I love culture. I love Russian culture, but I also love Latin culture. So I was very excited last weekend to cook a Latin meal for my favorite Russian family (well Georgian but you know what I mean). :-]
Blake manning the grill!
Growing up I always felt connected to this culture because it seemed like a matriarchal culture (the mom was the heart of the house–and she was adored and respected). Family is a big deal. Community is a big deal. Parties are loud and fun.
The culture is celebratory. The people appreciate good food, dance, art, music, film and more. They don’t appear to equate life happiness with bank accounts. They work hard but understand living a joyful life is something you choose to do, and you build this by having a positive attitude on an individual level.
In no way do I mean to homogenize “Latin cultures” because they are all VERY DIFFERENT. But I do want to take a moment to share my adoration of this culture that embraces life, love and of course food.
The Fish Taco Story:
I love ahi tuna–but it’s expensive–so it should be purchased for special meals that are really special for you.
This week I spent in Topanga Canyon with my boyfriend and his family. I really enjoy the time I spend with Jacob’s family and I really enjoy cooking for them when I’m there.
This trip I decided to make fish tacos w/veggies, mango mint salsa, israeli couscous and for appetizers I baked light brie-stuffed-dates tied in a bow of turkey bacon. It’s much less complicated than it sounds!
Regarding the photo below, remember in Clueless the movie when Cher describes someone as a “Monet” painting–far away it looks pretty but up close it’s a big ol’ mess….regarding my dates the opposite is true.
They look a little intimidating far away but up close they resemble delicate elegant presents wrapped in a bow.
I promise you these are absolutely velvety and delicious–they are sweet, savory and salty and melt in your mouth.
- One package of Medjool Dates
- One package of light brie cheese
- One package of low-fat turkey bacon
- One package tooth-picks (you will need 20 for 20 pieces)
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
2. Cut mini bite-size pieces of brie cheese
3. Stuff Medjool dates with cheese (take out the pits)
4. Cut turkey bacon in thin strips (horizontal)
5. Wrap turkey bacon (one piece) around date and pin with tooth-pick
6. Place in the oven and bake until turkey bacon is crispy and dates are warm
7. Let cool and enjoy with some Pinot Noir
I chose ahi tuna because it was fresh. I am by no means a “fish expert,” but I know fish that is fresh does not smell fishy. That’s how I judge freshness.
When you cook the tuna you can use a grill (ideal, but it’s not critical). You can see I have a lot of ingredients listed. You by no means need to use everything I used! Make your fish tacos your own! Have fun with it!
For the fish tacos, if you are feeding a group of 5, you will need….
1. Three to four flanks of ahi tuna (fresh)
2. Three bell peppers (assorted colors)
3. A handful of shallots
4. Five table spoons olive oil
5. A grill (here is a list of the top ten indoor grills)
6. One mango
7. Fresh cilantro
8. Fresh mint
9. a tablespoon sugar
10. Salt and Pepper
11. Cuban black beans (low fat or fat free if you can find ’em)
12. Soft taco shells (I used blue and yellow corn tortillas from trader joe’s. The blue are gorgeous–just a little grainy so be fore-warned).
14. Fat free sour cream or fage yogurt 0%
15. Lite mexican cheese for topping
16. hot pepper (1/3 of one)
17. Mixed Israeli Cous Cous (trader joe’s)
1. Clean the fish (lightly bathe the fish with water and pad with a paper towel)
2. Cut fish into bit size pieces and set aside (you want to make fish last so it’s fresh/hot)
3. Carmelize shallots in olive oil and garlic
4. Chop colorful peppers and sautee them in the onions and olive oil
5. Open the can of black beans and sautee them over medium heat stirring occasionally
6. Skin and chop mango, chop hot green pepper, chop 1/4 onion (any kind), chop handful of cilantro, chop handful mint and place in a bowl
7. Add a teaspoon of sugar to the mango onion mix in addition to salt and pepper to taste
8. Cover and set aside in the fridge
9. The Israeli Cous Cous are very easy to make. You really just add water and any spices you like. I would suggest choosing cous cous or mexican rice (yellow). I tried to use only a tiny amount of margerine in this dish. You might need that (or a little butter) to flavor the rice and the fish. Some of you frown upon using any butter or butter replacements. For this group–don’t freak out, just make sure you use something like olive oil to keep your food flavorful. And please don’t be nervous about a nominal amount of butter or fat. It’s good for you (better than chemical substitutes).
10. Heat fish on skillet–first either spray grill or cover in a nominal amount of olive oil. Use cilantro, pepper and a tiny bit of salt to flavor fish. A pinch of butter or butter replacement–as mentioned above–might be necessary.
11. When fish is browned on either side, and still a little pink in the middle, remove from grill. Remember it’s ahi tuna–served seared and often rare in salads or in sushi rolls. This will not hurt you–it will make your taste buds smile!
12. Put soft shell tortillas on the grill to warm them and give them a crispy quality.
13. If you want to be fancy, add a stem of cilantro to the corner of each plate for decoration. If you are preparing tacos for your guests individually, you can add a sprig of cilantro to the top of the sour cream dollop that caps your fish taco tower.
I generally put all of the separate ingredients out on the table for people to serve themselves. It’s family style. It’s finger food. It’s supposed to be messy
I served the tacos with the mango salsa, some greens, shredded cheese, beans, rice and a dollop of Fage yogurt (replacing sour cream).
My juicy ahi tuna steak pieces on the grill
I wasn’t lyin’ it’s family style. Notice the apps are almost gone (my cheese stuffed dates w/turkey bacon).
Israeli Cous Cous
My boyfriend Jacob and his awesome family around the dinner table. Our Latin inspired Shabbat dinner.
Me with Jacob’s mom (supermom) Ella. She is my hero! (Yes mom you are my hero too!).
In conclusion, I know it seems like a lot of work but it’s actually an easy recipe to prepare if you are cooking for a group.
Thanks for staying the course with me (literally)!