Delicious Mexican food at home? (UK)
February 11, 2015 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I love a fajita/taco/burrito - but I am shame-faced to say that previously these have only ever come from Old El Paso pack!

I know, I know. So I'd like to spread my Mexican wings a bit and create a delicious Mexican smörgåsbord(!) for some friends tomorrow. Would you guys care to share your recipes/tips? Thank you!
posted by dance to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
AFAIK, it's a bit tough to get authentic Mexican ingredients over there, but this recipe should still be do-able: homesick Texan carnitas

If you do chicken fajitas, squeezing a lime over them after you slice the meat up gives them a lift.

If you can't get chipotlets, a combination of smoked paprika, cumin and cayenne is a decent sub. Add some organo, it's pretty close to an El paso spice pack.

Make sure to use lots of fresh coriander
posted by maggiepolitt at 12:33 PM on February 11, 2015

Boy, are you going to get a wide range of responses! This should be fun to watch.

I'll offer this self-link to my method of making hand-fried hard taco shells. You will never buy boxed taco shells again.

Basic taco filling is just ground beef, in a pan, with the proper seasonings. You can buy a jar of "fajita seasoning" or those packets of taco mix, but I don't care for them, they're all too salty. Basic seasoning for taco meat is salt, pepper, cumin and garlic powder. Same thing goes for fajitas, just cook up strips of chicken or steak instead of ground beef.

Magic ingredient for both: Caramelized onions. These take time and can't be rushed, but are worth it. Little bit of oil in the pan over very low heat, tons of sliced onions. Stir every now and then, and WAIT. Somewhere 30-50 minutes later you will have these amazing golden slivers that you then mix in directly with the fajita filling, or put on top of the assembled taco.

Another short-cut that's worth it: equal parts Velveeta and "real cheese" in a pan over low heat, tiny bit of milk. Use the finished product to top the tacos and fajitas, helps them stay hot longer.
posted by jbickers at 12:33 PM on February 11, 2015 [8 favorites]

The protein should be the shining light of your taco. Dress it with cilantro and finely chopped (raw) onions. And salsa. Leave the cheese and crema for burritos.

As a side dish try sliced radishes dressed with lime juice and salt.
posted by phunniemee at 12:33 PM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Can you get some ripe avocados? Fresh guacamole will steal the show.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:33 PM on February 11, 2015

I've enjoyed this taco seasoning recipe: Budget Bytes: Taco Seasoning tastes much better than from a packet, and you can easily adjust it to your tastes.
posted by TheAdamist at 12:36 PM on February 11, 2015

Can you get some ripe avocados? Fresh guacamole will steal the show.

This. Many many guac recipes online, my basic recipe is smashed avocados, lime, some sour cream, garlic, salt, and diced tomatoes. maybe cayenne or chilli powder, garnish with cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips, or on top of your tacos / in your burritos .... YUM
posted by darsh at 12:40 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you like tacos, Alton Brown's taco mix is pretty great. I don't bother with hard shells though because I just like soft shells better. Make sure to use low-sodium beef broth, though. I once made the salty mistake.
posted by General Malaise at 12:45 PM on February 11, 2015

If you can get your hands on masa harina (nixtamalized corn flour, Maseca brand, for example), you are well along the way, making sopes, a corn patty with toppings, for example. If you can get pinto beans (canned even) and lard, you can make some damn fine refried beans. Sorry for the American measurements, but I am crippled by my nation's history of antagonism towards rational measurement systems. Friends in England have been able to find it . . . occasionally. If you can't find masa harina, but can get tortilla chips or tostadas, set everything up the same so people can make their own, as below.

Sopes (large, maybe 3-5 in.)/Sopecitos (small, 1-2 in.)
1 cup of masa harina
2/3 cup very hot water
1 tsp salt
Oil for frying

Mix enough water into the flour to make a dough that holds together and is not sticky.
Let dough sit for 10 minutes. Make into patties no more than 1/4 inch thick (1/8 will be crispy, 1/4 will be doughy).
Heat 1 inch of oil to 350 deg F. in a cast iron pan. Fry the patties a few at a time, flipping to cook both sides to golden. Remove from oil and drain on a platter. Keep warm in a low oven.

Serve hot with a refried beans to be spread on top with additional toppings.
Toppings can include chorizo, chicken stewed in chiles and tomatoes and then shredded, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded or crumbled cheese (salty white cheeses and stringy white cheeses are ideal, avoid something to strong), thinly sliced radishes, shredded cabbage, lime wedges, avocado slices, chopped cilantro (coriander leaves), raw diced onion and rajas (cut some onions and some chiles, whatever kind you like, into similarly sized strips and stir fry them with a little bit of oil at high heat until they have some color and are just cooked but still crisp).
Lay out the hot sopes/sopecitos and all of the toppings and let people assemble their own.

