Puffy tacos and other Mexican recipes from Paul Wilson's Taqueria cookbook

Paul Wilson's charred broccoli salad from 'Taqueria'.
Paul Wilson's charred broccoli salad from 'Taqueria'. Photo: Christopher Middleton

Paul Wilson helped to usher in the new wave of Latin cuisine to Australia as the brains behind venues including Melbourne's Acland St Cantina and the Newmarket Hotel. Though British he's more recently worked as an ambassador for Australia cuisine abroad. His latest book Taqueria showcases his approach to Mexican; taking the popular, feel good foods such as tacos, salsa and tortillas and giving them a modern and sometimes Australian update. Here's a summery selection of recipes to mix and match for your next warm-weather feast.

Charred broccoli salad with zesty lime dressing

Charred broccoli may sound odd but broccoli is a vegetable that works well with other flavours, and the grilling adds smokiness and a more savoury character. It's also good used as a mop for salsa and sauces.

1kg (about 2 medium heads) broccoli

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 Photo: Hardie Grant

150g pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

150g almond flakes

1 tsp smoked paprika

Frozen finger lime margarita.
Frozen finger lime margarita. Photo: Chris Middleton

sea salt to taste

2 tbsp olive oil

250ml zesty lime dressing (see recipe below)

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1 red onion, thinly sliced

300g cherry tomatoes, quartered

300g jicama, diced

1 jalapeno, finely sliced

150g pecorino or sharp monterey jack, shaved

75g salted ricotta, roughly chopped

1 large handful coriander leaves, shredded

1 large handful mint leaves, shredded

For salad

1. Trim and discard 1cm from the broccoli base and cut the heads in half lengthways. Par-boil for two minutes. Drain.

2. Preheat a barbecue char-grill to high.

3. Combine the pepitas and almond flakes in a small dry frying pan and cook over medium–low heat for three to four minutes, until lightly toasted. Season with the paprika and sea salt to taste, transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

4. Drizzle the olive oil over the broccoli and rub to coat. Grill, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until lightly charred all over. Set aside to cool slightly.

5. Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Pour over the lime dressing, add the onion, tomatoes, jicama, jalapeno, pecorino, salted ricotta and the toasted pepitas and almond flakes, reserving a few to garnish. Toss to combine and leave for at least five minutes to allow the flavours to mingle (this is one of those salads that gets better with age).

6. When ready to serve, add the herbs to the bowl and toss again. Divide the salad between serving plates, sprinkling over the reserved almond flakes and pepitas to finish.

Serves 4–6

Zesty lime salad dressing

finely grated zest of 3 limes

300ml freshly squeezed lime juice

115g castor sugar

325ml extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp sea salt

Combine the lime zest, 100ml of the lime juice and the sugar in a small saucepan and simmer for five minutes, or until the zest is soft.

Transfer to a food processor or blender and process, gradually adding the olive oil and remaining juice, until emulsified. Season with salt.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Makes 500ml

Paul Wilson's puffy tacos from 'Taqueria' Hardie Grant 2016 (extract for goodfood.com.au)

Paul Wilson's puffy tacos. Photo: Christopher Middleton

Puffy tacos, napa chicken salad and tomatillo verde

I've been fortunate to represent Tourism Victoria at many events in the United States. One such trip to San Francisco was where I first encountered – what the Melbourne food media has dubbed – Cal/Mex food, a kind of fusion of authentic Mexican flavours with American locavore spirit. There were many new, fun, produce-focused and really tasty dishes, all of which helped to inspire this chicken salad served in crispy, buttery taco shells with lashings of tomatillo verde. These tacos can be cooked well ahead of time and reheated for a minute in the oven as required.

Ingredients

plain flour for dusting

sunflower oil for deep-frying

80g salted ricotta or hard goat's cheese, finely chopped

lime to garnish (optional)

For the tlayudas dough

150g fine white masa harina flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

180ml soda water

vegetable oil for shallow-frying

sea salt to taste

For the tomatillo verde

250g tinned or fresh tomatillos, drained if tinned or outside leaves removed if fresh

1 red onion, thickly sliced into rounds

2 green jalapeños

3 garlic cloves

125g cherry tomatoes

60ml chicken or vegetable stock

juice of 3 limes

1 large handful coriander leaves

1 small handful oregano leaves

2 tsp ground cumin

sugar to taste

sea salt to taste

Napa chicken salad

1 smoked boneless, skinless chicken breast, finely shredded

⅓ head napa or Chinese cabbage, very finely shredded

70g butternut pumpkin, finely shredded

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

3 breakfast radishes

1 small handful flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

1 small handful tarragon leaves

80ml Latin vinaigrette

To make the tlayudas dough combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.

Mixing at medium speed, gradually pour in the soda water to make a dough. Form the dough into a ball and press to flatten; when the dough is the right consistency it should not split at the sides. Add a little more soda water if necessary. Work the dough on medium speed for 10 minutes, to aerate. Alternatively, knead by hand on a work surface.

Cover with a clean tea towel (dish towel) and rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Roll your dough into 30g balls. Lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out into 7cm discs, approximately 1cm thick.

If you don't have a special taco frying basket, simply drape the discs over a wooden spoon and pinch the ends together. Place in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes to firm up.

Meanwhile, to prepare the salad, combine all of the ingredients, except the dressing, in a medium bowl.

Half-fill a medium heavy-based saucepan with oil and heat to 180C.

