My husband and I love Topolobamba in Glasgow. We went there on our fourth date – my choice. If you’re ever in Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Aberdeen, you absolutely have to go if you’re gluten-free. They mark non-GF items as non-GF, and there are really hardly any items you can’t eat. It’s the best Mexican restaurant I’ve found near us and they do excellent chicken tinga tacos.
Topolobamba is the only place I’ve ever seen tinga on a menu. After I had it for the first time, I looked up recipes to make tinga sauce at home myself but some of the ingredients were a little hard to get hold of. Mexican food is a popular in Scotland but it’s not as big as it is in the USA.
There’s a specialist Mexican/American food shop in Glasgow West End called Lupe Pintos which sources authentic ingredients you can’t find elsewhere easily. The authentic tinga recipe calls for tomatillos which I am able to get in a can there but I don’t go to the West End often enough to be able to make those recipes.
After a little experimenting, I’ve made my own with some more accessible ingredients than you normally find in tinga sauce.
How do you make authentic tinga?
Real Mexican tinga sauce gets its unique taste from tart tomatillos (green tomatoes) and chipotle chillies in adobo sauce.
These two ingredients are really tricky to find in your average supermarket in Scotland.
Generally, to make authentic tinga, you’ll roast red tomatoes and tomatillos. You sautee onion and garlic and then add the roasted tomatoes and tomatillos to the pot, alongside chipotle chillies in adobo sauce. The sauce is seasoned with oregano, cumin, salt and pepper, and it simmers until thickened.
It’s most popular with chicken (tinga de pollo) and served on top of crispy corn toastadas with Cotija cheese.
What have I done differently in this recipe?
Tomatillos are tart. Tangy. I’ve tried to replicate their flavour by adding a touch of lime and apple cider vinegar at the end of cooking. It’s not the same, but we don’t all have a local Lupe Pintos and £3.50 spare for a can!
I’ve also subbed out the chipotle chillies in adobo sauce for chipotle paste. I was able to find chipotle in adobo in Whole Foods when that was open in Giffnock, but they have since shut down and I am still not over it. Chipotle paste is available in most supermarkets so is an easy swap.
I add in smoked paprika for an extra dose of smokyness in absence of the adobo sauce.
What can I do with this tinga sauce?
I am an advocate of batch cooking so I like to make a big batch of this recipe and portion it off into tiny containers for freezing. Whenever I fancy a dollop on a burrito bowl (like my vegan burrito bowl with tinga sauce), I just microwave it for a few minutes and I’m good to go. It’s a nice contrast to a cool quick tomato salsa, which you could serve as a starter with tortilla chips.
I also like to add chicken to the sauce. I poach a few chicken breasts in while it is simmering, remove them when they’re cooked, shred them with two forks, and I add them back in. It’s so good served with brown rice, a dollop of chunky guacamole and a wedge of lime.
For a vegetarian or vegan alternative, you can fry off some meat-free pieces, like Quorn, Iceland’s No Chick pieces or Oumph! chunk or similar, TVP (soy chunks), or even just some beans or lentils.
It would also work fantastic in a pasta sauce. Mix it with some plain unsweetened Greek or natural yoghurt, or cream, and heat through some penne with some green veg to shake up your weeknight meal plan. Smoky and spicy!
Is this sauce really spicy?
This sauce is not for the faint-hearted. It’s very spicy! Just look at the depth of colour in that chipotle paste! If you fancy something with a kick but you’re not sure whether you want to give this recipe a bash, just use a quarter or half the amount of chipotle paste I recommend in the ingredients.
Please post your tinga sauce creations for me to see!
Spicy Mexican Tinga Sauce
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium white onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 tbsp chipotle paste
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 400g tin tomatoes
- 125 ml chicken or vegetable stock
- Juice of one lime
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- Bay leaf
- Heat oil in a pot on a medium heat. Fry onion for around 8-10 minutes until softened.
- Fry off garlic for a further 2 minutes, and then add the paste, puree and spices and cook through for a further 2 minutes.
- Pour in the tinned tomatoes and heat through for a few minutes.
- Add stock, lime juice, vinegar and stir to combine.
- Take the pot off of the heat and use a hand stick blender or pour it into a blender to blitz the mixture into a smoother sauce.
- Place the pot back on the heat, add the bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling, reduce to a simmer, and cook for around 15 minutes until thickened. It will be very spitty so have a pot lid handy to protect yourself from volcanic tinga sauce eruptions!