The biggest and most amazing surprise of visiting Mexico's Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ca), besides it's sheer beauty, is the food. I can't stress enough, just how amazing it is!
One of the country's hot-spots for food lovers, Oaxaca has a vast array of delicious and unique dishes to sample. Street food is in abundance - I sampled LOTS! like the amazing street corn, Esquites, and being the home of 'mole' I tasted varieties that would bamboozle any taste bud! So many food firsts and tasty treasures! One such first was a dish I'd not experienced before - the Tlayuda. A thin, crisp corn tortilla topped with all manner of Mexican flavours. It was a complete revelation.
Tlayuda - Mexico's response to pizza.
To the western tongue, tlayuda is closest to being pronounced 'cla-you-da'. The premise of Tlayuda is to offer a crisp corn tortilla, topped with whatever you like! Much like a tostada, but uniquely Oaxacan. This Tlayuda recipe follows a traditional recipe and features:
A base of the famous Oaxacan refried black beans (BONUS, you get the recipe for these too!)
A few slices of carne asada
A generous handful of freshness in the form of lettuce, cabbage, radish, cilantro and tomato.
A scattering of the much loved Oaxacan cheese (kind of like mozzarella)
A final spritz of lime to liven up the whole affair.
It's a taste and texture sensation, a wonderful crunch of tortilla and vegetables with the smooth beans and spiced meat. Who needs pizza!? So let's get started. Making Tlayudas is not difficult - it's more of an arrangement of food, but there's some prep work to be done! And it starts by marinating the beef.
Step 1: Marinating
I use a thin flank steak - Mexican's love their meat butchered into thin slices, so that they cook quickly on the parilla/grill. You can, of course, cook your favourite cut of steak and just slice it later, but flank or flat iron is a great option. The best flavour comes from a long marination (24 hours) but 4 hours will do if you're in a hurry. The flavours of cumin, orange juice (traditional for tenderising meat), cilantro and a host of other ingredients bring this meat out of marination kicking and screaming with personality.
Step 2: Making the refried beans
Refried beans are a delicious essential to the Tlayuda. I use canned beans (frijole negro) for convenience, but you can use dried and cook them if you like. The beans are flavoured with a couple of interesting ingredients. Arból chillies, are a common Mexican chilli, a fairly fiery dried variety that will add depth and a light spice to the beans (depending on how many you add, obviously). The second are the dried avocado leaves, They bring a unique aniseed flavour. Now, I know hunting down avocado leaves may be an ingredient too far for some, but the good news is there's a substitute! Replace with 1-2 dried bay leaves and a teaspoon of aniseed or fennel. These are toasted in a dry pan to bring out the flavour before being blended into the beans.
The beans are now fried for 20-30 minutes with onion. This frying ensures most of the moisture evaporates and the texture rich and thick. The flavour is also intensified, leaving us with a flavourful bean paste that packs a punch.
The beans, when cooled thicken even further and become a thick, spreadable paste. Incidentally, at this stage - these Oaxacan refried beans are amazing simply served alongside some corn tortilla chips. A wonderful alternative to Guacamole and salsa let me tell you! In fact, let me tell you again... These refried beans with some corn tortilla chips are sublime.
Step 3: Cooking the steak
Now that the meat has been marinating for a while, it's time to grill until charred on either side. I must say, and I don't want to receive a single hate email, Mexican's overcook their meat! There, I said it... but you know what? I'm not mad - the thin steaks crispen at the edges which makes for another textural sensation, so how could I be mad!? You can cook your steak however you like, and just slice into thin slices ready to arrange on top of the Tlayuda.
Step 4: Arranging the tlayuda
Now all that's left is to arrange the ingredients on the crisp, baked tortilla. Start with the beans as a base and then freestyle however you like!
So, what more can I say? These Tlayudas are a simple, flexible and super authentic Oaxacan treat. Feel free to change up the ingredients you pop on top, In Oaxaca, one evening we ate a grasshopper Tlayuda, which was absolutely life-changing! Another night, we ate an artisanal corn version, so there's a world of toppings waiting for you to experiment with. For now, hopefully, you enjoy this Carne Asada & Refried Bean Tlayuda.
Put the beef (whole) into a zip-lock bag. Combine all the marinade ingredients and pour into the bag. Seal the bag then agitate coat all the meat. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, 24 hours is best.
For the refried beans
Drain the beans, and retain 1 cup of the liquid (if you need to top up the liquid with water, that’s OK).In a dry frying pan, toast the avocado leaves and arból chillies for a minute to release the aroma.Tip the beans, avocado leaves, arból and cooking liquid into a blender and blend to a smooth paste.Heat a large pan with the oil over a moderate heat and gently fry the onion and cilantro stems for 1-2 minutes until soft. Add the bean paste and the salt and stir well. Cook over a medium/low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid sticking. The beans should be thick! Check for seasoning and then leave to cool.
Baking the tortillas
Preheat oven to 350ºF/180ºCPlace 2 tortillas on a baking sheet (without overlapping). Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes until crisp. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and then leave to cool. You can do this in advance and leave, covered in a cool place - they'll stay crisp.
Cooking the steak
Using a BBQ grill or a hot griddle pan, cook the steak for 2 minutes each side (or more depending how thick your steaks are). Cook until you have some good char on the outside.Let the steak rest for 1-2 minutes, then thinly slice.
Arranging the Tlayudas
Using a spoon or spatula, smooth over a few spoonfuls of refried beans onto each tortilla. Scatter over some lettuce, cabbage and radish and then a few slices of steak. Finish with some Oaxacan cheese.When serving, offer a wedge of lime to squeeze over and if you're feeling generous, a little Mexican sour cream!
This recipe states a serving for 8 people... You may want one or two tlayudas per serve, so you do the math! You'll get 8 servings, you decide if you eat 1 or all 8!I used large 7" corn tortillas, you can use any size - just follow the same premise of decorating and eat them until you run out of toppings!