Tacos Along the Thames

Friday, March 18, 2016

Susana Villasuso and daughter, Lily.


Former culinary chef, Susana Villasuso, knows the importance of going after a dream.  Spending years in culinary school to master a degree before joining the love of her life in marriage, she learned that doing what one loves sometimes requires a sacrifice.  And later, when their first child was born, she realized that sacrifice again as she set aside her career, choosing to become a stay-at-home mommy to their daughter, Lily.
While she may not wear a chef's hat in London's trendiest eating houses, Susana creates dishes equally as tasteful at home using ingredients from the local markets or the butcher around the corner - recipes infused with the flavors of central Mexico so reminiscent of her childhood.

Read on for my interview with this lovely and elegant cook who makes her home in the picturesque riverside village of Thames Ditton in southwest London.

Tell us about yourself, Susana.  I spent the past three years living in New York City where my husband and I enjoyed our lives in the middle of Manhattan. I felt very inspired with the vibrancy of the city, the different cultures and the food. I started cooking on Instagram and sharing my recipes as a way to express my creativity and do what I love. I am also a contributor to Mexico in My Pocket, an online site about Mexican culture. Although I am a trained Chef, I stopped working when our daughter, Lily, arrived, since I felt the chef life wasn't going to work with a baby. There are days I miss my profession, though.

Recently, we moved to London and I feel that just like in New York I will feel very inspired by the food I see here and it might end up as a mix of my culture and the English culture, like my little family. It's so pretty here and my village has its own farmers market once a month, the cutest cafes, flower shops, and, oh yes, pubs! 



Mahi marinated in achiote, served with aioli and a spicy quick pickle salsa over crispy tortillas.


You told me your father is a geologist so your family moved a lot when you were young. What was that like?  I grew up in different cities in Mexico, because my dad worked in a mining company and we had to move  every time he was relocated. My first years were in a small mining colony about five hours outside the city of San Luis Potosi, a colonial town in the center of Mexico. It was a small community and everybody knew each other and were very friendly. We had lime and pomegranate trees outside the house. It was like paradise to me and I had a very happy childhood there. We would spend the summer visiting my Grandmas in San Luis Potosi. I have so many precious memories of the time with them! This region and its flavors are what I have retained in my cooking style.



Spicy barbacoa with all the fixings, perfect Sunday family meal.


It sounds like your grandmother was a big influence early on in your life. Definitely my first memories of food besides my Mum's cooking were from my maternal grandmother. I loved going with her to the market and hearing her stories. She was always carrying her purse under her arm and we would queue up at the tortilleria to buy a kg of freshly made tortillas and then stop at the local market to buy some chicken or fish, fresh fruit, veggies and cheese. I remember her fridge always looked kind of empty but she would fill the table with amazing food. She could whisk egg whites with a fork until stiff in no time, bake the most amazing canela and sugar donuts and the best homemade pot of pinto beans and salsa I ever tasted.



Tres Leches Crepe Cake


The family that cooks together, stays together, right? My Mum and Dad were always cooking, especially on the weekends. It was kind of like a ritual to get fresh ingredients and cook together in the kitchen while catching up with my brother and sister as we helped  Mum and Dad. I think I was a weird teenager because I actually enjoyed spending time with my family, talking and cooking rather than being with my friends. My Mum would cook for us every day and I really looked forward to coming back from school and asking Mum what we were having that day. Her soups have a special place in my heart. Dad is the one who experiments the most with food in the family. I love sharing recipes with him every time we are together.



Cilantro Tortillas.


What's your favorite cooking experience?  I used to work in the summer while in Culinary school and the most memorable was the time I spent in Barcelona working in a restaurant just outside the city, I loved everything there.





Roasted poblano and potato soup.



Do you have a love story?  Si, I met my husband, Bill in London during my gap year before going to culinary school. I wasn't really planning to meet him but those things just happen, right?  We were introduced by mutual friends and it was love at first sight, as they say. We continued our relationship for five more years with me in Mexico and him in London. It wasn't easy, but I was keen on having my culinary degree and finishing school was important to me. We married a year or two after I finished school and moved to London. Our beautiful daughter came to join us two years later.



Zucchini flowers in a Mexican market.



What inspires you?  My family, Mexico, food markets, fresh produce and other cooks who truly believe in the food they make and appreciate their roots.




Spicy octopus destined for tacos.



One book every cook should have in the kitchen is...?  This is such a hard question because I have many books that I treasure, but I think probably the one that I continuously use the most is The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. It is not a cookbook, per se, but is such a useful guide for flavors and what ingredients work great together. It is definitely for cooks who like to experiment with their food.




Flaky cod cooked in jalapeno-mezcal butter and served with spicy bean and cabbage slaw.



