Carne asada tacos

Many thanks, Frankie

Originally appeared in the September 13, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

It was probably during my fifth or sixth month in my first job at a Mexican restaurant that a cook named Frankie beckoned me to the back of the kitchen.  This was near closing time, and I was at the helm of the expeditor’s station.  I didn’t know what Frankie—a big-shouldered guy with haphazard facial hair and a childlike chuckle—had up his sauce-spattered sleeve; but I was suspicious of the mischievous glint in my amigo’s eye.

“Frankie” was certainly not his real name, but it didn’t matter; like most of the cooks at this establishment (and countless others), “Frankie” was more than a fake-named cook, he was a friend.  On a platter rested three steak tacos, topped with a mix of cilantro, onion, and cradled in warm corn tortillas.  “This is what they should be serving,” said Frankie, vaguely gesturing at the belly of the kitchen.  He squeezed a bit of fresh lime on one of the tacos.  “These are real tacos Mexicanos.”

I gained a great respect for Mexican cuisine—and I’m not talking about the ersatz variety suited to the palates of us gringos.  In the months to come, the cooks (as part of their before- and after-hour rituals) shared with me traditional dishes like chilaquiles and menudo.  So don’t thank me for this recipe.  Thank “Frankie.”


Carne asada tacos

Yields six tacos

  • 2 pounds flank or skirt steak, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ½ red onion, minced
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Zest from 1 fresh lime
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 6 white or yellow corn tortillas
  • As needed, sliced fresh lime

1.  Dice steak into small, bite-sized cubes and place in non-reactive bowl.  Add in oil and lime juice, coating steak thoroughly; allow meat to marinate in refrigerator for at least four hours.

2.  Meanwhile, in a bowl combine onion, cilantro, and lime zest along with a small pinch of kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Place a wide-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat; season steak with a small amount of salt and pepper before adding to hot pan.  Sear meat thoroughly on all sides before removing from heat and allowing to rest (for about 7-8 minutes).  Place a separate sauté pan over medium heat and lightly toast corn tortillas on both sides.  Fill the tortillas with seared steak, top with cilantro along with a generous amount of fresh lime juice.

Published in: on September 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Grilled steak with watermelon-pistachio salad

Something chilled, and something from the grill

Originally appeared in the July 12, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

If you haven’t had the chance to do so, there’s still plenty of time to celebrate the edible hallmarks of summer.  Today, I’m sharing a recipe that offers something from the grill, but includes an accompaniment with a personality all its own—think of it as a chilled and sweet response to the heat of the grill.

I suggest using the grill for this method because of the signature flavor it imparts to the meat; and while I used strip steak for this particular recipe, I encourage you (as always) to make your own riffs and select whatever cut you’re comfortable with.  As I’ve mentioned before, when your purchasing watermelon check to make sure the fruit is heavy and slightly waxy.  A pale area on one side of the oblong melon suggests the fruit has rested on the ground long enough to ripen.  And with the dressing, the balsamic accents the melon’s sweetness, and the savory gorgonzola adds a salty bit of bitterness.

I used our 7-year-old, Jack, as a guinea pig for this recipe.  Sitting at the kitchen table, with a mouth full of food, Jack (my most forgiving critic), forking another piece of fruit, said something which I’ll translate for you here: “Tell the people in the paper that this is darn good steak.”  Thanks, pal.

Grilled steak with watermelon-pistachio salad

Serves 2

  • 16 ounces of strip steak
  • 14 – 16 ounces of melon-balled watermelon
  • 3 fluid ounces olive oil
  • 1 fluid ounce balsamic vinegar
  • 8 – 10 leaves of fresh mint, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 tablespoon crushed pistachios
  • To taste, granulated sugar, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper

1.  Season your steak with salt and pepper, and grill to desired doneness (you may need to use and oven to finish cooking process).  Remove steak from grill, cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest.

