Tag Archives: queso fresco

Spicy Braised Beef Tacos with Cilantro Pesto

I had in mind some fabulous beef tacos I had a few years ago in a restaurant called Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar, near Cleveland, Ohio. A faculty member treated me for having helped her with some technology for her courses. It was more than a fair trade. I have no idea how the soft taco filling was actually made, but the memory was at least an inspiration for me.

I chose to braise the beef chuck roast on the stove, because I didn’t want to turn on the oven. I have my eye on a cast iron dutch oven for making such things on the grill, but while it’s still on my wish list, the stovetop will do. It’s a toss up as to whether the beef or the pesto was the hit of meal, or maybe it was the combination. Either way, I think these tacos are going on the menu of favorites.

Spicy Braised Beef Tacos with Cilantro Pesto

  • Servings: about 8 soft tacos
  • Difficulty: time-consuming
  • Print

Spicy Braised Beef

3 lb chuck roast

olive oil for browning

13 oz crushed tomatoes

up to 1/2 cup water or beef broth, as needed

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (canned chipotle in adobo sauce would be good, too)

1/2 teaspoon salt for cooking sauce

salt & pepper for seasoning beef

  1. Heat a dutch oven over medium-high to high heat. Add 2-3 tablespoon olive oil, then brown the seasoned chuck roast on both sides.
  2. Add the garlic and spices to the pan next to the roast and stir for a few seconds, but watch that none of them burn.
  3. Add the crushed tomatoes and as much water as you think you need to keep the sauce moist for about 3 hours of simmering. I suppose it depends on the quality of your crushed tomatoes. Some crushed tomatoes seem very watery or saucy, and some are very thick and full of tomato chunks. I needed about 1/2 cup of beef broth.
  4. Bring the sauce to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for about 3 hours, until the meat pulls apart easily.
  5. Remove the meat to a platter or board, and pull apart. Strain out the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and add to the pulled beef.

Cilantro Pesto

2 bunches cilantro tops, cleaned and dried

1/2 cup parsley (I used my frozen, chopped parsley)

1 red onion, roasted on the grill

3 jalapeño peppers, roasted on the grill, peeled, and seeded

1 bulb roasted garlic

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup Cotija or Parmesan cheese, grated

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

*Keep in mind that roasting garlic, onion, and jalapeño produces a milder taste than the fresh versions, which may be too strong for some tastes. If you aren’t going to roast them, you might adjust the amounts to your taste.

  1. I put everything but the oil into a food processor and processed until it was all finely blended.
  2. While the processor is running, slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube until the pesto is blended.
  3. Store in the refrigerator to serve with all kinds of meats, especially in tacos.
Putting the tacos together:

Soft taco shells

Shredded cabbage—red looks nice

Spicy braised beef

Cilantro pesto

Crumbled queso fresco

Build the tacos in the order above. That was easy.

Chicken and Creamy Avocado Pasta

No, it’s the dead of winter and not peak avocado time, but I picked up some ready-made guacamole for last weekend’s fish tacos, and only used one of the packages. It’s only 14° F outside today, so a bowl of warm creamy pasta seems like the right dish to curl up with for dinner. Even though the guacamole contains some traditional Mexican seasonings, like garlic and jalapeno peppers, it’s labeled as mild and will not turn the pasta into a Mexican pasta dish, if there is such a thing. Sour cream, another typical accompaniment to guacamole, some chopped tomatoes, and queso fresco will round out the pasta, which, in the end, is just a creamy warm past that no one would suspect has some Mexican connections.

I’m also, for a different texture in the final dish, deep frying the chicken cubes in a cornstarch coating.