Refried beans
4 (or 2 cans) of cooked pinto beans, with cooking juice
1 small onion (minced super-fine)
4 cloves garlic (minced super-fine)
Salt to taste
5 Tablespoons of lard (oil is okay too, but doesn't taste as good)

Heat lard in a cast iron pan, and sweat the onion and garlic without browning. When translucent, add the beans and cook them until they are soft. Mash the beans with a masher or a large spoon until you have a smooth paste. Add liquid as necessary. Salt to taste.

Mexican-style Chorizo (totally different than Spanish chorizo)
2 lbs ground pork
1/4 lb pork fat
3 - 4 tsp salt
1/2 cup ground red chile (or paprika, if that's what you can get or the red is too spicy. You really want tons of this for color and flavor, so feel free to add more.)
10 - 20 small hot dried chiles (chile pequin/chiltepin, whatever you can get, crushed)
5 - 10 cloves garlic, minced (or use dried garlic, but then increase the water accordingly)
2 Tbsp dry oregano
2 tsp whole cumin seed (or ground cumin, if that's what ya got)
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1-1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar (Essential ingredient to make it taste like Mexican chorizo)
1/4 cup water

Cut fat into half inch chunks (approx.) and freeze in a single layer. When frozen (or mostly frozen) break off chunks and grind or process in a food processor. Mix with the meat, keep it cold, and grind or process the whole mess a second time.
Grind spices to powder in a coffee grinder.
Hook up the bowl and beater bar on your mixer. On the highest speed possible (without whippin' meat everywhere) beat your meat. Add the spices, sugar and garlic and beat your meat some more. When the spices are incorporated into the meat, slowly pour the vinegar and water while the mixer is running. You are emulsifying the mixture. Stop when the liquid is completely incorporated and the meat has a smooth consistency. Add more water if necessary.
Fry up a small wad of the meat. Adjust the spices as necessary, but the garlic will get stronger as it ages.
Package your preferred serving size into a bag, press out the air and then press the meat flat. Freeze stacked. This will defrost in a sink of cold water in about 10 minutes. 1 cup will serve 3 to 5 people when fried up with eggs. But for this purpose, you will just fry and crumble the amount you want to use in a frying pan.
posted by Seamus at 12:51 PM on February 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

You can pick up dried chipotle at Sainsbury's. You can no longer get pure corn tortillas in any UK supermarket (they're all 50% wheat). Here's a a list of stockists of the only wholesaler I know of for corn tortillas in the UK. I don't know of anywhere except for those shops that stocks masa harina, either. Which is a shame, because it's delicious and easy to make tortillas with.
posted by ambrosen at 12:54 PM on February 11, 2015

You definitely need a selection of chiles and cumin, but I also suggest chipotle powder: it can add a great kick to nearly any recipe. I also am a big advocate of fresh cilantro and lime juice. And queso fresco is a great addition on top of any taco or burrito combo. Rick Bayless has some great recipes here, but experimenting is always a great way to go. Or live in Texas for a while, which was what I did. :)
posted by cachondeo45 at 12:57 PM on February 11, 2015

Are you able to get tortillas? I like to steam ours in the microwave as follows: drizzle with a little water, microwave for ~25 seconds in a lidded-but-not-sealed container, flip stack of tortillas over, microwave for another 25 seconds. If you have a gas stove, heating them individually on a burner is also common.
posted by mosk at 12:58 PM on February 11, 2015

FYI- cilantro is fresh coriander... You might have more luck looking for that. I've also introduced my UK friends and husband to quesadillas and they are pretty easy to make. Asda has carried Monterey and Colby mixed cheese that is worth getting!
posted by catspajammies at 1:03 PM on February 11, 2015

When I lived in Asia and couldn't get Mexican food, or most of the ingredients I wanted, I would make flour tortillas from this Homesick Texan recipe.

Our homemade Mexican/Tex-Mex/American Mexican food is pretty simple. Ideas:

1. Fish tacos: grilled or battered white fish on top of a tortilla with shaved cabbage (toss with vinegar, lime juice, salt, pepper, cumin) and cilantro/coriander, maybe a little carrot, drizzle with crema (or for you, can you get sour cream? No? then plain yogurt, preferably Greek). Squeeze on more lime. Optionally serve with a pico de gallo. (diced tomatoes, green peppers (do you call those capsicum or is that Australia?), red onion, cilantro, vinegar, lime, salt and pepper).

