These tacos rojos, or red tacos, are filled with a mixture of tomatoes, tomatillos, and queso fresco. When accompanied by zesty salsa verde, they’re a satisfying (and beautiful) vegetarian meal. The color of the vibrant red tortillas comes from guajillo chiles and tomato, which get steeped and puréed to create the liquid used to make the tortilla dough. This recipe is lightly adapted from a similar one created by Pati Jinich of PBS’ Pati’s Mexican Table.
To make the salsa verde: Place a rack near the top of the oven and preheat the broiler.
Place the tomatillos, onion, serrano chiles, and garlic directly on a baking sheet. Broil the vegetables for about 10 minutes, until lightly charred and completely softened, flipping the vegetables over halfway through to ensure even cooking.
Once cool enough to handle, peel the garlic cloves and remove the onion skin. Add them to a blender or food processor along with the tomatillos, serrano chiles, cilantro, and salt. Purée until you can see the tomatillo seeds. Set aside to cool at room temperature while you prepare the tortillas and filling.
To make the red tortillas: Add the tomato, guajillo chiles, and garlic to a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes, or until the tomato softens and the chiles rehydrate.
Using tongs, place the tomato, guajillo chiles, and garlic into a blender or food processor, along with 1 cup (227g) of the cooking liquid (reserve the rest). Purée until smooth, about 30 to 60 seconds. Pass the liquid through a strainer and then measure 1 1/4 cups (304g) of the red guajillo liquid. If needed, add some of the reserved cooking liquid to reach this amount.
Weigh your masa harina; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. In a medium bowl, whisk the masa harina and salt to combine, then gradually stir in the 1 1/4 cups (304g) of red guajillo liquid. Knead to incorporate the ingredients and create a smooth, firm dough, about 1 to 2 minutes. If the dough sticks to your hands and feels wet, add more masa harina a 1/2 teaspoon at a time. If you roll a piece into a ball and squeeze it and the edges crack, add more water a 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Once the dough is the right consistency, cover tightly with plastic or reusable wrap and set the dough aside to rest for 30 minutes. While the dough rests, make the filling.
To make the filling: Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and serrano chile and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally to soften but not brown. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, tomatillos, and salt and stir often until they have released their juices and created a moist paste, about 7 minutes. A spatula dragged through the filling should leave a trail behind, exposing the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat. Add in the queso fresco and stir to combine. Set the filling aside.
Toward the end of resting time for the tortilla dough, heat a comal, a cast iron or nonstick pan, or griddle over medium to medium-high heat. The surface temperature should be between 375°F and 385°F. Cut two round or square pieces of food-safe plastic — from a plastic produce or zip-top bag — to a size about 1/2" larger than the diameter of your tortilla press (see “tips,” below). Set aside.
Divide the red tortilla dough into 16 pieces (about 30g each) and roll each piece into a ball. Place the balls on a clean work surface and cover them with plastic or a damp kitchen towel to keep them moist.
Working with one ball of dough at a time, sandwich it in the center of the two pieces of plastic. Place the plastic-enclosed dough on the bottom plate of a tortilla press. Gently squeeze the handle of the press until the dough is about 1/16"- to 1/8"-thick and about 5" in diameter. To achieve a nicely round tortilla, jiggle the handle of your press right before it closes completely. You may need to press it a couple of times to get the desired thinness.
To cook the red tortillas: Remove the top piece of plastic and then the bottom piece from the tortilla. Quickly but gently lay the tortilla on the hot pan. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfectly flat (you’ll get better as you practice), and don’t try to move it, which will cause it to tear.
Cook the tortilla until it releases easily from the pan and its color has lightened and become opaque, about 30 seconds; you don’t want the tortilla to brown or become freckled at this point.
Using a spatula, flip the tortilla and cook it until the bottom edges start to brown and some freckles appear, about a minute more.
Flip the tortilla one more time and cook until it puffs, 10 to 15 seconds. If the tortilla doesn’t puff on its own, gently poke it a few times near the center or press it gently with a dry kitchen towel. Once it puffs, let the tortilla cook for 15 to 20 seconds longer, until fully set and soft.
Remove the tortilla from the heat and wrap it in a clean kitchen towel or transfer it to a cloth-lined tortillero. Repeat the pressing and cooking process with the remaining dough balls, storing the tortillas in the kitchen towel or tortillero to keep them warm.
To assemble and serve: Heat a comal, a cast iron or nonstick pan, or griddle over medium to medium-high heat until evenly hot. Heat the oven to 200°F with a rack in the middle position. Place a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet and set aside.
Brush some of the oil onto the cooking surface. Place up to 2 tortillas flat on the cooking surface (they shouldn’t overlap) and about 2 tablespoons (30g to 35g) of filling on the center of each. Fold each tortilla over to form a taco. Cook for about 2 minutes before flipping each taco and cooking for an additional 2 minutes on the second side, until the tacos have sealed together with melted cheese. Place the tacos on the baking sheet with the cooling rack, cover with aluminum foil, and place in the oven to keep warm while you repeat with the remaining oil, tortillas, and filling.
Serve tacos rojos with a generous helping of salsa verde spooned over the top, along with a drizzle of Mexican crema. Enjoy the cooked tortillas the same day by keeping them wrapped in a kitchen towel or tortillero.
Storage information: Store leftover various components of the tacos rojos separately and then assemble (step 16 onward) as needed. Refrigerate leftover tortillas, wrapped in a kitchen towel and sealed in a plastic bag for 2 to 3 days, or freeze for 2 to 3 months. To reheat tortillas, preheat a comal, pan, or griddle for 5 minutes over medium heat and warm the tortillas for about 1 minute on each side. Both the filling and the salsa can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. The filling can be reheated over low heat in a skillet on the stovetop.
Tips from our Bakers
Masa harina (translation: dough flour) is flour made from corn that’s been soaked in a solution of slaked lime (nixtamalized) to loosen its hull and soften it, which improves its texture and helps release its nutrients. The soaked corn is ground into a paste (masa), dried, and then ground again, this time into a fine flour. Due to the corn’s special treatment, neither cornmeal nor corn flour are good substitutes for masa harina.
Do you really need a tortilla press to make these corn tortillas? For best results, yes, but a heavy skillet or Dutch oven that has a flat bottom that’s at least 6” in diameter can work in a pinch. Place the dough between your two rounds or squares of plastic then center the skillet over the dough. Press the dough with the skillet as evenly as possible until it’s 1/16” to 1/8” thick and about 5” in diameter. You may need to press several times to get the desired thinness.
If you’re having a hard time transferring the tortillas to the hot pan, press them between two parchment squares, peeling off one square and using the second to transfer the tortilla to the heat before removing it. One downside of this technique is that the parchment tends to leave marks on the tortillas.