My friend Ms. Phonetic, a Texan girl born and bred, often laments the lack of good Mexican, never mind Tex-mex, available here in Sydney. When we were sharing a house back in the day, I remember her half-baked plans for tortilla stands, burrito buses and importing Mexican beer. More recently, I witnessed her untamed joy as we walked through Fiji Market on King Street, Newtown and came a across tins of Chipotles in adobo, Mexican hot chocolate, hominy and a plethora of Mexican sauces.

In recent years Australia has seen a lot of Mexican grill franchises popping up (Guzman y Gomez, Mad Mex and the like). Generally, these places will use large flour tortillas to wrap a burrito filled with your choice of grilled meat, rice, refried or black beans and various salsas, sauces, sour cream and always ALWAYS charge extra for guacamole. Ms. Phonetic maintains that they’re twice the price and nothing like the real thing. Debates about authenticity aside, I’ll have to take her word for it. I guess nothing beats a freshly made tortilla or a fresh batch of Mexican rice or real queso dip.

So, having only my experiences eating at lost-in-translation burrito franchises to go on, I worked to duplicate something of what I had tasted. I scoured the internet for ‘Mexican Rice’ recipes. This recipe is really easy and delicious, all I’ve done is added more spices and extra garlic. My favourite way of serving this is as part of a burrito, which I’ll outline in my next post, but it’s also an amazing side dish. I’ve yet to mix up a batch for Ms. Phonetic but when I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Mexican Rice (adapted from The Frugal Chef)
serves 4 as a side dish.
1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil (I used Extra Virgin because that’s all I buy)
1 Tablespoon pickled jalapeños, finely chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 a small onion, finely chopped
1 cup Basmati or other long grain rice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1-2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup liquid stock
1/2 cup water

Heat the oil in a small pan to medium high. Sauté the jalapeños, garlic, and onion for a couple of minutes. Add rice and spices and toast a couple more minutes.

When the rice begins to ‘pop’, quickly stir through the tomato paste. Add the stock and water and stir through.

Put the lid on and turn the heat as low as it goes. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Burning the bottom of the rice a little is encouraged. I generally turn off the heat after 15 minutes and just let the rice sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with black beans or chicken or in a burrito.

I know it looks ugly, but trust me. It’s delicious.

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There are these very rare moments where you stumble across something you never expected, a hidden gem. Even better are those times when someone lets you in on their little secret…

On a recent visit to Canberra, my Mum took me to the Aru Padai Murugan Temple, a Hindu temple in Torrens. To raise money for the construction of the temple they open a canteen every Saturday selling Sri Lankan food, much like the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Helensburgh does.

The food was crazy delicious, not to mention crazy cheap. The dish that really stood out for me was spinach with coconut. This is a tad strange because I’m not normally much of a coconut person, for example, I don’t really like lamingtons all that much. But this vivid green, plain salty dish won my heart and made me realise I actually love coconut in it savoury incarnations. So I did what all of us do in this situation and googled the hell out of Sri Lankan spinach recipes until I found on that fit the bill.

The great thing about this recipe, besides it being quick, easy, vegetarian and high in iron is that (if you have spinach in the freezer) you may have all the ingredients on hand, which makes it great for when you don’t feel like shopping. I served it with basmati rice cooked by the absorption method (directions below) and a big dollop of greek yogurt.

Spinach with Coconut
(makes 2 generous servings)
Canola oil
½ an onion, finely chopped
80g potato or pumpkin, cubed (optional)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground paprika
1 Tablespoon of red lentils
150g spinach, fresh or frozen, finely chopped
A handful of beans or snowpeas, finely chopped (optional)
Salt
Up to 1 cup stock or water
½ cup dessicated coconut
A smidgen of ground cayenne pepper

Parboil the potatos/pumpkin and lentils for 5 minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat oil and cook onion, cumin seeds, lentils and potato or pumpkin (if using) for 5 minutes with a pinch of salt to prevent browning.

Add some liquid and cook for another 5 minutes or until everything is soft.

Add all remaining ingredients and cook until spinach is soft. Serve with yellow rice.

‘Yellow Rice’
½ cup basmati rice
¼ teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)
Canola oil
Salt
Turmeric, for colour
1½ cups water

Heat oil in the pan on high heat and add rice and mustard seeds. Toast until seeds start to ‘pop’.

Add all other ingredients and immediately turn heat down as low as possible. Once rice is simmering just a tiny bit, put lid on and cook for 15 minutes. Leave pan on the stove with the heat turned off for another 5 minutes.

Do you have any food discoveries to share?

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