Seafood Fridays – Fish Tacos

The key to making great fish tacos is not the kind of fish you use or how you cook it.

I’ve made fish tacos with tilapia, grouper and even shark. I’ve grilled it, broiled it and deep fried it.

While getting a high quality, relatively neutral flavored fish is important, it’s not the thing that makes fish tacos taste like fish tacos.

No, the key to fish tacos is: Cilantro.

Cilantro, the wonderful fresh herb that tastes like mint and parsley had a baby, gives fish tacos that incredible fresh flavor that instantly transports me to Venice Beach, where I first discovered my love for fish tacos at an oceanside bodega more than a decade ago.

When you include cilantro in your fish tacos, it brings the rest of the flavors to life, making the type of fish and how you cook it less important. Almost any fish taco will work if you include cilantro.

Whatever else you put on your fish tacos is up to you. I like to include a little thinly-sliced cabbage with the lettuce to give it some crunch.

In most cases, I would say cheese and fish are two things that don’t go together, but when you add a little shredded Mexican cheese mixture or queso fresco to the fish and serve it in a warm tortilla, something miraculous happens.

Normally, I use corn tortillas, but you could use flour tortillas if you wanted. Just make sure thay are the taco-sized 4″ tortillas. If you use a tortilla that’s any larger, you are looking at a fish burrito and everybody knows there’s no such thing as a fish burrito!

In a restaurant setting, I serve three fish tacos on a plate. Wrapping each in a little square of wax paper holds them together nicely. But at home I prefer to set up a fish taco bar because everybody likes their fish taco made a little differently.

I usually serve my fish tacos with chipotle salsa — which I make by mixing regular salsa with spicy chipotle sauce so it has a little smoky heat to it — along with fat free sour cream and my homemade guacamole.

This time, I also included some spicy refried beans, which I made by combining a can of fat-free refried beans, a 1/4 can of water and several shakes of hot sauce, topped with a little shredded cheese.

I have to give one more shout out to the quinoa and black bean infused tortilla chips I discovered recently at Trader Joe’s. If you haven’t tried them yet, pick some up the next time you are at TJ’s. They are awesome and they go great with these fish tacos.

Fish Tacos

1 lb Fresh neutral-flavored fish such as tilapia

1/2 cup Seasoned flour (All-purpose flour with a little salt and pepper thrown in)

1 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

1 cup Shredded Mexican cheese (or queso fresco)

1/2 head Red leaf lettuce, sliced thin

1/2 cup Green cabbage, sliced thin

1/2 cup Cilantro, sliced thin

1 cup Salsa

1 TBS Chipotle sauce

1 cup Fat free sour cream

Guacamole

1 package 4″ Corn tortillas

1. Put cast iron pan on fire. When hot, add EVOO. Meanwhile, drag fish through seasoned flour. When oil is smoking, carefully put the fish into the oil, being careful not to splash hot oil on yourself. Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes. Set aside.

2. Combine salsa with chipotle sauce and stir together. Combine lettuce, cabbage and cilantro and mix together.

3. Remove tortillas from package and wrap in a clean dish towel or simply serve them the South Side way, in their wax paper package. Microwave for 45 seconds to soften and warm them.

3. Rough chop fish and place in a serving bowl. Place remaining garnishes in serving bowls with implements to create a fish taco bar. Invite your guests to make their own tacos however way they wish.

What do you like on your fish tacos? Join the conversation in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Meat Free Mondays — Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

We love enchiladas. It’s one of our favorite meals to make and we have it at least twice per month.

The great thing about enchiladas is that you can fill them with anything you want. They are particularly great for using up leftovers or if you want to make a vegetarian dish.

So when I found this enchilada recipe — which I found on this blog by the2beths, one of my favorite blogs — I just knew I had to try it. It had some funky ingredients and even the way it was assembled was way different from my enchilada recipe.

The good news: It was delicious. The sweet potato did not overwhelm the complex flavors of the enchilada as I suspected it would. Instead, it kind of complemented the mushroom-pepper-onion-jalapeno-spinach filling. I also thought the sweet potato would make it too dense, but it didn’t at all. It was light and moist.

The bad news: With the enchilada sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish, instead of mixed in with the filling like I normally make it, the enchiladas stuck to the bottom and fell apart as I tried to plate them.

