by Ixta Belfrage from Mezcla (Ebury Press)
photography Yuki Sugiura
This is inspired by two of my favourite dishes – Mexican mole and a Brazilian dish called rabada com agrião. This version is (of course) not a traditional version of either of these dishes.
Mole is from the Nahuatl word ‘mōlli’, meaning sauce, and it’s a word I’ve always been drawn to, because my name also comes from Nahuatl (the language spoken by most Mexicans at the time of the Spanish conquest). There are countless variations of mole, but most contain a blend of dried chillies, chocolate and spices, with either nuts, seeds or corn tortillas to thicken. This version doesn’t contain any of the traditional thickeners, but the flavour profile is very much inspired by mole.
Rabada com agrião is a Brazilian oxtail and watercress stew that features onions, garlic and tomatoes as a base, with watercress stirred through towards the end. This version uses short ribs instead of oxtail, simply because you get more meat for your money. The result is impossibly soft, fall-apart meat in a rich, sweet, spiced and slightly chocolatey sauce, with watercress to cut through the richness.
Serve with the cassava gratin on page 164 and/or the curried cornbread on page 153. It’s also great with soft polenta, mashed potatoes or corn tortillas. Use any leftover meat to make ragù or lasagne.
4 x bone-in individual short ribs (2kg)
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic, crushed with the side of a knife
2 tomatoes, finely chopped (240g)
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons red pepper paste
(or tomato purée/paste)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 litre chicken or beef bone broth/stock (you can sub some of this with water, if you like)
200g pure pomegranate juice
2 dried ancho chillies, stalks removed, torn in half
1 dried cascabel chilli, stalk removed, torn in half
1 dried whole chipotle chilli, stalk and seeds removed, torn in half
4 cinnamon sticks, roughly broken
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons black peppercorns, roughly crushed
1 tablespoon fine salt
I use a mix of ancho, chipotle and cascabel chillies in my rub, but feel free to experiment with whatever dried chillies you have to hand (although I’d advise sticking to those with mild/medium heat).
Put all the ingredients for the rub into a blender or mortar and blitz or pound to get a coarse powder.
With a very sharp knife, remove the layer of fat and silver skin over the meaty side of the ribs (not the bone side). You might want to ask your butcher to do this, if that’s an option. Pat the ribs dry and place them on a tray. Rub each rib all over with 1 tablespoon of the mole rub (4 tablespoons in total).
Place a large, heavy-bottomed casserole pan (for which you have a lid) on a high heat and add the oil. Turn on the extractor fan. Once very hot, add all the ribs to the pan (or as many as you can fit without overcrowding), bone side up.
Sear until deeply browned on all 3 of the longer sides (no need to brown the bone side or the 2 shorter ends). This should take 4–5 minutes per side, 12–15 minutes in total. Transfer the ribs to a plate and set aside. Remove the pan from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 140°C fan/160°C/gas 3.
Add the onions and garlic to the same pan and return to a medium-high heat. Fry for 7 minutes, stirring often, or until the onions are soft and golden-brown.
Add the tomatoes and fine salt and continue to fry for 2 minutes, then add the red pepper (or tomato) paste and Worcestershire sauce and stir-fry for another 1 minute.
Add the stock, pomegranate juice and remaining mole rub and stir together.
Return the ribs to the pan, bone side up.
Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 4–5 hours, or until the meat is extremely soft and falling off the bone. Every now and then, remove the lid and make sure the meat is submerged and the bone side of the ribs is still facing up, as any meat above the surface of the liquid won’t soften. Remove from the oven and leave the ribs to rest in the pan for another 20–30 minutes, with the lid left on.
Transfer the ribs to a tray, then skim away as much fat as possible.
Return the pan to the heat until warm, then remove from the heat and stir in the watercress. Return the ribs to the pan and serve.
Brown Butter Curried Cornbread
Cornbread is usually a supporting act, but this version is good enough to take centre stage at the dinner table and will probably end up being the dish around which you plan the meal.
The corn that bejewels the surface is best just out of the oven when it's a little crispy from the butter, and a little sticky from the maple syrup. That's not to say you need to eat it all in one go; it will still be delicious the next day, heated up. To heat, either pan-fry, or place the slices on a tray in a cold oven, turn the temperature up to 150°C fan/170°C and warm for about 10 minutes. Serve with plenty of butter on the side.
140g unsalted butter, plus extra to serve
500g frozen corn kernels, defrosted and patted dry
150g Greek-style yogurt
2 large eggs
1 Scotch bonnet chilli, finely chopped (optional, see notes)
1 spring onion, finely chopped
5g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1½ tsp medium curry powder
1½ tsp finely grated lime zest
100g quick-cook polenta
80g plain flour
½ tsp fine salt
6 tbsp maple syrup, plus extra to serve
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Flaked salt, to serve
I use a whole Scotch bonnet, and its flavour and heat is quite dominant. I love that, but you can of course add less, removing the pith and seeds, or just add a pinch of regular chilli flakes for milder heat.
Preheat the oven to 200°C fan/220°C/gas 7. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring often until the butter foams and then turns a deep golden-brown. Add the corn and bubble away for 4 minutes, stirring every so often. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
While the corn and butter mixture is cooling, put the yogurt, eggs, Scotch bonnet, spring onion, ginger, curry powder, lime zest, polenta, flour, salt and 3 tablespoons of maple syrup into a food processor, but don't blitz yet.
Once cool, set aside 140g of the corn and butter mixture in a small bowl to use later. Add the remaining corn and butter to the food processor, then add the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Pulse about 3-5 times, just until the mixture comes together. Don't overmix, you want a textured batter with small chunks of corn, not a smooth batter.
Transfer the batter into the prepared tin, then spoon the reserved corn and butter evenly over the surface. Bake for 20 minutes, then evenly drizzle over the remaining 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown on top.
Leave to cool for 15 minutes. If you have a blowtorch, use it to char the corn in places. Drizzle over some more maple syrup (I like a lot!), sprinkle with flaked salt and serve with a slab of butter alongside.