Posts Tagged ‘tacos’

In countless cities across the country, and the rest of the world for that matter, street food has long been a staple of local culture and cuisine. Originating from a lack of space or finances to open a full-scale restaurant, food trucks and carts have recently exploded in popularity and feature immense diversity in cuisine and availability. New York’s classic hot dog carts and roasted nut vendors have evolved from their humble beginning to eateries rivaling five-star restaurants, and at a fraction of the cost. When I was a kid, I remember on weekends, my parents would take my brother and I into town to have lunch at a ramshackled yellow bus doling out greasy burgers and fries, and I didn’t think food could get much better than that. While my tastes have evolved quite a bit since then, whenever I get a hankering for nostalgia, I can  find that same bus parked in it’s usual spot, now a convenient two blocks from my apartment. Street food has such a wide appeal, for obvious reasons: It’s cheap, it’s portable, but most of all, it’s delicious. Well, for the most part anyway. The 12th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge is here, celebrating all that is Street Food.

In my travels, has limited as they may have been thus far, I always try and seek out little carts and food stalls. Generally, wherever the line is longest, you’ll find the best food. Nowhere was this more prevalent than when I travelled to Italy in the Spring of 2012. Much like in any large city, the buildings are tightly grouped to fit as many people and things as possible into a small amount of space. In cities like New York, it’s more planned and manageable because, on a modern global scale, New York is a pretty young city. In places like Firenze or Venezia that have been around for centuries, the modern aspects of the city are built on top of, around, and even through pieces of history. Clearly, business owners needed to adapt to the lack of space, and a great culture of street food arose. While I was in Firenze, a few friends I decided to wander away from the group and find our own lunch. We came across a small courtyard, surrounded by about a dozen shops, with a small food cart in the center. Since there were only two or three of us that spoke Italian well enough, we basically decided to order based on price. Most people in our group got a slice of pizza or a panini, fairly cheap and safe as far as what could be in them. I decided, probably against better judgement, to be a bit more adventurous and try the Trippa al Fiorentina, a sandwich I later found out consisted of a soft bun filled with braised tripe and a spicy tomato sauce. While I was hesitant at the time, it turned out to be one the best things I had ever tried. Unlike any other meat, the tripe had a unique unctiousness similar to mushrooms that played well against the bright tomato sauce. I knew that if I was making street food, this would be what I had to make. However, that’s not where the story ends. Luckily, the grocery store I normally shop at carries a wide rage of offals (I’m guessing due to a large immigrant population) and normally is well stocked with tripe. I had never cooked it before, so I looked up a few recipes to see how to make it as tender as possible. The verdict: Cut into thin strips, then slow cook with stock or water until tender. Simple enough, right? I put everything into the crock pot and left it on low overnight, dreaming of the sandwich I would have for lunch tomorrow. I awoke in the morning to a peculiar smell; It had to be the tripe. I opened the crock pot, and after skimming a layer of fat and scum off the top, pulled out a piece of the tripe.  It kind of felt like a wet rubber band, and at the texture of a warm gummy bear. I felt the same sense of foreboding that I had when I first ordered the sandwich in Italy. I decided to try a piece. I almost don’t have the words to describe how truly awful  this tasted. You know that gross feeling you get when you bite into a piece of cartilage in chicken or beef and it makes you want to instantly spit it out? Imagine that, combined with the weird, wet crunch of a halfway-cooked potato chip. I love writing about trying new things and loving the experience and having a new mindset about different foods. Sadly this is not one of those posts. After that first bite, I knew that there was no way I could continue with the dish, and defaulted to my backup plan.

