Sunday, June 29, 2014

Grilled Steak Tacos with Radish Salsa

As I sit writing, I would normally be in my Sunday morning yoga class, but yesterday I acquired a sunburn so severe that the notion of stretching, bending, and contorting my body made my skin cringe.  The truth is I got sunburned on purpose; I have grown weary of my skin’s pasty hue, and decided this necessitated action.  So on Saturday morning, after my routine yoga class, I donned my bikini, and lay poolside at my gym, exposing my virgin skin to the high noon sun, applying sunscreen only to my face.  Initially, I thought I had achieved a perfect sunburn: one that would help me develop a base for bronzing my skin, but not result in significant discomfort.  I was dead wrong, and as the day wore on, my skin became increasingly red and angry.  Thus, out of fear, I skipped my yoga class, and chose writing as an activity less likely to bring on any additional physical pain.
Salsa ingredients

Unlike my poorly executed tanning plans, these steak tacos with radish salsa fell seamlessly into place.  It is a simple and delightful summer time recipe that I highly recommend.  I found this recipe in the June issue of Bon Appétit.  Though I don’t eat radishes often, the idea of radish salsa complementing thinly sliced steak certainly has a quiet charisma as far as I’m concerned.  The salsa consists of vibrant pink and white radishes tossed with cilantro, scallions, and jalapeno, then dressed in limejuice and olive oil.  The original recipe called for cooking flank steak in a skillet, but this seemed like a misstep to me; the obvious cooking method for this summery dish would be grilling the steak, and this would also allow for a convenient method of heating up the corn tortillas before serving, thus circumventing the use of an indoor heating element. 
Pretty salsa
The finished tacos are of the utmost simplicity: warm corn tortillas, topped with thinly sliced grilled steak, radish salsa, some crumbled cotija cheese, and a few extra cilantro leaves.  Cotija cheese is like a cross between Parmesan and feta: crumbly, salty, and very dry.  It’s less dense than Parmesan, and lacks the brininess of feta.  It worked in this dish, but I would be curious to see how a slightly creamier cheese like queso fresco, or even feta would have worked.  I found the cotija cheese to be a bit dry, both literally and figuratively.
Otherwise, this dish is a winner.  I would recommend making a double batch of the salsa as I would have been happy to pile it higher on my tacos, and I probably would have eaten it with a spoon, if given the opportunity.  As it sat in the fridge for a day or two, the pink hue of the radish skins permeated the salsa.  This a beautiful, delicious, and low maintenance dish.    

Steak Tacos with Radish Salsa (adapted slightly from Bon Appétit, June 2014)

1 lb. flank steak
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cilantro leaves with tender stems, divided
6 radishes, trimmed and chopped
3 scallions, white and light green part, thinly sliced
1/2-1 jalapeno, seeds and membrane removed, finely chopped
Juice of one lime
8 corn tortillas, warmed (preferably on the grill while the steak rests)
2-3 oz. cotija cheese, crumbled

-       Chop half of the cilantro.  Mix the chopped cilantro, radishes, jalapeno, scallions, lime juice, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
-       Preheat your grill to medium high. 
-       Rub remaining tablespoon of olive oil into the steak.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook on the hot grill for about 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare (I did about 7 minutes on each side for medium).
-       Remove from grill, and allow the steak to rest for about 5 minutes. 
-       Thinly slice steak against the grain with a serrated knife.

-       Pile the steak on top of the warmed tortillas, with the cotija cheese, radish salsa, and additional whole cilantro leaves

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Taco Salads

“Plates or bowls?” Jean queried.

“Definitely bowls,” I responded.

This was the brief, yet definitive exchange I had with my friend as I put the final touches on the inventory of ingredients for taco salads.  There’s something infinitely satisfying about a smattering of ingredients heaped in a bowl, waiting to be mixed up and scooped up.  There’s no risk of a stray bean or avocado cube falling over the edge; you can enjoy with reckless abandon. 

Due to rising summer temperatures and a busy schedule, I have been seeking out quick meals, and this taco salad certainly fits the bill.  This is actually the second time I’ve made it in two weeks (the first time, my comrades and I were too hungry to pause for the photography process, which necessitated another production). I can say with authority that it can easily be compiled in twenty minutes. Despite its expedited preparation, this taco salad is elevated from a mere weeknight meal to something more worthy of your attention, with just a few simple touches. 
The foundational elements are aligned with any taco salad: chopped romaine, shredded cheddar, and seasoned ground beef.  I used an improvised version of my taco filling from a previous post.  The linked recipe could certainly be adhered to, but this meal is pretty forgiving.  Simply brown some lean ground beef in a skillet, and season with any taco-ish seasonings you have on hand, until it smells and tastes delicious.  The usual suspects showed up in mine: cumin, chile powder, red pepper flakes, and coriander.  Less conventional items like smoked paprika and dried Italian herbs also had cameo roles; essentially, anything goes. 

