Thomasina Miers on sustainability, meatless Mexican cuisine and why avocados aren’t for every day

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Mexican cuisine may conjure up images of tacos al pastor (with barbecued pork), meat enchiladas or fish tostadas – but Thomasina Miers says that historically Mexican cuisine has been much more fruit and vegetable-based. vegetables. the most biodiverse countries in the world and food staples are corn, beans, the zucchini plant, tomatoes, peppers and wild herbs,” says Miers, 46. Mexico has around 50,000 native plant species (by some estimates), with some 200 varieties of peppers alone, compared to around 1,500 in the UK and Ireland.

The protein often came from moles (a type of traditional bean-based sauce), “enriched with lots of ground seeds,” Miers adds. “The Authentic Way [to make it] is often very complicated, with 37 ingredients. (But don’t worry, she has recipes with just eight).

“Many housewives in Mexico make their own vinegars at home from guava, pineapple or apple,” she notes.

(Tara Fisher/PA)

The idea of ​​packing your diet with a rainbow of vegetables is central to his new book, Meatless Mexican. “I think we’re really starting to think about food as medicine a lot more these days, which I think is absolutely fair,” she says. Plus, “people are considering eating less meat anyway, because for the environment, the amount of meat we eat is a total disaster.”

For Miers – who won MasterChef in 2005 and is the brain behind the successful Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca (where 50% of the menus are now vegetarian) – says: “I love this ancient Mexican cuisine and the modern way we we’re all kind of starting to eat, feeling very synergistic together.

From plant-based versions of Mexican classics, like beetroot ceviche, celeriac and chard enchiladas, chickpea rancheros and cauliflower tacos, to vegetable dishes that celebrate spices and flavors Mexican dishes, like Chipotle Tamarind Sweet Potato Gratin and Baked Polenta with Veracruzan Sauce, her eighth cookbook (and her third Mexico-focused) is, like all of her recipes, for “people who are busy”. So while some are longer, everything seems doable for the time-poor generation.

“I’m a working mom,” she says, “I’m perpetually short on time. For me, food should fit into busy lives. There’s even a place for Tex Mex, with its ‘chile non carne’ – a convenient family favourite.

“Some people will spend two days making a recipe and that’s great – and I used to do that, before the kids,” adds Miers with a laugh. “But not everyone has that time.

“What I love about Mexican food is that you can spend a weekend making your own flour tortillas (I love making flour tortillas from scratch because they have so much good taste and that they are really easy). Likewise, if it’s mid-week, I’ll just buy some and be fine.

The mum-of-three first fell in love with Mexican food while traveling there between school and college. Before that, she had always thought of Mexican food as American-style Tex-Mex – but as she wandered the valleys of Oaxaca, the coast of Campeche and the rainforests of Veracruz, falling in love with “the color, the dynamism, creativity” quickly opened her eyes. She later moved back to Mexico City and opened her first Wahaca restaurant in London’s Covent Garden in 2007 – there are now 13 across the UK.

“When I look back now, the first thing I think of is the salsas on the tables,” she says, thinking back to the early trips that inspired her career. “They are fresh every day, they are different in every canteen you go to or in every street food [stall], each cook has his own special recipes. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and goodness, they are fresh and tangy.

Surprisingly, it reminded him of his home. “My mom always used to make homemade mayonnaise, barbecue sauces, ketchup bases, mint sauce and horseradish cream, so I felt like the Mexican way of eating with salsas drizzled with food actually looked like the way we eat in Britain – we like to spoonfuls of sauces over food.

“I like to layer flavor on things. Salsas, chili oils, moles – to me it’s not just quality and nutrition levels, but also flavor, texture and color. And that brings all food to life.

Guacamole — and avocados in general — may be a staple in Mexico, but their environmental footprint (for a fruit) weighed heavily on Miers’ mind. That’s why Wahaca put an alternative guacamole on its menus last year – ‘wahacamole’ made from British broad beans.

“Avocados are adorable — but like treats,” she says. “Anything that grows within 50 or 100 miles of you is a great staple to eat because there’s less of an impact. Exotic fruits are great for special occasions, but having them as a mainstay in your diet will bad for the environment.

(Tara Fisher/PA)

“I’m a cook,” she says. “I wouldn’t be without my coriander seeds, my star anise and my cinnamon stick. But yes, they come from the other side of the world, it is a question of putting everything in proportion.

Environmental impact is the main reason Miers is a flexitarian. “I usually eat meat if I control its origin. Factory-farmed meat is a big no-no for me, in terms of welfare and emissions.

“Beef, I eat it probably four times a year. We buy chicken from the market once every few weeks because we buy expensive chickens that are grass fed and not grain grown in the Amazon basin. the rainforest in Brazil? Well, if they are, I don’t want a piece of it, personally.

For the future of our planet and for our children, we must eat less meat, she insists. “We’re still opening factory farms, and the government is talking about lowering carbon targets,” she sighs. Runoff from the huge amount of animal waste on factory farms often pollutes nearby rivers, according to Food Print.

We’re too used to eating whatever we want, regardless of the cost to the planet, she suggests. But we can still enjoy plenty of food responsibly. “Cooking should be fun, it should be about feeding the people you love, it should be about enjoyment, but within limits. It’s not about having what you want, when you want it. want, but it’s about flavor, taste and joy,” says Miers.

“Why should we eat meat all the time at the expense of species decline and insect extinction and the total destruction of our soil? For the future of humanity, apart from everything else, that doesn’t seem to make sense to me.

(Hodder & Stoughton/PA)

Meatless Mexican: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes by Thomasina Miers is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced at £25. Photograph by Tara Fisher. Available now.

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