Mexican cooking

Grilled Mahi-Mahi, Goat Cheese Tostada and Black Beans

20130513_182844(2)My first night in Puerto Vallarta, I opted to eat at the hotel’s beachside restaurant. My waiter brought me a strong margarita on the rocks and a basket of bread, which I would have left untouched if were not for the two (okay, three) cheese straws that called out to me after a long day of traveling.

I opted for a lime-grilled Mahi-mahi with goat cheese and black bean sauce, followed by a shot glass-sized dessert involving chocolate and raspberries. Margarita in hand, I watched the sun set over Banderas Bay. Not a bad way to kick off a vacation, eh?

I expected black beans to be prevalent in Mexico, but they were actually a rarity, at least where I was eating. Here, I’ve bulked up this dish a bit by incorporating actual beans, and not just their cooking sauces. Serve with whatever vegetables are in season and look good at the market or from your garden.

This might sound overly complicated for a weeknight, but it’s really not. Make the tostadas over the weekend and store them in resealable zip-top bag. Reheat leftover simmered black beans from scratch, or used canned beans. Fresh salsa from the store and seasonal vegetables of your choice finish the dish nicely. All that remains is the fish itself, which cooks in under 10 minutes.

Grilled Mahi-Mahi, Goat Cheese Tostada and Black Beans

Inspired by Las Casitas Restaurant, Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta

Serves 4

4 corn tortillas
Olive oil
1 1/2 cups simmered black beans with cooking liquid*
2 oz. goat cheese
4 boneless, skinless Mahi-mahi fillets (about 6 oz. each)
Salt & pepper
1 lime
Fresh salsa, for serving

Make the tostadas: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the tops of the tortillas with a bit of olive oil and lay on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Make ahead: can be made a day or two ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.

Prepare the beans: Heat beans in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add additional cooking liquid if necessary. Taste; season as needed. *Note: If using canned beans: rinse and drain; place in a small pan and add about 2/3 cup water. Season with salt, pepper, cumin and cilantro. Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer. Taste; season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Keep warm.

Prepare the fish: If using an outdoor grill, prepare for direct, high-heat grilling. If indoors, heat a grill pan on medium-high heat; brush with olive oil. Pat the fish dry. Season generously with salt, pepper, and zest of the lime. Grill fish until opaque, about 3-4 minutes per side, turning once. Squeeze with lime juice.

To assemble: On each plate, break the tostada in half and place on the plate. Crumble the goat cheese on top. Ladle 1/3-1/2 cup bean mixture onto the tostada, including 2-3 tablespoons of cooking liquid. Place the grilled fish on the tostada. Top with fresh salsa. Serve immediately.

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Tacos Al Pastor

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Vacations never last long enough, do they?

Okay, that’s a pretty ironic statement coming from me, a self-proclaimed workaholic who has trouble using her (admittedly generous) vacation time.

When I do go on vacation, I like to eat. And when I come back, I like to play in my kitchen and try to recreate some of the dishes. I returned from Mexico with a few ideas, butĀ  was especially interested in trying to make my own tacos al pastor.

When I think “taco,” I picture either your basic American family weeknight supper, featuring ground beef, sour cream, and shredded cheese, or fish tacos, which are pretty much the perfect beach food.

When I ordered these tacos, I was expecting shredded pork like I’ve had before. Instead, I was delighted with tiny crumbles of pork with a spicy kick.

Upon returning stateside, I did some research. “Al pastor” means “in the style of the shepherd.” It seems to be a fusion of Lebanese and Mexican cooking, typically involving a rotisserie. This recipe is modified for a home cook working on a stove. If you have the ability to roast the pork shoulder whole (maybe on a larger grill this summer?), by all means, try it out and let me know how it goes!

The enzymes in pineapple help tenderize the meat, while its sweetness is a nice contrast to the spice. And speaking of spice: achiote paste is a wet spice blend found in the spice aisle of international supermarkets. When I read “paste,” I was expecting the consistency of tomato paste, but it’s more like a dry brownie, if that makes any sense. The package I bought was about three ounces, so it was easy to measure out the amount I needed. Turns out, you can cut the sad little “brownie” with a butter knife. :)

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I found achiote paste in a nearby international grocery store.

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Is it just me, or does this achiote “paste” look like a sad packaged brownie or snack cake?

Achiote marinade

Combine achiote paste, pineapple juice, oil, garlic and salt in a food processor.

Place the pork in a freezer bag and add the marinade. Seal and place in the refrigerator.

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The marinated pork is cooked and then chopped into bite-sized pieces

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Caramelized pineapple complements the marinade while also cutting the spice.

This recipe didn’t produce identical results to my meal in Puerto Vallarta, but I imagine every restaurant has its own variation anyway. It was still quite good, and it is definitely worth adding to your cooking repertoire.

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Tacos Al Pastor

Adapted from The Food Network

Serves 6

1 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more
1 oz. achiote paste
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
4 chipotles in adobo sauce
1 clove garlic
Pinch kosher salt
2 pounds boneless pork butt, sliced into 1/2″ thick slices, then into 1/2″ wide strips
12 fresh 6″ white corn tortillas
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
For serving, as desired: diced red onion, chopped cilantro, avocado sauce, salsa, crumbled cotija cheese

Puree pineapple juice, oil, achiote paste, adobo sauce, chipotles, garlic and salt in a food processor. Mix the pineapple juice mixture with the pork in a freezer bag and move around to coat. Marinate the pork in the fridge, 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet or grill to medium-high heat. Lightly oil the skillet and add the tortillas, toasting, about 30 seconds per side. Remove the tortillas and store in a towel to keep warm.

Raise the heat under the skillet to high. Remove the pork from the bag and wipe off excess marinade. Cook the pork in batches, until charred and cooked through. Remove the pork from the skillet and chop into bite-sized pieces.

Add the onions and pineapple to the pan and quickly cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
Spoon pork into taco shells. Serve immediately.

Tastes and Sights of Puerto Vallarta

Ah, vacation… that magical time to awaken, explore, immerse, unplug, and recharge, all at once.

I recently returned from six days in Puerto Vallarta. I’m not sure exactly what initiated my choice in destination, other than I was sitting on the couch one night cold night in January and decided I’d had enough of winter.

Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s western coast, and it feels like a coastal small town and a high-end resort destination rolled into one.

One of my favorite things about vacations is the food. I love wandering through the grocery stores and farmer’s markets, braving street carts and trucks, discovering new flavors, ingredients and cooking methods, and asking locals for their recommendations. All the while, I’m taking mental and sometimes physical notes, figuring out what I can incorporate into my own cooking (and eating!) back home.

After this vacation, I have a new-found love for “real” tequila, and and I can’t wait to recreate a couple of my favorite dishes, including tacos al pastor (“in the style of the shepherd”). I’ll be chronicling my efforts over the coming weeks.

For now, a few pictures to put you in a vacation mood.

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