Chicken and Creamy Avocado Pasta

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This dish goes together quickly, and would be even easier if you already have some cooked chicken to add to the sauce.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cubed

1/3-1/2 cup of cornstarch, for coating chicken

salt & pepper to taste

canola oil, or your favorite oil for frying

1 cup prepared, mild guacamole—if using fresh avocado, you might want to season with garlic and other seasonings

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup chicken stock

1 15oz can diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed or 1/2 cup fresh diced tomatoes

queso fresco cheese, crumbled

1/2 lb whole wheat farfalle pasta

Preparing the chicken:

  1. If frying the chicken, coat the cubes well with cornstarch and set aside. When ready to fry, add more cornstarch, if needed. The chicken should be well coated and dry.
  2. Fry in about 2 inches of oil at 350° for about 2-3 minutes or until golden brown, but not overcooked. Fry in batches, letting the oil come back to temperature between batches. I think I had about four batches.
  3. Set chicken aside to drain on paper towels, until ready to add to pasta.

Preparing the pasta and sauce:

  1. Boil the pasta of your choice as directed on package. I used a whole wheat pasta because we like the nutty taste, and because it has a lower glycemic index.
  2. In a large saute pan, combine guacamole, sour cream, and chicken stock. There is no need to thicken this sauce! Heat over low heat until it begins to bubble.
  3. Toss in pasta, fried chicken cubes, and diced tomatoes. Stir to combine and heat through for 1-2 minutes. Notice that I not only drained, but rinsed my canned tomatoes, because I didn’t want a pink sauce, or maybe red and green would make a brown sauce–yuk.
  4. Serve in bowls, garnished with crumbled cheese.

Frying the chicken was a nice choice that added an interesting texture and flavor to the dish. It would be interesting with some shredded, poached chicken as well.

Beer-Battered Fish Tacos

The same friend who gives us the peppers gave us a package of 16 perch fillets, and I have a preference for fried fish when we have it, so I thought this would be a good time to use my favorite beer batter recipe, one I usually use for onion rings. It is the world’s simplest batter with only two ingredients—beer and flour, equal amounts. It makes the crispiest, lightest onion rings you ever had and they stay crispy in a slow oven (200° F) while you fry the rest. It seems to me a lot like a tempura batter in texture, light and crispy. I really don’t like an egg-heavy batter that ends up being like a deep-fried pancake around the food you are trying to highlight.

Today the batter goes on perch, and the perch go into tortillas with crispy lettuce and avocado and a zippy sauce.

Beer-Battered Fish Tacos

  • Servings: 1-2 pcs fish per taco
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Beer Batter

Beer

Flour

  • Mix equal parts beer and all-purpose flour—I used one cup of each. The batter will be slightly lumpy, but don’t worry about it.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on kitchen counter for three hours. I think I read once that this breaks down the gluten in the batter, but I’m not sure why this is good for the final result.

Fried Fish

Preheat vegetable oil in deep fryer or deep pot to 350°

  • Put the fish in the batter—I had 16 perch fillets—and take out about 4 pieces at a time to deep fry until golden, about 4-5 minutes. It helps to immediately lift them with a long fork so they start frying before sticking to the basket.
  • Remove with tongs and drain on paper towels while frying the rest. Put plate of fish in oven at 200° F to keep warm while frying the rest.
  • Salt the fish, or onion rings if that’s what you’re making, after frying.

Assembling Tacos

Fried fish fillets

Small corn or fajita-sized flour tortillas

Lettuce

Avocado slices or prepared guacamole

Cheese: queso fresco or cotija, crumbled

Sauce with a kick: I combined about 2 tablespoons homemade enchilada sauce with 1/3 cup mayonnaise

Do I really need to tell you how to assemble food in a tortilla?

Assembling food well in a tortilla is more about figuring out the order that will stay in the tortilla through eating the whole thing than it is about how pretty it looks in your blog photo. I have found that the prettiest constructions fall apart immediately. I have since become a firm believer in spreading whatever sauce you use on the tortilla first, even under the lettuce. Speaking of lettuce, I recommend that you fall in love with whole lettuce leaves, whether Bibb, romaine, or iceberg, because shredded lettuce is just going to fall out everywhere. Stick that lettuce leaf to the sauce, then add the meat piece or pieces and arrange any toppings, like avocado and cheese, sparingly. If you can lay slices of avocado or tomato or pepper next to the meat instead of on top, that will help in folding up the tortilla.

This particular recipe makes use of small tortillas that are simply folded in half and not rolled like burritos, so something may fall out and you just have to come to terms with it.