A few years ago I travelled to Cuba with my son and I picked up some interesting cooking ideas from that trip. What an amazing place, stunningly beautiful countryside, architecture, and cars. The doctor, in whose house we were staying, had an absolute stunner of a motor and he made my son’s eyes shine for offering to take him for a spin in it. I was allowed to go too, but I had to hide under a blanket in case I was seen and a snooping policeman got it into his head that the doctor was setting up an (illegal) side-line business offering tourists rides.
I found, as I was experimenting with this particular recipe, that I was thinking about the word ‘mojo’. What a wonderful word… it sounds fun, rhythmic, it makes me think of joyful dancing… naughtiness. The sound tasted good. Was it really Cuban? I felt I should investigate.
I found the following definitions:
- magic (voodoo) charm
- sex appeal
- a quality that attracts people to you and makes you successful and full of energy
If eating mojo gave you all the above I might be making an awful lot more of it! But I still didn’t know its definition from a culinary point of view or if, indeed, it was Cuban.
Wikipedia, as it so often does, solved the problem. The word itself comes from the portuguese molho which means sauce. The idea of the mojo spread to the Canary Islands’ where it became a main culinary event – a sauce based on olive oil, citrus, paprika, salt, garlic and with two variants – green using green peppers and red using red, in both cases the heat taken out of the peppers by means of soaking in water. The sauce was poured over everything, potatoes in particular.
Later many Canary Islanders emigrated to Cuba and they took the idea of the mojo with them. There the citrus element used was usually bitter or Seville orange juice, and whereas the European versions use coriander or cumin, the Cuban mojo uses oregano. Instead of the potatoes, in Cuba it’s used over cassava, or with pork. But I think it goes well with this chicken dish. Of course the music to listen to while you prepare this has got to be something Cuban – I love Ruben Gonzalez from the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club – so that is the choice, listen to him (below) while you cook this.
- 1 round courgette… or in fact any shape will do!
- 1 banana shallot
- 50g/2 oz shelled pistachios (if you like pistachios just put in the whole 100g bag)
- 2 tbsp raisins or dried goji berries, soaked in a cup of tea
- Olive oil to fry
- 2 small chicken breasts
- Smoked salt (to use at the beginning on the courgette) and Indonesian long black pepper
For the tomato mojo:
- 1 tbsp shredded lettuce
- Olive oil – a couple of tbsp
- Juice of half a lime and its zest – or a Seville orange or a Bergamot if you, weirdly, have one to hand…..
- 1 fat clove garlic, crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
- 2 or 3 spring onions, finely sliced and including about an inch of the green
- 1 tsp Spanish sweet smoked paprika
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- First cut the courgettes into dice or batons, and sprinkle with a little sea salt (about a teaspoon)
- Then make the mojo by mixing all the ingredients in a small saucepan and warming through, keep warm
- Fry the shallot in a little olive oil until golden – about five minutes
- Pat the courgette dry with a bit of kitchen paper – add to the shallot
- Add the drained goji berries or raisins, the pistachios, and season with the pepper – put on a warmed plate and keep warm
- Add a little more olive oil and fry the chicken breasts – about five minutes on each side. If they look as if they are becoming a bit dry add some dry Martini.
- Add the shallot mixture back to the chicken and heat through.
- Serve with the mojo mixture on the side
Ruben Gonzalez at Ronnie Scotts playing Cumbanchero