RECIPE: Chiltomate and cebolla asada [v]

A grilled tomato salsa and some tangy onions from the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico

Chiltomate has been a mainstay of Yucatecan cuisine since pre-hispanic times. The ancient Mayan version was probably a simple tomato, chilli and salt affair as both onions and coriander were brought over to Mexico by Europeans, but the version shown here has been the standard for centuries. Chiltomate is often served with grilled meat tacos, as is the cebolla asada.

Makes one large bowl of chiltomate and a small plate of cebolla asada
Tomato Four ripe ones
Onion One medium one, unpeeled
Chilli One Habanero or Scotch Bonnet, or generic mild green chillis for a less fierce version (boo!)
Coriander/Cilantro One generous handful, finely chopped
Lime One
Salt to taste

If you have a barbecue lit to cook meat over charcoal, while you’re waiting for the coals to “calm down” enough to cook the meat nicely, use that intense heat to roast the onion(s), and the tomato and chilli for your chiltomate. Alternatively – if you just want to knock up a quick salsa without lighting the barbecue – do your roasting over the direct flame of your hob.

The onion will take the most time, you don’t want it to be at all crunchy on the inside. Keep turning it over the course of about 20-30 minutes so it is completely and evenly blackened all over, it’s even faster if you bury the onion in the hot coals. It’s fine if the onion burns as you’ll be removing the outer layer, but the tomatoes and chilli should just be very well charred but not burned to a crisp. Once cooked through, place the onion inside a bag or tightly covered dish and allow it to finish cooking and cool down, then halve and peel.

The tomatoes and chilli can be grilled together, they don’t take more than about 5 minutes to become nicely chargrilled.

Take the cooked, unpeeled tomatoes and either pulse to the consistency of a chunky salsa in the blender or mash well with a pestle and mortar (molcajete) with a good pinch of salt. Be careful here, if the tomatoes are piping hot the blender lid can fly off when you turn it on.

Finely chop one of the onion halves. Reserve the other half for the cebolla asada.

Pour the blended tomatoes into a bowl (or serve in the molcajete for extra authenticity) and add the chopped onion along with half the coriander and the finely chopped roast chilli (more than chopping it’s a case of using a knife to make a small amount of chilli mush with some salt on the chopping board, then mixing with the rest of the ingredients. Add bit by bit and taste for heat, and use gloves and wash everything carefully afterwards)

Stir the chiltomate well and add salt to taste.

For the cebolla asada simply chop the remaining half of roast onion coarsely (the onion should be soft enought that this can be done with a few judicious hacks onto the onion with a sharp knife on the chopping board).

On a small plate dress the chopped onion with plenty of salt, a good squeeze of lime juice and chopped coriander and mix well.