I first visited Mexico nearly 30 years ago. Like so many I had always thought of Tex-Mex as Mexico’s national cuisine, but as I ate my way through the valleys and uplands of Oaxaca and the rainforests of Veracruz I was astounded by the unexpected diversity of fruit and vegetables. Many years later I learned, thanks to a meeting with a scientist from Kew Gardens, that Mexico, along with just a handful of other countries, is classified as ‘megadiverse’.
While the UK has some 2,000 different native plant species, Mexico has 50,000 and it is this enormous range of herbs, greens, corn, chillies, squash plants, fruits and edible flowers that makes it such a special place to cook and eat.
A love of good ingredients and cooking seems woven through every inch of Mexico’s consciousness. This is a nation where taxi drivers will converse with you at length about what their grandmother used to cook for them; and where every occasion is an excuse for feasting. The ancient diet feels intriguingly modern in its make up: mainly plant-based with protein found in indigenous beans, nuts and seeds and the occasional piece of fish, wild meat or insect (!). The cuisine is a celebration of produce with layers of flavour added through soft spices, fresh herbs and dried chillies.
Mexican, for me, is the most magical of cuisines, subtle yet gutsy, nuanced but bold – not always spicy but always served with a spirit of conviviality.
Blistered green bean tacos with tomato pico & toasted almonds recipe
I had a taco stuffed with sautéed green beans several years ago in a tiny Mexican restaurant in Barcelona. It felt like such a simple idea – to stuff a warm tortilla with an ingredient that for me is so quintessentially British. Runner beans, griddled flat beans or sugar snaps will all taste good. Serve with tomato pico, crumbled feta and sliced avocado.
- 75g flaked (slivered) almonds
- 500g green beans, topped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 3 tbsp capers (the bigger the better)
- 12 small corn or flour tortillas
- sea salt
1. Put your largest frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat and when hot, toast the almonds, shaking the pan until they are mostly a lighter shade of caramel. Put aside to cool.
2. Turn the heat up under the pan and add the beans in two batches. Sauté each batch for 4-5 minutes until they are a little blackened all over and starting to blister. Season with sea salt and remove from the pan into a warm bowl. Now pour in the olive oil and add the garlic and drained capers (watch for spitting if they are still a little wet). Cook for a couple of minutes or so until the garlic is golden and empty onto the beans.
3. Warm the tortillas in a pan, over a flame or in the microwave, and wrap in a dish towel to keep hot.
4. Pile the beans with garlic and capers into the tortillas, spooning over heaped spoonfuls of the tomato salsa (below). Sprinkle with the almonds and crumbled feta, and avocado if using, then munch with gusto.
Fresh tomato pico
This salsa, the classic pico de gallo, is fresh, citrussy and delicious, especially when made with great tomatoes. Not only does it look good sprinkled over dishes, glistening with the oil and lime, but it adds sparkling acidity to anything you ladle it onto. Make it all summer when tomatoes are blooming, or with those wonderful winter varieties, keeping them outside the fridge to maintain their sweet, delicate flavour.
Makes A large bowl
- 6 very ripe plum or cherry tomatoes
- small handful of coriander (cilantro)
- 1 small red onion, very finely diced
- 1-2 green chillies, preferably jalapeños, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- juice of 1-2 limes
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp soft brown sugar
- salt & pepper
1. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and scoop out the watery insides (you can use them in a vinaigrette or in a soup). Dice the flesh.
2. Roughly chop the coriander leaves and finely chop the stalks and stir into the tomatoes with the onion, chillies, oil, half the lime juice, the salt and sugar. Check the flavour and add more salt, pepper or lime juice if you think the salsa needs it. Leave to marinate for at least 20 minutes before you are ready to eat.
Meat-free Mexican by Thomasina Miers was published in May 2022 (£25 Hodder & Stoughton)
Thomasina Miers won the BBC’s MasterChef in 2005 and has since inspired a love for Mexican cuisine in the UK with her award-winning street food restaurant chain Wahaca, and eight recipe books. In 2019 she was awarded an OBE for services to the food industry.
The wines to drink with blistered green bean tacos with tomato pico & toasted almonds recipe
Cold beer is probably the automatic go-to for many taco fans, but this modern twist from Tommi Miers could be an equally good foil for a refreshing glass of white wine. To work out which one to pick, you need to take a hard look at the recipe. You’re not matching the tortillas or even the beans. The fact they’re charred is neither here or there – it’s more about the other ingredients. There’s a fair amount of garlic and punchy capers, but it’s the fresh tomato pico or salsa with its wine-challenging raw onion, chilli, lime and coriander that you really need to take into account.
My instinct would be to add some more citrus by way of Sauvignon Blanc. There’s a huge choice out there, of course, but I’d probably go for a Chilean or Californian one, which tend to be more citrussy than their New Zealand counterparts. Or you could plump for a Rueda, some of which is also Sauvignon-based but more commonly the Sauvignon-like Verdejo grape, and which successfully handles these kinds of flavours in Spanish food.
By Fiona Beckett
Wines selected by the Decanter team