This may have been because I made them a few hours ahead of time and held them in the refrigerator until we were ready to have dinner. Or it may have been because I used generic store-brand whole wheat tortillas. But next time, I will assemble them the way I normally do.

But despite the plating disaster, I loved the flavor of these enchiladas. Plus, it gave me an excuse to make our guacamole, which I think is why we have enchiladas (and quesadillas, for that matter) so frequently: We can’t get enough of our guacamole.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped

1 TBS EVOO

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

8-10 button mushrooms, chopped fine

1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, medium dice

1/2 red onion, medium dice

2 cups fresh spinach, stems removed and cleaned

1 tsp chili powder

2 tsp cumin

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1 12-oz can enchilada sauce

6 8″ whole wheat tortillas

1 cup salsa, plus more on the side for service

1/3 cup shredded Mexican cheese

1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped (full disclosure: I bought this but forgot to put it in)

1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil then add the sweet potato and boil until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain and mash.

2. Preheat oven to 375F. Put cast iron pan on the fire. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add onion, green pepper and jalapeno and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms browned, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and spinach and cook until spinach is wilted, about 3 more minutes. Add black beans, cilantro, cumin and chili powder and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes, and remove from heat.

3. In a casserole dish, spread 1/2 of the can of enchilada sauce around the bottom. One by one, fill the tortillas a schmeer of mashed sweet potato topped with a dollop of the filling, then a TBS of salsa. Roll up like a burrito and place seam side down in the casserole dish. When all tortillas are filled, pour remaining enchilada sauce over them and sprinkle with the cheese. Cover with foil, bake 35 minutes then remove foil and bake another 10 minutes to brown up the top.

I serve my enchiladas with homemade guacamole, salsa, fat free sour cream and baked tortilla chips. This is one of our favorite meals.

What dishes do you love so much you make them at least a couple of times per month? Tell us about them in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

The Whole Enchilada

Did you every make something just so you could make something else with the leftovers? I do that all the time so we can have one of our favorites — enchiladas.

Enchiladas are kind of like open-ended burritos that are baked. They always include a traditional sauce made out of a variety of roasted peppers pureed together, and they usually include some sort of cheese.

Chicken, Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas

Chicken, Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas

Whatever else they are filled with is up to you.

I have collected recipes for enchilada sauce, but it’s one of those things that is just easier to buy. It’s not really very expensive and you can get it in a 14 oz can, which is just the right amount. Its very flavorful but not all that spicy.

We like to stuff our enchiladas with leftover chicken, pork or just beans and corn if that’s all we have. I almost always make a little rice to bind it together, but I’ve also made it without rice.

I have a wonderful rice steamer, which is soooo easy to use — you just pour in the rice and liquid, turn it on and forget about it! But I have been making brown rice lately because it’s healthier and I’m trying to weed out our overflowing pantry. Brown rice needs to be made on the stovetop because it takes a lot longer to cook.

I haven’t used instant rice ever since I learned that nearly all the nutritional value is leached out when they pre-cook it then dehydrate it. Yuck.

Whenever I cook a chicken, beef or some sort of pork, I almost always plan on making enchiladas with the leftovers a day or two later. I can justify spending money on the meat if I know I’m going to get at least two meals and probably a lunch out of it.

If you only have a little bit of leftover protein, you can stretch it out with extra rice or beans.

Enchiladas are also another excuse for us to have our favorite homemade guacamole. I also serve it with (fat free) sour cream and our special salsa blend, which is made with two parts regular salsa (any kind) and one part chipotle sauce, which has a wonderful smoky flavor but is much too spicy to eat on its own.

We probably have enchiladas at least twice per month. It’s a night we look forward to because it’s super delicious and easy to make. It can even be made a day ahead of time if you know you are going to be busy, or you can even freeze it for another time.

Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas

8-12 oz leftover chicken, white or dark meat, diced

15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

14 oz can enchilada sauce

1 cup cooked rice

1 cup cooked corn, canned or fresh

1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar and Monterey Jack mix preferred)

5 whole wheat tortillas

Assembling the Enchiladas

Assembling the Enchiladas

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 9″x9″ baking pan with pan spray.

