Shortly after La Boca Loca opened we enjoyed a lovely meal there. Before that our experience of “Mexican” food had been limited to the hearty pots of chili con carne we used to cook in our student days, and tortilla chips smothered in melted cheese served with sour cream and guacamole. So it was exciting to discover so many new dishes and to taste those earthy, smoky and spicy Mexican flavours.
Afterwards I was invited into the restaurant kitchen to see how corn tortillas were made by hand on a tiny press so that each one ordered in the restaurant would be perfectly fresh.
Lucas Putnam grew up in a part of America with a large Mexican American population where Mexican food was readily available. But when he landed a job at Weta Digital to work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and came to New Zealand in 2001 he was surprised to discover that the fresh and tasty kind of Mexican food he loved was not to be found in Wellington.
So he persuaded friends who travelled to Mexico to bring back the essentials he needed and cooked it himself. Before long he was hosting a Mexican dinner party every weekend. They became so popular that he was eventually persuaded to establish a Mexican restaurant with partner Marianne. Their aim was to bring the spirit of Mexico to the heart of Miramar by combining traditional Mexican ingredients with fresh and locally available ingredients.
La Boca Loca opened its doors in 2011. Four years later when they had hand-pressed 200,000 corn tortillas, made almost 70,000 burritos, 45,000 litres of salsa and poured 60,000 margaritas, the time felt right to write the cookbook which customers and friends had been asking for.
In went the most popular dishes and cocktails from their restaurant menu as well as some personal favourites. Interesting chapters on the history of Mexican cuisine, pantry essentials and basic techniques such as handling chillies, how to prepare masa, press your own tortillas and making fresh and cooked salsas are also included.
If you are planning to try your hand at cooking Mexican food it is essential to know your chillies as these are widely used in Mexican cooking. I know how important this is from having once burnt my mouth horribly by biting into a fiery one grown by a Mexican friend. So the chapter on chillies, what they look like, how to use them and how each rates on the heat scale from mild to exceedingly hot is a must read.
But fear not, much Mexican food is not very hot at all or only as fiery as you want it to be and the heat can easily be adjusted to your taste.
Nothing is more annoying when you are keen to try a recipe from a different culture than not being able to find the ingredients. At La Boca Loca, they use fresh and local ingredients wherever possible but some that are unavailable here have to be imported. You can purchase or mail order these directly from the restaurant. and they are not expensive.
I’ve really enjoyed trying out some of the recipes and each one has been a success. So far I've made:
Fresh corn tortillas: These were so easy to make using only three ingredients (masa harina flour, water and salt). A fun way to keep the grandchildren entertained in the kitchen!
Breakfast burritos: There are several variations in this book but we love the simplest one filled with scrambled eggs, crumbled feta or grated cheddar, chopped tomatoes and avocado with a little hot sauce to taste.
Salsas are an essential part of a Mexican meal. The one I make most often is a mixture of finely diced onion, diced tomatoes and chopped fresh coriander, sharpened with lime or lemon juice and seasoned with a pinch of flaky salt. Adding chillies is optional.
Lucas encourages experimenting with whatever fresh fruit is in season. In autumn they use feijoa and in winter tamarillo.
Ceviche de Pescado: This marinated raw fish salad tastes fresh and light. Far superior ras an appetiser to that old sixties favourite the prawn cocktail!
Black Bean and Corn salad is a healthy medley to eat with corn chips or tostadas. I find this a very useful recipe to make when there are vegetarians in the house.
Mexicans love to party. And La Boca Loca is famous for its cocktails created by its various bartenders whose legacy lives on in a bunch of tempting recipes for margaritas, sangria, mojitos, and fresh fruit juices. When we have a Mexican feast or fiesta we’ll have ve to try some of these as well!
La Boca Loca: Collected Recipes from the Taqueria. RRP $60.00. By Lucas Putnam andmd Marianne Elliott. Available from bookshops nationwide. Distributed by Potton&Burton or direct from www.labocaloca.co.nz
This review was written for the GrownUps website: