Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tacos Al Pastor

Tacos Al Pastor are a childhood favorite of my husband's. They are pork tacos served in taquarias across Mexico but are thought to have originated from Labanese imigrant's shawarma. The pork is slow roasted on a spit, much like lamb served in greek gyros, with a pineapple atop so that the juices run down and coat the pork as it cooks.

This cooking method has prevented me from ever trying to replicate the taco. Obviously, I don't have the equipment for it. But the May issue of Bon Appetite and then the June issue of Gourmet both featured recipes trying to replicate the flavors of Al pastor using a backyard grill. Hooray!

I chose to try the recipe from Bon Appetite, and it was fantastic. I chose to pair it with a mixed green and fresh pea salad with a lime vinagrette, Rick Bayless's Guajillo salsa, fresh corn tortillas from La Hacienda here in Nashville, and a chilled Rhone Rose.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that these were slammin. My husband claims they are the best he's had outside of Mexico. He'll frequently order Al Pastor at various Meixcan joints, and we're always disappointed, but not these!

large white onion, halved
1 pineapple, peeled, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup guajillo chile powder ( I used 2 T arbol chile powder, because I had it on hand)
3 garlic cloves, halved
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large or 2 small chipotle chiles and 1 to 2 teaspoons adobo from canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 2 1/2-to 3-pound boneless pork loin, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Corn tortillas
Lime wedges

Coarsely chop 1 onion half.

Coarsely chop 2 pineapple rounds, discarding core; cover and chill remaining pineapple.

Place chopped onion and chopped pineapple in blender. Add orange juice and next 7 ingredients; puree marinade until smooth. Marinate pork in fridge at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat).

Grill remaining pineapple until warmand slightly charred, 4 to 6 minutes perside.
Grill pork with some marinadestill clinging until slightly charred andcooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side.Transfer pineapple and pork to worksurface; chop pineapple into 1/2-inchcubes, discarding cores. Chop pork.Transfer to platter; toss to combine.

Meanwhile, finely chop remaining

onion half and place in medium bowl.Add cilantro; toss to combine. Grilltortillas until warm and slightly charred,about 10 seconds per side.

Serve pork-pineapple mixture with

onion-cilantro relish, Smoky Two-ChileSalsa, and lime wedges.

Test-kitchen tip: To make your own

guajillo chile powder, finely grind about6 large dried seeded guajillo chiles in aspice mill to yield about 1/4 cup powder.
Grill pork with some marinade still clinging until slightly charred and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side.

Transfer pineapple and pork to worksurface; chop pineapple into 1/2-inchcubes, discarding cores. Chop pork.Transfer to platter; toss to combine.

Meanwhile, finely chop remaining onion half and place in medium bowl. Add cilantro; toss to combine. Grill tortillas until warm and slightly charred,about 10 seconds per side.

Serve pork-pineapple mixture with onion-cilantro relish, Salsa, and lime wedges.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Red Lentil Soup

I know. May in Tennessee is not technically soup season. However, I came across this recipe a few months ago in the NY Times. At the time, I had thought you could only find red lentils in ethnic markets. While I live about a mile from Nolensville Rd., the meca of ethnic food in Nashville we've been very very very busy this spring and have had a hard time scheduling another errand. About two weeks ago, a random woman asked me to help her find quinoa at Whole Foods (I apparently look like I know my carbs....don't know how I should feel about that). I led her to the bulk aisle and found quinoa in the top row. And HARK, right next to it was red lentils. I am constantly buying things from the bulk section and I never noticed them because the top row is above my head. So I bought some and made this soup.

This soup actually works in warm weather because of the flavors. Lemon and cilantro freshen it up. B loves lentil soup, but I generally have mixed feelings about it. The color of normal lentils is less than appealing, and I find many versions are too thick and rely too much on the flavor of bacon with no other complexity. This soup was really incredible. It fixed all of my lentil soup "Issues". I encourage all of you to make it. Serve with some grilled pita or naan and a side salad made from this season's fresh greens and radishes.

Source: Melissa Clark, NY Times

3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, more to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro.


1. In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.

2. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.

3. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

4. Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.

5. Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mango Fruit Salsa

Is it obvious that the weather has turned warm here for good? Warm to me means MANGO (insert man in shiny pants slapping his bottom). MANGO. And I am all about the yellow mango, aka, champagne mango, aka Ataulfo mangos. You can find them in whole foods and even Publix, Teeter, or Kroger when they are in season like RIGHT NOW. They are smaller and more tart than a normal mango. I really love a lot of acid in my food. Always have and always will. I first had yellow mangos when I visited my husband's family for the first time in Mexico City. They probably just thought of me as "the crazy lady who doesn't speak Spanish by the fruit bowl". And now they probably think of me as "the crazy daughter in law who doesn't speak Spanish by the fruit bowl....but she has been making a lot of Mexican food." I'd like to say it is in preparation for our future learn their heritage....ah but it's more like because there is a lot of great produce is Mexico and I dig that.

My grad school roomie, Brandi, originally found this recipe. Isn't it funny how people in our lives affect what we eat. I associate each one of my roomies with a distinct style of eating / cooking and each has left a definite mark on how and what I cook. Don't remember where this recipe comes from, but everyone I know requests it. Eat it with chips, or by the spoon, or by the bucket.

1 large or 2 small mangoes, cubed
3 kiwis, cubed
0.5 red onion, diced
kernels 1 ear of corn, blanched and cut off cob
0.25-0.5 cups cilantro chopped
Juice 1 lime
salt to taste

Mix and shovel into mouth

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Eggplant Method Confirmed

So last week, I finally got around to making eggplant parmigiana ala Dave Grecco. Indeed, pealing the eggplant and slicing paper before frying gives the texture a major upgrade. Even, B, who had previously claimed not to like eggplant devoured the dish. The downside, it's more labor intensive and messier, but worth it if it means I get to add it back into our repetoire.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mango-Jicama and Cucumber Salad

Soooooo good for summer.

Source, Rick Bayless via foodtv.

2 medium (about 1 1/2 pounds) mangoes, peeled, flesh cut from the pit and sliced into 1/2-inch "fingers" or wedges (see technique below)
1 medium (about 1 pound) jicama, peeled and cut into long 1/2-inch-wide "fingers" or wedges
1 long seedless "English" cucumber (or 2 regular cucumbers), cut into long 1/2-inch-wide "fingers" or wedges
1 teaspoon pure ground chile (buy pure guajillo or ancho chile in a Mexican grocery, make it yourself, or substitute a little cayenne)
2 limes, each cut into 6 wedges

Cutting the mangoes: Peel the mangoes, then cut the flesh from the pits: A mango pit (to which the flesh clings tightly) is flattish and oval, more-or-less a smaller version of the mango's overall shape. To cut the flesh off the pit, stand a mango on one end and slice the flesh from one side of the pit. Turn the mango around and slice the flesh off the other side. You'll be able to get a couple thin slices of flesh off the pit on each end. Cut the large pieces into long 1/2-inch-wide "fingers."

Salad: In pointed Sno-Cone cups (you'll need a snow-cone holder or a glass to support each cup) or in paper cups or glasses, combine a portion of mango, jicama and cucumber "fingers" or wedges (they will be standing in the cups). Mix the chile and 1/2 teaspoon salt; sprinkle over the "salads." Serve with lime wedges for each guest to squeeze over the pieces as they eat them.

Variation: Cut the mango, jicama and cucumber into cubes instead of "fingers," and mix together in a large bowl. Juice the limes (rather than cutting them into wedges) and drizzle over the mixture. Sprinkle with the salt and chile, and serve on a buffet or pass this at the table.

Fish Tacos with Guac

Okay, so this isn't really a recipe at all as much as it is an idea for a dinner. Fish tacos is just one of those dishes that lends well to winging it

Firm white fish (I used mahi)
olive oil

2 haas avacado, cubed
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup white onion finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro
juice from 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste

Corn or Flour tortillas

1. Marinate fish in lime, olive oil, salt, and pepper 15-20 minutes
2. Grill
3. While fish grills, mix together ingredients for guac
4. Grill tortillas 15 second on each side, just until starting to brown a bit
5. Serve fish and guac atop hot tortillas