Mexican budines or puddings are totally post-Hispanic and have little if anything to do with the country’s historical gastronomy. They are however very popular and make a regular appearance in provincial and local restaurants as part of the “comida corrida” or set menu, either as a vegetable course all on their own or to accompany meat and fish. They are sometimes described as torta rather than budín and should not be confused in this case with the time-honoured and far better known sandwich. The combination of ingredients tends to be simple: puréed or grated vegetables, milk or cream, eggs and cheese, as well as a considerable amount of sugar which makes them far too cloying for my taste – I therefore add just enough to enhance the vegetables’ natural sweetness and bring the dish together.
Sweetcorn and carrot budines are perhaps the most celebrated versions, but when the season for fresh peas comes, a budín de chícharo or pea pudding is a real joy. It bears no resemblance to any kind of “pease pudding” and is fresh and vibrant, packed with bright summer flavours.
If fresh peas are available (and you are in the mood to pod them), do by all means use them for your budín, but I have to be honest and admit that more often than not, I use frozen petits pois.
Pea Pudding – Budín de Chícharo
Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a light lunch with a salad
1 kg/2 1/4 lb fresh peas or 500 g/18 oz frozen petits pois, defrosted
50 g/2 oz butter
175 g/6 oz onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
7.5 ml/1/2 tbsp caster/superfine sugar
3 medium eggs, separated
120 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup double/heavy cream
5 ml/1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
75 g/3 oz strong Cheddar-style cheese, coarsely grated
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 oven-proof gratin dish, about 1.2 litres/2 pints/5 cups capacity, well buttered
Pod the fresh peas and cook them in plenty of salted, boiling water until tender; the time will depend on the age of the peas but test after 7 minutes. If you are using frozen petits pois, cook them for 5 minutes (a bit longer if you did not have time to defrost them). Drain and refresh under cold running water, then drain again and shake out any excess water.
Melt the butter in a small frying pan, add the onions and cook gently until they turn translucent; do not allow them to brown.
Place the drained peas in a food processor, add the sugar, egg yolks and plenty of seasoning and blend well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Pour in the cream and process again for about thirty seconds, just long enough to amalgamate the mixture and smooth it out a bit further; the danger here is that if you process for too long, the cream can start to separate. Transfer it all to a large bowl and stir in the oregano and cheese. Check and adjust the seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/gas 4/fan oven 160oC.
Whisk the egg whites with an electric beater until stiff and fold them lightly into the pea purée. Pour into the gratin dish and bake for about 40 minutes, until the budín has puffed up and turned a light gold but still has a slight wobble in the middle – test it by giving it a very gentle shake and if the whole thing moves, give it a further 5 or 10 minutes. Overcooking wipes out the freshness of flavour but it does need to be almost set.
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