Sunday, December 30, 2012

Towards an Authentic Taco Meal

Even since I got introduced to international cuisine, tacos always meant the special shaped, crispy things...back in India, I even tried making them from scratch (shaping them over a rolling pin or something). Then, in the US, the taco shells came from a box, and made for good grad school gathering chow. And then came the trips to the west coast, with those soft Masa tacos, and obviously, there's no going back now. In my mind, the distinction between Tex-Mex and true Mexican food is much more clear now. No more over-salty taco seasoning packets for me. Rick Bayless is my new hero, Patti's mexican table my new favorite show, and simple, fresh ingredients are the order of the day.

 The problem? I didn't have this realization when I lived in localities with huge Latino populations, and where I live now, many of the basic ingredients are just harder to find...everything from Queso Fresco and Masa-Harina (I bet stores around my older apartments must have even carried fresh ground Masa...which I'm yet to see). I admit, I haven't made a trip to Whole Foods, which I generally avoid, but it looks like my thirst for these ingredients is going to take me there soon. 

Any how, I am determined to get one step closer to the real stuff. There's still lots of substitutions, and compromises, but I'm getting there. Here's what I did:

Fire-Roasted Salsa:
On  a grill, place 5 roma tomatoes, 4-5 cloves of garlic (with skins), 2 spring onions, one small red onion (with skin, quartered), 2 green chillies (I should have used serrano or Jalapeno, but I used the regular bird's eye chillies), 2 spring onions (the white part), and one lime (cut open, cut side down. Once everything is fairly charred, start adding it to the food processor (skin the tomatoes, garlic and onion). Squeeze the smokey lime, add a small handful of cilantro, a pinch of sea salt, some black pepper and process till coarse consistency. 

Mango Salsa: 
Mix together one diced mexican (obviously) mango,  some diced red onion, chopped spring onion (green and white), one diced fresh roma tomato, chopped cilantro, finely chopped green chilli, just a hint of garlic, sea salt, black pepper and a squeeze of lime.

I wanted this to be really chunky, so I diced the avocado into fairly big pieces, instead of mashing it. Mix together diced Avocado, red onion, spring onion, cilantro, green chilli, lime, sea salt and pepper.

Taco Filling:
L. made one with meat, and bought taco seasoning from Trader Joes. Surprisingly, this was nothing like the salty version from the super market. It basically consisted of simple spices (no artificial flavors) like cumin, paprika, etc. I cheated and used a pinch of this seasoning for my filling, but I bet using basic spices would have done the job. I first sliced, oiled, salted and grilled one small zucchini and cut it into smaller pieces. Next, heat some oil, add a little bit of chopped red onion, garlic and a big handful of chopped mushrooms (I chopped them pretty small). Saute till they're soft and a lot of the water evaporates. Add salt, a pinch of the taco seasoning, a few spoons of the fire-roasted salsa, a handful of black beans and the chopped zucchini. Let it all cook till the flavors combine and the liquid evaporates. Set aside.

This is where I would have loved using Masa-Harina, which I couldn't find. So, instead, I used one cup of corm meal (yellow), and 1 cup of all purpose flour. Add a pinch of salt, and make a very soft dough and set aside. I first tried making tortillas on the cast iron skillet, but it was coming out like Makke-ki-roti. So I switched to the regular non-stick tawa, started rolling out really thin rotis, using flour and made soft rotis on tawa, which were great.

Heat olive oil + butter, add red onion, spring onion and garlic and let it soften. Add washed, medium grain rice (I used Khichdi na chokha). Saute till the ride becomes opaque. Now add some chopped cilantro and then add water and salt. Let it boil till water almost evaporates form the surface, cover and let cook for about 10 minutes. Traditionally, they add whole green chilli, but I skipped, since L. is not a big fan.

Black Beans:
I did not use a can. So, I had fresh black beans, but got lazy, and didn't make refried beans. Next time.

Fried Plantains:
This was a big highlight of the meal. I loved it. I used two fairly ripe plantains. Peeled them (with a little help of a knife). Sliced diagonally into thick slices, and fried for about 15-20 minutes on a medium flame till golden brown. Drained the oil and added sea salt. Yum!

Other Toppings:
Finely shredded cabbage (chose not to use lettuce)
Diced Red onions
Diced Spring onion
Chopped cilantro
Green Limes
Goat cheese (instead of queso fresco)
Sour cream (instead of crema)

Fresh tortilla + shredded cabbage + taco filling + mango salsa + guacamole + fire-roasted salsa + spring onion + cilantro + goat cheese + sour cream. Fold and eat.

Latest TV Tip (From Patti's Mexican Table):
Tilt your head, not the taco.

Top it with some Haagan Daaz Dulce-de-leche Ice-cream (yeah, I know I need to work on an authentic dessert. Maybe next time I'll make some flan or even better, my tres-leches cake).

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