Mexican food is not bland, but has a generous sprinkling of spices, just the way we Indians like it; also, many of the ingredients are similar, e.g., tomatoes, onions, chillies, garlic, etc.; and last but not the least, the key item in a Mexican menu is the Mexican tortilla (pronounced as “tor –tee-ya”) which is a close cousin of the Indian roti or chapati. Tortillas are to the Mexicans what rotis, phulkas, chapatis and parathas are to Indians. That is, no meals are complete without them.
Varying from 3 to 10 inches in diameter, a Mexican tortilla is made out of either finely ground maize flour or refined wheat flour. The special flour used for making corn tortillas is called masa harina (pronounced as mah-sah ah-ree-nah). Tortillas are either heated on a griddle or deep fried like we fry puris.
The versatile tortilla can be rolled around a variety of fillings such as shredded meat, cheese, mushrooms, squash blossoms, baked beans, etc. to make different types of tacos. These in turn can be cooked with different types of sauces to make delicious enchiladas. Common accompaniments in Mexican cuisine are the tomato salsa (pronounced as sahl-sah), a type of tangy sauce or chutney made from tomatoes, onions and chillies, and guacamole (pronounced as gwah- kah-moh-lay), a kind of smooth chutney whose main ingredient is the avocado.
Here are a few easy-to-cook Mexican dishes beginning with the ubiquitous Mexican tortilla.
Ingredients (Corn tortillas): 2 cups masa harina; ½ teaspoon salt; warm water for preparing the dough.
Ingredients (Wheat tortillas): 2 cups all-purpose flour (maida); 2 tablespoons vanaspati (vegetable shortening); ½ teaspoon salt; warm water for preparing the dough.
Method: Mix the ingredients and knead well into a smooth, pliable dough. Cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll each into a ball between the palms of your hand. Place each ball on a lightly floured surface and roll into a thin round-shaped tortilla using a rolling pin. Transfer each tortilla to a pre-heated tawa or griddle and heat on both sides till they puff up and pale brown spots form on the surface and keep covered.
By varying the herbs and using different combinations of fruits and vegetables, you can make different variations of the basic tomato salsa.
Ingredients: 4 large tomatoes; 1 small onion; 1 green or red chilli; 2 -3 cloves of garlic; 1 teaspoon ground cumin; 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice; 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or coriander; ¼ teaspoon salt; 1 tablespoon oil (preferably olive oil);
Method: Drizzle oil over the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and chilli and roast lightly for a few minutes till the skin of the tomatoes is charred. Peel away the charred skins of the tomatoes, cut them open and remove and discard the cores. Peel and remove the garlic skins. Cut open the chilli and remove and discard the seeds. Coarsely chop all the charred ingredients by hand or in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl, add the cumin, chopped cilantro, salt and lime juice and mix.
Ingredients: 300 gms spinach leaves; ¾ cup chopped spring onions; 1 cup ricotta cheese (a good substitute would be finely crumbled paneer); 1 ½ cup grated cheddar cheese; ½ cup sour cream; 1 tablespoon butter; 10 six inch corn or wheat tortillas; 1 ½ cup enchilada sauce.
Method: Sauté garlic and onion with butter for a couple of minutes. Stir in roughly chopped spinach, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add crumbled paneer, sour cream and half of the grated cheddar cheese. Place about 3 tablespoons of the spinach mixture along the centre of each tortilla. Roll and place tortillas seam side down on a baking dish. Pour enchilada sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese. Bake in preheated oven at 180° C for 15 to 20 minutes till cheese is slightly browned.
Preparation of enchilada sauce: Heat about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil on medium heat and stir in 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (maida) and 1 ½ tablespoon chilli powder. Stir constantly. Gradually stir in 1 cup tomato sauce. Add about 1 cup water, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, 4 cloves crushed garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat for around 5 minutes till it thickens slightly.
Ingredients: 8 to 10 flour tortillas; 600 gms chicken breast cut into very thin strips; 2 tablespoons vegetable oil; 1 onion sliced thinly; 50 gms sliced black olives or ½ cup fresh corn; 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese; 3 cloves crushed garlic; 1 tablespoon dried oregano; 1 teaspoon pepper powder; 1 teaspoon chilli powder; 1 teaspoon dried basil or 1 tablespoon chopped basil leaves; 1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar; salt to taste.
Method: Sauté onion and chicken in oil over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add all the other ingredients except lemon juice and cheese. Add ½ cup water, bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes more, till almost dry. Season with salt. Remove from heat and mix in lime juice. Spread a little of mixture on a tortilla and sprinkle grated cheese over it. Cover with a second tortilla, and brush the outer surface with a little water. Prepare other tortillas similarly. Bake in pre-heated oven at 180° C for 5-7 minutes. Cut in wedges and serve with salsa.
By Veena Patwardhan