Fish Tacos

FullSizeRender-1Smoked fish, sweet nectarines, and savory cabbage slaw make an interesting flavor combo in these fish tacos. The first time I saw “fish tacos” on a menu, I thought it sounded disgusting. Fish? In a taco? Was this an SNL fake commercial or something, like Bass-o-matic? But then a soul braver than me ordered them, and offered me a taste. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to re-create great fish tacos at home. And I think I finally nailed it.

Parts of this recipe came from Bobbie Flay, of Food Network fame. But it’s been twisted and tweaked so it no longer resembles the original, and I can safely claim it as my own. You can certainly grill the fish, but we’re Big Green Egg disciples. My husband prefers to use his BGE smoker any time he can, as it does give meat and fish an amazingly complex flavor. But if a Webber (or other gas grill) is what you’ve got, then go for it! No harm done there.

Makes 8-10 tacos

For Cabbage Slaw
1/3 head of green cabbage, sliced thin and then chopped
6 leaves of Napa cabbage, jullienned
2-3 carrots, grated
1 sweet red pepper, diced
½ of a yellow onion, diced
½ cup diced jicama (optional)
½ cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Penzy’s Northwoods seasoning OR 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, plus dash each salt, pepper, thyme, cracked or powdered rosemary, and garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and stir until dressing is incorporated. Set aside or cover and chill until serving tacos.

For Nectarine Salsa
2 ripe nectarines (or peaches)
2 tablespoons minced red onion
Handful or fresh mint leaves, rinsed, and diced

Combine all ingredients in bowl and stir. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate.

For Fish Tacos
8-10 tilapia (or other mild white fish) fillets
Vegetable oil
Lime juice
Seasonings of choice, such as Penzy’s Foxpoint seasoning (dried shallots and salt), Smoked Spanish Paprika—but even just salt and pepper would be fine.

8-10 purchased corn tortillas

Heat grill to high. Combine oil, lime juice, and seasonings in Ziplock bag and let sit for a few minutes. Place fish in an oiled grill basket or brush grill with oil if placing directly on grill. Grill fish until white and no longer translucent. Break into pieces with fork. Add cooked fish to tortillas with cabbage slaw and nectarine salsa.

Indian Spiced Beef Wraps with Cilantro Mint Sauce

FullSizeRender 2This meat dish has so much flavor it could convert a vegetarian. I’m not a big fan of beef, but I absolutely LOVE all the crazy spices—cilantro, ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, and even cinnamon—packed into this recipe. The contrast between the spiced meat and the chilled cilantro mint yogurt sauce is perfect. Add the fresh cucumber slices and sweet cherry tomatoes, and it’s a dish to die for. In fact, I once thought a guest of ours actually WAS dying (or had broken a tooth) when I served this meal. My son Justin had brought home a pack of starving college guys, and I thought they’d appreciate some quality meat, served up in a format they probably weren’t getting in the school cafeteria. His friend Brady starting moaning after his first bite, and I looked up in alarm. “Are you OK?” Brady sheepishly smiled and said, “I’m fine! It’s just sooooo GOOD.” The others laughed, but concurred.

The original recipe directions said to mix meat, herbs, and spices together and shape into meatballs or sausages, skewer them, and grill them. I tried that the first time I made this, and it was a ton of work, and then the meat didn’t stretch as far as I would have liked. So now I just mix it all together and brown the meat in a pan, and it works great. Now to give credit where credit is due. I got this recipe from the Lunds & Byerly’s Real Food magazine some time in 2010, I’m guessing. I don’t have the exact date recorded with my magazine clipping, but I remember about when Justin would drop in with that particular crew. Good times had by all. 

Makes 6-8 servings

For Spiced Meat:
1½-2 pounds quality lean ground beef (or lamb—if you like lamb…)
¼ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup finely chopped scallions (aka: green onion, Tom)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon ground fennel
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

For Cilantro Mint Sauce:
½ cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
½-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, quartered
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt

Serving suggestion:
Flour tortillas*, or corn tortillas (for gluten-free option)
1 cucumber, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow onion, sliced (optional—sometimes we want these, sometimes we don’t!)
Crumbled feta cheese

To make meat: Combine beef, yogurt, cornstarch, and all the herbs and spices in large frying pan. Cook until no pink remains in meat. Keep on low heat until serving.

To make sauce: Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until smooth. Can chill until serving.

