"Today it's tacos de papa," Roland says as he slaps a bag of tortillas down on our stainless steel workspace. Daylight savings has kept the sun around for our evening meetings and the tiny kitchen in the back of Rubalcava's is filled with warm light coming from the back door. "So, what's new with you?" he asks.
Working on Make It Mexican with Roland is a little bit like therapy. Rubalcava's could not be more laid-back with families filing in and out, and kids chilling on the sidewalk, throwing back trays of tacos. Roland's care of the facility and the way that he goes back and forth throughout our meetings makes the world slow down just a little bit. He knows what details are needed and, is getting to be a pretty good hand model.
We were a little late to jump on Lent dishes, but tacos de papa are simple and the only supremely vegetarian dish we have made so far. Roland points out that there are a variety of applications for the tortillas in this dish, but he shows us three options and they all take very little time.
Step 1: Prep Your Ingredients
"There's basically just two things," Roland says laughing and gestures to the counter - tortillas and raw potatoes. By this point, the Weekly has made it clear that you ought to buy your tortillas from Northgate or your local Mexican mercado. Large, corn tortillas will do the trick.
Before you worry about prepping those, it's best to make your own mashed potatoes for the filling. Begin by washing and skinning your potatoes. Roland says that one potato should give you enough filling for six to eight tacos. You will then boil them until they are fork tender. He also recommends adding a little salt, garlic, cumin, oregano and some chiles to the water beforehand to help season them. Once they are nice and soft, pour out a generous amount of water and then get to mashing. You can also pour the water into a separate bowl in case they start to dry up. Ultimately they should be thick and creamy, not watery. Finish them off with a tablespoon of flour per potato to help it all stick together during the frying process.
Step 2: Pan Fry
Roland explains that this option is for people who want a leaner version of tacos de papa, of course, he also says that if you're making this carb-rich dish in the first place why bother? But, eh, it's the world we live in.
You begin by taking a raw tortilla and scooping about two tablespoons of mashed potato into the center of it. Smooth it out so that the center of the tortilla is covered, and then fold it over into a perfect taco pocket. Prepare as many as you would like and then fire up the stove on medium heat and pour a little bit of oil into your pan.
Place your tacos in the pan with enough room to breathe and give them five minutes on each side. "A little char is good," Roland says; so don't worry too much about overcooking. After the 10 minutes or so is up, you're almost finished.
Step 3: Oil Fry
If you want the best Tacos de Papa, and the kind that Roland ultimately recommends, you should fry them in a nice big ol' pot of oil. However, it does take a little bit more prep.
Make sure to only fill your pot halfway to avoid splatters and let it heat up to between 320 and 350 degrees. While that happens, take your tortillas, place them in a plastic bag and heat them up in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. This makes the tortillas much more pliable and easy to work with. Then fill them with the mashed potatoes just as your would for the pan fried version. Except now, you should thread a couple toothpicks through the ends so that they don't fall apart in the fryer.
You can also choose to make these in flauta form. Simply roll the tortillas instead of folding them and then skewer a couple between toothpicks, making sure that the edge is held up on the inside.
With either of these you will fry them for several minutes, until they are golden brown.
Step 4: Plating
Make sure to remove any toothpicks before plating and then set your tacos on top of rice and beans. For the folded, fried tacos, you can squeeze them open and add cabbage, avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Because the tacos are rather plain looking on their own, dressing your plate up with salsas and a little greenery will help it out tremendously.
Because this is a very kid-friendly dish, Roland also recommends making a salsa de niño. "It's for the kids, so they can feel grown up and put lots of salsa on their food, but it's not too spicy for them." I laugh and ask if that's a common thing to do for the little ones. "In my house it is!" he says, smiling. You can make a simple salsa de niño by blending a tomato with some salt, garlic, and mild chiles.
Step 5: Enjoy!
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Out of all the Mexican dishes we've reviewed so far, tacos de papa is one that does not get better with age. Roland says you can microwave them up for the next couple of days, but you'll never get that same crispy edge back.
If you find that it's too plain as a main dish, you can always serve them as an appetizer of have them alongside a stew like barbacoa de res or birria de Chivo.
No matter what you do though, cook and eat them with someone you love, who will make you slow down a little bit.