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.

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Published in: on September 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A lamburger that’s baaad to the bone

Originally appeared in the September 6, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

You might have to do some investigating at your local market, but ground lamb is indeed available.  And while I didn’t include any cheese with this particular recipe, you could certainly do worse than add a bit of feta to the top of this lamburger.

Now, let’s talk about the “quickles.”  These are quick pickles, meaning that you can have them finished and cooled overnight, but they must remain refrigerated throughout their brined lifetime.  And owing to the subjectivity involved with the size of the cucumbers and desired application, I’ve kept the execution (read size of the pickling jars, the amount of garlic and arbol) rather loose.  And as this is a sort of basic “quick” brine, this is a really fun way to transform existing produce into a salty treat, and a wonderful way to get the kids involved in creating a personalized product.

Serve your lamburgers and quickles and some sort of crunchy side—fries, kettle chips, it’s your call.  And as I’ve indicated in the picture, fresh arugula—because of its peppery profile—is an appropriate accompaniment to your savory sandwich.  And though I invoke one of my former chefs who used to say, “You can never cook lamb too rare,” I encourage my readers to simply be judicious and create something delicious.

Lamburgers with homemade “quickles”

Serves 2

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • A few dashes Worcestershire
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chive
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

For pickles (to be done at least 24 hours ahead of time):

  • As needed, lid-and-band pickling jars (such as Ball brand)
  • 64 fluid ounces purified water
  • 3 ½ ounces seas salt
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 – 3 large cucumbers, cut into spears
  • As needed, fresh dill
  • 1 – 2 heads fresh garlic, cloves removed from skin
  • As needed, dried arbol chiles

1.  In a large stock pot, combine water, sea salt, and cider vinegar; bring to a gentle simmer for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Bring a separate stockpot of water to a gentle boil (this will be for sealing jars, so make sure you account for the height and amount of water that will be displaced).  In prepared pickling jars, arrange cucumber spears with a judicious mixture of fresh dill, garlic, and arbol chiles.  Carefully fill each jar with brine mixture to the rim.  When jars are sealed tightly, place in boiling water and allow tops to pop, this will indicate the lid-and-band seal is tight.  Remove jars from water and allow to cool before placing in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

2.  Preheat sauté pan or grill to medium-high.  Combine ground lamb with garlic, Worcestershire, basil, chive.  Divide in half and form two large patties.  Season exterior with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and place on preheated device.  Allow burgers to cook to desired doneness before removing from heat and allowing to rest for 7 minutes.  Serve burgers with homemade “quickles.”

Bánh mi (Vietnamese sandwich)

Bánh mi sandwiches combine comfort

Originally appeared in the May 17, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

The popularity of Americanized “street food” continues to grow.  There have even been television shows solely dedicated to fare on-the-fly.  And throughout Indy, trendy food trucks act as a veritable “Where’s Waldo?” of catch-it-while-you-can service.

The Vietnamese sandwich bánh mi has a long tradition of providing humble comfort with economic ingredients.  But it’s literally the idea of a sandwich—an amalgamation of flavorful ingredients, book-ended between bread—that holds it all together.

For this variation, I’ve assembled a bánh mi with marinated, thinly-sliced strip steak, paired with a radish and carrot pickle mix.  Prep your marinade and brine ahead of time so that when it comes to construction, you can operate just as quick as one of those lightning-fast street food vendors.  The red leaf lettuce provides a cool, crisp crunch, and the cilantro chimes in with notes of citrus.

As always, I encourage you to cobble together your own permutation.  Classic “body” fillings include barbecued pork, meatballs, grilled chicken, sardines, fried eggs, and tofu (just to name a few).  And use your imagination with the condiments—heck, if pâté tickles your fancy, go for it.  Whether it’s slow-at-home or on-the-go, bánh mi is about combining comfort.

Bánh mi (Vietnamese sandwich)

Serves 2

Marinade

  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil

Pickled radish and carrot

  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • 4 – 5 radishes, cut into matchsticks
  • ¾ teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons plus ¾ cups sugar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • ¾ cup lukewarm water
  • 1 pound strip steak, trimmed
  • 4 washed leaves of red-leaf lettuce or romaine
  • As needed, fresh cilantro sprigs
  • 1 French baguette, sliced into sandwich-sized portions

1.  Combine marinade by whisking in a bowl.  Place trimmed strip steak in a plastic storage bag and pour in marinade.  Allow to marinate for at least four hours (overnight is ideal).  Prepare your remaining sandwich toppings.

2.  For pickle: Combine vinegar, ¾ cups sugar, and water.  Place carrot and radish in a bowl and sprinkle on salt and 2 teaspoons sugar.  Use your fingers to “massage” the vegetables, rubbing the coarse salt and sugar into the vegetables.  Carrot and radish will begin to render liquid and go limp; continue for 2 – 3 minutes.  Strain under cold running water to wash off salt and sugar.  Pour brine over pickle mixture and set aside (preferably for a few hours).

3.  Pan-sear marinated strip steak over medium-high heat.  Cook until you’ve achieved desired doneness.  Slice thin and pile onto baguette bread with lettuce, cilantro, and carrot-radish pickle mix.

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 5:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Turkey mantou burgers with parmesan wafer

Get cooking with kids: part 4

Originally appeared in the March 22, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

For this fourth installment in this kid-centric series, I had my mind set on some sort of sandwich.  And to avoid the same old, same old, I set my sights on introducing the little ones to a unique sort of bread—mantou.

You likely won’t find this at your local market, so it will take an investigative trek to an international market.  But like so many of these little adventures, it’s unceasingly rewarding.  Mantou is a yeast-leavened bun, similar to bao (pronounced bow), a sort of stuffed bread popular in Chinese cuisine.  The buns are usually steamed, producing a delicate dough yielding an enjoyably chewy texture, and its fermented flavor is mildly sweet.

In the midst of your gastronomic quest, steer toward the freezer section of the store, where you’ll find a host of frozen rolls and doughs—of both the stuffed and plain varieties.

The turkey is, of course, lean, so I’ve added in a little hoisin sauce as both binder and flavor component.  And I won’t even get into the host of toppings you can pair with these burgers—the sky’s the limit.  Combined, these elements create a kid-friendly sandwich that’s predictable enough to be pleasing, while abnormal enough to be enticing.

 

Turkey mantou burger with parmesan wafer

Makes 2 sandwiches

  • 8 ounces ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • To taste, salt and cracked black pepper
  • 2 plain mantou or bao buns
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • As needed, all-purpose flour

1.  Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine 8 ounces of turkey with hoisin sauce.  Add a small amount of kosher salt and pepper.  Divide meat into 2 portions, and shape portions into patties.  In an oven-safe sauté pan over medium-high heat, add a small amount of canola oil.  When heated, add patties one at a time, searing to golden brown color, reserving the cooked one on a plate.  When patties are cooked, put back in pan and place pan in oven to finish cooking (12 -15 minutes).

2.  Meanwhile, place mantou buns in a large freezer bag; seal halfway, allowing an open portion to release steam; cook for 30 – 40 seconds, or until buns have softened.  Set aside.

3.  Now make parmesan wafer: In a small bowl, combine parmesan with just enough flour (a few sprinkles) to coat the cheese.  Using a non-stick sauté pan, place half the parm mixture flat in the center, making a wafer-thin disc.  When wafer has started to get crispy (about 40 – 60 seconds) flip with a spatula.  Set wafer aside.

4.  Slice mantou buns and proceed to assemble sandwiches—turkey patty, parmesan wafer, and choice of toppings.