2.  Meanwhile, prepare salad:  place melon-balled watermelon in a bowl; in a separate bowl, add balsamic vinegar and slowly whisk in olive oil to form and emulsion.  Add a pinch of sugar, pinch of salt and pepper, and add fresh mint.  Pour desired amount of dressing over watermelon, and gently toss to coat.  Gently incorporate gorgonzola and pistachios.

3.  Slice steak into thin pieces and serve with watermelon salad.  Garnish plates with gorgonzola, pistachios, and fresh mints leaves.


Published in: on July 13, 2012 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Phớ bò (Vietnamese beef and noodle soup)

Phớ sure

Originally appeared in the July 5, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Okay, sure—as our region continues coping with comically high temperatures, you may think the heat has addled my mind when sharing a recipe for steamy Vietnamese soup.  But don’t jump to conclusions.  Phớ is more about celebrating humble summer ingredients than flirting with an uncomfortable burn.

The backbone of phớ (pronounced “fah”) is a distinctive, savory broth (usually served with rice noodles); but the main attraction is not the soup, but rather the accompaniments: fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, among others), tart lime, crisp onion, fish sauce, hoisin, and spicy jalapeno.  Of course there are interpretations, as Vietnamese tradition holds that each vendor would encourage diners to tinker with the quantity and combination of their desired garnishes.

To experience a knock-out phớ, my wife and I typically made a trip to either Lafayette Road or the indelible Sandra Rice and Noodles on Pendleton Pike.  But as luck has it, Beech Grove is home to Egg Roll #1 Phớ #1 (4576 South Emerson), which boasts a wonderful Vietnamese menu along with a host of phớ variations.

If you can’t make phớ at home, stop by Phớ #1.  You’ll understand that the heat is not getting to me.  Not yet.

Phớ bò (Vietnamese beef and noodle soup)

Serves 2 – 3

  • 64 ounces beef bones
  • As needed, water
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 3-inch piece of ginger
  • To taste, kosher salt
  • 3 fluid ounces fish sauce
  • 6 whole star anise
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 16 ounces cooked rice noodles
  • 8 ounces raw beef tenderloin, sliced very thin

1.  Place beef bones in a stockpot and add enough water to just cover the bones.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and skim impurities from time to time.  Meanwhile, cut onion in half and slice ginger lengthwise; place both ingredients on a sheetpan and place under a 500° F. broiler until flesh is charred.  Using a piece of cheesecloth and strand of kitchen twine, combine star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves, and secure with length of twine (this is called a sachet).  Add charred onion and ginger, along with salt, fish sauce, and sachet to beef stock.  Gently simmer for roughly 4 hours, until stock has reduced and flavors have concentrated.  Afterwards, remove sachet and strain the liquid.  Return stock to low heat and adjust seasonings.

2.  Suggestions for garnishes (all amounts are as desired): thinly sliced onion; bean sprouts; fresh herbs: cilantro, basil, mint; lime wedges; fish sauce; fresh jalapenos; and chile sauce.  In preparation for service, place garnishes in separate bowls and reserve.

3.  Reheat cooked rice noodles in simmering beef soup.  Portion soup and noodles into extra-large bowls.  Add sliced beef tenderloin to each bowl and allow the hot liquid to cook the beef.  Place desired amount of garnishes into soup at service.


Published in: on July 5, 2012 at 10:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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Beef and chipotle chili with móle

Doctored chili changes up game plan

Originally appeared in the February 2, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

If you’ve glimpsed the (nearly inescapable) coverage on our local news broadcasts, or given a cursory glance at an Indy newspaper, then you know this year’s Super Bowl holds special interest for our city.  And if you watch and listen closely, you’ll notice the emphasis on celebrating this beloved occasion with food.  (There have even been several stories on the veritable horseshoe of food trucks that have intermittently surrounded Monument Circle.)

While there are traditional, football-friendly dishes, game-day grub varies from tribe to tribe.  But there’s something special about chili—a savory, communal stew that satiates the demands of a party in terms of both quality and quantity.  Though, as far as tradition goes, I’ve made a few adjustments for this one.  Read more after the jump: (more…)

Published in: on February 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm  Comments (1)  
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