Fancy expanding your Mexican cooking repertoire beyond tacos and burritos? Try these recipes by acclaimed chefs Enrique Olvera and Gabriela Cámara.
There’ll always be a place in our hearts for burritos, enchiladas and tacos. But beyond those tried-and-tested favourites, there are endless Mexican recipes that are less ubiquitous and surprisingly easy to recreate at home – from zingy seafood dishes to spicy stews.
And when it comes to Mexican cooking, there’s no better place to learn than from two of the country’s most famous chefs. Enrique Olvera is the owner and head chef of Pujol in Mexico City, currently the 12th best restaurant in the world, according to The World’s Best 50 Restaurants rankings. Gabriela Cámara, meanwhile, is the chef-proprietor of Contramar, one of Mexico City’s most acclaimed seafood restaurants, as well as upscale Mexican restaurant Cala in San Francisco.
Below, Olvera and Cámara share some of their favourite recipes with Stylist readers. Olvera’s dishes, which appear in his cookbook Tu Casa Mi Casa, are all designed with home cooks in mind: from a zesty ceviche-inspired lentil salad to a simple, spicy chicken tinga and a pistachio green mole with white rice and tortillas.
Cámara’s recipes, taken from her cookbook My Mexico City Kitchen, draw on her love of seafood. Her avocado stuffed with shrimp is a fresh and tasty lunch, while her prawns with green rice makes a seriously beautiful centrepiece for an elegant lockdown dinner.
Light, zingy and flavour-packed, these Mexican recipes are exactly what we want to eat on warm summer days. Buen provecho!
Enrique Olvera’s lentil salad recipe (ensalada de lentejas)
Enrique says: “This is a great, filling, fresh dish that was inspired by ceviche. Instead of fish, it has lentils. It is important to very slightly undercook the lentils so they do not get mushy. Top the tostadas with lentil salad in the kitchen and serve right away, or serve the salad with the tostadas on the side and assemble at the table as you go.”
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
- 145g dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
- ½ small white onion
- 3 small garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 pasilla mixe chiles, seeded (substitute with dry chipotle chiles)
- 145g salted roasted peanuts
- 150ml extra virgin olive oil
- 20g finely chopped red onion
- 5 small tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and chopped into small cubes
- 20g finely chopped fresh coriander stems (reserve the leaves for serving)
- Key lime juice
- 1 small avocado, cubed
In a pot, combine the lentils, white onion, garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add enough water to cover the lentils by at least 2 inches. Cook over medium heat until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 25 minutes. Remove the onion and garlic and discard. Adjust the salt to taste. Drain the lentils and set aside to cool to room temperature.
On a comal or frying pan over high heat, toast the pasilla mixe chiles on all sides until fragrant, 1–2 minutes, careful not to burn them. In a food processor, pulse half of the peanuts with the oil and the pasilla chiles until a thick paste is formed. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine the red onion, tomatillos, coriander stems, cooked lentils (at room temperature), and the remaining whole peanuts. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
Slowly add the peanut/pasilla dressing. Season with key lime juice and salt to taste. Add the avocado cubes and gently stir them in, top with cilantro leaves, and serve with small tostadas on the side.
Gabriela Cámara’s avocado stuffed with shrimp recipe (aguacate relleno de camarones)
Gabriela says: “This is a kind of Mexican-style shrimp Louie. A chopped salad, heavy on the bay shrimp, is tossed with chipotle mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon and then served in halved avocados and sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch.
“Part of what makes this so good is the study in textural contrasts: the creamy avocado beneath the crisp chopped salad and the meaty bay shrimp contrasted with the raw vegetables. It’s a super-simple recipe that will nonetheless steal the stage at a luncheon or make a lovely starter at an elegant dinner. The chipotle mayonnaise – one of my favourite tricks – whips together in a snap in a blender but lends the dish an illusion of complexity.
“For the most elegant presentation, do your best to dice your fennel, radishes, onion, and tomato into cubes of the same small size and shape; that uniformity elevates the look of this dish.”
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 2 or 3 avocados, cut in half and pitted
- 1⁄4 head napa cabbage or 2 heads little gem lettuce (you want something crunchy), finely chopped
- 1 fennel bulb, cut into 1⁄4-inch / 6mm dice
- 2 radishes, cut into 1⁄4-inch / 6mm dice
- 1⁄4 white onion, cut into 1⁄4-inch / 6mm dice
- 140g/5 oz cherry tomatoes, diced
- 630g/1 lb 6 oz cooked bay shrimp, well drained
- 3 tbsp / 45g Mayonesa con Limón (recipe below)
- Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
- 1 tsp sea salt, plus more as needed
- Leaves of 2 or 3 sprigs cilantro, minced
Use a large spoon to carefully scoop the flesh of each halved avocado out of its shell, setting the intact avocado halves on a serving platter or, if you intend to serve them individually, on salad plates.
In a medium bowl, combine the cabbage or lettuce with the fennel, radishes, onion, and tomato. Add the shrimp, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and salt and toss. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice as needed.
Serve a generous scoop of shrimp salad in each avocado half. It’s fine if it spills over—no one will complain! Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds and fresh oregano or thyme leaves. Eat within 30 minutes, before the avocado begins to turn brown.
Mayonesa con Limón
Makes 240g/1 cup
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 canned chipotle chile in adobo, seeds removed
- 180ml/ ¾ cup safflower oil
In a food processor or a blender, pulse the egg, lime juice, salt, and chipotle until well combined. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow drizzle, processing until the mayonnaise emulsifies and turns creamy.