Arrange the tacos, ends facing upwards, into the oil and place a sheet of folded aluminium foil on top. (This applies just enough pressure to maintain the shape of the tacos.) Cook for about three to four minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Remove using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Lightly season with salt. If some tacos are still sealed, simply cut through them with a pair of scissors.

To make the dressing, preheat an overhead grill to high heat.

Place the tomatillos, onion, jalapeños and garlic on a grill tray and grill, turning occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until soft, caramelised and charred black. Allow to cool slightly then roughly chop.

Place the charred vegetable mixture into a food processor or blender. Add the tomatoes, stock, lime juice, coriander, oregano and cumin and process to make a smooth sauce. Season with sugar and salt.

Depending on how thick you like your sauce, either strain through a fine-mesh sieve for a thin sauce or leave as is if you prefer a thicker sauce.

Add approximately 125ml of the dressing to the salad and toss to coat. You can store the remainder in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze for up to three months.

To assemble, spoon a little of the tomatillo verde in the tacos, top with a small pile of chicken salad and sprinkle generously with cheese. Alternatively, place the tacos on a serving plate and everything else in separate serving bowls and invite your guests to build their own tacos. Add other condiments such as jalapeños, avocado, chopped iceberg lettuce, and a squeeze of lime, if desired.

Serves 4

Tips: These tacos are great with leftover roast chicken or cooked prawns.

Frozen finger lime margarita

Australia has unique finger-shaped limes with caviar-like flesh. These are exported all over the world. Once squeezed out, the flesh makes a great topping for this classic margarita. Made with fresh lime and lots of ice this cocktail is great on a hot day and adds that cooling chill of crushed ice. It's a grown-up slushy of sorts!

125ml blanco tequila

90ml juice and finely grated zest of 2 limes

30ml Cointreau

300g crushed ice

2 finger limes to garnish

agave syrup to taste

1. Combine the tequila, lime juice and zest, Cointreau and crushed ice in a blender and purée until slushy. Slice one finger lime thinly and place in the bottom of the glasses, if desired. Sweeten the cocktail with agave syrup and pour it into chilled margarita glasses.

2. Cut the remaining finger lime in half and squeeze the flesh out on top of the margaritas to garnish.

Guacamole with bacon and chicharrones.

Guacamole with bacon and chicharrones. Photo: Christopher Middleton

Guacamole with bacon and chicharrones

"You had me at bacon", is most people's reaction to anything with a bacon topping. Here I've added another Mexican staple, the porky and now fashionable chicharrones – pork skin strips that have been boiled and dried, then fried to a prawn cracker–like texture. As these are very challenging to master at home (especially if you value a clean kitchen and an unblemished complexion) it's perfectly acceptable to use the pre-cooked ones available in good Latin food stores, or even pork scratchings instead.

500g (about 2–3) ripe Hass avocados

juice of 2 limes

2 tbsp avocado oil

2 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground allspice

pinch of sea salt

250g cherry tomatoes, halved and roughly chopped

2 red onions, finely chopped

1 jalapeno, finely chopped

1 bunch coriander leaves, chopped

Bacon and chicharrones topping

3 tbsp sunflower oil

400g lardons or kaiserfleisch

150g pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

200g cooked chicharrones or pork scratchings

200g finely shredded green apple

100g pomegranate seeds

200ml pomegranate mojo (see recipe below)

75g salted ricotta, chopped

1. Cut the avocados in half lengthways, remove the stones and scoop out the flesh using a large spoon. Arrange the avocados in an attractive mixing bowl.

2. Begin to crush the avocados with a large fork, adding the lime juice and avocado oil to moisten. Season with the cumin, allspice and salt, then stir in the remaining ingredients gradually, taking care not to overmix.

3. Cover and refrigerate for up to 30 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.

4. For the topping, heat the oil in a wide pan. Add the lardons and fry for five minutes on each side until crispy. Remove the lardons from the pan, season lightly with salt and leave to drain on paper towel.

5. Add the pepitas to the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook for two to three minutes or until lightly golden. Transfer to paper towel to drain.

6. Serve the guacamole in individual bowls. Top with the crispy lardons, pepitas, chicharrones, apple, pomegranate seeds, generous spoonfuls of pomegranate mojo and a good sprinkle of chopped salted ricotta. Serve with blue corn (tortilla) chips.

Serves 4

Tip: Instead of bacon, try grilling slices of prosciutto or guanciale till crisp, then drain on paper towel and chop or crumble into shards before sprinkling over the guacamole.

Pomegranate mojo

1½ tbsp cumin seeds

2 garlic cloves, crushed

100ml sherry vinegar

125ml olive oil

200ml pomegranate juice or molasses

2 tbsp sugar

40g (¼ cup) sesame seeds, toasted

sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Place the cumin seeds in a small, dry frying pan and sprinkle with water to moisten. Cook over low heat, until the water evaporates and the seeds begin to dry-fry and become fragrant.

Add the garlic and vinegar and cook for 30 seconds. Add 1½ tablespoons of the oil and gently warm over low heat for two minutes, or until the garlic is cooked.

Transfer to a blender and process, gradually adding the remaining oil, the pomegranate juice or molasses and sugar. Stir in the sesame seeds. Season with salt and pepper.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Makes 500ml

This is an edited extract from Taqueria by Paul Wilson, published by Hardie Grant, RRP $40, available in stores nationally.