This is a snippet of a brief conversation I had with myself last week (one of many actually).
“Hey, Thai and Mexican food are really similar! They both love chilli and lime and coriander and…oh wait, that’s about it. I’ll get my coat…”
Joking aside, it’s still an interesting opportunity to look at two quite different cuisines that might seem a world apart but, on the surface at least, reflect surprising similarities. I’m sure that can be said about much of our food these days – our ability to access food on a global scale has led to all kinds of new discoveries and fashions as our food culture continues to evolve and integrate.
Nevertheless, the idea of a Thai/ Mexican creation reared its head again when I spotted a piece of skirt steak in the window of my butcher, and my immediate thought was “how about fajitas, or maybe some sort of carne asada-type tacos…”.
I then recalled my recent internal monologue, and the first thing that popped into my head was a Thai grilled beef dish called Crying Tiger. And it all went downhill from there…
The aim with this “creation” was to try and take some of these common elements and see whether they could in fact work together…
So I had as my basis a taco with skirt steak, but I really didn’t want to mess about with it too much. In keeping with the Thai theme, I tried to keep it simple with a marinade of the classic Thai trinity of garlic, coriander and pepper, with fish sauce and a touch of oyster sauce for umami and a smidge of sweetness.
So what about a sauce or salsa? I had an idea of taking a typical tomato salsa and combining with a smoky, spicy jaew (a dipping sauce that I believe originates in Northern Thailand), creating in the process a strange bastard dressing (jaewsa anyone?) that will no doubt make little old Mexican and Thai grandmothers cry in despair.
And to finish off the tacos, some sour cream to cool the heat, slivers of cucumber, a bit more fresh coriander and ground, roasted peanuts. Job done.
I then took it one step further and decided flour rather than corn tortillas were the way to go, but after deciding to make them myself I opted for coconut oil for the fat content (instead of lard, which is probably just as well), in an attempt to integrate another vaguely Thai element into the mix.
I started by exploring two different recipes for tortillas. The first by Rick Bayless, which is based on a hot water dough, and the second by Josh Bousel over at Serious Eats, which uses cold water instead. Having tested both, our preferred tortilla was the cold water version, which came out with a softer texture as opposed to the chewier texture of the hot water dough.
However, playing around with the Serious Eats recipe a couple of times, I found the amount of water added could make the dough a little too soft and harder to handle, so I’ve adjusted the ratio down a little. Of course, this will also depend on other factors, such as flour, humidity and temperature on the day etc.
[ Warning – very basic and probably very-badly-calculated math follows – skip to the end for the recipe! ]
If you’re a bit anal-retentive like me, you may be interested to know that both recipes use a ration of 17.5% fat to flour.
The amount of water varies, but if using hot water it’s between (approximately) 30 – 40% water to weight of flour and fat combined. Less water gives you a stiffer dough, and chewier tortilla (I went for middle ground at 35% just boiled water). The dough comes together very quickly and starts off quite rough and needs a bit more work to knead. It feels like a denser dough compared to cold water dough.
With the cold water dough, you’ll need to use more water – between 40 – 50%, though as above I personally had a bit of trouble handling the final tortillas with dough at a ratio of 50% water. It was noticeably a much softer and lighter dough. It can feel a bit grainy at first from the coconut oil, but kneads out very easily into more of a pillowy soft dough.
To sum up I used a dough hydrated using cold water, with 17.5% coconut oil by weight to flour, and a ratio of around 45% water to combined weight of flour and fat.
Now, I am by no means a baker by any stretch of the imagination, so take what I say with a pinch of salt!
Strangely, it all does kind of work. Even though we’re taking what are in theory quite disparate cuisines, in this case there are enough similarities to engage that sense of the familiar on both sides without it getting too weird – full-flavoured beef, good kick from the salsa/jaew, crunch and cooling freshness from the cucumber, coriander and peanuts, with some Tex-Mex sour cream to juxtapose the Thai fire, all wrapped in a soft flour tortilla.
Anyway, enough yammering, here’s the recipe 🙂