Mexican, or rather Tex-Mex cuisine was among my first encounter with exotic foods. You can laugh at the fact I just referred to tacos as exotic, but once upon a time it would’ve been difficult to come across grocery store aisles stocked with Mexican ingredients, even if it is American. I’ve had Tex-Mex most of my life, but here in Norway my wife remembers tacos arriving in grocery stores in the early to mid 90s. In fact, if you ask a Norwegian what they eat on Fridays, 99% will answer “taco”. You ask them why, and you’re likely to be hit with the generic response, “it’s traditional”. I’m sorry to say, tacos in Norway are not traditional. Tex-Mex cuisine is the result of successful advertising campaigns in the mid 90s when Old El Paso first landed on the shelves of one of the four major grocery chains. Now of course, not everybody eats tacos, that’s just something to say to foreigners to reinforce a unified culture. Most people I know don’t eat tacos on Friday. Like the rest of the western civilization, most Norwegians eat tacos when they feel like it, not because a grocery chain said so.
In this post, I have three recipes to make Mexican food from scratch. The first is corn tortilla, then taco seasoning, and lastly a fresh chunky salsa known as Pico de Gallo. When making corn tortillas be sure to use the right corn flour, also called masa harina. Central and South American corn flours, white or yellow, have been treated with limestone to make it more malleable while working with it. Corn flour is widely used in the Baltic countries as well, but that flour is not treated and would not make satisfactory tortillas.
- 2½ warm water
- 2 cups of corn flour (masa harina)
- 1 tsp salt
1. In a bowl, combine water and salt. Slowly add the corn flour while stirring. Knead briefly until the dough comes together.
2. Divide the dough into 12 equally shaped golf ball sized balls. Keep cover with a damp cloth while working.
3. Heat a cast iron or non-stick pan over medium-high heat.
4. If you have a tortilla press, line the top and bottom with plastic wrap and begin pressing. If you don’t have a press, use a pizza stone or large heavy book and a cutting board. Cover the cutting board with a piece of parchment paper. Place a ball of dough on the paper, then place an equal size piece of parchment paper on top of the dough and use the stone or book to press the dough. I recommend placing it on the floor and standing on it while bouncing up and down.
5. Carefully remove tortilla from the paper (this make take practice) and place it in the hot pan. Cook until the air bubbles are golden brown on both side. Place in warm oven while working through the rest of the dough.
6. Remove tortillas from the oven and stack in a pile. Cut the tortillas into 8 equal triangles. Lay on a cooling rack and dry out in the warm oven for up to an hour.
7. Heat oil to 180°C and fry the tortilla chips in batches. Place cooked chips on paper towel and sprinkle with salt.
Taco or fajita seasoning is something you’ll just never catch me buying. I figured out a recipe nearly 20 years ago, and I’ve stuck with it ever since. As a matter of fact, anytime I’ve had the packaged seasoning, all I taste is salt and a hint of cumin. This seasoning is a bit bolder but has the same smell and look of many of the store-bought seasonings.
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 3 tbsp chilli powder
- 2 tbsp oregano
- 1 tbsp sugar (or 3 tbsp maltodextrin)
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp cornstarch (optional)
Using cornstarch helps bind the seasoning to the meat as it cooks giving you the packaged texture. If you prefer a drier, crumbly texture with your taco meat then omit the cornstarch.
Place all the ingredients in a coffee grinder or blender and pulse 5 or 6 times. Store in airtight container.
Use 4-6 tbsp of seasoning and ½ cup water and per450g of ground beef or chicken. Add seasoning and water after the meat has browned and cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes.
Bonus: to use this seasoning for fajitas, simply add 2 tsp of brown sugar per 4 tbsp of seasoning.
And the last recipe I’ve included to commemorate this sanctimonious day of the humble tortilla chip, is of course salsa. This salsa, known as Pico de Gallo, is a fresh bright salsa that can be used as a garnish or just gobbled up as a salad. It beats the bottled salsas that are practically ketchup with chili chunks. And it plays nice with a chunky guacamole.
Pico de Gallo (Fresh Salsa)
- 6-8 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 or 2 Serrano, habanero or jalapeño chilies, minced
- Small handful of chopped cilantro (coriander)
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- Sea salt to season
For this salsa, it’s best to exercise your own judgement and taste preference. If it seems like too much onion or garlic, then don’t use so much …or use more if you’d like. Test your chilies before adding them. If they’re hotter than usual then maybe just one will do depending on who you’re sharing with. And if you’re sensitive to spice then be sure to devein and seed the chilies.
Combine all the ingredient in a bowl and toss. Taste for flavor and adjust accordingly.