A great taco will have, beyond delicious fillings, other elements that will enhance the experience. By having layers with different textures, fresh and cooked elements, colours and flavours, a simple taco can be elevated to a wonderful experience.
When talking about Mexican food, the sky’s the limit. The flavours are usually bold, savoury, satisfying and go hand in hand with salsas and toppings that complement each other and enhance something as simple as a quesadilla or as complex as a mole.
Salsas and toppings are as varied as the dishes that we pair them with. Some add freshness, some others add fiery tones. Some add acidity and others, sweetness. Such as wine pairing, most tacos are traditionally served with specific toppings but most can be interchangeable and all of them can be tailored to everyone’s taste.
Here are just some of the most common traditional toppings that will add an extra oomph to your tacos.
Salsas - The simplest way to add freshness and flavour to a taco or dish. Whether fresh or cooked, salsas are usually made with very basic ingredients that come together in a delicious form. Salsas are varied and recipes are endless. Every household makes its own versions and some keep their recipes as precious family treasures passed from one generation to the next. A good salsa can be the difference between the success of restaurants or taco stands. Salsa is the signature of the artist. If we could choose a single salsa to go with most tacos it would be a simple Salsa Mexicana. Flavour in a jar! Just tomatoes, chile, onion and coriander. If you want to make one yourself, find how you can make a quick and fresh pico de gallo on our Beans on Toast recipe. If you want to make it extra special, here’s a quick twist to this classic:
Roasted Red Salsa
½ White onion
1 garlic clove
Salt & Pepper
1 Heat up a non-stick or flat griddle pan and roast the tomatoes, onion, garlic and jalapeño. Turn them often until they are nicely charred. Be careful with the garlic. Remove them as they are charred and don’t let them burn.
2 Blitz them or mash them on a mortar until the consistency you like is achieved. Chunky is great! Season with salt and pepper and add fresh coriander once it has cooled down a bit. Tip: Squeeze a bit of fresh lime juice for added freshness.
Guacamole - The beloved avocado-based dip. So good and so recognized that it stands as a dish on its own. Easy to make, hard to get wrong. As long as there is a good avocado then the chance of failure is almost none. As with salsas, there are many ways to make it. Some prefer it pureed while others will only have it chunky. Just avocado or mixed with other ingredients such garlic or crunchy grasshoppers. For the easiest guacamole, just add a good dash of our Guacamole Mix. Instant flavour, nothing else needed. If you want to make your own, here’s a quick basic recipe that you can tailor as you like.
1 small tomato diced
1 Jalapeño pepper
2 Tbsp white onion, diced.
Salt & Pepper
Fresh lime juice
1 In a bowl dice or mash the avocado and add the tomato, onion, coriander and mix.
2 Add lime juice, salt and pepper little by little until the flavours are good for you.
Tips: A guacamole allows you to play with so many ingredients. You can add diced mango and give it a totally different twist. You can use other chillies. You can add garlic. Add a dash of olive oil or add fresh dill to it (extremely good and fresh). Endless possibilities!
Crema - Mexican crema is hard to source outside México but we could say that is quite similar to creme fraiche. Sour cream is also commonly used in many dishes. Crema adds a cooling and balancing effect to bold flavours. Tip: Mayo-crema is extremely good with fish tacos! Just mix equal parts of mayonnaise and creme fraiche with a little bit of salt. Check our Fish Tacos recipe to see how we use it.
Fresh and crunchy - Let’s close our eyes and think of a rich, juicy, meaty, spicy and melt in your mouth birria taco. As decadent as all that is, it needs something to really shine. The response is to add little cubes of fresh onion, coriander and a few drops of lime juice. These crunchy bits of freshness balance and complete a good taco. Lettuce, cabbage, coriander, onions, radishes, chilli peppers are just some of other fresh ingredients that are often laid on top of tacos.
Pickled Vegetables - Jalapeño is a classic pickle that is often found together with carrots and onions. Some will also pickle cauliflower or potatoes. Pickled onions are incredibly easy and quick to make. Whichever it is, the point of pickled vegetables as toppings is to add texture and tangy flavours to tacos. Here’s the quickest way to make pickled onions:
Quick Pickled Onions
1 Red or white onion
1 Tsp Oregano
½ Tbsp Sea salt
1 Thinly slice the onion
2 In a bowl mix the lemon juice, sea salt and oregano. Adjust if necessary.
3 Add the thinly sliced onions and mix well with the brine trying to keep the onions compacted and in touch with the lemon juice.
4 Cover and leave in the fridge until ready to use.
Cheese - Cheese as a taco topping is controversial. Even when some tacos do have cheese as a topping, most of the time it will be fresh cheese. The idea of melty cheese in Mexican food is often Tex Mex inspired. We strongly suggest trying feta, anari cheese or even ricotta on your tacos since these are more similar to our queso fresco or cotija. When we use melty cheese, it would be mostly as part of the dish such as with quesadilla or molletes (beans on toast). That said, there's is nothing wrong with adding whatever cheese you have at hand to tacos. Food is meant to make us happy, so go for it!
Grilled Veggies - Onions, spring onions, chillies, nopales (cactus) are just some of the most popular grilled veggies that are added to tacos. Grilling vegetables transform their flavours as they become soft but charred at the same time...they are just a beautiful thing! Have you tried a steak taco? Can’t have a steak taco without a side of grilled spring onions!
Limes & lemons - Mexicans adore lemons and limes. We have been known to keep a fresh lemon in our handbag just in case an opportunity arises to use it. This is not even a joke. Fresh limes are expected on every single taco stand. Freshly squeezed lime juice is a very important last touch to tacos, soups, snacks and more. Next to salsa, possibly one of the most common things to add to tacos!
What is your favourite taco topping? Which one would you choose if you could only pick only one? Do you have another favourite taco topping? Share it with us!
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