I LOVE Mexican food. Like most people of my generation, I grew up eating tacos made from minced beef and an Old El Paso taco kit and thought that was that. It wasn’t until I started visiting southern California regularly in my twenties that I realised that what I thought was Mexican food, was actually Tex-Mex, and a world away from authentic Mexican cuisine. I also discovered that El Paso isn’t even in Mexico, it’s in Texas. Every day’s a school day.
Pucheros – a traditional Mayan Sunday meal. Veggies, chicken and pork cooked in a broth with noodles
and served with a radish and bitter orange salsa and fresh corn tortillas.
What I soon learned is that Mexican food is at once incredibly simple and rather complex. But it rarely involves ground beef, cheddar or sour cream.
Tacos are the perfect example of Mexican food at it’s most simple. My favourite tacos come from a taqueria in Santa Barbara, called Lily’s, where the menu is incredibly basic. You choose your meat, grilled (beef, marinated pork or chicken), or steamed (beef, beef head, beef head, beef cheek, beef tongue, or beef eye!) and minutes later it arrives, served on a styrofoam plate with two soft corn tortillas. And that’s it. You help yourself to chopped onion, radishes, lime wedges and cilantro alongside a handful of different salsas and take your seat at one of the formica topped tables. Three tacos plus a soda for about $6. What’s not to love?
Two marinated pork, one beef cheek and a grapefruit Jarritos. The perfect order.
Since discovering real Mexican food I’ve striven to recreate it at home, even more so since visiting the Yucatan last year and eating my body weight in fresh corn tortillas, bitter oranges and radishes. This recipe combines Yucatan and Baja influences and ingredients to create something delicious, spicy, crunchy and, bonus, vegan and gluten free. Although tahini is not an authentic Mexican ingredient, sesame seeds are used frequently, so I hope you’ll forgive the off-piste addition, added here to create a creamy, dairy-free dressing.
Crunchy Butternut Squash Tacos
with Creamy Lime Dressing
Note: Fresh corn tortillas are decidedly hard to come by in the UK. Flour tortillas are an OK substitute, but for a much more authentic taco, soft corn tortillas are the way to go. You can buy the most widely used masa harina (maize flour) via Amazon, along with a tortilla press, and they’re really easy to make. Check out this YouTube video for a simple and accurate how to. So simple, lots of fun, and much more authentic, go on, give it a go!
- 1 Red onion
- Juice of 2 limes
- Juice of 1/2 orange
- 2 tbsp Tahini
- 1tbsp Olive oil
- I clove garlic
- 6 tsbp Cornflour
- 1/2 tsp Ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp Sweet smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp Chilli powder
- 3 tbsp Rice flour
- 3 tbsp Chickpea (chana) flour
- 1 Butternut squash
- Vegetable oil
- Fresh corn tortillas
- Red cabbage
- Fresh coriander
- Fresh chilli
- Hot sauce
Peel the red onion and slice in half from root to tip, and then into thin slices. Put the onion into a small non-reactive bowl, and cover with the half of the lime juice and the orange juice. Sprinkle with a healthy pinch of salt and stir well. Set aside. This should be done at least an hour before you plan on serving, to allow the onions time to soften and turn pink.
Next, make the dressing. Put the remaining lime juice, the tahini and the olive oil into a small bowl and mix well. Add cold water in a thin stream (approx 2tbsps), mixing as you go, until you have the consistency of double cream. Set aside for later.
In a flat bottomed dish, mix three tablespoons of the cornflour with the cumin, paprika and chilli powder. Add 3 tablespoons of water and mix well. Grate in the garlic clove and add a large pinch of salt.
In another shallow dish, mix the remaining cornflour with the rice and chickpea flours and a pinch of salt.
Peel the butternut squash and slice in half from top to bottom. Slice into 4mm thick semi-circles.
Set a high sided frying pan on a medium high heat and fill to about 2cm deep with vegetable oil. Once the surface of the oil is shimmering, you’re ready to fry.
Dip the slices of squash in the flour mix first, then into the cornflour batter, and then back into the flour mix, making sure to coat well each time and shaking off any excess. Add to the oil and fry for about 6 minutes, turning over half way through. Remove when golden and crispy and leave to drain on kitchen paper while you fry the next batch.
When you’re all done, put together your tacos. Serve with finely shredded red cabbage, avocado, fresh chillis, thinly sliced radish, the tahini lime dressing, pickled onions and fresh coriander. And don’t forget the hot sauce!