I don’t like to cook things with a lot of ingredients. Most of my recipes consist of little more than olive oil, salt, and pepper, which means that I don’t do much in terms of more adventurous cuisine.
But when I throw my dinner party gauntly of “a protein and a vegetable” at a guest of honor and he comes back with “chicken and tomatillos,” I don’t exactly have many choices OTHER than something resembling Mexican food, do I?
Thus the great Taco Fiesta of 2014.
I really must say, my favorite part of the entire meal wound up being the dish I decided to make last—the carne asada. It’s amazing what a good mortar and pestle can do.
I went with a carne asada recipe that wasn’t actually in How to Cook Everything, and that utilized a mojo as a marinade.
In a mortar and pestle, mash together the garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, salt, and pepper until they come together in a paste. Make sure you use a healthy pinch of salt, which will act as a much needed abrasive here. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a bowl and a fork (and some additional elbow grease). But you should probably just get a mortar and pestle.
Add the juice of one of the limes to the mortar and pestle, if you’re having trouble getting things paste-like. Then put the paste, vinegar, orange juice, and your remaining lime juice into a jar and shake. This can be used as a sauce on the table, but I dumped it directly over the steak (which I’d let rest outside of the fridge for about 20 minutes and then nestled into a just-barely-big-enough casserole dish) and let that sit in the fridge for just over an hour. The longer you let that soak, the better, as is generally the case with marinades, but DON’T got for over night, or the acidic elements will turn your steak into mush. And nobody wants that.
Alas, I lacked access to an outdoor grill, so I relied on a stove top ceramic grill pan instead. But the same rules apply. Let the pan get properly, roaringly hot, because a good sear makes all the difference when you’re talking steak. Coat the grates in a decent layer of olive oil (it shouldn’t be pooling, but it also shouldn’t be burning straight off) and pull the steak out of the mojo, removing any larger bits that could burn and throw off the searing. Salt and pepper each side generously, then place on the grill pan.
This should make a big noise. That’s how you know your pan is hot enough.
Sear the steak, cooking for 7 to 10 minutes on each side and turning only once. If it’s a thicker cut and you’re not the type who likes your steak to moo when you cut into it, finish it with another 5 to 7 minutes in an oven (heated to 350 degrees). I did this with the sirloin, and poured the remaining mojo over to keep it from drying out.
Then remove it from the pan and let the steak rest on a cutting board for at 5 to 10 minutes, to avoid losing all the delightful juices. Then cut it taco sized—either in long thing strips or small cubes.
I also made shredded chicken to fill the tacos, but I honestly wound up deviating so much from the recipe that I don’t even really remember what actually wound up in the dish. It was slowed cooked close to perfection, though, which made for tasty tacos. There were also some relatively self-explanatory grilled mangos and Brett made guacamole, so I’ll skip those too.
The fresh tomato salsa I made, however, and it turned out fantastically, if I do say so myself.
All the work on this one is done in the chopping. If your pieces are too big, you’ll throw off the dip-ability of your salsa. Large chunks of parsley won’t make anyone happy. Speaking of parsley, I went halvesies on the parsley and cilantro, but you can also just use 1 cup’s worth of one or the other.
Combine everything but the salt, pepper, and pepper flakes/cayenne. Combine, and then add your seasonings in small pinches, tasting as you go until you hit the level of spice you want. And voila, you’re done.
The Tomatillo Salsa (the bright green saucey thing from the first photo) isn’t that different.
It’s another chop and combine deal here. Because I had the tomato salsa and the guacamole, I decided to take it to the next level and ran it all through the food processor so it was more liquid. It made a nice point of comparison. I added less spice to the tomatillo salsa (so you could actually taste the tomatillos, which you probably don’t every day) and then pumped up the tomato salsa.
But the real surprise of the evening was my one-pot-wonder rice and beans—which, apparently, we all found too tasty to photograph…
Put the oil in a large ovenproof pot over medium heat. I used a massive cast iron, and it all worked out fine, but this dish swells, so make sure you’re giving yourself some extra room here.
When hot, add the onion, bell peppers, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft. You can get this done in about 5 minutes, but I gave mine a bit longer (probably closer to 10) to deepen the flavor. Add the beans and cover with water. Bring to the whole thing to a boil, then turn the heat down to low so that the mixture bubbles gently. Cover loosely and cook, stirring occasional and adding water as necessary, until the beans are about half done (softening, but still tough in the middle). This takes about 40 minutes to an hour, and requires tending. Check every 10 minutes or so, adding water if it’s running dry or if the beans start to stick.
When the beans are softened, turn the oven to 350 degrees.
Ladle about a quarter to a half of the beans into a shallow dish. Use a form or a potato masher to semi puree (meaning, smash). There’s some science here, about releasing enzymes that catalyze been cooking or some such. But I mostly chalk it up to magic and leave it at that.
Stir in the rice, tomato, and a good amount of salt and pepper. Then pop the now-incredinly-heavy pan into the oven and bake until the rice and beans are tender, about an hour, adding a little water as needed. Again, keep an eye on this. If you’re not attentive with the water, your rice is going to stay crispy, which is a trait you should leave for the nice crust that will develop on the top of the dish, not for the rice throughout.
Taste to see if you need to add salt and pepper, sprinkle with a healthy handful and parsley, and serve up the whole thing straight from the pan.
This was super delicious but made A LOT of food, so if you’re cooking for a pair rather than a group and wind up with a lot of this leftover, put it in a airtight containers and freeze in lunch portions.
Add a variety of your favorite hot sauces, hard and soft taco shells, cheese, and you’ve got a party.
I’ll leave the quick pickles and the sautéed olives that completed the meal to another day. They were good, but realistically, a lot of my anxiety about the meal was concentrated in the recipes above. But thankfully this taco fiesta didn’t become a taco fiasco.