Hola! May 5 is Cinco de Mayo, commemorating the Mexican victory over the French in the 1862 battle of Puebla.
There’s no specific food tied to this holiday — unless you’re like me and count a margarita as a serving of fruit if it’s made with fresh lime juice and served with a lime wedge — so any typical Mexican fare goes.
For today’s recipe, I couldn’t resist going the taco route after flipping through several newly-released cookbooks on Mexican cooking. All the taco photos and recipes were just so inviting. And, besides, tacos are great party fare and have come a long way in terms of ingredients used. Toppings range from pickled onions to sliced radishes or cabbage.
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This recipe for Carne Asada, which literally translates to “grilled meat” is adapted from Jonas Cramby’s Tex-Mex from Scratch (Sterling Epicure, $24.95). For this recipe, Cramby writes, “grilled meat and some guacamole — it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that to throw a party.”
I couldn’t agree more.
This recipe called for using whole hanger or flank steak. I am not a huge fan of flank, and hanger can be hard to find. So I went the skirt steak route. It’s a tougher cut with lots of connective tissue, so it needs a good soak in marinade to loosen it up. Another cut, like flat iron steak, also can be used.
What makes this recipe stand out is the marinade: a combination of lime juice, olive oil, some seasonings and kiwi. Yes, kiwi. Cramby writers that the kiwi is what helps tenderize the meat. Along with pineapple and papaya, kiwi contains certain enzymes that help break down the connective tissue in meats. Only 1/2 a kiwi is used because a little goes a long way.
When you buy skirt steak, do try to get one long piece if you can. It’s worth asking for if you don’t see it in the meat case. Doing so means the width of the meat is nearly the same end to end. This also means that it cooks more evenly, and it will be easier to slice into even pieces to fit snugly in the taco shells.
Other components of this are the guacamole and pickled red onions. And don’t forget the drink. I opted for Cramby’s Lagerita — a mix of Mexican lager, a bit of simple syrup, lime juice and tequila. Serve it over ice in a well-chilled glass, with the rim dusted with a bit of salt or sugar. These tacos are just as good with a salty-rimmed, quenching classic margarita.
Preparation time: 15 minutes. Total time: 35 minutes. Servings: 4.
1 whole piece skirt steak (2 1/4 pounds) or substitute hanger or flank steak
Juice of 1 large lime
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium-hot red or green chili such as serrano
1/2 a kiwi, peeled, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 to 10 corn tortillas
Pickled red onion slices (see note below)
Chopped cilantro and onion mix
Queso Chihauhua, shredded or queso fresco crumbled, optional
Place the meat in a plastic sealable bag or large bowl. In a food processor, place all the marinade ingredients and pulse a few times – it should be chunky. Pour the marinade over the meat, making sure it’s thoroughly coated. Seal bag or cover the bowl and marinate at least 6 hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, take the meat out of the refrigerator and let rest at room temperature about 30 minutes or so. Preheat the grill for medium-high heat, and add a couple handfuls of soaked mesquite wood chips on coals if using a charcoal, for a a smoky flavor. When the grill is ready, add the whole strip of skirt steak and grill about 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. The meat should be medium-rare. Remove from the grill and let it rest at least 5 minutes. Thinly slice the meat into about 1/2-inch-wide pieces.
To serve: warm the tortillas in the microwave, wrapping them in paper towel and covering completely with plastic wrap for about 1 minute. Spread a heaping tablespoon of guacamole down the center of the tortilla and top with a few slices of meat. Add a few onion slices and, if desired, some cheese.
Cook’s note: To make the pickled red onions, have ready a quart jar. Peel and thinly slice 2 red onions. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 fresh chili (or to taste), such as habanero or serrano. Bring to a boil. Add the sliced onions and simmer 30 seconds. Cool and transfer to the jar and screw on the lid. Refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours or until the onion slowly changes color from red-white to light pink. The onions will keep several days in the refrigerator.
Adapted from “Tex-Mex from Scratch: by Jonas Cramby (Sterling Epicure, $24.95)