Juicing It

Last week is a week I hope not to repeat any time soon. Not because I had a lot of work to do, and not because traffic was rough most mornings, and certainly not because I was sick or anything of the sort. Last week sucked because Chris and I did a 3-day juice detox.

Exactly.

Sure, vacation was great and all, but somewhere along the way we became pretty disgusted with ourselves and all of the greasy, processed, yummy food we were eating. Our pants were a lot tighter (remember? I said bring your fat pants on a Deep South trip) and our tummies much gassier than usual, which, for me, is saying a lot. Too much detail? Never! Anyhoo, let’s just call it the straw that broke the camel’s back, and leave it at that. A 3-day diet of nothing but juice seemed like the perfect punishment answer.

To be honest though, it wasn’t the most horrible event to ever happen in my life. And we did choose to do it (and pay a ginormous amount to do it, also). The juices were tasty, at least most of them (I actually miss the almond drink at night), and we certainly weren’t starving since we were drinking water and/or juice almost constantly. But damn, I missed eating. I missed chewing. I missed the variety of tasting something different every day if I chose to. The worst part about it all? We had a lovely weekend beforehand including extra-amazing pulled pork, coleslaw, and baked beans, and I couldn’t even eat the leftovers since we had to go vegan for two days before the juicing started.

Let’s chalk that up to poor planning on our part. We ran out of weekends in September and October, and we had to have a “shredded meat + zombie show marathon” party before the season 2 premiere of The Walking Dead this past Sunday, so there really was no way around it whatsoever. I want to say it was worth it, but all day Sunday I thought about my friends Elizabeth and Kevin and just knew they were tearing into the leftovers we’d forced on them. If they didn’t live all the way on the other side of the bridge I would have stolen it all back come Wednesday, so clearly it’s best that we just got the leftovers out of our sight, right?!

Of course, now that we’ve advanced to solid foods (yay grown ups!), we are trying our best to keep things on the lighter side. Juicing was not only a great way to get rid of a lot of toxin buildup, but it was also a good kickstart to some better eating around these parts. Don’t get me wrong – we’ll still be eating butter, heavy cream, cheese, and our fair share of red meat around here, but hopefully just a little bit less than we have the past few months.

The tacos you see here were eaten the night before and the night after three endless days of nothing but juice our wonderful, exhilarating detox. They were inspired by Joy the Baker’s recent post, primarily because I had everything on hand but the sweet potatoes. Her recipe also included a crunchy component, a cabbage slaw, which is certainly a great idea. I was in no mood to have extra food lying around, so I skipped it. But seriously, crunch is always welcome in a taco, so feel free to add something similar if you’re feeling the need.

As for me, I gotta say – these tacos were great, easy to throw together, and perfect for pre- and post-detox requirements, but this week, I’m ready to have something with actual meat in it. Hallelujah.

ps – if you live in the Bay Area and wanna give the juice detox a try, use Juice to You. They use organic, local veggies and reusable glass jars – super duper green! Outside of the Bay Area? Try BluePrintCleanse, the national company that ships it to ya like nobody’s business.

 

Black Bean & Sweet Potato Tacos
inspired by  Joy the Baker; makes 8 hefty tacos

time commitment: ~45 minutes (most inactive)

printable version

ingredients
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 T + 1 t olive oil
salt and pepper
1 t chipotle chile powder
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
8 corn tortillas, warmed in the oven
1 T cilantro, plus more for garnishing
lime juice, for garnish

instructions 
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Toss the sweet potato with 2 T olive oil, salt and pepper, chipotle chile powder, and cumin onto a baking sheet and bake for ~30 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a medium skillet and toss in the onion. Saute on medium for about 5 minutes, until soft, and toss in the garlic for another minute. Then add the black beans and cook until heated throughout. Meanwhile, get the tortillas heated up in the oven. Once the black beans are heated, mix in a tablespoon of cilantro and then dump the beans and sweet potatoes into a bowl together.

Finish off with cilantro and lime juice, then scoop into corn tortillas.

