I really didn’t like TexMex. I blame it on overexposure to crappy quick service chain restaurants and the fact I never set food in Texas until a few years ago. But even more than TexMex, I really didn’t and still don’t like Taco Bell Mexican Pizza (although, as a tween I’d scrounge coins from my sister’s car and buy them on a regular basis). So, when I found myself in a TexMex restaurant in San Antonio, I was simultaneously intrigued and mortified to find a Mexican pizza on the menu.
In fairness, it wasn’t called a Mexican pizza, but a tlayuda, and, out of respect to Mexican culinary connoisseurs like Diana Kennedy, I should explain that a tlayuda isn’t a pizza but a traditional Oaxacan street food. It’s made by charring a handmade tortilla over a comal, smothering it with refried black beans, piling it with a heap of cabbage, and topping it with an assortment of garnishes from tomatoes and avocados to cecina or chorizo.
Honestly though, who has a comal? And, for the record, when you look at a tlayuda, it kinda resembles a pizza, no? Just swap a tortilla for pizza dough, refried beans for tomato sauce, Mexican cheese for Italian, and sprinkle on some fresh, uncooked toppings. But no matter how you slice it, an authentic tlayuda resides in a place far away any pizza much less that Taco Bell pizza.
But wait — let me get back to San Antonio. My food-loving, road trip companions (aka the Three Amigas) and I decided to try out the tlayuda, and while it met the mark for tradition, it just wasn’t very exciting. By the end of the meal, we were certain we could do better, so each of us amigas is posting our own improved take. Gaby’s and Lillian’s sound fantastic but here’s mine: a TexMex Tlayuda.
Typically made with a over-sized tortilla, I had a hard time finding a tortilla big enough that would also get as crisp as I’d like (I’m always in need of crunch in my food). Then, when I found the tortilla, it was seriously unwieldy to eat, so I decided to make this one individual-sized. Since my trip taught me not only about driving and drinking (not simultaneously, of course) but also about how rocking real TexMex food can be, it felt only fair to give my tlayuda a TexMex spin. So here it is: a blend of flavors reminiscent of a traditional tlayuda with a nod to Texas Caviar and topped with my favorite taco toppings. It’s nowhere near traditional but is my very personalized take on the dish. Perhaps we could coin it AidaMex? Or not.
Three Amigas TexMex Tlayuda Recipe
Makes: 2 to 4 servings
For the tlayuda:
3 teaspoons bacon drippings or canola oil, divided
6 ounces Mexican chorizo (optional)
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 cup sweet corn kernels (from 1 ear of corn)
1 cup small diced red bell pepper (from 1 medium pepper)
4 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups refried black beans
1 medium green onion (aka scallion), trimmed and thinly sliced
For garnish (all optional):
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves
Quick Pickled Red Onions (recipe below)
Crema or Sour Cream
1 medium ripe avocado
Heat oven to 450°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
If using chorizo, place 1 teaspoon of the drippings or oil in a medium nonstick pan and place over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add chorizo and break it into small pieces with a spoon. Cook, stirring rarely, until browned and crisp, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove chorizo to a plate with a slotted spoon, reserve drippings, and return to stove over medium-high heat(If not using chorizo, heat pan with half of the canola oil here). Add garlic and cumin, cook until fragrant, stir in corn and season with salt. Cook corn until golden brown, stir in bell pepper and cook until softened and golden brown. Remove from heat and stir in reserved chorizo and half of the scallions. Taste and add more salt as needed. (Recipe can be made up to here up to 1 day ahead — just store refrigerated in an airtight container)
Brush both sides of tortillas with any remaining drippings or remaining oil (or bacon drippings, if you keep those on hand (and you should)). Arrange tortillas on a baking sheet and bake until golden, about 5 minutes. Divide bean mixture among tortillas and spread evenly on each tortilla. Divide cheese among the tortillas then top evenly with the meat mixture. Bake until cheese is bubbly, topping is hot, and tortilla is golden brown and crisp on edges, about another 5 to 10 minutes.
Top with garnishes and serve.
Quick-Pickled Red Onions
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 medium red onions, halved and sliced paper thin
Combine all the ingredients, except the onions, in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved then bring to a boil and stir in the onions. Remove from the heat and let cool at room temperature until cool, at least 1 hour. (Can be made ahead up to 1 week ahead — just store refrigerated in an airtight container)