What about hobbies?  I enjoy spending time at home with family and cooking for them but my hobby is food. I think about it all day long, flicking through pages of my favorite cooking magazines and books. I am always looking for new things to try and figuring out how to incorporate new ingredients in the food I love to eat.




Apples at the Borough Market.



What do you love about London?  The bacon and the butter!  Hee, hee!  I also love the history, the accents, the BBC cooking program, and, of course, it's special to me because it's where I met my husband.




Recipes...

Tuna Croquettes


Tuna Croquettes with Chipotle Meyer Lemon Mayo. 

Makes 15-16 croquettes.

Ingredients:

2 jars of good quality preserved tuna in oil or spring water. 
1 large russet potato boiled until cooked.
1/2 onion finely chopped.
2 cage free yolks.
1/2 cup of thyme leaves.
1/2 cup of parsley.
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.
Maldon Salt and Black coarse pepper .
1 1/2 cup of organic flour.
Your remaining egg whites plus 1 egg.
2 cups  of panko.
Canola oil for frying.

1 cup organic mayo.
1 tbsp or more of ground chipotle chili.
1 meyer lemon (zest and juice).


Start by draining your tuna really well pour it over a strainer and a bowl a leave it there for 30 minutes at least to make sure most of the moisture is gone before you use it.
In the meantime peel your russet potato and mash the flesh up in a bowl really well, then add your tuna chunks, herbs finely chopped, yolks , olive oil and season, mix again and integrate all your ingredients until forming a paste like texture.

Then prepare 3 bowls one with flour, one with the remaining egg whites and egg beaten and the last one with the breadcrumbs. With your hands start shaping bite size balls and reserve them on the side while you prepare a frying pan with generous amount of canola oil, heat up your oil and make sure is ready for frying by adding a bit of the breadcrumbs into the pan once it starts bubbling really quickly it means it's ready. 

Pass your potato tuna balls through the flour shake off any excess, then through the beaten eggs and finally trough the panko or breadcrumbs make sure they are coated evenly. Start frying your croquettes, you only need to shallow fry them and keep turning them once that side is crispy and golden, repeat the same with the rest of the croquettes, once they are fried place them over kitchen paper to get rid of any excess oil.

To make your mayo simply combine the organic mayo, meyer lemon zest and juice, and ground chipotle ( make it as spicy as you like, keep tasting before adding any more chili) mix really well and add a bit of maldon salt and black pepper.

Serve your croquettes with a green salad dressed with meyer lemon and extra virgin olive oil and your chipotle Meyer lemon mayo on the side. Enjoy! 




Mexican Rice and Crispy Eggs


Mexican Rice
Ingredients: 
  • 1 cup of long grain rice
  • 1tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 vine tomatoes skinless
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1/3 cup organic tomato purée
  • chicken or vegetable stock and fresh cilantro
  • Kosher salt and pepper
Place the rice in a bowl and cover it with water. Let it soak for 20 minutes at least, then strain it and keep it on the side while you prepare your tomato mix.
The tomato mix or recaudo is a basic recipe that is very common in Mexican homes. It's the base for a lot of soups, salsas and the red rice. It's basically the mix of peeled vine tomatoes, garlic and white onion. Blend it really well - there is no need to add water.
Now add olive oil or canola oil to a sauce pan. Heat it up and add your rice. Give it a good stir and you want to fry it a little bit, but don't let it get burned. Once this is done, add your recaudo and your tomato purée. Let it cook a little bit and add a cup of vegetable stock or chicken stock, a pinch of salt and black pepper, cover it with a lid and simmer it on low heat until cooked. Add a bit more stock if you think you need it.

Crispy eggs, Makes 4.
  • 4 fresh organic eggs 
  • 1 cup of organic plain flour 
  • 1 egg for coating 
  • 1 cup of breadcrumbs 
  • 5 Serrano chiles (fresh and grated) 
  • Handful of cilantro finely chopped 
  • kosher salt and black pepper 
  • canola oil for frying 
Boil water in a deep sauce pan with just enough water to cover 4 eggs. Prepare a bowl with loads of ice and water. Once your water is boiling - then add your eggs and boil exactly for 5 minutes or 5 1/2 if you like a less runny yolk. Once they are ready, place them in the iced water and allow them to cool off to stop the cooking process, peeled them off carefully.
Add 1lt or 4 cups of canola oil on a deep pan and take the temperature with a kitchen thermometer until it reaches 190C or 374F. Then it is ready for frying.
Prepare four bowls: 
  1. Plain flour mix 
  2. Salt and pepper
  3. Whisked egg 
  4. The breadcrumbs, the grated Serrano chili, and the finely chopped cilantro mixed really well 
Place your eggs on a kitchen paper and pat them dry carefully. Place your egg in the flour, then the egg mix, and finally the breadcrumbs. Make sure it is coated evenly.
Fry your eggs carefully once your oil is ready and give it a few turns with a spoon until it looks golden. Then remove it from the oil and place it on kitchen paper. Repeat the same process with the rest of the eggs. Serve over your rice, cut the eggs in half, and add fresh cilantro.
All above photos by Susana Villasuso and used with permission.