To serve wraps: Briefly heat tortilla on hot griddle, then top with warm spiced meat, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, and chilled yogurt sauce. Fold in half and eat like a taco. Get ready to be amazed at the flavor explosion in your mouth.

*NOTE: I love to take this recipe up even ONE MORE NOTCH by making my own tortillas. I sometimes do these a day ahead and store in frig with parchment paper between them, and then reheat on the griddle right before serving. Just like the spiced meat, they are truly moan-worthy.

Cucumber Ginger Ale

IMG_1700Just three ingredients needed to make this super refreshing summer drink, and no chopping or cooking involved! A trip to Trader Joe’s will get you the non-alcoholic ginger beer and the cucumber seltzer, and maybe even the fresh mint. I grow fresh mint in buckets on my deck, so I’m always looking for ways to use it up. And how did I discover this fabulous combo? My son Justin poured me a tall, cool glass of this mix one hot, summer day, when we were setting up his non-air conditioned apartment. He even topped it with fresh mint sprigs! (How many 20-something dudes offer their mothers a drink with muddled mint?) I was like, what is this? This is fabulous! He said, “It’s just ginger beer and cucumber seltzer. Super easy!” Thanks for sharing, Justin. You’re da bomb.

Makes 1-2 drinks

Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew All Natural Jamaican Style Ginger Beer
Spindrift Seltzer made with fresh pressed cucumbers
Mint sprigs

Put ice in glass. Pour non-alcoholic ginger beer in first third or half of glass. Fill the rest of the glass with the cucumber seltzer. Rub the mint sprig between fingers to release the oils, then add to glass and stir. Enjoy your refreshing drink!

Tabbouleh

IMG_0959With my fresh mini herb garden pots going wild, I’ve been looking for ways to use the abundance of mint threatening to take over the deck. The Good Earth restaurant makes a fabulous tabbouleh, and after ordering it recently, I thought it looked easy enough to duplicate at home. I tried Ina Garten’s recipe found on foodnetwork.com, and I liked her process, but found the recipe had too little bulghur in ratio to the herbs and tomatoes, too much pepper, waaaaaaay too much salt (even with using only 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt instead of the kosher salt she recommended*), and far too many scallions. Then I looked at Ellie Krieger’s recipe, and ended up using my own amounts based on the two recipes. Ina puts the dressing into the bulghur wheat while it’s soaking, and Ellie pours in on after the fact. I tried it Ina’s way, and it seemed to have great flavor, with my adjustments to amounts below. I’m sure it would work fine to add the dressing after soaking the wheat, too.

I know this traditional Lebanese dish usually has more herbs and less bulghur than you see here, but we preferred a little more of the ancient grain to temper all the mint and parsley. And my son Justin said that 1 cup mint was over-the-top, and I needed to back off a bit. I liked it, but I love mint so much I want to marry it, so take that into consideration.

This is a versatile dish. It can be served as an appetizer along with toasted pita triangles and spicy hummus, and some sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives. Or it can be a salad or side to a meal. Shred or cube some grilled chicken into the bowl, and it’s a meal. The ease of the dish, plus the fresh herbs, make it perfect for warm weather, no matter which part it plays in your meal.

*NOTE: I did some research on kosher salt/sea salt/table salt, and found that you need more kosher or sea salt than table salt if substituting one for the other in a recipe. See this handy conversion chart for your own reference.

Serves 6-8

1 1/2 cups bulghur wheat
2 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2–1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (1 bunch)
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (1 bunch)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2–3 tablespoons mined red onion
2–3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the bulghur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water, and add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and lemon zest. Stir, then allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour. (You can also just pour the boiling water over the bulghur, and add the dressing ingredients later.)

Add the mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, chives, and the pepper; mix well. Season with salt, if necessary; cover and refrigerate. Flavor improves if the tabbouleh is made a few hours ahead of serving time.

Mint Lemon Sweet Tea

IMG_0850Nothing is quite as refreshing in a summertime drink as mint. If your mint is growing like a weed (in your mini herb garden pots), here’s one way to tame it. I found the original recipe in a food magazine put out by Marshall Field’s (before it became Macy’s), and credit is given to “Sunkist Growers, Inc.” in a tagline. I’ve added more mint, less sugar, and never bothered with the suggested grapefruit, so I think this is kinda my recipe now. I’m giving you an amount of mint (because that’s what you do in a recipe), but I nip off fistfuls of the herb from my pot without measuring, rinse and chop leaves only (no stems), and we’ve never thought, “Oh that’s too much mint.” (Pinch mint stem off right where new leaves are growing, as pictured here. That way your plant will branch out as it grows.)

