Mexican food ranks high on my list of favorite international cuisines, whether it's traditional or more Tex-Mex in style. Tomorrow is also Taco Tuesday, so there's no better time to plan on making and eating some tacos! I recently featured a taco bar and fresh pineapple margaritas on my Super Bowl menu. I had initially planned on making my own corn tortillas, as I have in the past, but took a short cut since I was already making several fillings and salsas.
I wanted to create a nice variety of fillings so I selected one vegetable, one seafood, and one meat filling. All of them were quick-cooking, so our meal came together in a pinch when it was time to eat.
Years ago when I sampled a variety of traditional tacos at Loteria in Los Angeles, I was surprised to find that my favorite fillings were actually the vegetable-based ones. I decided to make mushroom tacos for this occasion, since not only do I love mushrooms, but their umami quality is perfect for taking the place of meat in a taco filling.
The mushroom tacos were probably the most popular on the Super Bowl menu, and I can't say I'm surprised. They are easy to make, full of flavor, and complimented well by nearly any type of salsa and toppings.
I also made some garlicky shrimp tacos, which also cooked up very quickly. They were delicious, but not my favorites on the menu. The other two fillings were simply superior.
Our final taco filling came in the form of carne asada, or grilled marinated steak. Traditionally the cut of beef is skirt or flank steak, and the marinade in this case was incredibly fragrant and delicious, a combination of cilantro, onion, jalapeño, garlic, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and seasonings.
|Marinating the carne asada|
Cooked medium-rare and cubed up into small pieces, this was another very popular taco filling at our meal.
I decided to make a couple different salsas to accompany our three taco fillings.
The first is non-traditional, and features roasted red bell pepper, blackened tomato, and a charred habanero chile, cooked together with onions, garlic, allspice, and heavy cream, and then pureed into a smooth, velvety, bright-orange concoction.
This salsa has a bit of heat, but the bell pepper and cream help balance it out quite well. The color of this salsa is incredible, and really helps the less colorful taco fillings pop.
Of the two salsas, perhaps my overall favorite would have to be the avocado-tomatillo salsa. It's a play on a traditional salsa verde, and is meant to be somewhat chunky and quite spicy. I pureed the boiled tomatillos and jalapeños until smooth, but stirred in hand-chopped onion, cilantro, and avocado, so it still had a relatively chunky texture.
This salsa definitely has a kick, so if you're sensitive to spice you may want to scale back the number of chiles.
I also offered up some cool sour cream, diced fresh tomato, and thinly sliced crisp romaine lettuce to finish out our taco bar. There's so much more you can do, but this is a great start!
If you're interested in making your own taco bar, you really don't need any occasion other than hunger and a love of Mexican food to validate this culinary adventure. Just pick two or more filling options, offer up some corn or small flour tortillas or even crispy taco shells if that's what you prefer.
You can certainly use jarred salsa and store-bought guacamole if you are taking short-cuts, but I really recommend trying to make some homemade salsa instead. They are quite easy and there are SO many wonderful recipes to choose from, such as these for salsa quemada (roasted tomato and tomatillo salsa), restaurant-style salsa and guacamole, and roasted corn and black bean salsa.
Mushroom Tacos (Tacos de Hongos)
(Adapted from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales)
Makes 10 tacos
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil (or more as needed)
Generous 1 cup diced white onions
3 fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, finely chopped (including seeds) (I used 2 1/2 jalapeños and omitted the seeds to scale down the spiciness a bit)
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/4 pounds fresh mushrooms, stems trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh epazote leaves, or 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Heat the oil in a large heavy pan over high heat. When it shimmers, add the onions, chiles, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, about 2 minutes.
Add the mushrooms, toss very well to coat in the oil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are cooked through and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the salt and cook for 2 minutes more, then stir in the butter and epazote until the butter has melted. Season to taste with salt. Serve alongside 10 warm corn tortillas and top with crumbled queso fresco and sliced pickled jalapeño chiles, Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows) or other salsa of your choice.
Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa de Aguacate y Tomatillo)
(From Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales)
Makes about 2 cups
1/2 pound tomatillos (5 or 6), husked and rinsed
3 fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, stemmed (this salsa is quite hot--if you want it a bit milder, reduce the number of chiles)
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
1 small, ripe Mexican Hass avocado, pitted, peeled, and chopped into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Combine the tomatillos and chiles in a small pot and add enough water to cover (they’ll float; that’s fine). Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatillos are a khaki color and soft to the core, about 5 minutes.
Gently drain and discard the water. Combine the tomatillos, chiles, garlic and salt in a blender and pulse until you have a coarse puree (I pureed mine until smooth instead). Pour the mixture into a serving bowl, let cool slightly, then stir in the onion, avocado, and cilantro. Season to taste with salt.