Mexican magic

2010-06-07 10:48

To create an original match-winning meal with Mexican flair in honour of Bafana Bafana’s opening World Cup match.

Dereck Nair is the executive chef at Rand Merchant Bank where he and his team can be called on to cook something different every day for hundreds of people at a time. They create the menus and then cook everything from French toast (made with banana bread) to elaborate chocolate cakes for birthdays, bake their own bread and muffins and choose the perfect wine.

Nair’s food nous has been honed in kitchens from his hometown of Durban to his ancesteral home of Kerala, in the south west of India, from Christina Martin to working under Werner Koch and Ireland’s Rory O’Connell.

He then cooked at the Saxon boutique hotel before heading to the Seychelles where he worked on the ­exclusive North Island.

The open flame is the oldest cooking method in the world. Every culture does it. Like the South African braai culture, the Mexicans cook what is easily available like fresh fish, lamb, bananas, tortillas, and lots of chillies.

I chose these recipes and ingredients because I like to maintain a healthy lifestyle and use fresh ingredients. I also love cooking with combinations of sweet and ­savoury.

The first requirement is a good fire. The others in ­Mexican cooking are salsa and recado. Salsa means sauce and it is what you serve with the cooked meal. Recado is a marinade used to season food before and during cooking. Recados are typically spicy pastes or dry rubs.

I used wet banana leaves as a cooking surface, the oils and anise tang permeate foods while they cook, adding to the flavour.
The great thing about Mexican cooking is that it lends itself to so many possibilities, but you always start with the marinade.
A marinade is made of two parts, the flavour and the medium.

The flavour is anything you like. The medium is usually an acidic liquid to carry the flavour.

In Mexican cooking lime juice is traditional. When it comes to the flavour, you don’t have to make it hot. Adding fresh cilantro gives you a Mexican flavor without adding any heat.

Hibiscus & Naartjie Cooler, Flame-grilled Red Slinger in a Banana (Bafana) Leaf with an Apple and Ginger Salsa, and Orange-flavoured Braaied Green Bananas

Flame grilled Red Slinger in a banana (bafana) leaf with Ginger

Apple Salsa

If you haven’t grilled a

whole fish before, it’s easy. Get the fishmonger to prepare it for you. This is

the traditional Mexican method for grilling snapper, but you can use whatever

fish you love, just alter the cooking time.


Time: 15 minutes (plus 2 hours in the fridge)


Time: 20 to 30 minutes


Time: 35 to 45 minutes


» 1 whole red slinger or snapper, split and


» 1/2 cup recado

ginger paste

» 1/2 cup orange juice

» 3 tablespoons lemon juice

» 3 tablespoons lime juice


» 1/4 cup ginger minced

» 1 tablespoon coriander seeds

» 1 tablespoon oregano

» 1 teaspoon cumin seeds

» 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

» 2 whole cloves

» 1 teaspoon salt

» 5 cloves of garlic, peeled

» 1/2 cup bitter orange juice


Grind the spices

(coriander, cumin, ­peppercorns, oregano and cloves) in a spice mill or with a

mortar and pestle. Blend the ground spices with the salt, ginger, garlic and the

orange juice until it is smooth.

Mix paste with citrus

juices. Cover all ­surfaces of the fish. Place in refrigerator and let sit for

two hours. Light the grill and aim for a medium flame.

Place fish skin side down

on a wet banana leaf. When the fish is about halfway done (about 10 minutes),

turn and cook for ­another 10 minutes.

The fish is done when the

juices start ­boiling. You should be able to lift the central bone out easily

when the fish is cooked.

You can manage without the

banana leaf, but oil the grill.


This is a fun fruit salsa

recipe to try with crisp apples and tangy ginger and lime.


» 2 apples, finely diced

» 1 onion, diced

» 1/4 cup lime juice

» 1 tbsp minced fresh ginger root

» dash of salt and pepper, to taste

» bunch of coriander


Combine and allow to sit

for an hour ­before serving. Serve fish with tortillas and corn on the


HINT: Score the fish,

it will cook quicker. If the fin or tail comes off easily, it’s cooked.

Add chilli to the salsa if

you want heat.

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