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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Huevos rancheros

I used to have this for breakfast at a hotel on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. The restaurant was supposedly owned by Justin Timberlake, and I guess he can afford to eat like this every day – at $30 a pop, it certainly wasn’t cheap. Or particularly healthy.

But it wasn’t my money, and I was working off the calories afterwards by trudging around a trade show for eight hours, taking photos of models in bikinis. It was a tough job.

Make it yourself and it’s a really inexpensive dish. I’ve listed ingredients for the components of this before – it’s basically fajitas / chimichangas in a slightly different guise, plus an egg. You need refried beans and some sort of vegetable chilli kind of thing, so this recipe will do. Or this one. You can customise it however you like – it’s always a winner.
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Shallow-fried vegetarian chimichangas

A proper chimichanga is a whacking great burrito that’s been deep fried, thereby endowing it with the power of a zillion calories. This version is somewhat lower in fat, and will give you an insight into just how much oil a tortilla can absorb. When you fry them, they’re like little sponges – however much grease you add, they’ll suck it all up. Where does it all go? Hips, arse and belly, I think.
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Courgette and sweetcorn vegetarian fajitas with guacamole and pico de gallo

What’s the difference between a fajita and a burrito? I’m not entirely sure, except one tends to be served in restaurants and the other is fast food. I think this is the former, but forgive me if I’m wrong. To convert it definitively into a burrito, wrap it in tin foil and eat noisily on a bus, depositing any leftovers on the floor for other passengers to slip on.

You need several components for this, and the idea is that everybody wraps the bits they want in their own tortilla and turns their nose up at the rest. Great if you’re catering for fussy eaters.

This recipe makes 6-8 fajitas, depending on how full you stuff them. I know it’s quite a long list of stuff but none of it is any hassle at all.
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Perfect nachos

Does anybody actually need a recipe for nachos? Judging by the state of what passes for nachos in the average English pub, I’d say perhaps a little re-education is in order.

I went to the Porter recently, a pub in Bath that used to be known for its excellent (and cheap) vegetarian food. A few years ago they did great nachos, with a big pile of soya mince chilli in the middle. It was unsophisticated but it really hit the spot.

Lately, though, the Porter has gone the way of the countless lesser pubs that consider a bag of Doritos with some microwaved cheese on top to be an acceptable substitute for nachos. Okay, so there was a little more to it than that, in the form of a blob of chive-speckled sour cream and a spoonful of watery, metallic ‘chilli’ that tasted exactly like tinned tomatoes. Compared to the nachos of old, it’s pretty awful, and at six quid per portion it’s poor value.

So here’s how to make a superior version using basic supermarket ingredients, with very little effort and almost no cooking required.
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Excellent vegetarian chilli

Here’s the first thing I learned to make, or something like it. I got it from a vegetarian cookbook that’s sadly long since lost, and it no longer bears much resemblance to the original recipe – aptly named ‘bowl of red’ – which had nothing but beans, peppers and onion.

This way, I think, is better, and the beauty of it is you can take away any of the ingredients or replace one thing with another and it’s still an almost foolproof veggie chilli.
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