Pickled jalapeños

I’m quite picky about pickled jalapeños. Having tried probably every type that’s readily available in this country, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only one worth bothering with is a Californian brand called Mezzetta. There’s something wrong with every other kind – some taste of iodine, some are too squidgy and have little flavour, some are too sweet, too salty, too vinegary… Mezzetta is just about perfect.

A couple of years ago, Mezzetta products disappeared from the shelves. Apparently some kind of problem with the labelling meant they couldn’t be sold in Europe, and although I emailed them to suggest that maybe they could ship me a few cases directly, it was impossible. Luckily the bureaucratic nonsense has all been sorted out now, but they’re still not exactly easy to find (Waitrose stocks them, hardly anywhere else does).

So here’s a recipe for the next best thing – assuming you can get fresh jalapeños, of course, which could be even trickier than tracking down a jar of Mezzetta. I found these ones in Sainsburys, of all places.
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Refried beans thinned out with stock and spiced up with garlic and smoky chipotle peppers make a sauce for corn tortillas in this excellent Mexican breakfast / dinner / anytime dish. In this version (there are many variations) it’s similar to enchiladas but without any kind of substantial filling for the tortillas. Instead they’re dredged through the bean mixture and folded up, so that when you cut through it you get layers of soft, juicy tortilla, kind of like a savoury stack of Mexican pancakes. This may well be my new favourite thing to do with refried beans.
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Queso dip

The idea for this came from a little Tex-Mex trailer in Bristol called The Woolly Cactus. It serves lunch to office workers on Victoria Street, and claims to be the only place in the UK that does this delicious dip. I find that a little hard to believe – you can get something quite similar from Doritos, so it’s not exactly an alien concept here in Britain – but it’s very good, and here’s how you can whip up a reasonably close approximation at home.
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Brussels sprouts and chestnut mash

Brussels sprouts are invariably associated with Christmas dinners and a pervasive sulphurous odour that lingers around the house – initially from the traditional brutal boiling that renders them soft enough to eat without chewing; hours later, from the pumptastic effect they have on the digestive system. Few vegetables can be as noxious as an overcooked sprout.

They don’t have to be that way. Cooking sprouts more considerately makes them a more pleasant proposition all round, and mixing them with chestnuts makes them taste superb. So if you’re not looking forward to slurping your way through a mound of pale, soggy sprouts this year – and then, for the rest of the day, having to inhale the ‘aftersprout’ as it percolates through the bowels of your nearest and dearest – perhaps you should supply this recipe to your tribe’s chief sprout-boiler.
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