When you’re talking tacos, which I’m wont to do, you must understand the shells that come in a box wrapped in plastic with the word ” taco” attached to them are not invited to this party. That’s not to say the Cathey household doesn’t hold its share of taco feasts with these old favorites as the centerpiece. Far from it. No, it’s to say, that if we’re going to ascend into taco nirvana, we must embrace the unfinished corn tortilla.
On Saturdays, if you venture to Feria Latina, 4909 NW 23 St., and make your way to the meat market, you’ll find a large cooler sitting at the foot of the counter. Open it and you’ll be greeted with a warm rush of corn aroma that I’m pretty sure causes temporary levitation. These locally made beauties are still warm, steaming up their plastic-wrap domiciles. Buy them. You can go to the trouble of making your own corn tortillas, but you’ll likely be too exhausted by you’ve finished to muster enough strength to fold a tortilla around anything.
In a pinch, wrap them in wet paper and microwave them for a minute or two. For perfect results, fry a tortilla for a few seconds, flip it and add two heaping spoonfuls of filling, carefully fold the taco, and fry each side until crispy and golden brown. I kinda like mine a little less than crispy, but that’s just personal preference.
You can also heat each tortilla on a hot, dry griddle to warm up and store in a tortilla warmer and serve at the table. Flour tortillas are acceptable, but they are significantly more filling and will act as more of a shield to the flavors of the fillings. If you must use flour, simply heat them over the flame of your stove, flipping often with a metal spatula, for 5 to 10 seconds on each side. You will have to keep them in a tortilla warmer. If you don’t have one, wrap them in a towel, put them on a plate and cover with a second plate turned upside-down.
For the fillings, I like to make at least three, but only if they make sense as a unit or on their own. The fillings below all work individually or mixed together.
After you’ve acquired good tortillas, you’ll want to make your salsa. The types of salsa you make will do things: 1. Determine the kind of fillings you want and 2. Assist in their preparation. For this challenge, I made three: green, red and gold.
The green is founded on fresh tomatillo, ripe avocado and local arugula. The arugula from Peach Crest Farms imparts an incredible nuttiness that gives this basic salsa some depth. The bright, spicy flavor pairs perfectly with rich, salty fillings. I think you’ll find salsa verde is the best taco-topper while the Salsa Fresca will be the most familiar. I love the red stuff, but I find its’ better by itself and tends to disappear in fillings like these.
The gold is a sweet and spicy knock-off of the Coral Snake Salsa from the Iguana Mexican Grill. This Kingsnake Salsa isn’t as good, but it’ll do if you don’t live close enough to swing by NE 9 Street to purchase a quart. The chef who conceived the original recipe told me it’s best on a black bean chalupa with a little sour cream, then proved it on a visit to the Iguana. But then I found it’s even better with Mexican crema instead of sour cream. So, now I sometimes like to use the salsa and crema on tacos.
Maybe the reason I love tacos so much is because they’re like culinary legos. Enjoy.
- 8 fresh tomatillos, husks peeled, stemmed and skins scrubbed of any sticky residue
- ½ cup local arugula
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 very ripe avocado, peeled
- 2 to 4 serrano peppers, cut in thirds
- Combine first three ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until smooth.
- Add serranos, and pulse three or four times, until no large chunks of serrano remain.
- 1 to 1½ pounds ripe Roma tomatoes, quartered
- Half bunch of cilantro, optional
- 3 cloves garlic
- Half a white onion, chopped and deflamed, directions below
- 2 to 4 fresh jalapeño or serrano peppers
- Juice of half a lime
- 2 tablespoons salt
After you’ve chopped the onions, place them in water with a splash of apple cider vinegar and set aside at least 30 minutes.
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