Tacos Mineras Recipe
¡Buenos días! (or tardes! or noches!, whichever is appropriate!) We’re back with another Mexico-inspired sandwich recipe for you this month. We’ve been in Guanajuato for the last four weeks, and today’s recipe is our take on a classic dish from that region. Our recipe is tacos mineras, which is inspired by the classic guanajuatense dish enchiladas mineras, named after the miners for whom this dish was originally created. Let’s dive into the history to learn more!
What is now the city of Guanajuato has been around since pre-Columbian times. It was settled by native tribes and was occupied and ruled by various groups, including the Aztecs, until the Spanish came along in the 1500s and discovered gold and silver in the region. With that discovery, Guanajuato became central to Spain’s Mexican holdings. Mining still actually takes place here to this day, though in a much smaller capacity since most mines have been exhausted, their value depleted.
While great wealth historically flowed through Guanajuato, it was, of course, confined to the control of very few. This means that most of the people living here were poor and many worked in the silver and gold mines to make their living. Most of Guanajuato’s inhabitants have always been simple people just looking to get by to raise their families and live their lives contentedly.
Enchiladas mineras was one of the traditional dishes that the miners’ wives would make for them when they returned home from a long day working underground. The dish is vegetarian and mainly consists of fried potatoes, fried carrots, enchilada sauce, corn tortillas, onions, and ranchero cheese (known stateside as queso fresco). Since this site is focused on sandwiches, we’ve remixed the ingredients from this enchilada dish into a handheld version: a taco. Also, we have no oven at our current domicile so we couldn’t have made enchiladas, anyway. Adaptation is one of the joys of living on the road!
Ingredients & Procurement
Now let’s take a closer look at the ingredients and how procured them. We gathered our veggies from the local mercado (market), and then we purchased the remaining items from the local chain grocery store. It’s not typical for us to have purchased our ingredients from somewhere so unremarkable, but sometimes that’s how procurement goes. While there are a variety of smaller specialty food shops and corner stores here in Guanajuato, we didn’t really need specialty items (not even meat) for this dish, and finding simple ingredients in corner stores can be hit or miss, especially if your grasp of the local language is tenuous. Therefore, a grocery store chain—Comercial Mexicana—made the most sense for the ingredients we needed that weren’t veggies.
The mercado here in Guanajuato is named Mercado Hidalgo. The building is massive and has been around since the early 20th century. Fun fact: it was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (yes, of Eiffel Tower fame) and built at a time when iron and steel were considered an art form, not just practical ways of constructing a building. Today, the maze-like building houses many different types of stalls selling everything from clothes and toys to meat and vegetables. It’s interesting to wander around in there and explore the offerings. There’s something interesting—and at times surprising, especially for Americans—around each corner.
The remaining ingredients, as we’ve said, were procured from the grocery store. Let’s explore those in more detail. In an effort to make this recipe easier and more approachable for you, we opted to use pre-made enchilada sauce. That and we don’t have a blender here so we can’t puree anything, which is a requirement when making enchilada sauce from scratch. We found a tasty guajillo chile sauce, which is essentially known enchilada sauce everywhere else (the stuff you buy at your grocery store may not actually be made with guajillo chiles, but that’s okay – it’s close enough in flavor). Note the rich red color. It was slightly spicy on its own but perfectly balanced once in the dish.
The cheese, as we said before, is called ranchero cheese here but is known as queso fresco in the states. It’s a fresh cheese (hence the name) meaning it hasn’t been aged for weeks or months like a cheddar or other firmer cheeses are. A fresh cheese is only aged for a few days. This cheese comes in a small wheel, as you see below, but crumbles easily. Ranchero cheese has a mild flavor and is the perfect complement to the bold flavors, spicy flavors of the enchilada sauce and the pickled jalapeños, which we used for garnish.
Finally, a word on tortillas, perhaps THE dietary staple of Mexico. It’s amazing how cheap and delicious the tortillas are here. We pay $10 pesos for 1 kilogram of tortillas. That’s the equivalent of paying $0.50 USD for 2.2 pounds of tortillas. That’s amazing, and oh-so-tasty. While there are some great tortilla shops around the city, we have to give props to the grocery store for their tortillas. They’re made fresh, in-store, throughout the day. When we purchase them, they’re still hot, and they last four to five days in the fridge. They’re an essential part of the Mexican diet as well as our diet while we’re here.
Now let’s move on to preparation and get to cooking! Overall, this dish is fairly simple to execute. The most complicated part of this is the deep frying that must take place for the potatoes and carrots (yes, you can deep fry carrots).
If you have a Fry Daddy or any other type of electric fryer, you’re in luck because it will come in very handy for this recipe. If you don’t have one, don’t be deterred: frying manually is not difficult, and that’s how we did it because of course we don’t have an electric fryer here in Guanajuato. The main thing to keep in mind with frying is temperature control. Use a deep frying thermometer if you have one. Otherwise, just pay attention (which you should be doing anyway because you’re frying!), and you’ll be fine. Work smart around hot oil, and things will work out well in the end.
