Tortillas, salsa, mushroom barbacoa and ricotta fritters with cajeta: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for a Mexican feast (2024)

I often ask my test kitchen colleagues to tell me about their memories and experiences, their inspirations and the flavours that stay with them the most. Jake Norman, for instance, lived for some time in Mexico, teaching English, working in a pizzeria and eating his way through bustling markets and must-try street food. He didn’t know it at the time, but the experience marked the beginning of his love affair with food, his subsequent life in kitchens and, now, his landing in this column, drawing on the Mexican flavours he knows and loves. So, here you have it: Jake’s desert island meal, complete with all the trimmings (and a cold beer).

Tortillas with pico de gallo and pineapple salsa

I love how versatile tortillas are, especially when they are paired with a bunch of different accompaniments, and ideally something fresh, something spicy and something warm. Of course, store-bought tortillas are always an option, but there’s nothing quite like a warm tortilla straight out of the pan. Serve with the chipotle braised mushrooms (see recipe below) and big spoonfuls of pico de gallo and pineapple salsa.

Prep 18 min
Rest 1 hr
Cook 40 min
Serves 2

For the flour tortillas
240g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp
soured cream
Fine sea salt

40g soft, room-temperature unsalted butter, cubed
½ tsp sunflower oil

For the salsa
1 red chilli (10g), stem removed, cut in half lengthways, then roughly chopped, seeds and all
5g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
200g fresh pineapple, peeled and cut into ½cm cubes
1½ tbsp cider vinegar
½ tsp caster sugar
½ tsp pink peppercorns
, lightly crushed
2 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped

For the pico de gallo
½ cucumber (200g), peeled, halved lengthways, deseeded and cut into ½cm cubes
5 breakfast radishes (100g), cut into ½cm-thick matchsticks
¼ red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced (50g)
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp lime juice
15g coriander leaves
, roughly chopped

To make the tortillas, put the flour, baking powder, soured cream, 125ml room-temperature water and half a teaspoon of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Knead on medium speed for six minutes, scraping the sides as you go, until fully incorporated. After this time, when the dough has started to come together, add a third of the butter and knead for a minute to incorporate. Repeat twice more, adding a third of the butter at a time and kneading for a minute after each addition, then increase the speed to medium-high and knead for three more minutes. The dough should by now be smooth, bouncy, slightly tacky to the touch but not sticking to your fingers and it will feel almost too soft to handle.

Pour the oil into a medium bowl. Lightly flour your hands, gently form the dough into a ball, then put in the bowl and roll in the oil just to coat. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for an hour.

While the dough proves, make the salsa. Put the chilli and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in a mortar and crush until it’s broken down but still slightly chunky. Stir in the ginger and pineapple. Put the vinegar, sugar and a tablespoon and a half of water in a small saucepan on a high heat. Once it’s boiling, stir in all the pineapple mixture, then take off the heat and leave to cool.

Once the dough has rested, tip it out on to a lightly floured worktop. Divide into eight equal-sized pieces weighing about 50g each and roll into golf ball-sized balls.

Put a large cast-iron pan on a medium-high heat. Using a rolling pin, roll one of the balls into a 2mm-thick x 15cm circle, using extra flour sparingly and only if necessary – don’t worry if it’s not a perfect circle. Carefully lift the tortilla, lay it in the hot pan and cook for 45-60 seconds on each side, until brown spots start to appear. Lift out, wrap in a lightly damp tea towel, then repeat with the remaining dough balls. Once they’re all cooked and wrapped in the towel, the tortillas will keep warm for about 30 minutes; otherwise, they’ll need reheating, either in a low oven or gently in the pan.

Just before serving, put all the ingredients for the pico de gallo in a medium bowl, add a quarter-teaspoon of salt and toss gently to combine. Stir the crushed peppercorns and chopped coriander into the salsa, then decant into a second medium bowl.

Serve the tortillas warm with the two condiments alongside, either with the braised mushrooms above or your alternative filling of choice.

Chipotle braised mushrooms

Tortillas, salsa, mushroom barbacoa and ricotta fritters with cajeta: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for a Mexican feast (1)

Barbacoa, a spicy, slow-braised lamb dish, was the inspiration here, with the mushrooms developing a distinctly meaty texture and umami flavour. Stuff them into tortillas as above and dip in the broth. Extra napkins are definitely encouraged.

Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 40 min
Serves 2

125ml sunflower oil, plus 4 tsp extra
250g portobello mushrooms, cut into 1½cm-thick slices
150g shiitake mushrooms, woody ends trimmed, then cut in half lengthways
375g vine tomatoes (ie, about 4 or 5)
1 white onion (160g), peeled and cut into 4 wedges
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 dry chipotle chilli, toasted for 30 seconds until the skin turns waxy, then seeds and stem removed
½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted
¾ tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp urfa chilli
Fine sea salt

300ml vegetable stock
(or chicken stock)
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp orange juice
, to serve – homemade (see recipe below) or shop-bought

Put a griddle pan on a high heat and ventilate your kitchen. Put a teaspoon of sunflower oil and the portobello mushrooms in the hot pan (if need be, cook them in batches) and grill, turning as necessary, for nine minutes, until soft and charred all over. Transfer the charred mushrooms to an oven tray as they’re ready.

Put another teaspoon of oil in the pan, add the shiitakes and grill, again turning as necessary, for six minutes, until charred, then transfer to the same tray.

Add two more teaspoons of oil to the pan along with the tomatoes, onions wedges and garlic cloves, and grill, turning often, for 10 minutes, until charred all over but not cooked through. Peel the garlic, put the flesh in a blender with the tomatoes, onions, spices, two tablespoons of water and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and blitz for a minute to make a smooth paste.

Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4. Pour 250g of the paste into a cast-iron saute pan (or casserole) for which you have a lid, then whisk in the remaining 125ml oil. Stir in all the charred mushrooms, cover and roast for an hour, stirring the mix every now and then, until the mushrooms are very tender. The mix will appear split by the end of the cooking time, but give it a gentle stir and the sauce will come together and coat the mushrooms.

While the mushrooms are roasting, put the stock and the remaining tomato, onion and garlic paste in a blender and blitz for 30 seconds. Pour the resulting broth into a medium saucepan and put to one side.

Shortly before the mushrooms are ready, bring the broth to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium and simmer for five minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the lime and orange juice.

To serve, spoon the mushroom mix into a wide, shallow bowl, then pour over about 50ml of the broth. Pour the rest of the broth into two ramekins and serve these alongside for dipping and sipping.

Ricotta fritters with hibiscus sugar and cajeta

Tortillas, salsa, mushroom barbacoa and ricotta fritters with cajeta: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for a Mexican feast (2)

Cajeta is a caramel made by slowly reducing goat’s milk into an unctuous sauce. It’s similar to dulce de leche (which makes a decent alternative if you want to save some time), and its slightly sour flavour makes a wonderful companion to these fritters, which are essentially hush puppies.

Prep 10 min
Rest 20 min
Cook 1 hr 15 min
Makes 18

For the cajeta caramel
575ml goat’s milk
90g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
, split open lengthways (optional)
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Fine sea salt

For the fritter batter
50g whole-milk ricotta
50ml goat’s milk
2 eggs
120g flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g caster sugar
3 tbsp dried hibiscus
(9g), ground to a fine powder, or the ground leaves from three hibiscus tea bags, or sumac
500ml vegetable oil, for frying

Start with the cajeta. Pour 450ml goat’s milk into a medium, heavy-based saucepan, whisk in the sugar and split vanilla pod (if using), , then put on a medium-high heat. While that’s heating up, mix the bicarb and 50ml goat’s milk in a small bowl and set to one side. Just as the milk comes to a boil, take it off the heat and whisk in the milk-bicarb mixture. Return the pan to a medium heat and leave to simmer, whisking often, for about 40 minutes, until the cajeta thickens and turns a rich brown. After about 30 minutes, it will need even more frequent whisking, because it catches and burns easily.

When the cajeta has a thick, honey-like texture that leaves a trail when you drag a spatula or wooden spoon through it, take the pan off the heat, whisk in the remaining 75ml goat’s milk and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt, then pour into a small serving bowl and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, make the batter. Put the ricotta, milk and eggs in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. In a second bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, 35g sugar and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Beat the wet mixture into the dry until fully incorporated, then leave to rest for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the ground hibiscus and remaining sugar in a medium bowl and set aside.

Put the vegetable oil in a small saucepan on a medium-high heat and bring up to 180C (if you don’t have a thermometer, test by spooning in a small drop of batter: it should immediately sizzle vigorously). One by one, carefully drop four tablespoons of batter into the oil (if need be, use a second spoon to help it off the first spoon) and fry for three minutes, until the fritters are a deep brown all around; they should roll over in the hot oil naturally, but if they don’t, turn with a spoon. Lift out of the hot oil with a slotted spoon, drain on a sheet of kitchen paper, then roll in the hibiscus sugar to coat. Transfer the sugary fritters to a large plate, then repeat with the remaining batter. Once they’re all cooked and coated, serve warm with the cajeta alongside for dipping.

Tortillas, salsa, mushroom barbacoa and ricotta fritters with cajeta: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for a Mexican feast (2024)
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