The bleaker the weather, the brighter the food, I say. January can be a cold, wet, and dark second act following the holiday season. A perfect antidote is to create light and vibrant food to ward off the seasonal blues and balance out any holiday excess. These tacos channel the south and beyond the border with blackened shrimp piled on Baja-inspired tacos. They are vibrant and wholesome; not bogged down by any heavy sauces, cheeses, and meat. A citrusy salsa and fresh avocado are light and healthy accompaniments refreshing in their simplicity. The tacos are easy to prepare, only requiring just a fair amount of chopping, which is a simple activity that distracts from any inclement weather outside. And, perhaps best of all, they are fun to eat, inviting interaction and hands-on noshing.
The blackened spice blend is meant to have heat, but feel free to adjust the cayenne to your taste. In fact, make a double batch to keep on hand to season fish and chicken for later meals. Store any remaining spice blend in a jar in your pantry.
Spicy Shrimp Tacos Serves: 4 Active time: 25 minutes Total time: 25 minutes
Crema: 2/3 cup whole milk Greek yogurt 2 tablespoons mayonnaise 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 1 teaspoon Sriracha, or to taste Pinch of kosher salt
Salsa: 1 cup grape tomatoes, chopped 1 cup defrosted frozen yellow corn 1 small poblano pepper, seeded, finely diced 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 1 small garlic clove, minced 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
24 large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact optional 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided 1 large ripe but firm avocado, halved, sliced crosswise Flour or corn tortillas, warmed Cilantro leaves for garnish Lime wedges
Whisk the crema ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate until use.
In a separate bowl combine the salsa ingredients, and then taste for seasoning.
Combine the spices in a small bowl. Toss the shrimp with 1 tablespoon oil in a large bowl. Add the spices and stir to thoroughly coat the shrimp.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat. Carefully arrange the shrimp in one layer in the pan, without over-crowding (in batches if necessary). Cook until charred and cooked through the center, about 4 minutes, turning once.
To serve, arrange a few slices of avocado on a warmed tortilla. Spoon some of the salsa over, then top with shrimp. Drizzle with some of the crema. Garnish with cilantro and serve with the lime wedges for squeezing.
I confess that I often find Mexican food too dense for my garden-fresh sensibilities, so when I cook Mexican-inspired food at home, I lighten it up with lots of fresh vegetables, homemade salsa and herbs. We made these tostadas the other night and served the ingredients buffet-style, so everyone could pile on the garnishes to their taste.
Shrimp Tostadas with Black Bean and Corn Salsa
Fresh summer corn cut straight from the cob is sweet and crisp – no cooking required. When cutting the corn, lay the husked cob on a cutting board and carefully slice kernels off with a chef’s knife, rotating the cob. Sweep the kernels and milk into the bowl for the salsa. Serves 4 to 6.
For the shrimp:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Sriracha or hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
For the black bean salsa:
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
Corn kernels from one ear of corn
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
Juice of half a lime
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce, to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small handful cilantro sprigs, chopped
Whisk 1 tablespoon olive oil, lime juice, hot sauce, cumin, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Set aside.
Combine all of the salsa ingredients together in a bowl and mix well. Taste for seasoning.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet over medium high heat (or prepare grill for direct cooking over medium heat). Remove shrimp from the marinade, shaking off any excess and transfer to skillet 0r grill. Cook shrimp until pink on both sides and just cooked through, turning once, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a bowl.
To assemble tostadas, lay a lettuce leaf over the corn shell. Spoon the black bean salsa over the lettuce. Top with 2 to 3 shrimp. Spoon tomato salsa over. Garnish with avocado slices and fresh cilantro. Squeeze a few drops of lime juice over each tostada. Serve immediately.
It’s time to bring out the big guns. It’s been quite busy around here with little time to think, reflect and write. I’ve just finished my final edits on a cookbook project I’ve authored called “Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture” to be published by Gibbs Smith for the Spring of 2014. (Yes, a whole year away!) It’s also the finish of the school year, when numerous events notoriously conspire to collide. This year is particularly significant since my son is graduating from high school (what?!) It’s proving to be a bittersweet rite of passage, marked by prom and graduation celebrations, an 18th birthday, house guests and kleenex – with work and every day life somehow woven throughout our kodak moments. So for several reasons I share this recipe for Chipotle Short Rib Tacos. First, it’s dang good. The whole family will love this one – and your friends, your neighbors and house guests. Second, it’s one of my son’s favorites, so say no more. I posted this on TasteFood a while back, and like all good things in the cycle of life, it bears repeating, because repetition begets tradition – which helps to keep us rooted while life is flying by.
~ Jicama Slaw ~
Don’t be daunted when I tell you that you should begin this beef short rib recipe two days in advance of serving. The key ingredient in this recipe is time, and the most important technique you will be asked to master is patience. Waiting will be the hardest part, but I assure you the results are well worth it.
