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PERFECT FOR SUMMER
It's summer. Hot, casual summer. And you know what everyone wants? Something you can make without heating up the kitchen. Something you can eat outside, wearing shorts and a tank top. Super-tasty party food you can feed to all your friends, that leaves you feeling good enough you just might strip down and jump into that pool after all.
Check ...check ...CHECK!
Tacos are the perfect summer food. You relax with a cold beer, eat with your hands and maybe even sweat a little. It's an informal, everyone-help-yourself kind of food, perfect for backyard entertaining or just hanging around at dinnertime.
GRILLED SUMMER VEGGIE TACOS
One of the things I love about Mexican food is that, at its best, it's a riot of contrasts. Creamy avocados alongside spicy chiles. Sweet tomatoes splashed with tart lime. The softly cooked is topped with crunchy raw, and the sizzling hot gets a dollop of cold. The differentness of each part makes its unique contribution to one whole delicious experience. It keeps you right on your toes, giving you something new to chew on (ahem), at every turn.
This week's recipe lives up to that fine tradition. For these tacos, I've grilled zucchini, corn, onions and portobello mushrooms, tossed them with roasted poblano chiles and added a dash of lime juice to bring it all together. I topped it all with a drizzle of cool Mexican Crema (or you can just use sour cream), a few creamy slices of avocado, and a fresh, raw Salsa Cruda I created with kohlrabi from my CSA (more about CSAs here).
My husband forbade me to use the oven or stove this swelteringly hot week, so I created the entire thing on the grill. Everything can either be grilled or served raw, so there's no need to heat up your house to put this on the table.
(You're welcome, hubby.)
MORE THAN SALSA
"Salsa" in the US usually means something slightly chunky, red and spicy, from a jar, to scoop onto chips or dump on top of tacos. Nothing wrong with this kind of salsa; you'll definitely find a jar of this in my fridge on any given day.
But in true Mexican cooking, toppings can be so much more. Salsas are sometimes cooked and sometimes raw. Sometimes they're served cold, but sometimes warm. They may be red, or green or brownish, or some other color. And sometimes, what's on your taco might not even be salsa. The topping on any given dish is chosen to pair with the flavors and textures specific to that dish. Instead of reflexively reaching for the red salsa, a Mexican chef may choose a drizzle of crema, a squeeze of lime, a jicama slaw or a red-onion relish.
As I thought about how to top this week's veggie tacos, I knew I wanted to include Crema. Its tanginess is a nice complement to the flavors of the vegetables, and its creaminess helps hold everything together.
But I also wanted something with a little fresh crunch, and frankly, a little spiciness. I love the smoky subtleness of the roasted poblanos I included in these veggie tacos, but they aren't very spicy. It needed a bit of a kick.
KOHLRABI SALSA CRUDA
At about the same time, I had been trying to decide on something to make with the kohlrabi that came in my CSA last week. Jicama is a common ingredient in Mexican garnishes and toppings, and I realized kohlrabi would make a similar contribution: cool and crunchy, mild flavored; a simple canvas to carry other flavors to the palate. So I diced the kohlrabi small, tossed it with lime juice and salt, and mixed in minced jalapenos and cilantro to make a Salsa Cruda.
Avocados became the finishing touch on these tacos, adding a dash of green and another creamy layer of flavor.
You'll get familiar with two techniques in this dish. One is roasting chiles; if you haven't done this before, you'll be glad you've learned this. It's the same technique for roasting peppers of any kind, such as red bell peppers. The skin is seared and blackened, then peeled off, leaving soft, smoky flesh behind. Check out the recipe for Roasted Chiles for complete instructions, with pictures.
The other technique here is warming the tortillas. Corn tortillas can often be frustrating to work with, tearing and falling apart if not heated properly. The best way to warm them is actually the simplest: you just place the tortilla on a dry griddle or skillet (called a comal in Spanish) over medium-high heat, and flip it over a couple times until it's soft. This week's taco recipe describes a way to do the same thing on the grill (so you don't heat up the house), with a sheet of aluminum foil laid across the grate in place of a comal.
Once you have your tortillas at the ready, you'll need a way to keep them warm and soft until serving. Tortilla "warmers" keep tortillas warm (they don't warm them up, but they keep them warm), and come in a variety of designs. The one I have and love (see picture) is ceramic, 8 inches wide. With the lid on, tortillas stay warm and soft for at least 30 minutes or more (I haven't actually timed it, but it's plenty of time when I'm busy prepping everything else for a party). Other designs are made of plastic, styrofoam, woven palm or even fabric. I haven't personally used those, but I prefer the ceramic style because I think it's beautiful on the table, and I'm sure it retains heat longer than the woven or fabric variety.
Here's how it works: The hot tortillas are wrapped in a clean cloth inside the warmer, and with the lid on, they stay warm and soft. An 8-inch or 9-inch diameter is the perfect size for most taco-sized corn or flour tortillas. If you're considering getting one, you can use the link to see an example of the type I recommend through Amazon.
If you don't have a tortilla warmer, you can improvise one by lining a large sheet of aluminum foil with paper towels. Place the tortillas on the paper towels and fold the foil over to seal it up. Tortillas should stay warm and soft this way for 15-30 minutes (but again, I haven't timed this).
COMPLETE SUMMER FEAST
Serve these tacos with beans or refried beans, and you've got a complete feast. Protein from the beans and corn, and yum from everything will leave you and your guests so satisfied you won't even notice there was no meat in sight.
Perfect for summer.