Fish Tacos with Guacamole + Pico de Gallo

I used to make these fish tacos all the time, but they disappeared from my repertoire for a while, as dishes sometimes do. Like all good recipes, though, it came back with a vengeance. Since I made these tacos this past weekend, I have been craving the flavors, which means I will have to make them again soon (I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I find myself bingeing on certain recipes for a while… this might explain their periodic disappearance). The best thing about this recipe: you don’t have to marinate the fish for hours because the sauce has so much flavor. However, if you do have the foresight to marinate the fish for a few hours or even overnight, you will reap added deliciousness. But in my case, as usual, this was about getting (hopefully yummy) food on the plate, quickly.

This is a wonderful dish for dinner for one or two, but also great for a party because your table looks like it’s overloaded with goodies. I like to top the fish with some guacamole and pico de gallo, also known as salsa fresca, made with chopped onion, tomato, coriander leaves, jalapeño or Serrano peppers, salt, and lime juice (mine has a slight variation in that I use apple cider vinegar, instead of lime juice).

Now, I’m well aware that there are thousands of different ways to make guacamole. Frankly, I like them all. The more avocados, the merrier, as far as I’m concerned. My version is straightforward, but I think it highlights the right notes. The pico de gallo adds a nice acidic point to the tacos and a dash of freshness that I think is necessary against the baked fish.

Garlic and lemon zest....is there anything better?
Garlic and lemon zest….is there anything better?
Smoked chipotle peppers, cumin powder, Mexican chili powder, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and zest makes this a chocolatey color
Smoked chipotle peppers, cumin powder, Mexican chili powder, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and zest makes this a chocolatey color

guacamolepicodegallo

Voila!
Voila!

Serves: 2

Prep and cook time: 40 minutes

For the fish:

2 fillets white fish, such as tilapia, preferably sustainably farmed (you can also substitute other white, lean, and mild fish such as black sea bass, catfish, flounder or trout)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin powder

Zest of one lemon

Juice of one lemon

¼ cup olive oil

1 smoked chipotle peppers in sauce, roughly chopped (optional)

Salt and pepper

4-6 flour or corn tortillas

For the guacamole:

1 ripe avocado

1 clove garlic, minced

½ roma tomato, chopped, cored and seeds removed

¼ red onion, finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped

Squeeze of lime

Salt and pepper, to taste

Handful of coriander leaves (for garnish)

For the pico de gallo:

1 roma tomato, chopped, de-seeded with core removed

½ jalapeno pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped

¼ red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Handful coriander leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Pat the fish dry using paper towels and sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of each fillet. Lightly score each side of the fish with your knife diagonally across. Lay in a baking tray or heat proof dish.
  2. Mix the garlic, chili powder, cumin powder, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and (if using) chipotle peppers together (The chipotle peppers are very hot, so I usually just add one, roughly chopped, with a little bit of the sauce for a nice smoky flavor).
  3. Pour the mixture over the fish and let marinate. If you are in a hurry, you can just let the fish sit in the marinade for 15 minutes, but if in advance, cover and refrigerate the fish for up to 4 hours.
  4. Put the fish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, make the guacamole: mix all the ingredients for the guacamole in a bowl or mortar and pestle and mash everything together. I personally like the avocado to be a bit chunky, but it’s up to you. Squeeze some lemon juice on top and add a few coriander leaves for garnish. Be sure to taste and adjust the salt/acidity as needed.
  6. Mix the ingredients for the pico de gallo in a separate bowl and let marinate.
  7. About two minutes before your fish is done, warm your tortillas on a grill pan (preferable) or large saucepan on medium heat until they are lightly browned but still soft.
  8. Assemble: layer the fish, guacamole, and pico de gallo on your tortillas and dig in!

Easy Peasy Creamy Dal

I’m excited to write my first post by request.

“I can’t get dal quite right,” my friend Nandini said one recent afternoon, as we shared a lunch of veggie burgers and salad.   My eyes widened.  I think I mumbled something about the magic of the pressure cooker. She said something about its scary whistle.

It has taken me years to get dal right—that deceptively simple staple in every north Indian household. I wholeheartedly agree that pressure cookers are kind of scary. But after having bought one and using it regularly, I can tell you that it is totally worth it and only a little scary, and that too, only in the beginning.  Don’t let this baby intimidate you. You get used to the whistling sound pretty quickly, and then it stops being quite so alarming. Pressure cookers, in my humble view, are one of the best kitchen gadgets a person can own. Mine is similar to this one, which has an easy button that you slide down to click it open or closed, with two settings (1 and 2—I always use 1, the lower setting). Also, as I have learned from many-a- Top-Chef episode, pressure cookers are fantastic for braising meats, so definitely a worthwhile investment. Best of all, the pressure cooker enables your dal to be ready in a mere thirty minutes total, including prep time. It takes 5 minutes to chop up your ingredients and another 5 to sauté them, put the lid on and let your dal cook for twenty minutes and voila!

