THE GREEN TACO: “OMG, I can eat this?” series

OMG, I can eat this? aims to reconstruct your favorite No Go meals and turn them into delights you can chow down on without feeling terribly afterward.

JUMP TO THE RECIPE

Growing up in the bad streets of suburban  Northwest Sydney (that’s such a misnomer, if you’re not familiar with the place), I didn’t eat Mexican food. Period. It just didn’t exist in a strong enough presence to be a part of most people’s lives in the 90s. I think Old El Paso burrito kit ads were the closest things we had. Stale, corn-chip-esque shells, beef mince, lettuce, tomato and salsa from a pouch. That was what I thought Mexican food was. It wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 that I was brought to a restaurant in the North Shore suburb of St Leonards called Montezuma’s that I had a bit of an epiphany about this Central American country.

Sitting in the heavily wooded room replete with colored hanging lights, the sizzle of fat on hot iron plates punctuated the cover of Guantanamera playing over the speakers (at least that’s what I remember playing in my romanticized memory). What stood out, though, was the way the chef used vegetables and herbs.

There’s a certain mindfuckery that happens when you experience familiar ingredients in a completely new way. The sharp, fresh flavor of cilantro as a salad herb or luxurious avocado in a spicy, mushy mess were new iterations of ingredients that I had grown up with. I loved it.

This first trial-by-fire in a new cuisine both excited and intrigued me. How else could ingredients be used in ways that I’ve never thought of? What else can this cuisine offer?

Since moving to North America, my brain has melted at the breadth of Central American dishes and I’ve quickly incorporated my favorites into my home cooking repetoire. As I continue to learn and grow, watch out for more inspired recipes from our friends to the south.

This taco is a celebration of everything fresh that I love about Mexican cuisine. Everything that I lacked in my first impressions of the cuisine.

The key to success in a taco with so many vegetal green elements is in varying the textures and flavors in each layer so that your mouth ain’t going chew, chew, chew and getting bored.

The flavor of green is invariably fresh. I mean, that’s great, but how freaken’ boring. How do we introduce earthiness? Sweetness… Spice…? How about crunch, luxurious softness, snap?

That’s where we get to play with the flavors of Mexico’s grandparents… The tried and tested flavor combinations that have become the hallmark of the cuisine and, because of who I am and the amount of random foodstuffs I buy, we also have access to a library of other flavors from around the world. I’ve layered citrus zing into the Fresh Shaved Cabbage Slaw by marinating the cabbage in lime and cilantro. Earthiness and spice is introduced into the Chili Spiced Broccoli with harissa and fish sauce (y’know, that traditional combination of briny Thai seasoning sauces and African spice paste… Duh). It’s all tied together with the classic chili-garlic-lime combo in the Half-Wilted Spinach which envelopes the silky soft fish imparted with smokiness from the grill and creamy fattiness of the ripe avocado. If you can’t find a perfect bite in that mess, you can get the hell out of my house. Oh, you did find perfection? Fine. You can stay.

For the directionally challenged, the recipe will follow immediately after these words…

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The Green Taco

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes 4 servings

Fresh Shaved Cabbage Slaw

  • 1/2 head of green cabbage
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro
  • Juice of 1 large lime
  • Splash of extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and black pepper

Half-Wilted Spinach

  • 4 large handfuls of baby spinach
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and black pepper

Chili Spiced Broccoli

  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1-2 tablespoons of harissa paste
  • 3 splats of fish sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • Splash of olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and black pepper

Grilled Garlic Lemon Fish

  • 2 fillets of a neutral flaky white fish like tilapia
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

To serve

  • 8 large tortillas (I use whole wheat or spelt varieties for added fiber)
  • 1 large avocado, sliced

Method (and a touch of madness)

  • Pre-heat a barbecue, grill pan or a heavy normal pan.
  • Shred the cabbage by slicing it as thinly as possible. Add lemon juice, cilantro, oil and a pinch of salt and pepper and stir. Leave to the side to marinate and wilt.
  • Add oil, garlic, lemon rind, salt and pepper to the fish. Lightly massage the fish to get them flavors in. Add to grill pan.
  • Meanwhile, add all of the ingredients for the broccoli to a bowl.
  • Flip the fish after about 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. It should come away from the grill/pan without too much hassle once it’s cooked enough.
  • Heat a separate pan and add one tortilla to toast. Flip it then put it on a plate and cover with tea towel to ensure it doesn’t dry out. Continue with the rest of the tortillas.
  • Take fish off the grill and add broccoli, spreading into one layer then not touching to ensure you get a char. Flip after about 3 minutes, leave for another 2 then remove.
  • To serve, lay out one tortilla on a plate and add a thin, but generous layer of cabbage slaw. Follow with the spinach, then broccoli in less generous circumstances.
  • Top with small flakes or chunks of the grilled fish in a line (a little goes a long way) and top that with the sliced avocado.
  • Stuff your face.

 Guide for the ‘arians:

  • Flexitarian – good
  • Pescetarian – good
  • Vegetarian – swap fish out with your favorite protein, change fish sauce to kombu powder or something equally earthy and sea-like.
  • Omnivore – good
  • Vegan – swap fish out with your favorite protein, change fish sauce to kombu powder or something equally earthy and sea-like.
  • Gluten free – use a corn tortilla and be careful that all your sauces are labeled gluten-free.
  • Lactose free – good

Olé!

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