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Getting Fresh

Now that the big secret’s out, we can get back to this backlog of recipes I’ve been wanting to talk about for ages but wasn’t able to since there’s been about ten thousand things on my mind.

And let there be no doubt, there are still at least 9,000 things on my mind, but nonetheless, enough space has been cleared in my brain where I can talk about food again. Cooking it is another thing, but fortunately I have a pretty big backlog.

I don’t know about you, but one of the first things that comes to my mind when I think of California (my future state of residence!!) is all the fresh food. The words fresh and local will be a little different in the Golden State than here in the Midwest – word on the street is that people grow oranges, and lemons, and maybe even avocados there! I’m hoping real hard to land a place with a lemon tree in the backyard, and if not, you best believe I might plant one myself, even with my horrible track record of growing things.

This is certainly a recipe that should fit well into any season, but it’s usually in January or so when I really crave something light and fresh in between all the stews and chili. Plus, with having a constant meat rotation with the CSA, I find that I need a good excuse to have some fresh fish that isn’t something coming from my freezer. This is a good, easy answer to all of those things.

And I never turn down a taco, or an avocado, or salmon for that matter. All things that make moving to the West Coast even more exciting, if truth be told.

Chipotle-Rubbed Salmon Tacos
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

time commitment: ~30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
salsa
1 Granny Smith apple—peeled and small-diced
1/2 cucumber—peeled, seeded, and small-diced
1/2 small red onion, small-diced
1/2 small red bell pepper, small-diced
1 1/2 T champagne vinegar
1 1/2 t sugar
salt

2 T mayonnaise
2 t fresh lime juice
2 t chipotle chile powder
2 t finely grated orange zest
2 t sugar
1 lb skinless wild Alaskan salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces
1 T plus 1 t extra-virgin olive oil
8 corn tortillas
salt
1 Hass avocado, mashed
zest from 1 lime

instructions
cut up all ingredients for salsa. toss with vinegar, sugar, and salt. can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.

preheat the oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the lime juice. In another small bowl, combine the chipotle powder with the orange zest and sugar. Rub each piece of salmon with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and then with the chipotle–orange zest mixture. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Wrap the tortillas in foil and bake for about 8 minutes, until they are softened and heated through.

Meanwhile, heat a grill pan. Season the salmon with salt and grill over high heat until nicely browned and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.

Break salmon into small chunks. Spread the mashed avocado on the warm tortillas and top with the salmon, and salsa. Drizzle each taco with the lime mayonnaise and serve right away.

Big Star at Home

Long weekends are such a tease. Just long enough to relax just a little bit, but they’re over right when you really start getting used to it. Long or not really though, I’ll take what I can get, and will only complain a little along the way.

As it turns out, these “long weekends” are just long enough to get a few things accomplished. They’re long enough to get your hands on a really cheap starter bike that you broke in immediately by riding it 8 miles home (meanwhile, breaking in the tailbone as well). They’re just long enough to eat a good (ultra-cheap) dinner with friends, and to make it to Ribfest to sweat a bit in the sweltering hot sun and watch the Hubs regretfully inhale a deep-fried Milky Way.

This particular long weekend was just long enough to squeeze in a trip to Grant Park for fireworks, which included seeing lots of unpleasant “mom cleavage”, a kid getting swacked upside the head, lackluster fireworks, and Chicago’s finest texting and facebooking instead of fighting crime. The time with friends was unbeatable, though, and entirely worth all the other oddities.

Hubs’ weekend was more than complete, even though he had to work some (on a Holiday weekend! a Holiday weekend!), because he got to see his favorite band of all time for the millionth time, which for him is entirely priceless. It’s priceless for me too, but not because of the music, but instead because I see him with a permanent smile, carefree and as happy as a kid building a sandcastle. Maybe happier.

The only thing we didn’t get to squeeze into the past long weekend was a trip to Big Star, our neighborhood’s popular new-ish bar that requires you to either be on a permanent vacation, and/or have the determination to make it there by noon on the weekends with plans to camp out all day, as the patio fills up within moments if you aren’t there on the weekday by three. For those of us who work, that’s a little hairy.

