THE WORLDLY PULLMAN-TORTILLA TACOS
LET’S EAT NOW AND KILL EACH OTHER LATER?
What has this world come to? Or, all along, this is how we always have been?
I know. This is a food blog, rainbows and marshmallows and summer noodle salads. Politics, world affairs… are not palatable, instead, I should be talking about pumpkin pies. But you see, this is the thing. Talking about foods, in a time like this. How can we, so at ease, not taste the irony between the bettering tolerance for flavours on our dining tables, and the boiling hostility on just about everything beyond? Food-wise, in the history of mankind, the world has never come so open-minded, so intimately close to sharing and tasting the very same beliefs that are being enjoyed from the other side of the map. We can all agree on the cold silkiness of a piece of raw fish on a small nub of tangy rice. The cool creaminess of hummus meandering around the sizzling spiced kebabs. The good funk of cheese melting into the chewiness of a hand-torn crusty baguette. A sip of wine. It registers the same. The contentment in common. The smile radiating from our torsos. Ah, yes, that wonder you’re tasting over there, I’m feeling it right here too, understanding, happy-ing, at the same time, over the same things. How is it that we could relate so much in happiness, and yet, empathise so little in suffering. Can we really talk about foods, without thinking about politics? Or is it, let’s eat now and kill each other later?
Really bad things happened in Paris. Here we all mourned, in shock, in disbelief, compassionate. Meanwhile, the exact same really bad things, just as bad, sometimes worse, happens not that far away almost every week on that side, perhaps your side, stacking up silently like morning pancakes. Beirut 3 days ago, Ankara last month, other cities of dwindling lights. But… that was just inks on newspapers, no hashtags in its grief. Has even my sympathy, where I decide to spare it, become part of the problems? Why is it only you and I, yours and mine, and nothing in between? We’re all micros teeming on a speck of dust in this universe, but somehow, we still manage to divide beyond our means, to sever what is better as one, to split the atoms. I don’t. Wanna. Exist like this.
I came home from a trip last Thursday, before all this, with an idea of making quick tortillas out of pullman-toasts, just a friendly and benign weekday-meal inspiration that I thought you, wherever and whoever you are, might like too. It was meant to be convenient, utilising our pantry items that nowadays without us even noticing, have probably evolved to be much more worldly and exciting ahead of our prejudice. I had two stacks of pullman toasts made in Beijing, but most likely not far apart from what you’ll get from your grocery stores around the world. I had some halal ground beef (most beefs and lambs in Beijing are actually halal) which I then browned with a paste made of Japanese miso paste, Mexican chili powders, Spanish smoked paprika, American sriracha and other good stuffs. Then I made a cool and tangy salsa from diced avocados and Korean kimchi, plus a scallion slaw mixed with mayonnaise from France and gochujang chili paste. It was a true melting pot of edible opinions where, most times, the best things come from.
The flattened and toasted pullman-tortillas were soft, chewy and exceedingly more tortilla-like than I had previously hoped. In fact, I don’t think I would ever go back to buying the “real” but lifeless flour tortillas from the supermarkets that taste like paperboards, over this fake but delicious cheat that are tender and blanket-like. And however unseemly, confused, and chaotic the list of ingredients may sound, each and every tiny little tacos just tasted… well, delicious. It all works, together. Really, try it, because it’s not that difficult. The meaty savouriness that benefits from a hint of soy and chili. The sharpness of the scallions softened by mayonnaise then gets kicked up again with gochujang. The tangy kimchi with the coolness of the avocados. You could even swap it with Israeli hummus, and season the halal beef with curry pastes from Thailand. It will all, be good. Then everything together, hot and cold, high and low… hmmm, I know what you mean.
Then the spiciness, the burning sensation that my brain registers as a sense of pain that comes from the heat of all this… well, I suspect you can feel that, too.
- 2 large or 3 small shallots, peeled
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4 charred and peeled long red chilis, or 1 tbsp srirracha
- 1 tbsp miso paste
- 2 tsp Mexican chili powder
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 12.3 oz (350 grams) ground beef
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 1/4 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 large avocado, finely diced
- 1/3 cup kimchi, finely diced
- 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 cup thinly sliced scallion
- 1 tsp mayonnaise
- 1 tsp gochujang/Korean chili paste
- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- TO MAKE THE BEEF TOPPING: In a food-processor, pulse shallots, garlics, charred/peeled long red chilis (or sriracha), miso paste, chili powder, smoked paprika, olive oil and toasted sesame oil, until finely ground into a coarse paste. Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat, then cook the paste for a couple min until it starts to caramelised on the sides of the skillet. Add the ground beef, breaking it up a wooden spoon, then add soy sauce (*you may need less soy sauce if you used sriracha instead of chilis*), sugar and ground black pepper. Cook until the beef is nicely browned, then set aside until needed.
- TO MAKE THE TOPPINGS: Mix diced avocado, diced kimchi and toasted sesame oil together, then set aside. Soak the thinly sliced scallions in water for one min remove a bit of the sharpness, then drain really really well. Mix mayonnaise and gochujang together until even, then add the scallions and chili flakes, and mix until evenly coated. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
- *TO MAKE THE PULLMAN-TOAST TORTILLA: With a serrated knife, trim off the crusts of the pullman-toasts. Use a rollin-pin to flatten the toasts completely, then cut out disks with a large biscuit-cutter. Roll each disks again until the surface is completely flattened and smooth. The surfaces should almost look dough-like, smooth without much holes and textures. Heat up a stainless steel or iron skillet over medium heat until hot. Toast each pullman-tortilla ON ONE SIDE ONLY for 15~30 seconds until there are even browned marks all over, then set aside on a plate covered with a towel, and repeat with the rest (toasting both sides will make the tortilla too hard).
- Serve the pullman-tortilla with the mix of toppings, and wedges of lime.