Friday, January 23, 2009

CSA week seven - Garlicky steak and greens tacos

This is my modified version of a Rick Bayless recipe for a taco he had at a market stall in Toluca, Mexico. It's pretty simple even after I added the steak so I think it's mainly meant as a vehicle for Bayless' rather more complicated roasted tomatillo chipotle salsa. It looks really good, but even if I could get all of the specific peppers he calls for I'm in no mood to deal with all that soaking and toasting and roasting and scraping and all so salsa from a bottle it is. I'm sure it does the recipe some harm, but there are good bottled salsas out there, right?


Makes 8 to 10 soft tacos.

  • 8 to 10 corn tortillas (plus a few extra, in case some break)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for blanching
  • 6 cups loosely packed sliced green or red chard leaves (one 12-ounce bunch) [I used the Asian braising greens minus the stems on the purple flowery stuff. I think that was more like 4 cups all told]
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 pound quick-fry suitable steak. [I used thin sliced top round]
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely crumbled Mexican queso fresco; queso anejo; dry feta; pressed, salted farmer's cheese; or Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup Rick's Essential Roasted Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
  1. Warm the tortillas: Place a vegetable steamer in a large saucepan filled with 1/2 inch of water. Bring to a boil. Wrap tortillas in a heavy kitchen towel, lay them in the steamer, and cover with a tight lid. Boil 1 minute, turn off the heat, and let stand without opening for about 15 minutes.
  2. Prepare the filling: While tortillas are steaming, bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add greens, and cook until barely tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain in a colander, and spread out on a large plate or baking sheet to cool. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop.
  3. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add steak, cook for 5 minutes more. Add garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add greens, and stir for about 1 minute, just long enough to heat them through. Season with salt.
  4. Prepare the tacos: Scoop the filling into a deep, warm serving dish, and sprinkle with cheese. Serve with the warm tortillas, salsa, and cilantro sprigs.

When I lived in Queens, New York, there was a Mexico City-style taqueria a few blocks away. I'm not going to say that this recipe turns out something I might have bought there, but the flavors definitely took me back. The properly steamed corn tortilla did half the work there, but the rest was in the right neighborhood, too.

I didn't expect the greens to wilt away quite so much. I wanted the filling to be mostly greens with a bit of beef but they're more equal partners which gave unfortunate prominence to the fact that the beef wasn't cooked in a big bubbling vat of meat juices the way real taquerias do it.

The greens, on the other hand, I think were cooked nicely: just a little al dente so they've still got some character both in texture and flavor. It would have been easy for the salsa to walk all over the other flavors, which were rather more subtle than you'd expect with all that garlic, but the lightly cooked greens helped the filling hold its own against it. Unfortunately, while I could find a quality tomatillo salsa, that left out the chipotles whose smokiness wouldn't have been a bad addition. Maybe I'll add some in with the onions if I make this again.

I'm thinking about variations and tweaks but I find I don't want to over-complicate it with a bunch of extra flavors. Simple is best for tacos. I do think I'd like to take out the steak and add shrimp for a baja-style greens taco. I think I'd want a red salsa with that, but no need to change the seasonings otherwise : shrimp, garlic and olive oil is a classic no matter the cuisine.


LaDivaCucina said...

The tacos look great! Nice work! In case you didn't know: there is a Mexican taqueria on Calle Ocho at Fifth Street (north side of street, yellow building) called Mexicanas Taqueria. They sell a number of Mexican chilies, whole and ground and a variety of other Mexican grocery products and spices. And the food is very nice and inexpensive.

billjac said...

I've been to Mexicanas and I think I would have been happy with their food if I didn't have first-rate taqueria fare for comparison. Their flavors just seemed a little flat in comparison, plus the menu tilted towards Tex-Mex so their selection of the good stuff was pretty limited.

But that's Miami for you. It's the same town that's forced Sushi Bali's Indonesian menu down to two dishes.

I didn't notice that Mexicanas had a grocery too. I'll keep them in mind next time I need supplies for Mexican cooking.

LaDivaCucina said...

The spices and things are just behind the counter at Mexicana. I lived in California as well where I had REALLY GOOD Mexican too. I remember a taco stand in Silverlake (L.A.) that boasted a simple menu based on food from the Yucatan peninsula and had a James Beard award! I took an Aussie friend who was visiting me there to experience the authentic dishes and she was upset that her taco "shell" wasn't crunchy!

billjac said...

I lived in San Diego for five years a while back so what I really miss is Baja cuisine. Even in places that have quality Mexican restaurants they think you're nuts if you start talking about fish tacos.