Combine chicken, beans, rice, 3/4 of cheese and 3/4 can of the enchilada sauce in mixing bowl and stir together. Lay out tortilla on cutting board, fill one side with 1/5 of the mixture, roll up tightly and place sealed side down in baking dish. Repeat with remaining four tortillas. Drizzle remaining enchilada sauce over the top, then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover with foil and cook for 35 minutes. Remove foil and cook another 5-10 minutes to crisp up the top.

Serve with guacamole, sour cream, salsa and tortilla chips. Also goes great with beer.

Holy Guacamole!

How do you like your guacamole?

Do you like it spicy or mild? Chunky or smooth? Lots of garnish or mostly avocado?

Personally, I prefer spicy, chunky and with lots of red onion, tomato and jalapeno garnish. Almost like a salsa that happens to have avocado in it.

Guacamole Ingredients

Guacamole Ingredients

I also like fresh garlic and cilantro in mine, but rarely get to have them because my wife, Sandi, won’t let me put them in our guacamole because they give her heartburn. And guacamole is her number one favorite food, so we have it pretty much at least once a week.

Don’t even get me started about the store-bought varieties, especially those in the
squeezable plastic bags. I’m not sure those are really avocados, let alone actual guacamole. We are lucky enough to live in an area with a number of Hispanic grocery stores so there is excellent authentic guacamole for sale within walking distance 24/7/365. But we hardly ever buy it.

Why would we? It’s so easy to make! And we love ours!

To me, guacamole needs to be made fresh and eaten, well, if not immediately, then at least the same day that it’s made.

The ingredients to guacamole can vary, but one constant is avocado. You can find fresh avocado at your produce store year round, but the quality and price varies greatly depending on the time of year. Not surprisingly, summer and fall bring the best and least expensive avocados. During winter and spring, you will pay an arm and a leg for hard, under ripe fruits.

To tell if an avocado is ripe, gently squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger. If it gives just a little, it’s perfectly ripe. If it gives a lot, it’s overripe and unusable. If it
doesn’t give at all, it’s under ripe. You can still buy it if you’re not planning on using it for a couple of days – just set it aside unrefrigerated and it will ripen on its own.

If you want to speed up the ripening, try putting it in a paper bag overnight. This works pretty well. Some people suggest putting a banana in the bag to really speed things up, but to me that just makes the avocado taste like banana.

Another trick (not recommended) is to put an under ripe in the microwave for 30 seconds. This definitely will soften it, but because it’s still under ripe, the flavor won’t be there. So what’s the point?

Most of the avocados in the United States come from southern California and are the Hass variety, which all originated from a single tree planted in 1926 by mailman and amateur horticulturist Rudolph Hass of La Habra Heights, California.

But you also will see different varieties – including some gigantic ones — from Mexico, where the plant originated. One last fun fact: The US is only the third largest producer, behind Mexico (predictably) and Indonesia (who knew?!).

There are an infinite variety of guacamoles, from soupy liquids to barely diced chunks. And the ingredients can include anything you want – fresh vegetables, fruits, even beans. I saw once saw Rick Bayless (celebrity chef and TV show host) eat guacamole that had grasshoppers in it!

Mine rarely has insects in it. It does have garden fresh tomatoes and jalapenos (at least in the summer), as well as diced red onion and fresh squeezed lime juice.

Guacamole

2-3 medium avocados

Juice of ½ fresh lime

½ medium red onion, small dice

2 tomatoes, ribs and seeds removed, diced

1 or 2 jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, diced

1 clove garlic, crushed (if my wife’s not around)

A few sprigs of fresh of cilantro, roughly chopped (ditto)

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut avocados in half and remove large seed from center. Use a spoon to remove meat into mixing bowl. Mash with potato masher or fork. Fold in remaining ingredients to desired consistency. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes (if you can stand it) to let flavors meld. Serve with tortilla chips.

Lime juice will keep the avocados from oxidizing (turning brown) for a little while, but eventually the guacamole will start to brown, so eat it quick. Who am I kidding? In our  house, guacamole has never lasted long enough to turn brown! It’s too delicious.

Great for parties. Great as an accompaniment to Mexican food. Great on its own. Guacamole is one of our favorite and most frequently made dishes.

Oh, man, I’ve gotta go make some guacamole!

Taco Night

When I was a kid, Taco Night was always the best dinner. Not only did you get to have spicy and delicious Mexican food, but you got to assemble your tacos all by yourself.

Oh. My. Golly.