After years of frustration , I promise that you will not be able to replicate the creaminess of a pressurized dal using an ordinary pot. The pressure simply breaks down the lentils so that the entire mixture is smooth and the dal and water have literally become one. There are few things better in life than some steaming rice soaking up creamy dal, with a side of lemon or mango pickle. Heaven.

PS—The secret of my dal recipe is the squeeze of lemon at the end. Lemon with Indian food is a must; it really brings out the flavors. This will make a great soup for lunch, or served on top of rice makes a truly complete meal.

dal2

Prep time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 dried red chili

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 medium yellow/red onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste (or 1” fresh ginger and about 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped)

1 roma tomato, chopped

1 cup red lentils

1 tsp. turmeric powder

1 tsp. coriander powder

1 tsp. red chili powder (optional)

8 cups of warm water

1 tsp. salt

Squeeze of lemon

Cilantro, for garnish

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in the pressure cooker on medium heat. When the oil is hot, swirl it in the pot and add the red chili and cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add in the chopped onion (The onions will start to brown the bottom of the pressure cooker – don’t worry – this will be deglazed once you pour in the warm water.)
  2. Add a pinch of salt to the onions and sauté until brown, about 3 minutes. Add in the garlic, ginger, and chopped tomato. Saute for another minute.
  3. Add in the red lentils and water and gently stir everything together.
  4. Add the turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and red chili powder, if using. Mix everything together.
  5. Put the pressure cooker lid on. Your stove should be on medium heat and you should use the lower pressure cooker setting. If you don’t have multiple settings on your pressure cooker, just time the whistles.  Once the whistle goes off, cook the dal for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Remove the lid, squeeze in some lemon. Taste for salt. Garnish with cilantro and serve!

 

 

 

 

Cold Weather Cooking

Hello people! It has taken me longer than planned to blog, but finally, a Saturday arrived where I’m not drowning in job applications or students papers. Hooray!

Since I last wrote, fall became winter, and daylight savings arrived, rudely shortening the days. I’m still getting used to the darkness at 5 pm, which is making me want to eat dinner at 5:30, crawl into bed at 7, and watch Chopped or Gilmore Girls (I’m in a very easy, no-brainer phase of Netflix-watching at the moment. Blame it on the aforementioned job apps).  In addition to bringing out my geriatric tendencies, the colder weather also makes me want warm, soupy, curried things even more than usual, so expect a few recipes in that genre soon.

Finally, today, we make use of the homemade curry paste calmly chilling in your fridge. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten your hard work in making that paste from scratch, and here’s a warm and spicy reward. As always, with a curry, there is a degree of flexibility with the ingredients. Although this is a tried and tested recipe, there will be some variation depending on your own palette, the particular ingredients you use, and the whimsy of the gods. So, taste as you go!  However, I do recommend sticking to the 1 tbsp. of red curry paste since its very, very spicy. You can always add more if you like to clear your sinuses when you eat (no judgment). At this level, the dish certainty still has heat, but is not going to burn your mouth. If things get too spicy, add some more palm sugar, fish sauce, and a bit more water.

Don’t feel obliged to use the same vegetables that I did: simply use whatever you have in the fridge. Green beans, broccoli, tofu, butternut squash, shrimp, or chicken are all fine substitutes. Just remember that you do want a nice spectrum of colors, since the curry itself will be a light gray color and does not scream “DELICIOUS.”

PS–I also want to showcase the wonderful form of palm sugar I found at the Asian grocery store.  Usually, palm sugar comes in a solid chunk and is sometimes hard to scrape out (plus there is a waxy layer on top that you have to remove), I have found these pellets to be extremely useful and user-friendly.  I used one of these nifty capsules for the curry (minor drawback to these is that they are not so great for salad dressings in which you need palm sugar).

palmsugar

prettyveggies
Pick pretty veggies!

thaicurry2

thaicurry

THAI VEGETABLE CURRY

(Modified from Durham Spirit Company’s “Thai Summer Vegetable Curry.”)

Prep time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

1 stalk lemongrass, chopped (peel off the outer layers and bang the stalk across its spine before chopping).

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 knob galangal, roughly chopped

1 tbsp. red curry paste

33 oz. or 1 l. coconut milk (approximately 3 cans)

½ cup warm water

4 tbsp. fish sauce

2 tbsp. palm sugar

½ purple eggplant, cubed

½ yellow squash, cubed

½ zucchini, cubed

½ red bell pepper, cut into 2” pieces

¼ cup Thai basil, chopped

Squeeze of lemon

  1. Heat a wok on medium-high heat. In the dry wok (no oil), add the garlic, lemongrass and galangal and sauté for a minute. Add the curry paste and sauté until the curry paste changes color and becomes dark brown.
  2. Pour in the coconut milk, and turn the heat down to medium. Add the fish sauce, water, and palm sugar and bring to a simmer.
  3. Add the eggplant and simmer for 15 minutes, until soft. (This is a good time to put your rice to boil in a separate pot.)
  4. Once eggplant has softened, add yellow squash, zucchini, and red bell pepper and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  5. Add the Thai basil and a squeeze of lemon. Turn off heat and serve with white or brown rice.