The first 24 hours requires making a knock-your-socks-off chipotle spice paste which is rubbed all over the short ribs. The meat is then tucked away in the refrigerator overnight where it will mingle and mull with the spices, and you, the cook, will exercise your patience.
The second day invites a little hands on kitchen work to satisfy your inner-cook. The meat will be seared in a hot pan and then smothered in an intoxicating stock of beer, tomato and onion. If you haven’t yet mastered the patience technique, you will have another opportunity to practice, when the pot of meat, soup and spice is banished to the oven where it will slow cook over several hours. As the meat braises, a heady aroma of spice and meat will fill your kitchen causing your stomach to rumble, your mouth to water and your nose to tingle, leading you to question whether you have the cojones to wait another day to consume this concoction.
You will dig deep within and find the inner strength to muster more patience. The braised meat will cool, while the soup is reduced to a viscous sauce – teasing and testing your will-power as you taste it for seasoning. Then, once again, the pot of beef will be stowed away in the refrigerator overnight, where the newly shredded meat will continue to absorb the flavors of the sauce. The following day, the congealed fat will have risen to form a tidy lid over the stew. It will be swiftly and eagerly removed, like the wrapping of a gift, to reveal a burnished red, intensely flavored stew. As you taste it your senses will light up, because these short ribs will be crazy good. You will feel happy, warm and sated. You will also feel content, knowing that you succeeded in making this dish, while the mouths you are feeding are humming with delight at the table – a deserving reward for your time and patience.
Beer Braised Chipotle Short Ribs with Jicama Slaw
This recipe is best made 2 days before serving. Feel free to double the portion for a crowd. Serves 4.
6 short ribs, 3 to 4 inches in length, about 3 1/2 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 bottle dark beer
1 (16-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
Salt to taste
Combine all of the rub ingredients together in a bowl. Smear over the short ribs. Refrigerate at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the short ribs in one layer in batches. Brown on all sides, then transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining short ribs. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion to the pot and sauté, 2 minutes. Carefully add the beer, scraping up any brown bits and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juices and bay leaves. Return ribs and any juices to the pot, submerging the meat in the stock. Cover and transfer to oven. Bake until meat is tender, about 3 hours.
Remove pot from the oven. Transfer the meat to a bowl and discard the bones.
Bring the stock to a boil and cook until reduced by half, skimming fat with a spoon. Add sugar and any accumulated juices from the meat to the stock. Taste for salt.
While the stock is cooking, and when the meat is cool enough to handle, shred the meat. Add along with any juices to the stock and heat through. (May be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate, covered. Skim solidified fat from the top before reheating.)
To serve, arrange a tortilla on a plate. Spoon Jicama Slaw down the center of the tortilla. Spoon meat over the slaw, and drizzle with some of the juices. Sprinkle with chopped avocado, cilantro leaves and juice from a lime wedge. Roll up and enjoy.
Jicama Slaw Makes 4 to 5 cups
3 cups shredded red cabbage
3 cups shredded jicama
3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 small sweet red pepper thinly sliced
1 jalapano pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
Combine the cabbage, jicama, green onions and peppers together in a large bowl. Whisk the lime juice, oil, Tabasco, cumin, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Pour over the cabbage and toss to combine. Refrigerate at least one hour and up to 6 hours. Before serving, stir in the cilantro and parsley.
Carnitas are perfect weekend food. Festive and fun to eat, they are great for a casual party or a large family gathering. Begin the meat early in the day so that it will slow cook in the oven while you go about your daily business. As the meat breaks down, it will be infused by the beer and chipotle braising liquid until it’s falling apart tender at the bone. A little shredding and a final turn in the oven with the reduced sauce turns out smoky, spicy, caramelized pork, ready to pile on tortillas with salsa and guacamole. If you have any leftovers, the meat may be used in sandwiches or loaded on homemade nachos the next day.
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 cup Mexican beer
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Warm flour or corn tortillas
Sliced green onions
Heat oven to 300 F. Mix the cumin, paprika, sugar salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the spices all over the meat. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a dutch oven. Brown the pork on all sides. Remove the pork. Add onion, garlic, beer, orange juice, chipotles, lime juice and brown sugar to the dutch oven. Bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits, then reduce heat to a simmer. Return the pork to the pot. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook until pork is very tender, about 3 to 4 hours, turning every hour or so.
Remove pork from the braising liquid and transfer to a cutting board to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, shred the meat. Place the meat in a baking dish. Strain the braising sauce into a saucepan. Boil until reduced to a sauce consistency. Drizzle over the shredded pork. Transfer the pork to oven and broil until the meat begins to caramelize, 3 to 5 minutes.
To serve, spoon some of the pork in the center of a tortilla. Top with guacamole, salsa, fresh cilantro and scallions. Roll up and eat.