Fortunately, a recent read of Food & Wine led me to an easy-on-the-eye picture of tacos al pastor from none other than the Bucktown spot itself, as part of a feature of the country’s top taco joints. It seems these delicacies weren’t as difficult to come by as I might had previously imagined, after all.

And after making them, Hubs and I agreed that, aside from the waiting time of grilling and resting the pork shoulder and taco assembly, the wait for these at home is much more bearable. Just like their own in-house tacos, these are perfectly juicy and heavily flavored with the dried chile marinade that the pork soaked in overnight. Finished off with a grilled pineapple salsa, I could have easily been sitting at a picnic table outdoors rather than in my own house.

The only difference? I was missing a Bakersfield Buck. But next time these get made, I plan to procure some ginger beer and bourbon as well, and then I’ll truly have my very own Big Star at Home. Without the agony of waiting.

Tacos al Pastor
Adapted from Big Star via Food & Wine, May 2010; serves 6

printable version

timing: 45 minutes of work, but allow a day for overnight marinating

ingredients
4 dried guajillo chiles (about 1 ounce)
1 dried ancho chile
2 dried chipotle chiles
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup Coca-Cola
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon annatto seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 whole clove
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for grilling
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Salt and freshly ground pepper
12 corn tortillas, warmed
cotija cheese
Grilled pineapple, chopped red onion and cilantro, for serving
1/2 lime’s worth of juice

instructions
Stem and seed all of the dried chiles and place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with water and microwave at high power until softened, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly, then drain and transfer to a blender. Add the orange juice, lime juice, soda and vinegar. In a spice grinder, grind the annatto with the oregano, cumin, clove, sugar and garlic powder until fine. Add the spice mixture to the blender and blend until smooth.

Transfer the marinade to a saucepan. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until very thick, about 5 minutes; let cool. Transfer the marinade to a large resealable plastic bag. Add the pork and onion and seal the bag. Refrigerate overnight.

Light a grill. Remove the pork and onion from the marinade and scrape most of it off. Brush the pork and onion with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat, turning, until the meat is cooked through, 15 minutes. Transfer the pork and onion to a work surface, cover loosely with foil and let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the pineapple, red onion, and cilantro with lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

Cut the pork into strips. Serve the pork and onion with the warmed tortillas and salsa. Top with cotija cheese.

Trusty Backlog

To all the meat-lovers: I’m sorry. Although I’ve vigorously loaded up on meat this month, the posts this month have suggested otherwise – but I’ve been in the mood for sweets, I suppose. Plus, I haven’t cooked as much these past couple of weeks, as you well know by now.  Fortunately, I have a trusty backlog of tasty recipes to share, especially some from that first week in June.

So with that, let’s get right to it.

Although I’ve known this all along, this fact became abundantly clear to me over the past month: I heart tacos. Tacos with beer-braised turkey are great for wintertime, and Korean-infused tofu tacos are spicy, crunchy, and entirely suitable for the vegetarians, but meat-lovers love them too, as the tofu is swaddled in pepper paste, and fried til crispy on the outside and soft, melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. (Clearly, I dug those tacos…) And in May, I know I must have made at least two types of fish tacos (fried and unfried). I doubt I’ve met a taco I haven’t liked, quite honestly.

You see, a tortilla shell, crunchy or soft, corn or flour, is like a painter’s blank canvas. You add whatever you want from there: protein, salsa, vegetable, sauce, cheese, whatevs, and a masterpiece you have. A perfect taco has textural contrast – if the tortilla is soft, add some crunch in the toppings; if you’re crafting a crunchy-shelled taco, salsas are perfect. At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose.