FullSizeRenderNormally I’m a tea snob, but this is one case where I say, go for the Lipton’s. I used to find gallon-sized Lipton’s tea bags at Sam’s Club, but they no longer stock them. (Costco doesn’t carry any Lipton’s products.) I’ve found the large tea bags through Walmart online—they are cheaper and so much easier than unwrapping 12 single-serving tea bags.

One of the secrets of this drink, is pouring the boiled and steeped tea into the sugar, and stirring to dissolve it before adding the cold water. That’s how the southerners make their sweet tea, and it really is so much better than adding sugar to cold tea, where it just sinks to the bottom in an undissolved, sweet sludge. This tea has become our summertime drink of choice, and my son’s call it “liquid gold” or “the nectar of the gods”—when they are waxing poetic, that is. Suffice it to say, they really, really like it. I think you’ll like it too!

Makes 1 gallon

12 Lipton’s tea bags, or 1 gallon-sized tea bag
1 cup fresh spearmint leaves, rinsed and chopped*
4 cups boiling water
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
8 cups cold water
1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

If using individual Lipton’s tea bags, unwrap and gather all the strings together. Flip them over the side of medium mixing bowl. (Gallon-size tea bag just goes in the bowl—it has no wrapping or string.) Add chopped mint. Pour 4 cups boiling water over mint and tea; cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Put sugar into gallon-sized pitcher. Place a sieve over opening of container. Pour hot steeped tea through sieve into gallon container, pressing on tea and mint to get all liquid out of bags. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Add 8 cups cold water and lemon juice. Stir again. Refrigerate for 3 hours or more before serving. Keeps in frig for a couple weeks—if it lasts that long.

*NOTE: Just a reminder that you should use spearmint, not peppermint. Hope you planted the right herb!

Rhubarb Mint Coolers

Rhubarb Coolers IMG_0150Rhubarb is one of those early starters, and we usually have something on the table made with the tart ruby red stalks by end of May. Over the next couple weeks, there’s gonna be a rhubarb-o-rama as I post some favorite rhubarb recipes. Those of you in warmer climes probably can’t grow it since it’s a chill baby—it loves colder climates like Canada and the northern half of U.S. You Floridians will have to purchase frozen rhubarb in order to make the recipe below.

This recipe comes from the Epicurious website, and my friend Karin made the cooler and brought it to our house last July 4th. The pinkish-red color made it a natural for celebrating Independence Day, but she said she’s also served it on Valentine’s Day as well. (To serve mid-winter, make in the summer when rhubarb and mint are in abundance, and then freeze the mixture. Or make it in winter with frozen rhubarb, which is available all year.) She doubled the rhubarb amount from the Epicurious recipe, and then diluted the beverage with club soda* for fizz—half rhubarb drink and half club soda in each glass. Topped with a sprig of fresh mint, it was gorgeous as well as refreshing.

IMG_0636Even though the foliage is so pretty and impressive, remember that rhubarb leaves are toxic. Apparently this came to light in WWI when rhubarb leaves were used as a food source in Britain. (Thank you, Wikipedia.) Another fun fact about rhubarb, is that it’s useful for helping with constipation. (Thanks again, Wikipedia!) Not quite sure how much of it you need to ingest in order to reap those benefits… But I digress! Take a break from soft drinks and lemonade, and try this cooler as for a fresh, tart beverage to go with any meal.

Makes approximately 4 cups

4-5 cups chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb
5 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
Garnish: fresh mint sprigs

Cut rhubarb into 1/4-inch pieces and, in a saucepan, combine with water, sugar, and mint leaves. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to simmer, and stir occasionally for 15 minutes (rhubarb will disintegrate). Cool for 15 minutes. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a pitcher, pressing hard on solids to release extra flavor from the fruit. (Or is it vegetable? A New York court decided in 1947 that it would be classified as a fruit not a vegetable, which reduced the tariffs for importing and exporting. But again, I digress.) Chill mixture, covered, until cold, about 3 hours, and up to 2 days.

*NOTE: You can use club soda or seltzer. Both are inexpensive options compared to mineral water, which is naturally carbonated, and therefore more pricey. Club soda has some minerals added to it for flavor in addition to the bubbles, but seltzer is just carbonated water, and nothing else.