The essentials

The essentials

Raph Rashid
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Lauren Bamford

Before my parents would let me operate the gas stove – when I was around age 11 – I was allowed to use the electric sandwich maker. I started with the standard sandwich – grilled cheese – then moved on to baked beans etc. But then I needed more. Before too long I was loading the sandwich maker with all types of stuff. I was frying eggs, then I started to grill chicken in it, then I moved on to skewered meats. I really pushed that thing as hard as I could and, in many ways, its principles have stuck with me throughout the years – the limitations in gear both then and now in my food trucks have pushed me to be more creative.

I never had fancy pots and pans when I started to cook and you definitely don’t need any for the recipes in this book. I am lucky that over the years I have managed to score some great pots, pans and knives from family and friends as gifts. However, as great as they are, by no means do they dictate the way I cook.

A couple of cheap assets for the kitchen are the tortilla press and a cast-iron frying pan. The cast iron can really take the heat, which is great for tortillas and also getting great colour into your food.

Tortilla press

Making corn tortillas: Tortillas start as dried field corn kernels, which are put through a process called nixtamalisation. The kernels are cooked in a lime solution at just below boiling point, then steeped in the same solution. The corn is then ground into fresh flour for tortillas. The taste of tortillas made from freshly ground corn is amazing. At home I use masa, prepared corn maize flour, to make my tortilla dough.

You can make corn tortillas using a rolling pin, but you get better results using a tortilla press. You can buy good cast-iron tortilla presses online or for a reasonable price from Mexican food retailers. If you’ve never used a tortilla press before it can seem a bit tricky, but it’s actually really easy. A tortilla press is a simple device – two flat plates with a hinge at one side and a lever on the other side to press the plates together.

Using a tortilla press: Once you’ve made your dough, open up the tortilla press and put down a sheet of baking paper on the base plate. Put the ball of dough in the centre, cover with another sheet of baking paper, then use the lever to press down on the dough. One side of the tortilla will probably be slightly thicker than the other, so open up the press again, rotate the tortilla 180 degrees, and gently press down again to even out the tortilla. Carefully peel off the top layer of baking paper and turn the tortilla into your palm, then peel away the other layer of baking paper.

Tortillas are traditionally cooked on a comal – a flat, cast-iron griddle – but a non-stick frying pan is fine to use at home. Heat the pan to medium and cook the tortillas for about a minute on each side then construct your tacos, burritos, enchiladas etc., as desired!


With the growth of new cuisines in Australia, we are now finding many more varieties of fruit and vegetables being grown or imported. I am particularly happy with the quality of some of the dried chillies that are arriving. We also have some great farms growing really nice habaneros and jalapeños.

Growing up, I found that chillies were either super hot or not hot at all. The finer characteristics were not something I ever thought about until I started travelling and became mesmerised by the smell of fresh and dried chillies in markets around the world.

The names of most Mexican chillies change depending on whether they are fresh or dried. The jalapeño, for example, becomes a chipotle when it is smoked and dried. Here are some notes on the chillies I use in my recipes. You can order the dried chillies from lots of online retailers across the world.


You’re probably already familiar with the jalapeño. Most supermarkets sell jars of pickled jalapeños, which are great in burgers, tacos and pretty much anything you want to add a spicy kick to. Fresh jalapeños are a vibrant green but change to a deep red when fully ripe and are great in fresh salsas and salads. I’ve often seen fresh jalapeños, when they’re in season, at the local supermarket – so keep an eye out for them.


A chipotle is a dried, smoked jalapeño. Chipotles have an awesome, intensely smoky aroma and flavour and, using just a little, can add amazing depth to a dish.

Chipotle en adobo

Chipotle en adobo is simply a chipotle marinated in a tomato-based sauce – but the flavour is out of this world. It’s smoky, spicy, rich, earthy, tomatoey – and a small amount is all you need to transform a dish.


The habanero is a legend among chillies – it’s one of the hottest chillies in the world. Habaneros are so fiery that your hands will burn for days if you don’t use gloves when preparing them – so make sure you do. They also have quite a fruity, citrusy flavour so they can really lift a salsa.


Guajillos are dried mirasol chillies. Waxy-skinned and reddish/burgundy in colour, they’re used in all sorts of Mexican dishes. With a moderate heat and earthy, slightly tart flavour, they add another dimension to sauces and cooked salsas.


These meaty, deep reddish-brown chillies are hot, but also quite sweet. They’re dried poblano chillies, and are one of the most commonly used chillies in Mexican dishes.

Chile de árbol

Chile de árbol is a super-hot, long, thin red chilli. It’s often ground up and used in condiments, seasonings and salsas.

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