Now that I’m older, Taco Night is still one of my favorites. I love setting up a little taco bar with all the fixings. And if you have kids of your own, you know how delighted they are to build their own tacos.

It becomes more than a meal. It becomes an event.

Taco Night, Taco Night, Taco Night!

Taco Night, Taco Night, Taco Night!

Taco Night also is very economical because the ingredients are among the least expensive you can buy.

Tortillas cost next to nothing. You can buy corn or flour tortillas, in various sizes depending on what you like. Just heat them up right before service in a cast iron pan or in the microwave, then keep them warm by wrapping them in a clean dishtowel.

Or you can buy hard taco shells, which are corn tortillas that have been deep fried. These are a little more expensive, however.

Fill your tacos with any kind of ground or shredded meat you want. Ground beef, turkey, or shredded chicken all work well. Tacos are also a great way to burn out leftovers.

This is a great place to use some of that shredded chicken or pork that you smoked yourself in your smoker.

Pulled Smoked Chicken

Pulled Smoked Chicken

Another favorite is fish tacos. I use frozen tilapia filets because they are usually very reasonably priced, but you can use just about any kind of fish. Just defrost them, season them and put them under the broiler for about 7 minutes before chopping them up into big chunks.

Season your filling with an envelope of taco seasoning, or just use two parts cumin to one part chili powder, which is basically what’s in those envelopes anyway and it’s a lot
cheaper.

For the cheese, shredded cheese is often on sale, or you can save a little more by buying block cheese and shredding it yourself. Not only is this cheaper, but it tastes better because pre-shredded cheese usually has been sprayed with a preservative to keep it from getting dusty while sitting on the shelf.

White cheese tends to have less fat than orange cheese, but I prefer a combination of both, such as a mild cheddar and a Monterey jack.

The next ingredient is shredded lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is very inexpensive, but it lacks almost any nutritional value. I prefer red leaf or green leaf, which are much better for you and not that much more. After cleaning the lettuce (in your salad spinner, if you are lucky enough to have one), cut it into bit size pieces or horizontally into thin strips to shred it.

To me, the salsa makes or breaks the taco. Remember those little containers of hot sauce from Taco Bell? Weren’t those terrific? I haven’t been to TB in probably 15 years, but I can still remember exactly how they taste.

Fortify Mild Salsa with Chipotle

Fortify Mild Salsa with Chipotle

For my Taco Night, I like to use a regular mild salsa (whatever is on sale) combined with a healthy dollop of chipotle salsa, which is very spicy and is made with smoked jalapeno peppers. By itself, chipotle is too hot for me, but it adds a terrific smoky, spicy underlying flavor to regular salsa.

Sour cream acts as a cool counterpoint to the spicy salsa. Fat free sour cream is preferred in our house.

Finally, there’s the guacamole. We are huge fans of guacamole and usually have it two or three times a month, at least. It’s also our go-to appetizer to bring to parties. I’m planning a whole other blog devoted exclusively to guacamole in the near future, so stay tuned.

If you live by a Hispanic market, they usually will have some very good housemade guacamoles, which are not super spicy. But be careful not to confuse it with avocado sauce, which looks similar but has much more heat.

Mango Walnut Guacamole

Mango Walnut Guacamole

Or you can make your own guacamole. For this week’s Taco Night, I made a Mango-Walnut Guacamole, also known as a “Fruta”. It’s basically regular guacamole fortified with diced fresh mango for sweetness and chopped walnuts for a little crunch. Delicious.

Surprisingly, tortilla chips are probably the most expensive element of taco night. It’s easy to grab a bag from the shelf without looking at the price, but some bags can cost close to $4 apiece. That’s way too much. Instead, look for sales or buy them at a discount grocer such as Aldi’s. You are not going to find a wide variety in quality between the $4 tortilla chips and the $1.50 bag.

Want to make your Taco Night more authentic? Why not include a pot of homemade refried beans or frijoles negros y arroz?

For presentation, set up a cute little taco bar and invite your family to build their own. You can make it as elaborate or ordinary as you want. I love to use mismatched serving bowls I buy at garage and rummage sales to liven it up. Your family will love it and it
will make one of the least expensive meals one of the most memorable.

Do you have any special meals that turn your family’s dinner into a memorable occasion? Why not share your ideas in the comments section?