My other memory of a great street food experience occurred in the summer of that same year, when I was lucky enough to travel to California’s Napa Valley for a recipe competition hosted by my school and the National Honey Board. Oddly enough, I had never actually made the recipe that I submitted for the contest until after I was told that I was a finalist. I ended up not winning the competition, but I got a scholarship just for showing up and I got a free trip to California, so I really wasn’t complaining. While we were there, the school had hired a student to drive us around the area and show us some of the sights and try some cuisine, which was almost more interesting to me than the competition. We went to the Oxbow Public Market, a small hub of local producers and sampled a few meats and cheeses before moving on. We stopped by a vineyard, whose owner the student was friends with. We sat about ten yards from some of the best grapes in the state, drank a few bottles of wine, and listened to Phish. The owner had a few kegs of beer left over from a recent party, and insisted that he got us some to-go, proceeding to fill several wine bottles from the keg. The day finished off driving back to our hotel through the small town of Yountville. If you’re not in the food industry, Yountville probably doesn’t mean very much to you. If you are in the industry though, you’ll probably know that Yountville is home to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, a restaurant which for the past decade been consistently rated as one of the top ten restaurants in the world. With a menu that costs several hundred dollars per person and a waitlist of up to two months, we were not stopping in for dinner and my soul wept a little bit. We did stop by to check out their garden though, and were invited inside by the general manager to check out the dining room and kitchen which was a pretty mind-blowing experience. However great it may have been, we’re here to talk about street food. After leaving the French Laundry, we drove up the street about two or three blocks and stopped at a taco truck for a quick bite. Besides the food being fantastic, three of us ate a full meal for about fifteen dollars. I got the tacos al pastor, a spicy, slow-roasted pork taco. Traditionally served with pineapple, the also topped theirs with fresh cilantro and thinly sliced radishes. Being that I am… incredibly from the North, I’ve never had much experience with real-deal Mexican cuisine, and this was a totally different beast from the ground beef and packaged seasoning that I was used to. With the tripe being a flop, this dish was the next best street food experience I’ve had.

al pastor

Al pastor originated in Spain, following the tradition of Lebanese immigrants and the classic Gyro meat.  While al pastor means “of the shepherd” (gryo meat traditionally being lamb), al pastor is made with marinated pork, prepared the same way: shaved into thin slices, then stacked together, roasted vertically, and thin shaving are cut from the whole roast. Since I don’t have a vertical roasting spit, I packed my sliced pork into a loaf pan a slow roasted it in the oven. After a few hours, you can shave hunks off the loaf and achieve the same effect as the traditional method. As you may already know, slow-roasting pork yields a lot of delicious fat and juices. This time, the fat is infused with all the flavors of the marinade, and works great for roasting the pineapple with. After everything is cooked, the assembly is a cinch: just pile your toppings on a warm, toasted, corn tortilla. I like a nice squeeze of fresh lime on mine, but that’s totally up to personal preference. The flavors of the pork, fruit and radishes meld so nicely together, I really don’t think it needs cheese or salsa or any of the more common American condiments, but tacos al pastor probably wouldn’t be worse for having them. Taco night is the best night, and this dish is easy enough to change up your normal routine.

Tacos al Pastor

makes about 12 tacos

  • Dried Ancho Chili, 2 each
  • Dried Guajillo Chili, 2 each
  • Chicken Stock, 1/2 cup
  • Vegetable Oil, 2 teaspoons
  • Mexican Oregano*, 1 teaspoon
  • Cumin or ground Cumin Seed, 1 teaspoon
  • Chipotle in Adobo, 2 each plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from can
  • Cider Vinegar, 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, crushed, 3 cloves
  • Kosher Salt, 2 1/2 teaspoons
  • Sugar, 2 teaspoons
  • Pork Shoulder, boneless, thinly sliced, about 2 pounds
  • Pineapple, diced, 1 each
  • Corn Tortillas, about 12, or as needed
  • Radish, thinly sliced, as needed
  • Fresh Cilantro, picked, as needed

Remove stem and seeds from dried chilies. In a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, toast chilies until soft and very aromatic. Add chicken stock to hot pan and transfer chilies and stock to a bowl. In the same pan, add vegetable oil and heat. Add oregano and cumin and toast until aromatic. Add chipotles and adobo sauce and cook about 30 seconds. Add vinegar, salt and sugar and remove from heat. In a blender or food processor, combine chili and stock mixture with toasted spices and vinegar mixture. Puree until smooth. In a large bowl, coat sliced pork in marinade. Let marinate at least 24 hours, up to 48 hours. Preheat oven to 225F. Pack sliced pork into a loaf pan, creating even layers. Cover loaf pan in aluminum foil and place onto a rimmed baking sheet. Roast pork at 225F for 4 hours. Remove pan from oven and drain fat and juices from pork, reserving separately. Heat oven to 350F. Coat diced pineapple with pork fat and place onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Roast pineapple at 350F for 30 minutes, or until browned and slightly crispy. Place  corn tortillas on a baking sheet and heat at 350F for about 5 minutes, or until pliable. Shave roasted pork lengthwise across the loaf and, if needed, reheat in a cast iron skillet with reserved juices. Top corn tortillas with shaved pork, roasted pineapple, radish and cilantro. If desired, squeeze fresh lime juice over taco.

*Mexican Oregano can be found in most grocery stores nowadays, but if you can’t find it, substitute half as much Italian Oregano.


