This post is brought to you by the letters B. B. Q. and S.A.L.E. Minus a little food processor action, this meal was cooked entirely on the barbecue. It was also borne out of and consists mostly of ingredients that were on sale at the local Latin market. During dinner, I turned to my mother to share this information with her. The tomatillos were 2lbs/99c; the radishes 4 bunches for 99 cents; the avocados 4 for 99c; the limes 4lbs/99c; the cabbage 3lb/99c; and we already had the shrimp, garlic, jalapeno, onion and fixings for tortillas. My mother's response? "Would have been better if you had grown most of it." My brother's addition? "Or raised the shrimp." Yeah, thanks for the sarcasm family. I appreciate it. Really.
Needless to say, I'm proud of my ingenuity. Especially since my stroke of grocery ad-induced brilliance had me cooking up a meal far from my normal endeavors. Those of you in the West and Southwest should be familiar with tomatillos--those green tomatoes with papery skin. Traditionally, they form the basis of a green salsa used for enchiladas and slow cooking meat. I prefer my enchiladas laden with red sauce, and, until recently, I didn't really cook meat beyond chicken breast, seafood or the occasional burger. So this was the first time I've ever picked up a tomatillo and brought it home. When I plan to purchase a new fruit or vegetable, the first thing I do is scour the internet for information. One of the most difficult things about fresh produce is knowing how to pick it out. If you're going to purchase tomatillos, this is what you should know: Tomatillos may be known for their tart flavor, but the smaller the fruit, the sweeter they are. I chose smaller ones because I would rather add lime juice as opposed to sugar to perfect my salsa. They should also be bright green, free of defects, and have fresh (not dry) light brown husks. The outside flesh will be slightly sticky, but a thorough washing will remove the natural wax. And whatever you do, do not eat the husks--they're toxic.
Today was also my first attempt at homemade tortillas. My family and I prefer flour to corn, but for some reason no one carries taco-sized flour tortillas. I think I'm okay with this, though. The back of a package of tortillas reads like a chemistry experiment despite the fact that your basic recipe includes only flour, water, salt and fat. Even though I still have yet to overcome my inability to roll a ball into a circle, I think it's wise to stick to the homemade option. Plus, despite my shortcomings, I can roll dough quite thin while still being able to pick it up. And yes, I totally made my tortillas on the BBQ (mostly because it was so nice outside and I had to turn the thing on anyway).
Even though I began with a praise of sales and barbecues, this meal was primarily inspired by Baja cuisine--fresh vegetables, seafood, simplicity. I think this regional Mexican cuisine is sorely underappreciated. It focuses on the freshness and unique tastes of its ingredients, and showcases regional seafood. Unfortunately, even in Los Angeles, the majority of Mexican cuisine is about tomato-based salsas, lard and beef, meaning that for Baja food, you have to go upscale* or make it yourself. This is a quick and delicious way to try coastal Mexican food at home. The lime marinade is complemented perfectly by the salsa; the cabbage and radish give the tacos a good earthy crunch; and the shrimp are succulent. Plus, there's very little hands-on time for this dish--and even less if you buy the tortillas.
*I can't count Baja Fresh or other chains. It just isn't good or remotely authentic.
Shrimp Marinade (Serves 4-5)
1 lb raw shrimp, deveined, peeled and without tails
4 limes, juiced (approximately 1/3 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup brown or white onion, chopped
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (~3 cups)
1 lb tomatillos, preferably small
1 jalapeno, 2 if you like it hot
5 cloves garlic
1/2 large brown or white onion
1/2 lime, juiced
1 1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1 bunch radishes, grated
1 cup cabbage, shredded
avocado, sliced (optional)
queso fresco (optional)
Flour Tortillas (Makes 12, via The Kitchn)
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp. vegetable shortening (or lard, ew)
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup warm water
Time Management: If you are making all three items, I suggest that you start with the marinade. I then suggest that you make the tortilla dough, which takes approximately 5 minutes. While the dough is sitting, prep your toppings. Also prep items for salsa and roast vegetables, which is approximately 10-15 minutes. While your vegetables are roasting, you can start rolling and cooking tortillas. This takes 10-15 minutes depending on how fast you roll, but will likely overlap with your roasting. When done with tortillas, process salsa and cook shrimp, which is no more than 10 minutes. Salsa can also be made the night before.
1. At least an hour before cooking, clean your shrimp. Mix all of the marinade ingredients into a bowl or ziplock bag along with the shrimp. Be sure shrimp are thoroughly covered. Place in fridge until ready to cook.
Marinade ingredients. Powder and liquids mixed together thoroughly first.
2. Prepare your tortilla dough. Place flour in large bowl. Cut up shortening and mix into flour thoroughly with your hands until you get a sandy mixture. You could use a fork, but your hands are quicker and mix more thoroughly.
3. Dissolve salt in warm water. Slowly add to flour, incorporating until a dough comes together. I used all of my water, but the original instructions seem to think some people won't. I also suggest mixing by hand until mostly combined.
4. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead until it comes together. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.
Not as smooth as yeast-breads, but thoroughly mixed.
5. Divide dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls. I divided in half, then divided in half again, to get 4 pieces. I then cut those 4 pieces into 3 each. I also had the help of my kitchen scale, which gave me 12 balls of approximately 1.7 ounces each.
6. Heat a dry skillet to medium-high heat on your stove. Two at a time, keeping the other balls covered, roll the balls out to about 7" in diameter. Don't let the two tortillas touch, or they will stick together. Cook approximately 45 seconds on each side until brown. Then roll two more, and repeat. If you'd like to do this step while roasting tomatillos on the BBQ, you'll need a cast iron skillet or any other skillet you feel safe using. Time will vary because it is harder to control the heat. I don't think placing the dough right on the grill will work because they'll burn easily. Cover to keep warm.
You can see my veggies grilling.
It's odd...they come out of the pan white, but turn sort of yellow.
7. During dough down time, the night before, or just before you cook your shrimp, remove husks from tomatillos and wash thoroughly to remove sticky wax.
Ready to be stripped naked and bathed.
8. On a grilling rack over high heat on the BBQ, or on a baking sheet under your oven's broiler, place whole tomatillos, jalapeno(s), and unpeeled garlic cloves. Cook for 5 minutes on one side, and then flip, cooking 5 minutes on the other side. Charring is fine.
9. Deseed and peel the skin off of the jalapeno(s). Peel garlic cloves. Along with tomatillos, onion, lime juice and vinegar, place in food processor and puree. Add salt to taste.
Look! No chopping involved!
10. Skewer shrimp and cook on grill for 2-3 minutes, flipping once one side is cooked. I also used my cast iron, which was still on my grill, to cook up the onions from the marinade.
11. Serve as a taco bar, or stack as thus: tortilla, shredded cabbage & radish, avocado slice, shrimp, salsa and cheese/cilantro.