It’s funny, because a few years ago my only association with a taco, aside from Taco Bell, of course, was the “boxed taco kit” from the grocery store. There was even a Taco Bell version, wasn’t there? Said taco kit included your shells (soft, crunchy, or combo (!)), some over-processed salsa, and the lovely taco “seasoning”. You bought your meat, which was typically ground beef, and if you dared to spice it up, you’d add some iceburg lettuce and again, over-processed ingredients, shredded Kraft cheese. I won’t lie – I liked them, and I’d probably still like them today if I could forget about the ease of making them fresher and more varied.

This taco is probably one of the best chicken tacos I’ve eaten in a long time, maybe ever, if I dare say it. The chicken (thighs, please) is lightly spiced and the toppings are super simple: avocado, pickled red onion, and cotija cheese. The cheese is a dry Mexican cheese that’s used similarly to Parmesan, but it looks and feels like feta cheese; it is slightly salty, which works well with the sweet, acidic onions and the spiced chicken. Look long and hard for it (Whole Foods or a Mexican market should carry it), because you won’t find another cheese like it, and all the sites suggest substituting with Parmesan although I can’t imagine it working well here. I’d use feta over parm, if I had to choose.

As for the pickled onions, I could rave about them for a while, if I had the time. They’re quickly plunged into boiling water to remove that raw red onion bite and then quick-pickled in some citrus juices, a bit of sugar, and cumin. I could eat them straight out of the bowl, which I may or may not have done a few times while the chicken was cooking – they are perfectly crunchy, onion-y in a sweet way, and citrus-spiked. And so pretty, aren’t they? with their neon-pink glow. It’s a festive looking dish for sure, almost too pretty to eat, really. But not quite…

Pollo Asada Tacos w/ Pickled Onions
Adapted from Cooking Light, April 2010; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
1/2  c  fresh lemon juice
1/3  c  fresh lime juice
1  t  sugar
1  t  cumin seeds
1  medium red onion, sliced into thin strips
1 1/2  lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into thin strips
1  t  dried oregano
1  t  ground cumin
1 t chipotle chili powder
3/4  t  salt
3/4  t black pepper
Cooking spray
8  (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 avocado, sliced
1/2  c  (2 ounces) crumbled Cotija cheese

instructions
Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves. Place onion in a small saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; drain and dunk onion in ice water. Drain onion; add to juice mixture. Chill until ready to serve.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Sprinkle chicken with oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper; toss to coat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes or until browned and done, stirring occasionally.

Heat tortillas according to package directions. Divide chicken evenly among tortillas. Drain onion; divide evenly among tortillas. Top each tortilla with avocado and 1 tablespoon cheese; fold over.

Seoul Food

These days, roaming street vendors carrying various delicacies are all the rage. I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember the yellow Schwan ice cream truck, complete with that tantalizing bell, slowly cruising through my neighborhood once or twice a week when I was a kid. Those vendors were banking on the fact that we kids would be out romping around the yard and that, the second we heard that unmistakable melody, we’d sprint into the house to claim our allowance. For me, it was either fudge ripple or butter pecan, since those were the best.

In Chicago, we’ve been without these nomadic food trucks, other than those bearing ice cream and the tamale guy who isn’t in a truck, but on foot carrying a red cooler; he happened to dive into Lemmings one night after I’d stuffed my face with so much food I couldn’t stand the sight of corn husk. Just this month, Flirty Cupcakes came into town, selling ‘cakes by the neighborhood; apparently they were right near my building not long ago, but since I hadn’t yet followed them on twitter I sadly missed out…

You won’t ever catch me saying this again, but LA is where it’s at, at least when it comes to roving food trucks. The real newsworthy truck that seemed to start all the hype was Kogi BBQ, a local sensation that tweets the location of their 4 trucks (4!) chock full of Korean-Mexican fusion delights such as bbq pork tacos, kimchi quesadillas, and even Korean desserts. Aside from Kogi, there are dozens of these traveling trucks, and plenty of ways to find them including a site called Roaming Hunger. If it weren’t for all the things I dislike in LA, I’d move there for what sounds to be the best thing since sliced bread.