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Tacos. What can I really say about them that you don’t already know? A close cousin to the sandwich, a taco can really be anything that you want it to be. Take a tortilla, flour or corn, and add pretty much whatever your heart desires. Meat, veggies, cheese, beans, toppings; the choices are nearly endless.

For the 10th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge, I knew I was going to have to do something extra awesome. To me, that means taking some traditional recipes and making them really well. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, the Cemita sandwich gets it’s name from the fluffy sesame seed bun that hold the toppings. Now, I’ve made no secret of my love all things sandwich and when I came across this one I knew that it would make some great tacos.

Tacos de Cemita

Slow cooked pork carnitas, fresh tomato, avocado, queso blanco, cilantro, and chipotle chili sauce, all atop a homemade sesame tortilla. I think the carnitas came out a bit dry, but  the fattiness from the avocado more than made up for it and they were otherwise very flavorful.  The chipotle sauce was definitely a work-in-progress though. Following the recipe, the sauce would destroy any other flavor in the taco, not to mention the mouth or stomach of anyone eating it. I ended up adding a little more than 1/4 cup of honey to tone it down to a puny human heat level. The end result was one of the best tacos I’ve had in a very long time. The spiciness from the pork and sauce was highlighted by the fresh, brighter flavors of the tomato and cilantro, and the creaminess of the cheese tied the whole thing together in one delicious mouthful.

Pork Carnitas

  • Guajillo Chilies, dried, 6 each
  • Ancho Chili, dried, 1 each
  • Cumin Seed, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Black Peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon
  • Clove, whole, 5 each
  • Cinnamon Stick, 1 inch piece
  • Garlic, minced, 2 cloves
  • Oregano, dried, 1 teaspoon
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • Apple Cider Vinegar, 2 teaspoons
  • Vegetable Oil, 2 teaspoons
  • Pork shoulder or butt, 4lbs
  • Water, 1 1/2 cup
  • Lard or Vegetable Shortening, 3 pounds
  • Onion, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Orange, chopped, 1 each
  • Garlic, chopped, 8 cloves
  • Bay leaves, 3 each
  • Oregano, dried, 2 teaspoons
  • Salt, 3 teaspoons

Stem and seed chilies. Combine all spices in a pan over medium heat and toast until aromatic. Roughly chop chilies, then grind all spices in a spice grinder. Combine ground spices with garlic, vinegar, and oil. Rub spice mixture over pork and let sit overnight or at least 2 hours. In a medium pot, heat lard until melted. In a large pot or slow cooker, add vegetables and spices, then place the pork on top. Add water and lard to cover. Cook over low heat for about 8 hours. During the last hour of cooking, raise to high heat and allow to pork to become crispy.

Chipotle Chili Sauce

makes about 2 cups

  • Vegetable Oil, 2 teaspoons
  • Onion, diced, 1 each
  • Diced tomato, canned, 14 oz
  • *Chipotle in Adobo, canned,  about 7 oz
  • Water, as needed
  • **Honey, about 1/4 cup

In a medium pot, sautee onion in vegetable oil until translucent. Add tomato and chipotle and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and continue to simmer about 20 minutes. Blend sauce in a blender until smooth, adding water as needed. While blending, slowly add honey. Strain through a mesh strainer to remove solids. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

*Depending on your taste, you can rinse the sauce from the chilies or you can add it all to the mix. I left the sauce that stuck to the chilies, but didn’t add any leftover sauce from the can.

**Depending on your spice tolerance, you can add more or less honey. I like to think that I have a pretty high tolerance, and with no honey it was borderline painful to taste. You have been warned.

Sesame Tortilla

makes about 15, 1.5 oz tortillas

  • All-Purpose Flour, 3 cups
  • Baking Powder, 2 teaspoons
  • Salt, 2 teaspoons
  • Lard, 3/4 cup
  • Hot Water, 3/4 cup
  • Sesame Seeds, toasted, 1/2 cup

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Either by hand or with a pastry cutter, cut the lard into the flour until encorporated. Slowly add water, kneeding until the dough comes together. Add sesame seeds and continue kneeding until evenly combined. Let dough rest, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour. Divide dough into about 15 even portions. Using a tortilla press*, press the dough balls until evenly flattened. Heat a griddle or cast-iron pan to medium-high heat. Cook tortillas until browned, about 2 minutes on each side. To serve, place tortillas in a towel-lined steamer basket over a pot of boiling water. Steam tortillas about 2 minutes, or until soft and pliable. Serve warm.

Cemita Taco Assembly:

Sesame Tortilla

Pork Carnitas

Chipotle Sauce

Tomato, Diced

Avocado, sliced

Queso Blanco, crumbled


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