Hot stuff: Preparing the blue-corn tortilla. Photo: David Reist
Tortillas have become, for our house, the food of choice for my sons. Ask them any day what they want, and it'll be tacos and/or tortillas. They don't distinguish.
So I've spent the last six months trying to come up with different fillings to keep them interested. If truth be known, the secret to a good taco or tortilla is the salsa selection. You could use pulled pork, grilled chicken, fish or indeed corned beef and just change the salsa and the dish is totally different.
This time of year, with spring finally arriving and warming the soil, getting the first harvest of greens has given me another challenge: creating a meat-free taco. In Mexico it is quite common by using greens called quelite, almost a generic term but amaranth would be a close match.
The finished product: Blue-corn tortilla with braised greens and salsa. Photo: David Reist
You can use any green, leafy vegetable in this kind of recipe. I picked up some huge bunches of watercress from a farmers' market and some fresh ricotta, which is close to queso fresco, the cheese of choice in Mexican food.
These paired brilliantly with my hoard of blue-corn maize brought back from Melbourne's Casa Iberica in Fitzroy. This innocuous looking shop front on the corner of Johnston and Spring streets is the best place to head for anything Spanish or, as is the case here, Mexican.
Along with a shiny new taco press, I got the usual tins of tomatillos and white-corn maize. Blue corn is seen as been more nutritious than white or yellow corn, more protein and lots of niacin. It's pretty distinctive, nutty, and quite tough so I tend to use a mixture of white and blue corn for these thin, re-fried vegetarian tortillas that I'm hoping the kids will like, despite their lack of animal.
Other ingredients of note to make your Mexican experience complete are chayotes and pepitas. The former is not a wild dog but old fashioned choko (you could use green apple the same way) and the latter is the inner-green seed from pumpkin or squash.
The only way to make this dish more Latino is to knock back a quart of tequila and invite Speedy Gonzales to say: "Jumpeeng frijolle's poosie cato, andale! andale! arriba! arriba! yii-hah!"
Blue-corn tortilla with braised greens and salsa
Makes about 12
1 cup white-corn maize1 cup blue-corn maize2 cups warm water, plus extra1 tbsp saltBraised greens and ricotta (recipe follows)Pipian salsa verde (recipe follows)Orange and chayote salsa (recipe follows)Olive oil
Mix all the dough components together. The dough should be firm, not too dry, and pliable. Pull off the dough ball, pieces that will make smaller balls about the size of a lamb's testicle. If you haven't held a lamb's testicle in your hands, think ping pong balls, maybe a little smaller. You'll get the hang of it. Roll these lightly between your hands to make perfect orbs out of them and keep covered until you are ready.
Using your taco press, or a rolling pin, flatten the dough balls to a pretty thin tortilla about 80mm-100mm across. Use greaseproof paper to keep them separate.
Heat a flat grill or large frypan until it is quite hot and quickly sear each side of the tortilla just to set the dough. Once done, place the half cooked tortillas on a cake rack to cool and then you can wrap in cling film until you need them.
To cook, heat the flat grill or large frying pan up until hot, liberally drizzle with olive oil and cook one side of the tortilla for a minute until it is sealed. Flip over and add some braised greens and a teaspoon of the tomatillo salsa.
Cook until the bottom is crispy. Pull up each side of the tortilla to make a taco and set up on a serving plate. They should hold their shape if you prop them up until they cool a little.
Serve with the orange and chayote salsa while the tortillas are still warm.
Braised greens, tomatillo with queso fresco
2-3 bunches watercress1 white onion, chopped2 cloves garlic, chopped2 serrano chillies, seeded and chopped8 tomatillo, chopped (preserved)1 cup fresh ricotta or queso fresco if you can find it1 limeSalt and pepperOlive oil
Pick all the leaves off the watercress, you'll need a few loose cups of leaves as they collapse a lot. Heat up a frypan that has a lid you can utilise soon. Once the pan is hot, splash in a little olive oil and saute the onion and garlic until they are soft but not burning, add the chilli, tomatillo and greens, mix through, add the ricotta on top and turn off the heat and use your lid. Leave covered for five minutes until the greens have collapsed totally. Finely grate the lime zest over the top along with the juice of the lime. Season and mix.
Orange and choko salsa
2 large oranges, peeled, segmented and chopped1 choko, peeled and diced quite small1 large, ripe tomato, diced1 small red onion, diced1 clove garlic, crushed1 serrano chilli, chopped1 lime, juice and zest1 bunch coriander, leaves only, chopped½ cup green pumpkin seeds, toasted and chopped
Mix it all up, stores well for a few days.