Thanks to the Flying Pig, I get to stay away from Los Angeles AND get a slice of LA’s famous treats. They’re featured in a recent Food & Wine issue, and have shared a recipe as a result. In LA, their ginormous pastel pink truck whizzes around town doling out steamed pork belly buns, tamarind duck tacos, and these crunchy Korean tacos that just happen to be made with …

… tofu. Yep, you got it. The bane of a meat lover’s existence, if truth be told. Me? I happen to adore tofu – it’s always part of any Thai dish I order; I love the way the little cubes soak up any flavor given to them, grasping for attention like a middle child or a wilting plant on my back porch. Misunderstood even, and often left aside.

But not here, folks. Swaddled in Korean pepper paste, tossed gently in cornstarch, and crisped perfectly, tofu is not your enemy here. More like the star of the show, the main attraction, the one you bring home to meet your parents knowing that this is the one that will change everything.

Korean Tofu Tacos
Adapted from Food & Wine via Flying Pig, May 2010; makes 8 tacos

The Korean chili powder and red pepper paste can be purchased online, but your best bet is a Korean grocer if there’s one in your area. In Chicago, that would be Joong Boo Market, where their Asian pears are the size of a grapefruit! I didn’t get the chili powder b/c I could only find ginormous bags of it, so I used hot smoked paprika instead.

printable version

ingredients
One 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 T Korean chile powder or hot paprika
1 T Korean pepper paste (gochujang)
1 T finely grated garlic
1 T finely grated ginger
1 T toasted-sesame oil
Kosher salt
3/4 c cornstarch
2 c canola oil, for frying
8 corn or flour tortillas
4 T Hoisin sauce
kimchi (to taste)
1 medium-sized Asian pear, julienned
3 scallions, sliced thinly

instructions
Place the tofu on a towel and drain for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1 T of the chile powder with the pepper paste, garlic, ginger and sesame oil and season with salt. In another large bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chile powder and 1 tablespoon of salt.

In a medium, deep skillet, heat the oil until it reaches 365 F and preheat oven to 350 F. Add the tofu to the chile sauce and stir gently to coat. Scrape the tofu into the cornstarch mixture and toss to coat. Transfer the coated tofu to a colander to tap out the excess cornstarch. Fry the tofu in one batch, stirring occasionally, until golden and crunchy, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes; maintain the heat near 360 if possible. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the crunchy tofu to a paper towel–lined rack and sprinkle with salt. Meanwhile, wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and warm in oven for about 8 minutes.

Serve tacos and tofu with Hoisin (~1/2 T per taco), scallions, pear, and kimchi.

Not So Flash Taco

China. Fine china. Bone china. You know, the fancy stuff you register for when you get hitched, or those dishes that your grandma gave your mom that your mom gave you (or maybe she just stored them away in the attic) that you’re supposed to give to your daughter. Sure, those dishes are pretty, and I’m sure using them impresses people during those special dinners.

But they aren’t for me.

And while I enjoy dining out, I definitely don’t fit the mold of the typical high-end dining guest. And I could care less about the way my silverware is placed on the table, or if they remove my plate the correct way, and it bothers me just a tad when they fold my napkin while I’m in the restroom.

If truth be told, on most days I’d prefer leaving the utensils in the drawer and digging in with my hands. Forks and knives just get in the way sometimes, don’t you think?

Which is part of the reason, I think, that tacos are one of my very favorites. And sure, Flash Taco usually hits the spot, particularly when you’re approximately three sheets to the wind, but these days it’s all about the braise. People tend to braise beef or pork, but in this case I was intrigued by the braising of turkey.

Braising turkey, and the fact that said turkey would become shredded like that oh-so-mouth-watering barbeque, and then, then, encased in a corn tortilla. After being braised in beer, of course.

It’s a taco concoction you won’t find at Flash Taco, or any other taco joint, for that matter. It’s a taco that is a lovely consideration for Thanksgiving leftovers, when the time comes, but in March it’s a welcome change from all the soups and all the beefs and if you can believe it, from the pork.