Overall, this dish is really quite simple, execution-wise, but it’s full of flavor and taste, which is why it’s one of our favorite dishes. Once the frying is done (which is about 2/3 of the cooking time, by the way), then you’ll just sauté a little onion and garlic, mix with enchilada sauce, add the fried items. What you have at this point is a deliciously spicy mix of fried potato and carrot, coated in enchilada sauce and sautéed onion and garlic. Try not to eat all of this before you actually assemble the tacos!
Why? Because the tacos are the best part, especially when you consider the garnishes that accompany them. Garnishes are truly one of our favorite parts about Mexican cuisine. Not only do you get to eat tasty tacos, but then you top them with ranchero cheese, freshly diced white onion, thinly sliced avocado doused with Tajín seasoning mix, and the best part: pickled jalapeños. These aren’t the shabby pickled jalapeños you get on ballpark nachos. No way! These are jarred with pickled carrots and onions and are packed either whole or quartered, like you see below. Have fun with your garnish plate: add lettuce, sour cream, or whatever else you best enjoy on tacos.
Dishes like tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas are the simple food of regular people here in Mexico. Like so many other places, here food is love, and the miners’ wives conceived of this combination of vegetables as the ideal balance between ingredient cost and nutrition. They realized the importance of providing their miners a hearty, wholesome, and filling meal after their back-breaking work in the silver and gold mines. Today dishes like these thrive because they’re still very relevant in people’s lives. Tortillas, whether used to make enchiladas or tacos, are still a fundamental part of the Mexican diet, as evidenced by their prevalence, price, and the numerous ways and places they’re used throughout the many cuisines of Mexico. Like many culinary traditions around the world, enchiladas, er, tacos mineras has its roots in more than cooking; the dish is the result of culture, history and economy, as much a part of Guanajuato as the mines that gave it its name.
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable oil (use more if needed)
- 1/2 pound white potato (~1 medium), cut into 1/2" cubes (keep peelings on for better structure)
- 1/2 pound carrots (~2 large), cut into 1/4" thick half-moons (keep peelings on)
- Fine salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup diced white onion
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1/2 cup red enchilada sauce
- 6 hard or 12 soft corn tortillas, or 6 flour tortillas (your choice)
- 1/2 cup crumbled ranchero cheese (sub queso fresco, if needed)
- 1/2 cup diced white onion
- 1 cup shredded lettuce (optional)
- 4 to 6 pickled jalapenos
- 1 avocado, sliced
- Tajín seasoning, to taste
Note: If you're using hard corn tortillas, heat them in the oven per package directions. If you're using soft corn tortillas or flour tortillas, heat only if that's your preference using your normal heating method. You may only want to pre-heat the oven now and heat them when it's closer to serving time.
Frying the potatoes and carrots:
- If you have a Fry Daddy or any other electrical fryer, that's recommended over frying manually, for both temperature control and general safety. Fill to the proper line with oil and heat to 350 ºF.
- However, if you must use a skillet: heat the vegetable oil in a skillet--preferably a 10 to 12 inch skillet--to about 350 ºF.
- From hereon the directions are basically the same: Once the oil is heated, add the potatoes to deep fry. You may need to work in batches, depending on the size of your skillet or electric fryer. Cook each batch of potatoes for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Stir gently but often to prevent sticking. Carefully remove the potatoes from the frying oil and set the them on a plate lined with paper towels, to cool. Sprinkle with salt while the potatoes are fresh from the oil.
- Repeat the frying process with the carrots, cooking for another 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Again, cook in batches if needed. Stir gently but often to prevent sticking. Carefully remove the carrots from the frying oil and set them on a plate lined with paper towels, to cool. Sprinkle with salt while the carrots are fresh from the oil.
- Once you're done frying, remove the skillet from the heat (or unplug your electric fryer) and allow the oil to cool in a safe place away from the rest of the cooking action.
Creating the taco filling:
- After the frying is done, use different large skillet for this next step. Heat the two tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat.
- Next, add the chopped onions and cook until softened, stirring often, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the garlic, at this point: stir well and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the enchilada sauce and stir well to combine.
- Once the enchilada sauce is heated and slightly bubbly, add the fried carrots and potatoes to the mixture. Stir gently so as to not break up the carrots and potatoes. You only want to coat them.
Plating the dish:
- If you want to heat your soft corn or flour tortillas, do it now. Also, if you're opting for hard corn tortillas and haven't heated them yet, now's the time.
- Add about a third of a cup of taco filling to each corn tortilla (you may want to double up the corn tortillas if you're using soft corn tortillas). Top the taco with crumbled cheese, diced onion, and shredded lettuce (if using). Repeat until you’ve made all of the tacos, portioning three per plate.
- Garnish the plate with pickled jalapeño and sliced avocado topped with Tajín seasoning (sub your favorite seasoning blend if you can't find Tajín). For an extra special treat, add your pickled jalapeño and sliced avocado on the tacos.
Note: Cook time assumes you only need to cook one batch each of potatoes and carrots. Add 10 minutes per batch to cooking time.
Our recipe is informed by these Enchiladas Mineras recipes: