Authentic Mexican Nachos

Nachos are one of my all time favourite meals. Served with chilli, topped with lots of guacamole and cheese. On my recent trip to Mexico I tried ‘PROPER nachos’ – they’re not really nachos as they are more of a baked tortilla in a sauce (called Chilaquiles) but they are just so good! You can make this dish using flour tortilla wraps,corn tortilla wraps (homemade or shop bought if you’re short on time – flour tortilla recipe here) or if you’re even more short on time you can use shop bought tortilla chips but for best results, make it all yourself!

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You will need:

3-4 tortillas cut into 8 triangles per wrap

5 tomatoes

1 onion

1 small chilli

1 clove of garlic

1/2 tbsp oil

Cut the onion into quarters and prick the chilli with a knife. Put the onion, chilli, tomatoes and unpeeled garlic into a dry frying pan (no oil) and turn the heat up to high. The aim of this is to char the outside of the vegetables so move them around so they cook evenly. You won’t eat the skins so don’t worry if they look a bit black! Once cooked, leave to cool for 5 minutes.

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Tip all of the veg into a blender (skins and all). Whizz until combined. (1-2 minutes). Tip the contents into a sieve placed over a bowl so the bowl will catch all of the liquid. Push the contents of the sieve with the back of the spoon to try and push more liquid into the bowl.

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Put a small saucepan on a medium heat and add 1/2 tbsp oil. Once hot,, add the sauce from the bowl and a pinch of salt and simmer until thickened, stirring regularly. (around 15 minutes)

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If using tortilla wraps for your nachos instead of pre made tortilla chips, you will need to fry these now in plenty of oil until golden brown all over. Drain on kitchen paper.

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To assemble the nachos, place half of the tortilla chips into an oven safe ceramic dish. Spoon over a couple of tablespoons of the salsa from the pan andsprinkle with cheese (I use half mozzarella and half cheddar). Layer the rest of the tortillas on top and sprinkle with the salsa, (use sparingly here or the nachos can get quite soggy) soured cream and more cheese.

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Bake in the oven at 200C for 8-10 minutes until melted and browned. Add any other toppings such as guacamole, fried onions and peppers, spring onion, coriander, refried beans etc…the options are endless!
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Flour Tortillas

You will need:

280g strong white bread flour (or plain flour)

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp oil (olive, rapeseed, sunflower)

180ml water

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add the oil and stir. Add 3/4 of the water,stir, then squeeze the dough with your hands to form a rough ball. If the dough seems dry, add some more of the water (and more if you think it needs any) You need a pliable dough but not sticky. Knead for 2 minutes to combine. Put the ball of dough back in the bowl and cover with a tea towel for a couple of minutes.

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Lightly sprinkle your work surface with flour and put a frying pan on a high heat to get nice and hot.

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Split your ball of dough into two, then split each of those pieces into 4, to make 8 pieces of dough. Roll one of the pieces into a ball shape in your hands, then put on your floured worktop and squash slightly. Using a rolling pin, roll your piece of dough out as thin as you can get without it tearing. You might need to sprinkle some more flour on the dough as you work if it starts to stick. Put your rolled out dough into the pan and turn the heat down to medium.

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Cook for 1-2 minutes until bubbles have formed all over the surface of the tortilla. Have a look underneath the tortilla to see if there is any colour appearing. When slightly browned, turn the tortilla over to cook the other side. Bigger air bubbles will start to appear. With a spatula, push down on the air bubbles gently to push them around. The idea is to get the whole tortilla to puff up!

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After 30-40 seconds check to see if the other side of the tortilla has browned. If one side has browned more than the other, you can flip them back over to cook the other side for another 30 seconds. Put the tortilla to rest on a piece of foil and cover to keep warm. If you’re tortilla didn’t puff up a lot, they may not be thin enough so you may need to roll the rest a little thinner. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

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Lentil and Spinach Pakora

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Pakora (aka Fritters) are a fantastic addition to any Indian meal or perfect to serve with drinks. As with all Pakora, they use only a few fresh ingredients, making them a great, cheap choice for parties.

Because they’re made with lentils, they are light and fluffy inside and crisp and golden on the outside. Filled with spinach, coriander, spring onions and chillies (if you ignore the fact they’re deep fried…) they’re a health food!

Spinach & Lentil Pakora – makes around 24

186g Moong dal (these are skinned, split mung beans and are available from supermarkets in the World Food section, or Indian stores)

100g pre-washed and dried, finely shredded spinach (I grab a handful and roll it up into a cigar, then finely slice my way along)

4 spring onions, washed, dried and finely sliced

Small handful of washed and dried coriander leaves, roughly chopped (you can use parsley or any other mild tasting herb, if you prefer)

2 green chillies (you can use more if you prefer, or leave them out completely)

1/8tsp (pinch) of baking powder

1/2 – 1 tsp salt

Soak the Moong dal for 4 hours in water.

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Drain, rinse and put into a food processor with 4fl oz water and whizz together until smooth, light and fluffy. This should take about 5-6 minutes in 1 minute bursts. Each time, scrape down the sides of the processor before whizzing for another minute.

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Mix in the other ingredients with 1/2tsp of the salt at this stage. Don’t be tempted to add any more spinach, coriander or spring onion than stated above in the recipe, if you overload the mixture the pakora will turn out to be heavy and chewy instead of light and fluffy. Taste and add more salt or chilli if it’s needed.

Fill a pan no more than half full of oil and heat to 190C, or set your deep fat fryer to 190C. You can tell when it’s ready by dropping some bread into the oil – it should turn golden brown in 10-15 seconds. Another way to find out is to put the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil – little bubbles should appear around it.

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Gently slide small dessert spoons of mixture into the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan because it will make the pakora soft instead of crisp. You may be able to get around 8 pakora at a time into the pan. They should have lots of smaller bubbles around them. The photo below is of the first four pakora going into the pan which means there are a lot of larger bubbles around them. Turn your heat down slightly so that the bubbles are smaller than this, otherwise the pakora will brown too quickly.

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Using a slotted spoon, turn the pakora over so that they cook on both sides and fry until golden brown. Lift out onto kitchen roll to drain. Repeat with the remaining mixture.

You can cook the pakora in advance and then reheat, covered at 180C for 10 minutes, although they won’t be as crispy as they are when served fresh from the pan.

A dip would be great with these, such as raita.

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Sri Lankan Flatbread

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I’m a complete fanatic when it comes to authentic flatbread. I love the fact that these are the types of bread that have been made for (in some cases) thousands of years, which means that in the early days the recipes were handed down from mother to daughter rather than being written down, each region having subtle variations.

Accompaniments replace cutlery, so if you imagine how you’d manage to eat your curry/stew without cutlery just using your hands (sometimes just your right hand), that gives you a good pointer to what you should be serving with your meal. How would you manage to eat the thinner gravy without a spoon? A spongy, thicker flatbread or plain boiled rice would enable you to mop these delicious flavours up using your hands alone. For dishes with less gravy and more substance, a good replacement for a spoon is a thinner, firmer flatbread that doubles up as a scoop.

Yeast wasn’t always easy to come by and even if it was, the fuel that it took to cook a full loaf of bread was expensive or hard to come by. Cooking was done over a fire. Fire was essential to keep the family fed and warm, so no one wanted to waste any of the energy that it provided. Therefore, unleavened flatbreads fulfilled many needs – they didn’t need yeast or a lot of fuel to cook them. They were used as edible cutlery, plates and napkins.

Leavened and unleavened flatbread served as a ‘filler’ too – flatbreads dipped into the flavours of the main meal meant that the person eating the flatbreads would feel full, even if they were low down the pecking order when it came to getting a serving of the main dish.

Yorkshire Puddings are a type of British flatbread. A tray would be placed under a piece of meat to catch the drippings as they cooked. The Yorkshire pudding batter was poured into this tray and then served ahead of the main meal, so that the guests filled up before the main event. Children and servants didn’t usually get any of the meat, they made do with the Yorkshire pudding.

The flatbreads are usually made with whatever is freely available in the region. If they can get away with using water as the liquid that binds the dough, so much the better – yogurt, coconut milk, juices sqeezed from vegetables/fruit. Anything that didn’t mean a long trek to the nearest water source.

I managed to find three coconuts for £1 which meant that I opened them, prised away the coconut flesh, grated it and froze it. I also tasted the coconut milk inside and if it was sweet, I froze it in ice cube trays.

If you haven’t got fresh coconut available, you can use desiccated coconut and a can of coconut milk as the liquid to bind the dough.

Coconut Roti (makes 6-8)

2 cups of white plain flour

1 cup of grated fresh coconut or desiccated coconut

1/2 tsp salt (optional)

1 (ish) cup of liquid – water/canned coconut milk/fresh coconut milk

1 handful of chopped fresh coriander (optional)

1-2 green chillies sliced (optional)

In a bowl, combine the flour, coconut and salt.

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Add the coriander and chilli if using and mix in.

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Add half of the liquid and mix with your hand, squishing the mixture through your fingers. Add more liquid until the dough is good and soft but not really sticky.

Put into a plastic bag and leave for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, divide the dough into 6-8 balls. Put a dry frying pan onto the hob over a medium/high heat.

Roll the balls of dough out quite thinly.
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Don’t stack the rolled pieces of dough because they’ll stick together.

Place into the dry pan and wait until you see the dough starting to take on a drier appearance with tiny bubbles.

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Carry on cooking until the underside takes on brown speckles before turning over and cooking the other side. You can use a fish slice to press down on the roti to ensure even cooking.

If you have any coconut milk that you need to use up, you can brush the cooked tops with it. You could also use solid coconut oil or butter. Plain is good too. Best served warm with a delicious curry!

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