coated. Cover bowl with clingwrap and leave to marinate for an hour. Add tomatoes, onion, coriander, chilli and lime juice to a bowl and mix well. Heat barbecue. When hot, grill chicken until well-coloured on both sides and cooked through. Cut haloumi into 4 even slices, grill for a few minutes on each side, then cut each slice into smaller pieces. Slice chicken breast in half lengthways and place on a plate. Place haloumi around chicken, then spoon pico de gallo liberally over the chicken. Serve with dressed salad leaves.