August 5 – August 11, 2019
Monday: Roast Poblano, Corn and Zucchini Tacos
Tues-Wed: Away on business
Thursday: Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Friday: Seared Tuna Niçoise
Saturday: Barbecued Chicken, Cole Slaw, Grilled Zucchini
Sunday: Rib-eyes with Potato/Green Bean Hash
The life of poor farm laborers, south of the border, is beyond difficult – long hours in the field, no air-conditioning, primitive plumbing and housing, a general lack of sophisticated entertainment, crazy, mean drug lords and unreliable policemen. But, judging from Rick Bayless’s simple Mexican recipes, they eat pretty well.
Obviously, that statement is condescending and fatuous coming from a well-set gringo. But that may be appropriate, considering that I am going to urge you to commit some cultural appropriation this week, and to make a simple taco with onions, peppers and corn. This is not the typical “Mexican food” you find in chain or even single-site restaurants. We are talking about the food you get in Mexico at a restaurant outside your resort, or in America at Rick Bayless’s places or down the street at the house of your neighbor who came here from Mexico.
Last week we had a superior barbecued chicken – more about that next week – and we had a superior taco. But we want to tell you about the taco because it is more surprising to have a great taco in an American household than it is to have great barbecued chicken. In fact, it is an anomaly, and Beez and I very much enjoy being anomalous, though not anonymous, as you can tell from our blog.
There is a general rule about good Mexican food: Aside from guacamole which is highly variable but always good and ubiquitous in Mexico and the simple grilled fish and shellfish on the coasts, most Mexican food takes some time to cook and develop its flavor or the flavor of the sauce you’re going to dip it into or drizzle over it. That is true of the various chilis we cook and it is true of these tacos. We’re not necessarily talking about a long time – it’s more about taking your time – roasting the chiles and removing the skin, softening the onions, and sautéing cubes of zucchini until they’re nicely browned, then simmering the whole shebang and warming the tortillas for twenty minutes or so in an oven to soften them.
The result is healthy, tasty and may (I hope) drive you south of the border for the real thing. The sweetness of the corn and the savory bitterness of the peppers and the unctuous crunch of the zucchini and onions make this simple taco a great dish.
Note: We are indebted to our friends Hilly and Dick for taking us south of the border and helping us to see the hospitality and wonders of Mexico.
Rick Bayless’s Zucchini, Poblano and Corn Tacos
(adapted from a recipe in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/1/19)
Timing: 1 Hour
Ingredients: Serves 4 – 6
4 poblano chiles (around 1 lb.) – this is important. The taste of poblanos is distinctive. You may substitute Anaheim peppers if you’re in a bind.
1 large white onion
1 pound of Zucchini – about 2 large or 4 medium – cut into cubes a smaller than ½ inch but larger than ¼ inch
1 cup of fresh or frozen corn kernels (we used maybe 2 cups – kernels from 3 ears)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (we used maybe ½ of a clove)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¾ cup Mexican cream or crème fraiche or more (we used crème fraiche and a little over 1 cup)
¼ cup chopped cilantro
12 corn tortillas – heated before serving
Crumbled Queso Fresco
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (you can substitute olive oil if you have a light olive oil)
Roast the poblanos directly over the flame of a gas oven, turning to make sure they are well-blistered all over. This will take about 8 minutes. You can also roast then under a broiler for 10 minutes or so. Put the poblanos in a bowl and cover with a cloth until cool enough to handle.
Slice the onion – I halve my onions and then slice. This gives more manageable bites.
Cut the zucchini.
Chop the garlic, if using
Cut the corn from the cob
Chop the cilantro
Heat the oven for warming the tortillas (325 F – they’ll take about 20 minutes – you can also microwave them or, best of all, cook them for 20 seconds a side in a hot skillet)
Measure out the oregano and crema or crème fraiche
When you can handle the poblanos, slide the blistered skins off with your hands. Running water may help you to finish this. Then cut off the stem end and slice each pepper in half. Remove all of the seeds and cut the peppers in to 1/4-inch strips.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high (medium, if you have high-btu burners). When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring as needed, until nicely browned – about 7 minutes. The onion will still be a little crunch.
Now stir in the garlic and oregano and cook for about 30 seconds and then add the chile strips and the cream, stirring constantly until the cream coats the chiles well – not quite 2 minutes.
Turn off heat, taste and season with salt – about ½ teaspoon – and transfer to a bowl.
Wipe the skillet clean, then add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and return to medium or medium-high. Once hot, add the zucchini and cook, stirring often and shaking, until browned all over. Maybe 10 minutes. Now add the corn a cook two minutes more, while stirring.
Pour and scrape the pepper and onion mixture into the pan, along with the cilantro. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer – adding more crema or crème fraiche if you want to loosen the mixture. Taste and add salt, if needed.
Scrape into a serving bowl. Serve on warm tortillas with queso fresco sprinkled over the top.
Cleaning and drying parsley, along with cleaning and drying lettuce, trimming avocados and listening to politicians speak is surely one of the most annoying tasks in the world.