Devil prawns and cheese broth: Karla Zazueta’s traditional recipes from northern Mexico

<span>Karla Zazueta's <em>camarones a la diabla</em>, or devil prawns.</span><span>Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay. Food Styling Assistant: Eden Owen-Jones</span>
Karla Zazueta's camarones a la diabla, or devil prawns.Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay. Food Styling Assistant: Eden Owen-Jones

I grew up a Norteña (which, according to the Collins dictionary, means a native woman from northern Mexico), stretching out my ch sounds, talking golpeado (abruptly) and listening to Norteñan and Sinaloense banda music. I went to carne asadas (north Mexican barbecues), ate flour tortillas, dogos (Mexican hotdogs), nachos and corn on the cob on the beach while running around with my siblings. Even though I have been living in London for the past 20 years, I still cook the same family recipes that I grew up eating. I’m living proof that you can take a Norteña out of the north, but you can’t take the north out of a Norteña’s heart.

Camarones a la diabla (devil prawns; pictured top)

We call this a la diabla (devil) because the sauce is super-spicy. If you’re the type of person who can handle heat, then this one is for you, although you can happily adjust the heat level by using fewer (or more) chillies. These prawns are usually served with rice, a simple green salad and corn tortillas.

Prep 15 min
Cook 15 min
Serves 4

2 plum tomatoes
½ brown onion
, peeled
3 garlic cloves
, peeled
2 guajillo chillies, stems, pith and seeds removed and discarded
4 arbol chillies, stems, pith and seeds removed and discarded
4 chipotles in adobo
30g butter
500g king prawns
, peeled, deveined and heads removed
½ tsp sea salt
1 lemon
, cut into wedges, to serve

Put the tomatoes, onion, garlic, guajillo and arbol chillies in a medium saucepan, cover with 450ml water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, cook for 10 minutes, then take off the heat and leave to cool.

Tip the cooled tomato mix into a blender, add the chipotles in adobo and blend smooth. Pass the sauce through a sieve to filter out any unwanted seeds or chilli peel.

Melt the butter in a frying pan on a medium heat, then add the prawns, season with salt and cook for a minute on each side. Pour in the adobo sauce and cook until it’s heated through.

Serve each portion of prawns with a lemon wedge, a green salad, warm corn tortillas and some rice.

Caldo de queso (cheese broth)

A perfect soup for a rainy day (or just because), this cheese broth is a real favourite of mine. It’s traditionally made with green Anaheim chillies and asadero roasting cheese, but Turkish green peppers, or even green bell peppers, are a great alternative, while a reduced-salt halloumi will do the job cheese-wise.

Prep 15 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 4

4 Anaheim, Turkish or green bell peppers
1 tbsp sunflower oil
½ brown onion
, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 plum tomatoes, grated
½ tsp tomato puree
1 tbsp sea salt
waxy potatoes (about 600g), peeled and cubed – I use red potatoes
400g reduced-salt halloumi, cut into 2cm cubes
100ml whole milk

Char the peppers directly over a gas flame or under a medium grill for five minutes, turning them from time to time so they blacken evenly. Once charred all over, put the peppers in a plastic zip-lock bag (or anything air-tight) and leave to sweat and steam for 10 minutes; this will help loosen the burnt skins, making them easier to peel off. Take the peppers out of the bag, peel off and discard all the blackened skin, then split them open and remove and discard the stems, pith and seeds. Cut the flesh into thin strips and set aside.

Put the oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat, then add the onion and fry for two minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, saute for a minute or so more, then add the grated tomato and tomato puree, and fry for another three minutes. Pour in 1.2 litres of just-boiled water, season with the salt, then bring to a boil. Once the broth starts boiling, add the potatoes, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and cooked through.

Add the strips of green pepper, cook for another three minutes, then add the cheese and milk, and cook for two minutes more. Turn off the heat, ladle into bowls and enjoy by itself or with some rolled-up corn tortillas.

  • These recipes are edited extracts from Norteña: Authentic Family Recipes from the North of Mexico, by Karla Zazueta, published by HarperCollins at £26).To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy for £22.88 at Delivery charges may apply.

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