Partway through, be sure to turn off the processor, scrape the sides, and process again so as not to waste anything. Alternatively, you can do all of this by hand, using a whisk and beating vigorously for about 8 minutes. (In the blender, it should take 4 to 5 minutes.)
This mayonnaise is best used on the day you make it, although it can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
For a spicier mayonnaise, leave in the chipotle seeds and then press the finished mayonnaise through a fine- mesh strainer using a silicone spatula.
Enrique Olvera’s chicken tinga recipe (tinga de pollo)
Enrique says: “The first recipe any Mexican will cook as soon as they move out of their parents’ home and live on their own is chicken tinga. It is easy, reminds everyone of home, and the ingredients are very accessible. Although it is better made with dried chipotle chiles, canned chipotles work if in a pinch. It can be a soupy stew served over white rice and with tortillas. If you cook it down to thicken a bit more, it is a great topping on a tostada with fresh shredded lettuce, some crema, cheese, and fresh salsa.”
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
- 455g (1 lb) skinless, boneless chicken breast
- 2 large white onions, 1 halved and 1 sliced
- 6 garlic cloves, 3 whole and 3 sliced
- 1 tbsp salt, plus more to taste
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 dried or canned chipotle chiles, chopped to a paste
- 9 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
In a medium pot, combine the chicken, onion halves, whole garlic cloves, and 1 tablespoon of the salt. Add water to cover and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through, 30–40 minutes, skimming occasionally to remove impurities.
Remove the chicken from the broth and let rest until it is cool enough to handle. Using your hands, pull or shred the chicken and reserve. Strain and reserve the broth as well.
In a medium to large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved shredded chicken, the chipotle chiles, tomatoes, and 1 cup (240 ml) of the chicken broth (reserve the rest for other preparations). Cook until the tomato breaks down and changes to a brick colour, 5–10 minutes.
Season to taste with salt. Add some more cooking broth if necessary; it should be a bit soupy. Serve hot or let cool and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month in an airtight container.
Gabriela Cámara’s prawns with green rice recipe (arroz verde con camarones)
Gabriela says: “It’s very Spanish to serve shrimp this way, adding green things (in this case spinach) to the water in which the rice is cooked, and using this as a base for buttery prawns freshened up with a squeeze of lime. It’s easy enough to be a weeknight dinner but tasty enough for company, too.”
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 960ml (1 qt) water
- 200g/7 oz washed spinach or kale
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 120ml/1⁄2 cup olive oil
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 400g/2 cups Arborio or Calasparra rice
- 1 sprig epazote
- 2 tbsp salted butter
- 8 to 12 large prawns, shells on
- Juice of 1 lime
In the jar of a blender, blend the water with the spinach and salt.
Warm the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté. Add the rice to the pan and let it fry until the grains are clear. Stir in the spinach water. Bring the contents of the pan to a boil. Add the epazote, then decrease the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 15 minutes.
As soon as you decrease the heat and place the lid on the pan, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is bubbling but not brown, add the prawns and sauté for about 1 minute per side. Keep warm.
After 15 minutes, the majority of the liquid in which the rice is cooking should have been absorbed. Remove the epazote sprig, place the buttery shrimp on top of the rice, and cover the pan for a final 5 minutes to finish cooking.
Taste the rice and if it is already very close to cooked, re-cover the pan, turn the stove off, and let it steam for 5 minutes.
Squeeze the lime juice over the pan and serve immediately.
Enrique Olvera’s pistachio green mole recipe (mole verde de pistache)
Enrique says: “Mole comes from the Nahuatl word mol-li, which means salsa or sauce. Many think of mole poblano (or ‘the chocolate sauce’) as the only kind of mole, but there are hundreds of moles that vary widely in style, for example, our very own mole recipe in Romeritos with Mole. Saying mole is like saying curry, it depends where you are, the local ingredients of that place, and the specific time of year.
“What all moles have in common is their celebratory connotation. There are moles made for the weekly family lunch, while others are for special events. For example, when someone gets married, the entire family comes together to make the mole days prior to the wedding.
“To illustrate how mole can be something other than a dark and mysterious sauce, we have included a fresh green version that is easy to make with seasonal produce.”
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
For the squash
- 6–8 courgettes or any variety of summer squashes, cut into wedges
- extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- salt and black pepper
For the mole
- 4 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1 small garlic clove, sliced
- ¼ small white onion, roughly chopped
- 1 poblano chile, sliced
- 1 fresh güero chile (or other yellow chile, such as banana pepper or New Mexico yellow), sliced
- 150g finely diced tomatillos
- 150ml water
- 125g roasted pistachios
- 15g fresh coriander leaves
- 2 hoja santa leaves (or substitute with fennel herb – buy it here)
- ½ cup baby spinach leaves
- 20g assorted greens, such as coriander leaves, cilantro blossoms, amaranth leaves, or purslane
- 320g white rice
- fresh tortillas
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Arrange the squashes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the mole. In a medium pot, heat the grapeseed oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chiles and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatillos and cook until soft, 5–8 minutes. Add the water and the pistachios and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender along with the coriander, hoja santa, and spinach. Blend until smooth, about 3 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
Refrigerate leftover mole in an airtight container for up to 1 week. To reheat, add a bit of water and warm in a pot over medium heat.
Serve the mole warm with the roasted squashes and topped with the fresh greens. Serve with rice and tortillas.
Tu Casa Mi Casa: Mexican Recipes for the Home Cook by Enrique Olvera (£29.95, Phaidon) is out now. Photography: Araceli Paz
My Mexico City Kitchen: Recipes and Convictions by Gabriela Cámara and Malena Watrous (£26, Lorena Jones Books) is out now. Lorena Jones Books is an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography: Marcus Nilsson © 2019