And better yet, it’s a taco just like any other taco, that you eat with your hands, and even when the pieces fall out of the sides of the tortilla, you pick them up, lick your fingers, and keep on goin’.

Beer-Braised Turkey Tacos with Roasted Tomato Salsa
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
salsa
3-4 plum tomatoes
2-3 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 serrano chile
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 c cilantro (or more, to taste)
salt, to taste
lime juice, to taste

tacos
2 T evoo
Two 1-lb bone-in turkey thighs or drumsticks, skin and fat removed
salt and pepper
4 lg garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 med onion, small dice
1 t dried Mexican oregano
1 lg jalapeno, sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick
1 med plum tomato, coarsely chopped
1 ancho or guajillo chile, seeded and torn into pieces
1 cinnamon stick
1 12-oz bottle of dark Mexican beer (Modelo Negro)
1 c water
8 corn tortillas
2 T toasted black or white sesame seeds and cilantro, for garnish

instructions
heat 1 T in large dutch oven. season turkey with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until browned all over, about 8 minutes. transfer to plate. add remaining 1 T of oil to dutch oven along with garlic, oregano, onion, and jalapeno and cook over moderate heat until onion is softened, about 8 minutes. add tomato, chile, and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until tomato releases juices.

preheat oven to 350 F. place salsa ingredients (tomatoes, serrano, and garlic) on baking sheet and roast until tender (20-30 minutes). keep oven on 350 F.

meanwhile, return turkey to pot and add beer and water; bring to boil. cover and simmer over low heat, turning once, until turkey thighs are tender, about 1 hour. transfer turkey to plate and let cool. discard cinnamon stick and boil the sauce over high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 12 minutes.

puree roasted salsa ingredients with remaining salsa ingredients and season to taste.

shred turkey meat with two forks. wrap tortillas in foil and bake for about 8 minutes, until softened and heated through. transfer sauce to food processor and puree. return to pot and stir in shredded turkey. season with salt and pepper. spoon turkey over warm tortillas and top with cilantro, sesame seeds, and salsa.

Battle Cilantro: Not for ‘The Haters’

Battle Cilantro group

The weather around these parts has been nothing short of strange. September was unseasonably cool with October and even parts of November seeing uncanny days in the 60’s and even 70’s. And I’ll be the first to admit that I love the weather around here lately. Each and every day my puffy marshmellow coat stays in the closet is a day I am happy to be living in Chicago.

Aside from the weather, I love the fall for the cuisine. I love fresh-picked applesthick, warm soup and anything involving butternut squash and I can’t wait to eat a hearty bowl of chili with an unrestrained blob of cheddar on top. But I’ll also confess that in the midst of fall when everything revolves around root vegetables and stewed meat, sometimes it’s nice to have a little taste of the warmer days.

I’ll take that taste any which way I can get it. No-jacket-needed weather? Sign me up. A hike in one of IL’s state parks? Sure thing. An iron chef battle utilizing a fresh herb whose versatility lends itself to a protracted list of suitable proteins, vegetables, and even fruits? Come to mama.

cilantro syrup for horchata

Well…if I must. I did initially harbor a smidgen of disdain for this month’s chosen ingredient, cilantro. I definitely am not a cilantro hater by any means, although I have come across many on that side of the fence. In fact, I usually have a bunch of it in my crisper and I use it without reserve. But cilantro is not what I’d hoped for in a November, i.e. the midst of fall, competition. And sure, cilantro grows great in the fall and is available fresh as can be at farmers’ markets in the fall, but the fact of the matter is this: I was keeping my fingers crossed for cranberry or pomegranate or apple, even cinnamon or vanilla. And am I too ballsy to wish for cardamom? Clearly, I have undoubtedly embraced fall in its’ entirety.

Nonetheless, I slowly came around. I more than came around – I embraced cilantro. I thought of a couple of ideas of dishes to make to highlight the fragrant herb, and I never looked back.

I think everyone else did too. We had a record 15 challengers this month including 3 newbies and a few people we’ve missed dearly over the past few battles. And to follow tradition, everything was scrumptious.