ingredients for salsa vinaigrette
I then made a simple vinaigrette with salsa as the base.  I used a smoky poblano salsa, but anything will do as long as it’s not chunky.  The texture of chunky salsa is a little weird for a dressing.  Add some fresh limejuice, a dash of vinegar, and olive oil, and the result is a simple, tasty vinaigrette.  Black beans, cubed avocado, and fresh corn add dimension.  You could pick one, and add it to the cheese/lettuce/beef/salsa vinaigrette backdrop, and you would have a complete meal; or you can use all three and have an elevated eating experience.  The corn is crucial, and do take the time to get fresh corn, and shuck it from the cob.  The sweet, starchy crunch is well worth the minimal effort, and ‘tis the season for fresh corn; frozen corn could never do it justice.  I layered all of my ingredients in big bowls, and finished it off with an extra spoonful of salsa and a dollop of sour cream.  The finished product resembles a savory Tex-Mex sundae; it’s crunchy and refreshing, yet hearty and satisfying.  Overall, a delightful summer meal.

Taco Salads (makes 3-4 servings)

1 lb. lean ground beef, prepared with taco seasonings (see this recipe for ideas)
2 hearts of romaine, cleaned and chopped
2 ears of corn, shucked from the cob
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 pound shard cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
1 ripe avocado, cut into cubes
1 lime (plus extra for garnish, if desired)
1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sour cream

-       Prepare vinaigrette by mixing a quarter cup of store bought salsa with the juice of one lime and 1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.  Whisk in enough olive oil to create a smooth emulsion.  Taste and add more vinegar or lime if more acidity is needed.  (A dash or two of a smoky hot sauce, like Chipotle Cholula or Tabasco is also a nice touch.)
-       Prepare the remaining ingredients.
-       Add a couple of handfuls of lettuce to each bowl and spoon over some of the vinaigrette. 
-       Top with corn, black beans, seasoned ground beef, shredded cheese, and avocado.  Add an extra spoon of salsa and some sour cream, if desired for garnish.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Scrambled Eggs with Beans

This is my comfort food, weeknight meal of the moment.  I tend to find something I like, eat on it repeat, and then burn out.  My current food crush is scrambled eggs with cheese and refried beans.  This simple preparation of store-bought ingredients results in a quick, satisfying meal.  It consists of slightly doctored refried beans, topped with perfectly scrambled eggs and shredded cheese, along with a splash of hot sauce and a little avocado, if you have it. 
I have made it a few times now, and timing is essential for success.  Everything must be ready and waiting for the scrambled eggs.  Since it is a simple meal with only a few ingredients, the eggs must be perfectly cooked.  Scrambled eggs are a delicate food because they cook so quickly; they must be removed from the pan immediately when they have reached your desired level of doneness (or even just prior) because extra time in the pan results in residual cooking, even if you have removed them from the burner.  I like to get my refried beans in the bowl (about a half cup, and I typically prefer refried black beans), cheese shredded, avocado sliced, and eggs beaten before I apply any heat to anything.  Then I heat the beans up in the microwave for about 30 seconds, stir, and season with hot sauce, pepper, and whatever else strikes your fancy (extra cumin, garlic salt, whatever sounds good).  Give the doctored beans a stir, and 30 more seconds in the microwave.  Then leave them in the microwave, pending a final zap just prior to serving.

Now is the time to cook your eggs.  I add about a teaspoon of olive oil to a small sauté pan, and allow it to preheat for a couple minutes over medium heat.  When it is hot, I add the eggs, and stir in long, slow strokes toward the center of the pan as the curds start to form.  When the eggs are still wet, but approaching doneness, give the beans their final jolt of heat in the microwave (about 15-30 seconds).  Give your eggs a final stir; add them on top of the beans with avocado slices, and sprinkle with cheese.  This past week, I was using a cheddar-gruyere combination from Trader Joe’s, which has the flavor of medium white cheddar, but a creamier texture, that allows it to melt more smoothly than your typical cheddar.  This dish would be great with homemade refried beans; making refried beans is simple, but it would detract from the quick, easy quality of the meal.
extra Frank's Red Hot on top
This dish could be prepared with over easy eggs.  The runny yolk would be delicious, but I enjoyed the uniformity of the scrambled egg version.  When I eat over easy eggs, I sometimes feel pressure to ration out the golden yolk throughout my dining experience; this is likely singular to me, but this week, I didn’t want any undue stress.  This is a flexible recipe, so make it to suit your tastes, but my mental health required the consistency of scrambled eggs.  I also like the way the soft textures of the beans and eggs complement each other, but still maintain their identities.