Ixta Belfrage seems like she’s from everywhere all at once. She was born in London, but spent much of her childhood in Tuscany and often visited Mexico, where her grandparents lived. Later she’d move to Brazil, her mother’s home country. And all along the way, Belfrage ate and helped cook, plucking foods and flavors that would eventually inform her palate and culinary career.
Belfrage’s global experiences often confuse people. “No, I’m not Mexican, but I love it. No, I’m not Italian, but I love Italy. Yes, I am half Brazilian.” But it’s this multicultural melange that’s reflected in Belfrage’s cookbook Mezcla, which translates to, “mix,” “mixture,” “blend,” or “fusion” in Spanish.
In her first solo cookbook—a former chef at Yotam Ottenghi’s test kitchen for four years, Belfrage co-authored Ottolenghi Flavor—she pulls from a lifetime of eating. In Mexico, she remembers watching cooks pound chiles and press tortillas in her grandparents’ kitchen. You see this inspiration in dishes like her Cheesy Roasted Eggplant with Salsa Roja and Torta Ahogada with Shrimp Miso Bisque.
Ilha Grande, a Brazilian island three hours from Rio de Janeiro, is a relatively quiet paradise where she’s spent time with her parents and friends. “There are so many of these little fish shack restaurants around the island where you can eat meals with the water lapping up around your feet,” she recalls. Specifically a bowl of seafood stew called moqueca is one of Belfrage’s favorites. In her book, find a recipe for Caldo de Feijão with Spicy Pine Nut Oil, a dish she loved ordering with her oldest best friend, Roma, with whom she would frequent Bar do Mineiro in Santa Teresa on rainy days, Belfrage recalls in Mezcla.
“When people are unconvinced by fusion food and think that it lacks focus or is all over the place, I like to give moqueca as an example because moqueca is a classic Brazilian dish,” says Belfrage. “[It’s] a mix of indigenous Brazilian cooking, Portuguese cooking, and West African cooking by way of enslaved people who were forcibly taken to Brazil by the Portuguese.”
Another example Belfrage points out is, of course, tomato and pasta in Italian cooking; the former a fruit indigenous to South America and the latter influenced by Chinese noodles. Her Cannelloni Chicken Enchiladas recipe is one of Belfrage’s favorite mezclas: béchamel, mozzarella, and pasta unite with cumin, chipotle, and cilantro. Use up leftover roast chicken or snag a rotisserie chicken. For a vegetarian version, use marinated tofu, recommends Belfrage.
For Belfrage, “fusion” isn’t a pejorative. As she exemplifies in Mezcla, it isn’t a cliche cuisine or outdated genre, but the freedom to move between cuisines and ingredients. “I don’t think it’s something that’s looked down upon anymore,” she says. “I do think that the world would be a very boring place if we were only allowed to cook from our own culture.”
Collected by Cookingtom
I’m Brian Danny Max, a chef and a writer at cookingtom.com. I’m here to talk about food and cooking, and to share some of my favorite recipes with you all! I’ve been interested in food and cooking since I was a child. My parents are both great cooks, and they taught me a lot about the kitchen. I’ve been cooking professionally for about 10 years now, and I’ve loved every minute of it! I specialize in healthy, flavorful recipes that are easy to make at home. I believe that anyone can cook a delicious meal, no matter their skill level. I’m here to help you learn how to cook, and to show you that it’s not as difficult as you might think! I hope you’ll check out my blog and my recipes, and I look forward to hearing from you!