Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tostadas with Tomatillo Salsa

When the opportunity to dine out presents itself, not once have I suggested a Mexican restaurant.

I've been to many in my day, hell I used to work at one, and really the only thing that appeals to me are the margaritas. 

Many ethnic restaurants in the states cater to the taste buds of Americans, which usually means the food is made from highly processed ingredients, is swimming in oil, butter, and/or cheese, is deep fried, and contains little to no heat or spice.

I guarantee that you will see quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos and burrtitos on the menu of of any given Mexican restaurant. Said items are most likely made with frozen white flour tortillas that contain ingredients that even I can't pronounce, canned black beans, pre-shredded monterey jack cheese pulled from a 20 pound bag, and some factory farmed ground beef.  Some people love this kind of food, not that there's anything wrong with that, but I want the real deal.  Handmade corn or flour tortillas cooked from scratch, probably made with a bit of lard, beans that have been stewing in a pot for hours, maybe some queso fresco or cotija cheese and lots of fresh salsa.. none of that jarred crap.

Unfortunately, I live 2,498.6 miles from Mexico so my options are a bit limited.

I set out to make some Mexican grub at home (tostadas), which I'll admit was probably no where near as authentic as something I would get from some li'l old Mexican lady named Magdalena, but it sure as hell wasn't taco del mar either.

Inspired by some tomatillos I got at the farmers market, I took the obvious route and made some tomatillo salsa.  I could have easly eaten this with a bag of tortilla chips, but the whole point of this post is to prove I'm not a cracker ass American that eats thin and crispy restaurant style tortilla chips and salsa for dinner.... I mean, I only do that once in a while... usually when I come home from a bar and don't want to risk cooking anything for fear of dropping a cast iron skillet on my foot.

I bought some avocados, because really you can't have Mexican food without this delicious food of the gods, so I made guacamole, because that's what you do.

Now, the corn tortillas I had weren't made from scratch, but I fried them up myself instead of buying pre-made tostadas, so in my book they were totally authentic.

Paired with some black beans I cooked earlier in the week, some chopped romaine lettuce, radishes and some cotija cheese, I had myself the makings of a tostada.

Tostadas with Tomatillo Salsa (makes 6 tostadas)

Tomatillo Salsa

5 medium sized tomatillos
1/3 c. chopped yellow onion
2 jalapenos, seeds removed, diced
1/4 c. cilantro, rough chopped
1/2 T. lime juice
pinch of sugar
salt, to taste

Preheat broiler. Line a sheetpan with aluminum foil and set aside. Remove outer husks from tomatillos and rinse off any sticky residue. Cut into quarters, place on sheetpan, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Cook under the broiler for 5-7 minutes, checking every couple of minutes to make sure they aren't burning. They should be a soft with a little bit of char on the skin. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Meanwhile place the remaining ingredients in a food processor.  Add the cooled tomatillos and process until combined. Set aside.


6 corn tortillas
sunflower oil or any other neutral oil for frying

guacamole (if you're smart, you'll double the recipe)

1 1/2 c. black beans
1/2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 T. lime juice
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. chili powder
pinch salt

chopped romaine lettuce
julliened radishes
pea shoots (optional)

1 c. crumbled cotija cheese (queso fresco or feta would work, too)

To make the tostada shells, heat 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy bottomed cast iron skillet. When the oil is super hot (but not smoking), add a tortilla shell and press down with a spatula, making sure it is fully submerged in the oil, cook for 30 seconds, flip and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Gently lift the tortilla out of the hot oil and transfer to a wire cooling rack, lined with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Make the guacamole.

Place the black beans in a small bowl. Stir in the olive oil, lime juice, cumin, chili powder and sea salt.

To assemble the tostadas, smear a generous amount of guacamole on each shell. Top with the seasoned black beans, romaine lettuce and radishes. Sprinkle on a bit of cheese and top with pea shoots.
Drizzle with a bit of tomatillo salsa and stuff your face.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bun Chay

After drinking an entire box of wine and eating nothing but cheese, hummus and pita at a wedding this past weekend, I decided to do my body a little favor and eat some green stuff.

It isn't that often that I overindulge on cheese and wine, but when I do I always feel the need to eat some clean detoxifying foods to help balance everything out.

I've been craving Asian inspired cold noodle dishes lately.. so much crunch.. so much flavor.. and so damn easy!

Soba or udon noodles have always been a favorite of mine, but I thought I would give rice noodles a go this time around to switch it up a bit. They are gluten free (rice, duh) and you can buy them, for like, a buck a package at any Asian market.

For months, I've had my eye on a recipe for bun chay from one of my favorite, "all things food" site, the kitchn. With all of the ingredients on hand, accompanied by a fierce hangover, I decided to throw this together for a quick healthy dinner instead of eating a three pound omelette.

Not only did this tasty meal come together quickly but it was mad yummy. The rice noodles were topped with lots of fresh, crunchy herbs and vegetables, like mint, thai basil, cilantro, cucumber and cabbage. Then, some tofu and peanuts were thrown into the mix for protein and a nice textural contrast. Traditionally, a nuac chom sauce (consisting of fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime, sugar, garlic and chilis) is poured over top, but fish sauce sets off my gag reflex so I concocted my own dipping sauce, swapping out the tamari for rice vinegar. Not authentic, but whatever.. throwing up over the smell of fish sauce wasn't on the agenda.

The tofu really makes the dish as does the herbs (don't skimp) and the sauce is essential, but you can get creative and add whatever fresh, crunchy vegetables you have on hand. I imagine some carrot or daikon raidish would be good, as would some chopped lettuce, baby bok choy or mung bean sprouts.

Bun Chay
Adapted from The Kitchn 
Serves 2

6 oz. rice noodles

I halved the recipe for my salt and pepper tofu, but you can also panfry 1/2 lb. tofu, cut into small cubes in a little peanut oil.

1 1/2 c. shredded cabbage
1/2 cucumber, julliened
Large handful of mixed herbs (thai basil, mint, cilantro)

1/4 c. tamari
3 T. brown rice vinegar
5 T. water
4 T. organic dark brown sugar
2 t. fresh lime juice
1/2 t. grated garlic
2 t. grated ginger
1/2 T. toasted sesame oil
pinch red pepperflakes

1/3 c. chopped roasted peanuts

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the noodles. Cook, stirring occasionally until noodles are tender, about 5-7 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, fluffing the noodles to seperate into strands. Drain again and set aside.
Panfry cubed tofu in a splash of peanut oil over medium heat. Or, whip up a batch of salt and pepper tofu. Set tofu aside to cool.
Prepare the greens and set aside.
To make the sauce, combine the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in remaining ingredients and place in the fridge to cool a bit.
To assemble, divide the noodles between two large bowls. Arrange greens and tofu on top and garnish with peanuts. Just before serving, drizzle with sauce to taste and toss.