Tres Leches Crepe Cake (photo by Naomi)



Tres Leches Crêpe Cake

Tres leches has always been my favorite cake.  This recipe is a fun twist of this classic Mexican and much loved cake. It really is a celebration cake that I keep making for special occasions. It not only looks very pretty but it's delicious, I hope you like this recipe too. 

For your crêpes you need:

Makes 20-25 medium size crêpes.

220gm organic all purpose flour.
1tsp salt.
4 cage free eggs.
400ml milk.
150ml of water.
100gm of good quality butter.

To make your batter you need to mix into a bowl your flour, salt, eggs, milk, water and half of the butter melted. Mix really well with a whisk until is ready, I have used this recipe for a long time and I don't think is necessary to add any sugar to it. If you have a favorite Crêpe recipe you can use it as well, you will only  need to make 20-25 crêpes. 

Heat up a non stick medium pan, and grease the surface with a little bit of your leftover butter, pour a bit of the batter into the pan and move the pan around to make sure your mixture spreads evenly on a thin layer, let it cook for a few seconds and then flip it over to cook the other side. Repeat the same procedure until you have 20 to 25 lovely looking crêpes. 

Stack them on a plate and cover them with cling film to avoid them from getting dry, you can keep them in the fridge until you use them. Don't worry if you make them a bit more crispy than they should be, this cake is very moist so they would soften up with the tres leches mixture.

For the Tres leches whipped cream and Pouring mixture.

Ingredients for pouring mixture.

1 of evaporated milk.
1cup of condensed milk.
1 cup of half and half cream.
1tbsp dark rum.
1tsp of organic ground vanilla.

For the tres Leches Whipped Cream.

3 cups of heavy cream.
1/4 cup of caster sugar.
1/2 to 3/4 cup of  tres leches pouring mixture.
1/2 cup of toasted coconut flakes

In a blender add your evaporated milk, condensed milk, half and half, dark rum and ground vanilla, blend it all really well and reserve your mixture in the fridge.

In the meantime prepare your Tres leches whipped cream that you need for spreading between layers, and topping your cake.

So add your heavy cream and sugar into a mixer and whip until stiff, then reduce your speed in the mixer and add a bit of your tres leches pouring mixture (1/2 cup or a bit more) add little by little until integrates with the whipped cream and be careful it still retains it's form for spreading withouth going too soft.

Once your whipped cream is ready you can start assembling your Cake, get your crêpes, your remaining chilled pouring mixture, the tres leches whipped cream and coconut flakes.

Start by getting a nice cake stand to build your cake, get a Crêpe and spread a bit of the whipped tres leches on top, spread thin with the help of a spatula, repeat the same process with the rest of the crêpes building your cake carefully and trying not to press your crêpes down, make sure you leave enough tres leches whipped cream to decorated the top. 

Once you have done this get a long skewer and pinch your cake on the top, do this very carefully and at least half way through the layers you only need to pinch it making 8-9 small wholes to pour the rest of your mixture. So now you can add the remaining pouring tres leches mixture do this slowly and  don't worry if it goes to the sides it's all part of the fun. Let the cake absorb the extra liquid and top it with the rest of your whipped cream, spread evenly and shape it with the spatula to get fluffy waves, finish your cake decorating with the coconut flakes and colorful fresh flowers, 

Keep it in the fridge before serving. This cake is best when served chilled.

Naomi's note:  I cut the recipe in half to make a smaller cake and it worked equally as well.




4 comments:

  1. Dear Naomi thank you so much for this lovely article about me and my food, I feel very honored to be a part of your beautiful blog that I am already a really big fan of! It has been great to meet you and how supportive you are with other cooks, I felt a bit teary reading this and remembering special times with my family in Mexico. A big thank you Susy xxx

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  2. Very nice article and excelent recipes!
    Nice life story!

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  3. I absolutely loved reading about Susana. Such a humble, sweet and gentle one she is. She clearly shows her passion and love for her culture and the priorities in life. I adore how you captured her essence. Reading about memories of grandma, parents always puts a smile on my face and tiny little tear too, just loved it.
    Naomi, you are amazing to feature some wonderful people who clearly live and love life and food.
    Hugs to both.xx

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  4. This is one beautifully written article Naomi, so well put together, and it is so wonderful to read about Susana! She is such a sweet person and it resonates in her posts and her passion for cooking. Loved reading about you Susana, and where you come from... and I hope you start cooking soon professionaly, cause I am sure you would excel wherever you are!! :)

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