Ixta Belfrage on the Mexican, Brazilian and Tuscan food that inspires her

Ixta Belfrage spent her youth absorbing food traditions in Italy, Mexico and Brazil. She began her culinary career at Ottolenghi's NOPI restaurant, before moving to the Test Kitchen, where she worked for Yotam Ottolenghi for five years, contributing to his columns in the Guardian and The New York Times. Ixta was Yotam's co-author on bestselling Flavour (2020).

Her first solo cookbook is MEZCLA - which means mix, blend or fusion in Spanish. In it she shares her favourite mezcla of flavours. Helpfully divided into quick recipes (for when you need something great on the table, fast) and longer recipes (for when you have time to slow down and savour the process), here are 100 bold, impactful recipes inspired by Italy, Brazil, Mexico and beyond. Creative, colourful and always delicious, this is food for every day and every occasion.

Here, she tells us about the flavours she’s excited about, and where she finds new inspiration.

What’s the best thing you’ve eaten recently?

I recently picked up an incredible piece of fatty tuna from my friend’s new fishmonger in Newington Green, London. I made a little crudo with it with blood oranges, a chilli ginger salsa and melted ghee mixed with ume su and tamari and it was truly sensational.

What’s your favourite ingredient to cook with right now? And how are you using it?

I’m obsessed with Clearspring’s Ume Su - a seasoning made by pickling umeboshi (fermented plums) with perilla (aka shiso) leaves. It’s sour like vinegar, but with a really complex flavour from the plums and shiso. It’s great in salad dressings, pickles, and with raw fish or oysters.

Which core ingredients will we always find in your kitchen?

  1. Calabrian chilli paste,
  2. Ume su seasoning,
  3. Curry powder,
  4. Fresh curry leaves,
  5. Fresh scotch bonnets and dried habaneros,
  6. Limes, lemons, and tangerines,
  7. Plantain,
  8. Tamari,
  9. Parmesan,
  10. Olive oil and ghee,
  11. Chives and spring onions,
  12. Coriander

Where do you turn for inspiration, if you’ve got ‘food writer’s block’?

I find the best way to get inspiration is to immerse yourself in a cuisine that you’re totally unfamiliar with - whether that’s by picking up a cookbook, watching a documentary or finding a chef on Instagram from that country. Your mind will be opened up to a whole new world of ingredients and flavour combinations.

You explain how Tuscan, Mexican and Brazilian food are such central influences to your food - how do they all crossover in your kitchen?

I grew up with Tuscan, Mexican and Brazilian food so mixing their ingredients is a subconscious thing that comes very naturally to me. When explaining how to do this to people who are sceptical about fusion, I often try to break it down and ask them to think simply about the flavour profiles/properties of that ingredient- is it sweet, salty, umami, sour- rather than where that ingredient is from.

What are your go-to recipes when you have friends over?

I make a really good Spicy creamy tuna ragú with curry and Scotch bonnet. It only takes 10 mins and it’s such a crowd pleaser!

Which recipes from Mezcla have people loved the most?

Without a doubt the Prawn and Habanero lasagne, which is handy because it also happens to be my favourite recipe I’ve ever developed. It’s incredibly delicious, if I may say, and the feedback is always also that it’s much simpler to make than a regular lasagne.

The scallops with curried onions, habanero and lime are a favourite that not many people seem to have tried.

And which recipes are the hidden gems you think everyone should try?

The scallops with curried onions, habanero and lime are a favourite that not many people seem to have tried. I love this with raw scallops, which are incredibly buttery and sweet (just make sure they’re extra fresh). My advice with this recipe is to take the caramelised onions really far- you don’t want to burn them but you want them to be a really deep amber colour, like little jewels.

What are you planning to cook this weekend?

I usually like to take a break from cooking on the weekends, because I cook for work during the week! A few weekends ago I had a dinner party, however, and made Prawn cocktails with lime, chilli oil and crispy curry leaves followed by Turbot with curried peppercorn sauce and chips. It was delightful!

Try some of Ixta's recipes from Mezcla: Miso Butter Butter Gnocchi, Mackerel Udon or Cripsy Oyster Mushroom Skewers.


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