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As I’ve described a couple of times before, my early exposure to tacos, and in fact any Mexican food at all, was through hard shell tacos with beef mince, packaged seasoning and lettuce (maybe with some grated cheese and carrot). I’m not criticising this classic by the way – it was also how I introduced my kids to Mexican food, and in fact was their intro to any spicy food, so as I look at Mr M’s hot sauce collection, I’m definitely grateful! I’m still pleased to say however, that these are a million miles from the tacos I grew up with.

Over the years since those first hard tacos when the children were little we largely made the switch to soft tacos – whether with corn or wheat tortillas – and made tacos with chorizo and avocado, tacos de carnitas, and these, fish tacos, with a tofu variant. We also have burritos or fajitas, and sometimes enchiladas – though not as often, as while I love the flavours, many of the Tex-Mex classics, with large amounts of cheese and cream, are overwhelmingly rich for my tastes. Plus, and importantly, meals like enchiladas where you bake a trayful are not as easily adjusted for different tastes.

All of the tacos we eat on the other hand are completely customisable – like pizza, everyone can choose their own toppings. Generally we have some sort of protein, a crunchy vegetable or salad, another optional vegetable, and some sort of sauce. You can see the various permutations in the pictures here, but for fish tacos, we usually have a cabbage slaw, a coriander pesto/sauce, a sour cream/yoghurt sauce, sometimes cherry tomatoes, and avocado.

Now tacos are generally seen as a quick weeknight meal. However, while the full combination of toppings is pretty fabulous, I can understand it doesn’t look like your average Wednesday night. I suggest two options. One is to make part of this ahead – both the pesto and sour cream sauces can be made ahead, as can the slaw dressing. The other option is to pick the toppings that work for you and leave, or buy, the others – if you’re not that keen on slaw but love avo and tomatoes, just go with those; if you love slaw but are in a rush, buy a salad kit etc etc. The one addition that I think really makes these is the pesto, but even there you can buy coriander pesto dip, just add a big squeeze of fresh lime over everything!

Fish tacos

  • 500g white fish fillets (I’ve used flathead and whiting, but anything reasonably firm would be fine), or firm tofu
  • fine cornmeal seasoned with cumin, salt, and pepper (you can use polenta, but it’s a little crunchy)
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander
  • 1 1/2 Tbs (~15g) sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/2 Tbs (~20g) pepitas
  • 1 lime
  • 120ml olive oil
  • 2 tsp mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbs rice vinegar (or other vinegar if you prefer)
  • 1/8 large green cabbage (~250g)
  • 1/8 large red cabbage (~250g)
  • 1 spring onion
  • 150g sour cream/Greek yoghurt
  • 1 small or 1/2 large clove garlic
  • 12 small corn or wheat tortillas
  • 1 avocado (optional)
  • cherry tomatoes (optional)
  • extra lime and hot sauce to serve

Spread some cornmeal over a plate, and season with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of cumin. Pat fish fillets dry, especially if defrosted, and coat with the seasoned cornmeal. You can also toss together in a plastic bag. If using tofu, slice about 1cm thick and coat in the same way.

Zest the lime. Wash coriander thoroughly, especially the base of the bunch around the roots if it has them, and spin or pat dry. Put half the leaves, plus all the stalks and peeled roots in a small food processor with the seeds and 1/4 tsp sea salt. Pulse until a very rough paste. Add the juice of half the lime, plus half the oil, and blitz until mostly smooth, but retaining a bit of texture. Taste and add more salt if needed.

In a large bowl, whisk together the juice of the other lime half with mayonnaise, vinegar, and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Whisk in remaining oil. Finely slice cabbage and spring onions and add to bowl. Chop remaining coriander and add as well. Stir together and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and a few grindings of pepper if needed.

Stir together sour cream/yoghurt, lime zest and grated/finely chopped garlic with a pinch salt. Slice avocado and halve tomatoes if using.

Fry fish in a non stick pan over medium heat with a little oil until golden both sides and it flakes with a fork. Fry tofu until golden if using. Remove fish, and in the same pan, with no extra oil, cook tortillas for about 20 seconds each side until softened.

Serve tortillas with fish/tofu, coriander pesto, slaw, sour cream, avocado and tomatoes, and let people assemble themselves. You will probably have remaining sauces, but they keep well in the fridge, and are great to spread on sandwiches, or dollop on other meals such as chicken or baked potatoes.

makes 10-12 small tacos