Chris even challenged himself (and succeeded) with making empanadas (despite his frustration that the recipe instructed twice as much filling as would fit..) and I made tacos with tuna ceviche and a couple of cilantro salsas/cremas. I also made some horchata, which I’d been wanting to make for a while. I figured, why not dump a bunch of cilantro syrup in it?

We had pears, pizza, quiche, soup, and even sweet potatoes. Who knew sweet potatoes and cilantro worked! And while this would have been a cilantro hater’s nightmare, the 15 of us seemed to fare just fine.

Chris' empanadasChris B's grilled shrimp pizza with cilantro pestomy Mexican ceviche tacos with cilantro salsa and crema

Margaret's quicheHope's sweet potatoesEmily's poblano cilantro cups

somebody's tabboulehVicki & Mike's hand-made pasta with cilantro alfredo saucesomebody's grilled cilantro pears

And although everything was tasty, we didn’t all come together just to eat cilantro. We came to win, and that award only goes to one person at the end of the night. I’m happy to say that this time, the ladies reclaimed the crown – finally! Holla!

The Top Three:

  1. Jennifer’s Apple-Cilantro (gluten-free) bruschetta with feta cheese
  2. Hope’s Sweet Potato Cakes with cilantro yogurt
  3. Emily’s Cilantro & Poblano Potato Salad in wonton cups



After the competition, I talked to my buddy Jennifer in hopes of learning her strategy. I should insert here that Jennifer is one of the least competitive people I know – she’d always prefer to have fun and eat good food rather than sweat about winning. But don’t let her fool you – she’s a tough one, and she’s bound to pick a superb ingredient next time in hopes of keeping her title.

Jennifer's winning apple-cilantro bruschetta

But if you’re still wondering what her strategy is, I’ll fill you in. When ‘interviewed’ after the battle, she chuckled and said, “I guess if you want to win, you have to not try so hard”.

So – there you have it!

Mexican Ceviche Tacos w/ Cilantro Corn Salsa & Cilantro Crema
Tacos Adapted from  Bon Appetit, August 2009; serves 4

Ceviche is one of the freshest, cleanest ways to cook fish – fish that are cooked literally in your fridge by the acid in citrus. But – you have to get super-fresh fish to make it work. If you have leftovers, they will surprisingly keep for a couple of days, avocado and all.

printable recipe

ingredients
Tacos
1 1/4 lbs fresh sushi-grade tuna (can also use hamachi, mahi-mahi), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
fine sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
3 T fresh lime juice
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 t sugar
1 c chopped seeded tomatoes
3/4 c chopped red onion
2 T pickled jalapeno, chopped plus 1 T liquid from jar
1 T olive oil
1/2 large head of romaine lettuce, chopped
1 large avocado, diced
4 T fresh chopped cilantro
12 blue corn crisp taco shells

Salsa
1 1/2 c chopped seeded tomatoes
1/2 c frozen or fresh corn
2 T lime juice
3 T fresh chopped cilantro
salt and pepper

Crema
1 8 oz container Mexican crema*
1 c fresh chopped cilantro
1/2 t salt

instructions

  1. place fish in medium glass bowl and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. add citrus juices and sugar and toss. cover and chill until fish turns lighter color and doesn’t look ‘raw’, 4-6 hours (no more than 6)
  2. meanwhile make salsa and crema. For salsa, combine ingredients in bowl, cover, and chill. For crema, process ingredients in mini food processor until well incorporated. add more cilantro if desired. cover and chill.
  3. strain fish and discard marinade. place ceviche in large bowl; add tomatoes, red onion, jalapenos, liquid, and olive oil and toss to blend. {can be done in advance, up to 2 hours ahead}
  4. preheat oven to 350 F. heat taco shells on baking sheet for 5 minutes.
  5. add lettuce, avocado, and cilantro to ceviche mixture and toss. fill taco shells with mixture and top with salsa and crema.



Want more cilantro? Try these tasty salmon burgers with cilantro mayo – another hater’s nightmare!