Every trip I take south of the border, I am reminded how diverse Mexico is, and how much I love all of it.
Until this trip, my adult time in Mexico had been spent Guadalajara and south – I’ve experienced Jalisco, Mexico City, Michoacan, Morelos, Oaxaca, Chiapas. As a child, I grew up in southern California though, so I saw Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada. I don’t remember too much of it, except for a few very specific memories: the best beans I’ve ever had (still to this day), half-way finished cinder block housing (I assume taken over for hotels, resorts and timeshares at this point), and even then knowing that there was something special about that place.
Now, a little older and more mature than a 12 year old, southern Mexico has been my go-to region. Many parts of Baja cater to the American tourist; most everyone speaks English and don’t have the slightest expectation of you even giving Spanish a try, it’s easier to find a restaurant dedicated to fried chicken than to tacos, and most things are charged in US Dollars. That being said – Baja Sur is still wonderful. Cabo San Lucas I could take or leave, but the surrounding area on the coast and inland is filled with exactly what the bumper stickers say: “No Dias Malas” (no bad days) – bare, sandy feet all day, whales breaching off the coast, a general relaxed attitude of “whatever, it’s fine” and once you make your way along the highway out of the tourist towns – all the tacos you could ask for, with more hot sauce than you can possible try in a few meals.
One of the classic Baja style tacos is Machaca. Made from beef, locally caught fish (Tilapia or Marlin, typically), it's meat that has been dried, pulled and lightly smoked and served with a plethora of topping options (below, right).
Baja is surrounded to the west by the Pacific and to the east with the Gulf of Mexico. With both warm and cool waters and it's inundated with not just fresh fish, but some of the most popular fish - tuna, snapper, marlin - and it's also home to the famous chocolate clams (almejas chocolata, above, left) which are named for their chocolate brown shells and can get up to 6 inches wide.
Unlike the typical tacos in the southern parts of Mexico, the tacos in the north use almost exclusively flour tortillas. The recipe and instructions below, however are for corn. They are easier than they seem, but do take some finesse.
The one must-have for homemade tortillas is a tortilla press; they're easy to find at a local Mexican market or on Amazon. I have seen people use rolling pins in place of a tortilla press, but I strongly advise against it. For first time tortilla makers, the pre-made masa is the best way to go. It's corn meal that is pre-mixed with water and a bit of lime, sometimes lard. The lard does help to hold it together, but that’s more essential for tamales.
You'll also need:
A hot and lightly greased pan or griddle (preferably cast iron).
Either a tortilla warmer (also available at a Mexican market or Amazon) or your oven heated to the lowest temperature
Pieces of wax paper, pre-cut to line both sides of the tortilla press.
To make the tortillas
Start with a small ball of masa, about 3/4 the size of a ping pong ball.
Roll it between your palms to make an even round mass.
Place the ball in the center of the press between the sheets of wax paper, and fold the press together with some strength.
After pressing a few at a time, put them into the heated skillet/griddle for about 1 minute per side and keep warm until use in the oven or tortilla warmer.
If it the masa starts getting sticky and the tortillas start tearing, coat your hands in just a little bit of olive oil or them with coarse cornmeal before pressing them and before taking them off the tortilla press.
If your tortillas are turning out doughy in the middle after heating in the pan, pressing the tortillas twice can help this.
Mix together the following:
Sweet oranges (Cara Cara oranges, Satsumas, Mandarins), seeded and diced
English cucumber, peeled and finely diced
Habanero pepper, seeded and minced
Jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
Coarse sea salt
Splash of good Tequila blanco
Chipotle Cream Salsa
Blend the following together in a food processor, adjusting sour cream and chipotle to preferred heat (more sour cream for less heat):
Canned chipotles in adobo, seeded and with liquid
Coarse sea salt, to taste