Mexican crave

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am


The North American cuisine I miss most is Mexican. While I love the traditional dishes, I also appreciate the modern fusion food sold at taco trucks in many United States cities, which mix Mexican ingredients with those of other cultures. While Mexican dishes such as mole and enchiladas can be quite complex and time-consuming, as they require toasted chillies and ground spices, these two recipes are easy.

Chalupas with carnitas (pictured)

Chalupa means 'little boat' in Spanish. The dough uses masa harina, which is flour made from ground hominy (a type of dried maize) that's been treated with slaked lime to make it more nutritious. Masa harina (sometimes labelled masa flour) is sold at City'super; it's not the same as regular corn flour and the two are not interchangeable.

For this dish, it is essential that the pork has a good amount of fat; if it's too lean, the meat will be hard and dry. I use well-layered pork belly.

For the carnitas:

1kg fatty pork

200ml unsalted chicken broth

100ml cola

120ml fresh orange juice

30ml fresh lime juice

50ml soy sauce

?tsp dried oregano

?tsp chilli flakes, or more to taste

5 large garlic cloves, or more to taste

Fine sea salt, as needed

For the salsa and guacamole:

450 grams ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes

2-3 shallots, minced

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

2 red bird's-eye chillies, or to taste

A small handful of fresh coriander

2 large avocadoes

For the chalupas:

460 grams masa flour

1 tsp fine sea salt

About 480ml warm water

Oil, for frying

To serve:

Shredded cabbage or iceberg lettuce

Lime wedges

Put the chicken broth, cola, orange juice, lime juice, soy sauce, oregano, chilli flakes and garlic into a dish with a tight-fitting lid (preferably enamelled cast iron). Bring the ingredients to a simmer then taste - it should have a well-balanced flavour that's sharp, sweet, salty and spicy. Adjust the seasonings and add salt as needed. Cut the pork into 3cm chunks and add them to the pan. Bring to a boil then lower the heat, cover with the lid and cook at a low simmer until the meat is tender. Cool the meat in the liquid.

Dice the cherry tomatoes and mix them with the shallot, garlic, chillies and salt to taste. Cover the bowl with cling-film then refrigerate for about an hour.

Mix the masa flour with the salt, then add the water and stir well. The mixture should be damp but not sticky, and it should be pliable but hold its shape. If it's too dry, drizzle in more water. Place a sheet of cling-film directly over the dough and leave it for about 30 minutes. Pinch off large balls of dough, keeping the rest covered with cling-film so it doesn't dry out. Shape the dough into thin, flat ovals about 8cm long, shaping it so it forms a shallow 'boat'. Use a fork to poke holes in the boat at the centre, so it doesn't puff up when fried. Heat oil to a depth of about 3.5cm in a skillet and fry the masa boats until they are pale golden, then turn them over and fry the other side. Drain on paper towels.

Pour most of the oil from the skillet. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork from the cooking liquid. If the meat has skin on it, remove it and discard. Chop the meat roughly. Heat the skillet over a high flame and pan-fry the meat to heat it and brown it lightly.

Roughly chop the fresh coriander then mix it into the salsa. Halve the avocadoes and remove the pits. Scoop the avocado from the shell and mash the flesh with a fork. Mix in some salt and about 150 grams of the salsa.

To serve, put some of the cabbage or ice-berg lettuce in each fried chalupa. Add a spoonful of carnitas then top with guacamole and salsa. Squeeze lime juice over the chalupas just before eating.

Kalbi tacos

The beef marinade is adapted from one in the book Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall.

For the kalbi:

1kg boneless short ribs

125ml soy sauce

125ml Korean or Japanese rice wine

1 nashi pear, peeled and grated

3 negi (Japanese leek), finely minced

3-5 garlic cloves, finely minced

125ml light corn syrup

20 grams sugar

30ml sesame oil

1 heaped tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cooking oil, for the pan

For the lettuce and spring onion salad:

1 large head red leaf lettuce (about 300 grams)

12 spring onions

About 15ml soy sauce

About 40ml sesame oil

About 20ml Korean or Japanese rice vinegar

Sugar, if needed

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

?tsp Korean red pepper flakes, or more to taste

To serve:

Cabbage kimchi, squeezed dry then chopped

Corn tortillas

Mix the soy sauce, rice wine, nashi pear, negi, garlic, corn syrup, sugar, sesame oil and sesame seeds with some salt and pepper. Place the meat in the marinade, cover with cling-film and leave at room temperature for about an hour (or refrigerate for about three hours). Stir occasionally so the meat is evenly seasoned.

Tear the lettuce into pieces. Cut the spring onions into 4cm-long shreds. Whisk the soy sauce with the sesame oil and rice vinegar. Taste, and add a little sugar, if needed, or adjust the amount of soy sauce, sesame oil and vinegar. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Remove the meat from the marinade and cut it into pieces that fit on the barbecue (or pan). Cook over hot coals (preferably) or on the stove in a lightly oiled grill pan. The meat should be charred in spots. Slice the meat.

Pour the salad dressing over the lettuce and spring onion and mix to coat lightly. Add the sesame seeds and pepper flakes and mix again.

Heat the tortillas in a lightly oiled skillet. Wrap the meat and salad in a warm tortilla, add some kimchi then serve.

Styling Nellie Ming Lee