Wednesday, August 13, 2008

¡taco viva!


Mindi and Tom came over last Friday evening for a belated birthday dinner for Tom. Because this was a weeknight dinner I wanted to do something fairly quick to put together and also, as is the theme these sweltering late summer days, without the oven. (I promise that in the fall and winter we'll be roasting, braising, and turning on the stove for no reason other than warmth.)

Burgers on the grill pan would have been delicious and easy, but then I thought about our last trip to the Latin food vendors at the Red Hook soccer fields and the spicy meat-filled tacos Dan and Tom and our friend E relished, salsa and meat juices sauce dripping down their arms. So I figured I could something similar (although less messy) with a shredded rotisserie chicken. For a weekend dinner party, I might have tried Mark Bittman's shredded chicken recipe, but it was a Friday, and I wanted to use those precious rushed hours of after-work food shopping and cooking to make a few interesting condiments and toppings to go with the tacos. Because, really, isn't that the best part of eating tacos? Paired with some gooey queso fresco and black beans, this was a filling and fun meal.

Friday night taco dinner

Queso fundido with chips
Shredded chicken tacos
with guacamole,
tomato, radish, and corn salad,
and pickled red onions
Black beans
Three-layer ice cream cake

Queso Fundido
Call me a snob, but queso dip always struck me as gross sports bar food. But I wanted something for everyone to snack on, pre-tacos, other than salsa or guacamole (which we'd be eating on the tacos later). And if Rick Bayless, the gringo's authority on all things related to Mexican food, says queso is good, I must believe him. Instead of scary melted Velveeta, his recipe (from Food & Wine) is a blend of melted Monterey Jack, sauteed onions and tomatoes, and the secret ingredient: a splash of tequila. Booze aside, Dan said that this dip could use a little more "zazz" and I agree. Next time, I'd add mix in a sharper cheese like white cheddar and some queso fresco for more saltiness.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium tomatoes—cored, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons tequila
1/2 pound (3 cups) Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
Corn chips

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the tomatoes, onion, jalapeños, and a large pinch of salt. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Pour in the tequila (stand back, just in case!) and cook, stirring frequently, until the skillet looks nearly dry, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cheese and cook, stirring constantly, until melted, about 30 seconds. Quickly transfer the queso fundido to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve immediately, with chips.

Quick pickled red onions
I love pickled things and wanted to serve something that would add a little brightness and acidity to the shredded chicken. I thought about pickled jalapeños, or some sort of vinegar-based slaw, but then I remembered a batch of pickled onions I made a long time ago for some steak tacos and how perfect they were as a condiment. I couldn't find the recipe I used, but I remembered that Molly, of Orangette, is also a pickle-lover (is it way obvious that I have a huge girl crush?) and decided to try her version instead.

Sometimes I do a very, very, very quick onion pickle before adding them to a salad or dressing, by simply letting them soak in vinegar for a few minutes. A little vinegar heightens the flavor of the onions while taking away their bad breath-causing edge. Her method for quick pickling is slightly more involved than my v.v.v. quick pickle, but the extra seasonings make a big difference when you're serving the onions as a condiment. The recipe makes a lot of onions, but we've been happily eating the leftovers with salads and grilled meat.
(Makes about 1 quart)

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 medium red onions, about 1 1/4 pound

Combine the first six ingredients in saucepan, and place over medium heat. While the brine heats, peel and trim the onions. Cut them in half, then slice each half into half-moons, about 1/4 inch thick. When you've finished slicing the onions, check the brine. It should be boiling at this point. If it isn't, reduce the heat to high. When you've got a rolling boil, add the onion slices, and stir to combine. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 25 minutes.

Transfer the onions and brine to a large bowl, and set aside to cool in the refrigerator. When the onions are cooled, serve with salads, fish, meat, cheese, or with other pickled veggies. Put leftover onions (and the brine) in jars with tight-fitting lids, and store in the refrigerator.

Corn, radish, and tomato salad
This chopped salad can be eaten on its own, as a side dish, or used as a salsa for tacos or grilled fish or meat. Feel free to play around with the ingredients and add different elements.

2 ears corn
1 large tomato (yellow or red), roughly chopped
1 green onion, minced
6 radishes, diced into small strips
1/2 bell pepper, minced
1/2 jalapeño, minced
1 handful of cilantro, minced (you could also use basil or thyme)
1 lime
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper

Use a knife to slice the corn kernels off the cob into a medium-sized bowl. Add the next six ingredients and stir until combined. Add the juice of one lime, the oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir and refrigerate until ready to serve.


Vanessa said...

OK a few things:

1. Wasn't taco viva the mexican place in the Palm Beach Mall food court? I am filled with nostalgia. Also for when Express was "french" themed.

2. Also getting nostalgic for that unfortunate period in college when I was "addicted" to the queso fundido from Chili's. That was back when I had an inkling of a metabolism.

3. Doesn't Dan mean "'zazz"? Ha ha.

4. This looks hell of yummy! I agree, the toppings make the taco!

Daniel said...

I remember Taco Viva being at the Boynton Mall, catty corner with China Wok.

When and why did Taco Bell steal its thunder? I don't recall, but I bet the Viva's glaring zazz defecit was a factor.

MrsCommanderson said...

That Rick Bayless recipe is the only one I use for queso! (I have nothing to add to the Palm Beach Mall food court conversation.)

Daniel said...

Yep, that Rick Bayless is one magical elf.

Casey, did you know that Rick Bayless' brother is the maniacal sports pundit, Skip Bayless? So you and Dan each have a Bayless to call your own.


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