2. Sautee garlic, onion, green peppers, add black beans, salt, pepper, cumin, and cook gently until the beans are soft. Serve on top of rice. Top with avocado and cilantro, fresh salsa if you have it, maybe a squirt of hot sauce.
posted by chocotaco at 1:11 PM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

No recipes, but a recommendation to go to a Waitrose if there's one near you for ingredients. They will have good ripe avocados, fresh herbs and a big range of spices and specifically Mexican ingredients. I buy a chipotle paste in a jar from there to give a kick to my UK-Mex chilis and stews. A bigger Sainsburys would probably be my second choice.
posted by mymbleth at 1:13 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

ceviche de pescado that offers a lot of options for the fish (any mild whitefish will do). In Texas and California, I've only ever been served it with corn chips, broken taco shells, tostadas, and occasionally crackers, not any of the South American accessories like corn nuts or plantains.

I like this marinade for pollo asado, but I use it on pounded thin-ish boneless/skinless breast and leg meat and sear them in a hot hot skillet so they get a little burned. The resulting deliciousness can be cut into strips and used for tacos hard and soft, burritos, burrito bowls/salad, nachos, inserted directly into mouth with fingers, etc.

My fish tacos are usually baked split fillets with a panko topping, in tortillas over thin-sliced cabbage with sour cream thinned with lime juice.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:25 PM on February 11, 2015

There are much better options than El Paso for your ingredients in the UK now.

Try BritMex or Casa Mexico. I suggest ordering Mexican Chorizo instead of making your own.

Every corner shop in the UK has tortillas. Its not that bad, guys.
posted by vacapinta at 1:25 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

For dessert make a flan and sopapillas. If you can't get La Lechera, use this method with Sweetened Condensed Milk. My girlfriend swears by shortbread cookie tins (the round ones you get at Christmas) as the perfect vessels for Flan. Serve the Sopapillas with honey. (I love them SO much!)

You can make a big pot of Pinto Beans in a slow cooker or on your stove top.

Make Sonora Style Enchiladas, they're easy and tasty (and feel free to use canned enchilada sauce.) Instead of rolling separately, build them like Lasagna.

So in a oblong baking dish:

Spoon red enchilada sauce on bottom of dish. Layer corn tortillas. Cut them in half with the scalloped sides inward. More sauce.

Spoon a filling of shredded rotisserie chicken, sour cream/crema/creme fraich, a small can of diced green chilis (old El Paso is perfectly fine!) and a bit of regular salsa.

Sprinkle with mild cheddar cheese. Then more enchilada sauce, then more tortillas, then sauce, cheese, tortillas and sauce and cheese.

So three layers, with cheesy saucy on top and meaty creamy on the bottom.

This is quick and easy. Source: I grew up in Arizona.

If you have questions, need clarification or want my recipe for authentic Chile Colorado, MeMail me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:28 PM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

The chipotle meatballs from Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday are one of my staples.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:39 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Homemade tortillas make a world of difference.

I like Rick Bayless's method, but my ratio is 1 cup of flour to 1 tbsp shortening to 1/3 cup water (plus a little bit more water). That makes 6 tortillas. Multiply accordingly. I wing the salt quantity.
posted by slipthought at 1:40 PM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

We always use Ninfa's recipe for fajitas. Everything but the chiles de arbol should be a supermarket ingredient for you. The two secret ingredients in that marinade are actually the pineapple juice (which contains an enzyme that tenderizes meat) and the soy sauce (who knew?). I'd say the chiles de arbol are worth tracking down, but then I live in an area with multiple hispanic markets.

We serve them with:
Ninfa's Marinated Onions
  • 2 cups unsalted beef stock
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 dried chiles de arbol, crushed, or 2 fresh jalapeños, chopped
  • 2 large onions, sliced into thin rings
In a small saucepan, reduce the stock to 1 cup. Add the soy sauce and chiles, and stir.

Place the onions in a medium bowl, and pour the marinade over them. Cover the bowl, and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight.

Present the onions cold as a garnish, or heat them in the top of a double boiler and serve them warm. They will keep for at least 10 days.
(Recipe via Texas Home Cooking, a copy of which sits on my cookbook shelf. We've never had a batch last long enough to test that ten day guideline.)
posted by fedward at 1:43 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Waitrose now sells dried chipotle, habanero and ancho chilis as part of its 'Cook's Ingredients' range, and using these definitely makes a huge difference to my home-made Mexican food.
posted by essexjan at 2:22 PM on February 11, 2015

Everyone has a lot to say about tortillas (they are truly the base!). For tacos, I prefer them the way my mom did it in SoCal in the 80s (and through to today): oil in shallow pan, just deep enough to submerge it, heat, place tortilla in for 30s on each side or so. Crispy without being crumbly. Corn only. Burritos are flour, add yellow rice for SF style.

As for toppings, there are many, many choices, all of them wonderful. For my part I prefer: ground turkey, cheese, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, hot sauce. Do they have Cholula or Tapatio in your part of the world? If not, get an American to mail you some.
posted by dame at 2:31 PM on February 11, 2015

You can make your own Pico De Gallo. It's super easy.

