Growing up in southern California, tacos were a constant fixture in my house. And not the ground beef, hard shell kind either. I'm talking norteno style carne asada, bright and spicy pico de gallo, and mountains of avocados from the tree in our back yard. My dog, Spike, would wander around with a green snout and full belly from devouring the fallen avocados. He might've gotten chubby, but man was his fur silky.
Even though I'm lucky enough to live only 4 hours away from the taco's home turf, it's unsurprising how accessible and popular tacos have become in every corner of the country. I guess that's because tacos aren't really a recipe, like a philly cheese steak or a crawfish boil; tacos are a format. When something is a format, meaning, it's defined by it's composition rather than the ingredients themselves, the possibilities are endless. How many types sandwiches have you had? How many different pies? The burger seems to have fared pretty well. All of these recipes travel so well because every family can find ingredients they love and put them between two slices of bread or inside of a tortilla. It allows for flexibility and adaptation to anyone's palette. So for today's episode, I put together some of my favorite tacos: a super traditional version of carne asada with pico de gallo, and then a very un-boring veggie taco made with black bean corn salsa. I call it a "salsa" but honestly, if you served in a large bowl with a spoon, it would make an amazing side salad. It's hearty, filled with flavor, and perfect inside a tortilla. To go with our tacos, I makes another classic filled with flavor: Mexican Rice. Enjoy!
2 pounds flank or skirt steak
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Marinade:
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño chile pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large handful fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped (great flavor in the stems)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 limes, juiced
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
Lay the flank steak in a large non-reactive bowl or baking dish. Combine marinade ingredients and pour the marinade over the steak. Make sure each piece is well coated. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
Preheat your grill over medium-high flame (you can also use a cast iron grill pan on high heat for stove-top cooking). Brush the grates with a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Remove the steak from the marinade. If you are cooking indoors, you may want to brush off excess marinade as the bits may burn and smoke on the hot pan.
Season both sides of the steak pieces with salt and pepper. Grill the pieces for a few minutes only, on each side, depending on how thin they are, until medium rare to well done, to your preference. You may need to work in batches. Remove the steak pieces to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the steak across the grain on a diagonal. For tacos, cut them into bite sized cubes.
For the Pico de Gallo:
4 cups tomato (from 1 lb to 1 1/2 lb) finely diced
1 cup red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeño chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
Juice of one lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Taste. If the jalapeño make the salsa too hot, add some more chopped tomato. If not hot enough, carefully add a few of the seeds from the jalapeño. Let sit for an hour for the flavors to combine.
For the tacos:
Carne Asada, thinly cut
Pico de Gallo
Small flour tortillas, warm
To put the tacos together, warm the tortillas by holding on at a time over an open flame with tongs, and then wrapping them in a clean dish towel to keep them warm (or you can microwave them instead). Take a tortilla and fill with carne asada, pico de gallo, and any other ingredients you like!
Black Bean Corn Salsa Tacos
For the Black Bean Corn Salsa:
1-2 ears corn (you'll want 1 cup of kernels)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup canned black beans, drained
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
1 lime, juiced
Salt and Pepper to taste
Dress the corn with oil and grill over high heat until grill marks form. If you don't have a grill, slice off the kernels and sauté until golden brown. If grilling, cut the kernels off of the ear of corn (you should have about a cup) and combine with all of the other ingredients in a bowl.
Ingredients for Toppings:
Black bean corn salsa
To put the tacos together, warm the tortillas by holding on at a time over an open flame with tongs, and then wrapping them in a clean dish towel to keep them warm (or you can microwave them instead). Take a tortilla and fill with black bean corn salsa and any other ingredients you like!
Simple Mexican Rice
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 fresh poblano chili, stems and seeds removed, and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 cup rice, preferably long grain
1 cup diced white onion
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup diced carrot
1 cup frozen peas, blanched
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped, plus extra for garnish
In a pan, add the oil and heat over medium. Add the rice, onion, and a big pinch of salt and cook, stirring regularly, until the rice is opaque looking and the onion is starting to brown, about 7-10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook a minute longer. Add the tomato puree and stir for a moment.
Add the broth and chopped chili, carrots, and (still frozen) peas to the pan, stir once, scrape down any rice kernels clinging to the side of the pan, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Uncover and check a grain of rice: It should be nearly cooked through. If the rice is just about ready, turn off the heat, re-cover and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes longer to complete the cooking.
Fluff with a fork, scoop into a warm serving dish, decorate with cilantro sprigs and it's ready to serve.