Tacos Take Flight

Punch up your next Taco Tuesday with recipes incorporating global flavors and textures.

Food by Chef J Frank.

Photos by Fred + Elliott

Tacos are quintessential come-and-gather-with-friends fare, perfect for an evening of grazing and laughing, ice cold beer in hand. Punch up your next Taco Tuesday with recipes incorporating global flavors and textures like our spicy chicken tinga, pickled red onions and a fresh spike of cilantro served in a brimming crispy shell.

Or go veg with a blue corn tortilla as the backdrop for a colorful, flavor-filled fold of mushrooms, corn, sautéed leeks, salsa fresca and curtido—a Spanish slaw. If you’re a fan of the fish taco (props to you for being a classicist), match some grilled tuna with peach plum salsa and avocado crema, or make a flight of mini tacos filled with red snapper ceviche and Thai shrimp.

For a heartier bite, loada piping hot flour tortilla with some well-seasoned skirt steak,a bit of crème fraîche, and radish slicesfor crunch. And you can skip the small talk—the plan for the evening is simple. Build. Eat. Repeat. 

Chicken Tinga with Pickled Red Onions

3 medium tomatoes, halved
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 medium onion, halved
1 cup cilantro, chopped, plus additional for garnish
1 teaspoon oregano 
2 chipotle peppers in adobo
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
ground cumin
2 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup chicken stock
corn or flour tortillas
queso fresco
1 avocado, sliced 

Grill, or roast at 425 degrees, the tomatoes, garlic and one half of the onion until lightly charred. Cool slightly and remove the seeds from the tomatoes. When cool, purée the tomatoes, garlic and onion with the cilantro, oregano and chipotle peppers. Season the chicken well with salt, pepper and cumin, then cook in a large pan with canola oil over medium-high heat, browning both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. Julienne the remaining half of the onion, then add to the pan and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato purée and chicken stock and season with salt, then return the chicken to the pan. Braise the chicken over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and cool until you are able to shred the thighs. Add the shredded chicken back to the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook until the sauce is thick.

For the pickled onions:
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

Combine the first three ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil. Place the onions in a bowl and pour the liquid over them. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. 

To assemble, place the chicken tinga in the tortilla, top with pickled red onion and garnish with queso fresco, cilantro and avocado slices.

Serves 10-12

Skirt Steak with Rajas

1 pound skirt steak 
salt and pepper
ground cumin

Season skirt steak well with salt, pepper and ground cumin, then grill or pan roast until rare to medium rare.

For the rajas:
2 poblano peppers
1 onion, cut into ¼-inch slices
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano 
¼ cup crème fraîche
corn or flour tortillas
¼ cup Cotija cheese, crumbled
1 radish, thinly sliced 

Char the peppers over an open gas flame or grill until the skin is completely blackened. Place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 20 minutes. Peel and halve the peppers, discarding the seeds, then slice into ¼-inch strips. Sauté onions over medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes or until they begin to brown. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the oregano and ½ cup water, simmering until the onions are tender and the water has evaporated. Add the peppers and cook for 3-4 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Remove from heat, cool slightly and add the crème fraîche, stirring well to incorporate.

To assemble, slice the steak into thin strips. Place rajas onto the tortilla, top with steak and Cotija cheese and garnish with fresh cilantro and sliced radish.

Serves 8-10

Mushrooms, Corn and Leeks with Salsa Fresca and Curtido

2 ears of corn
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 ½ cups cremini, oyster, shiitake and button mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
½ cup vegetable stock
corn or flour tortillas
queso fresco

Shuck the corn, cut the kernels off the cob and blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds, then drain and rinse with cold water. Heat the butter and oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the leek and sauté until soft but not brown, then add the mushrooms and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the corn and vegetable stock and reduce until the liquid has evaporated.

For the salsa fresca:
1 cup red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeño, partially seeded and finely diced
1 ½ limes, juiced
2 ½ cups tomatoes, seeded and chopped
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

Mix together the red onion, jalapeño and lime juice. Allow to marinate for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Set aside.

For the curtido:
½ head of cabbage, shredded 
1 carrot, shredded
½ onion, thinly sliced
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine the cabbage, carrot and onion in a mixing bowl. Bring the next six ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, then pour over the vegetables. Refrigerate over night.

To assemble, spoon mushroom, corn and leek mixture into the tortilla. Top with salsa fresca and curtido and garnish with queso fresco.

Serves 4

Tuna with Peach Plum Salsa and Avocado Crema

1 peach, diced
1 plum, diced
¼ red onion, diced
½ cup red pepper, diced
½ cup tomato, diced
½ jalapeño, partially seeded and finely diced
½ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped 
1 tuna steak, 1 ½-2 inches thick
salt and pepper 
1 tablespoon olive oil
corn or flour tortillas
¼ cup jicama, cut into thin strips 

Combine first nine ingredients, plus salt to taste, and refrigerate for one hour. Season the tuna with salt and pepper, rub with olive oil and grill or pan sear until rare to medium rare, about 30 seconds per side.

For the avocado crema:
1 avocado
1 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
1 tablespoon lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

To assemble, smear 2-3 tablespoons of avocado crema on the tortilla, layer with slices of tuna and several tablespoons of salsa. Garnish with jicama slices.

Serves 6-8

Tacos filled with red snapper ceviche and Thai shrimp.

Red Snapper Ceviche and Thai Shrimp

For the ceviche:
1 pound fresh red snapper, skinned and cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup lemon juice
1 medium jalapeño, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium red onion, diced
1 mango, diced
½ cup cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt
corn or flour tortillas
½ cup finely shredded Romaine

Cover snapper with the citrus juices and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Combine the next seven ingredients in a bowl, plus pepper to taste, and pour over the fish.

To assemble, place romaine in the tortilla and top with ceviche.

Serves 6-8

For the Thai shrimp:
1 cup shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon ginger
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup shredded coconut
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce
¼-½ teaspoon sugar
corn or flour tortillas
½ cup shredded red cabbage
½ cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped
1 Thai chili, thinly sliced
Thai basil

Toss the shrimp with the soy sauce, ginger, lime juice and one tablespoon of the canola oil, then marinate for 15 minutes. Toast the coconut at 350 degrees until golden brown. Heat the remaining oil over medium heat, add the shrimp and cook for one minute. Add the garlic and green onion and cook for one minute more. Mix in the coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar and simmer for 2-3 minutes, then allow to cool slightly. 

To assemble, place cabbage in the tortilla, top with shrimp mixture and garnish with toasted coconut, peanuts, chilies and Thai basil.

Serves 6-8

This article originally appeared in our August 2018 issue.

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