Diced sweet onion or green onion
Diced fresh tomato (grape tomatoes are the sweetest in the winter)
Diced, roasted green chiles (available in can)
Dash of Olive Oil
Optional: Cilantro (I hate the stuff)
Optional: Jalapeno

You can also make tamales. I will caution that this is a total Magillah! But they are SOOOOOO good!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:43 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm getting hungry reading all of this, yum! So I offer you this: you likely don't have a lot of time to try tons of new dishes since the party is tomorrow night. Therefore, I recommend you stick to just three new things and not be afraid to have some Old El Paso mixes on the side should things not quite work out or what not. I think your plan is ambitious and your friends surely excited but ultimately they're coming for the experience of being with you: there's always next time if things don't quite out. And, if necessary, you can buy a lot of time with chips, salsa, and Mexican beer or margaritas.

(And, heck yeah, to the guacamole tip! I wish I could fly over some supplies to you right now. And I'm sure you know that coriander and cilantro connection?!)
posted by smorgasbord at 6:57 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to deal with finding or making proper tortillas, you could make tortas, which are hot sandwiches. Usually (at least where I live in Texas) they've got refried beans, crumbled cheese, meat of some sort, and avocado, plus often some additional vegetables. Torta milanesa is classic, very good, and doesn't call for anything you'd have trouble finding other than possibly the queso fresco. (Substitute any mild, crumbly, salty cheese; I guess if you get really desperate feta might work.) You could also do tortas with some of the other meats that have been suggested — carnitas would be good, so would chorizo.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:18 PM on February 11, 2015

1) Homemade guacamole is ridiculously easy if you can get nice avocados:

4:2:1 ratio of avocado to tomato to onion. For example, you take 2 avocados, dice up 1 tomato, and dice up half an onion. Mash that all together, add fresh lime/lemon juice, and some salt. Cilantro optional. I'm part of the population who thinks cilantro/coriander tastes like soap so I personally leave it out.

2) Similarly, pico de gallo:

2:1 tomato to onion ratio. Dice up half an avocado and throw it in. Add some lemon/lime juice to taste and some salt. LET THIS SIT FOR AT LEAST HALF AN HOUR.

3) Some sort of Mexican braised beef (note, this needs a 3 tomato pico de gallo made before hand)

Get some beef cubes (around 2 pounds). Toss them with 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon or so of salt.

Then while that's sitting, dice up an onion and toss it into a heated pan. Cook the onions until they're translucent then add some garlic (3-4 cloves). Let all this cook and dump in the pico de gallo and the beef. Top this off with around a half cup of stock.

Now dump all this in a big roasting pan (preferably with lid) and leave that in the oven at 300F for about 3 hours.

4) The aforementioned beef goes great with Mexican rice

Blend together 2:1 ratio of tomatoes to onions.

Take a table spoon of oil (vegetable/olive/etc) and let that heat up real hot. Then dump in a cup of rice. Cook the rice and oil together until the rice is lightly browned. Dump in your tomato/onion mixture, bring everything to a boil, and let it simmer until cooked. Add salt to season.

5) Or cilantro-lime rice:

Cook long grain rice normally. Once it's down, squeeze lime juice, add salt, and throw in some chopped cilantro/coriander to taste. Toss it all together so it mixes well.

6) And my favorite, the best carne asada ever (you can easily use this as the meat in tacos/fajitas/burritos)

Take some flank steak or some other steak cut(preferably scored) and rub them down real well with olive oil. Then dump Chef Merito Carne Asada seaoning over them. Place all the oily and well rubbed meat in some sort of flat and shallow container. Fill the container with some cheap lager (Corona if you want to go full out Mexican) and add a some lemon/lime juice. Let that sit for at least 2 hours before cooking.

Now, if you don't have Chef Merito, here's a homemade version:

2 tablespoons chili powder
4 teaspoons garlic salt
2 and a half teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more chili powder or some of those red chili pepper flakes)

Now, after all those juices have been sitting for a while and gathering amazingness, toss them onto a hot grill or a pan. Make sure to let the liquid drain off the steak a little bit first.

7) Putting it all together

Grab a tortilla, cut up some carne asada, throw on a spoonful or so of pico de gallo, lump on some guacamole, sprinkle some Mexican rice, and throw on a smattering of cheese and VOILA. Burrito. Or taco.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:23 PM on February 11, 2015

I forgot to add to my previous post....

For fajitas, fry up some green peppers and onions. If you want, you can cook a batch of the carne asada with this (though get the onions cooking in the pan before anything else goes in). Throw all that on a tortilla and you'll get fajitas.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2015

I make fish tacos using "fresh" fried fish from the local chippy, complete with cabbage, corn tortillas and home made white sauce (on my phone so can't link but Google is your friend for a recipe). I lived in San Diego for 7 years and if you have a good local chippy, this works.
posted by like_neon at 6:00 AM on February 15, 2015

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