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We’re still trying to eat healthy around here, and have been pretty successful. I’ve been finding some awesome recipes that may be full of good veggies and low on calories, but definitely don’t skimp on flavor. These tostadas are the perfect example.

Okay, I’ll admit: I was a bit skeptical about this recipe. My husband was overtly wary of it, not being negative while I was making it but definitely lacking his usual enthusiasm for my cooking. I could tell: he thought I was crazy. I, on the other hand, and totally unbeknownst to my husband, was quietly, silently skeptical. C’mon, sweet potatoes? On tostadas? This isn’t going to be good. This is not going to go over well.  Why am I making this?

Turns out, I was making it because IT IS AWESOME. My intuition for recipes is pretty good, and when I first saw this pop up in my google reader, I had a sense it would be great (it was only when I was putting all of my dinner eggs in a sweet potato tostada basket that I began to doubt myself). And I was right!! (The first me, not the doubting me.) So, gentle readers, fear not: this recipe is super yummy. And super good for you!! We gobbled these up and I can’t wait to make them again.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tostadas

From Two Peas and Their Pod

2 large sweet potatoes, washed, peeled, and cut into small cubes
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 corn tortillas
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 avocado, diced
1 lime, cut into wedges
Shredded cheese (optional)
Salsa or hot sauce (optional)

directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place sweet potato cubes on a large baking sheet. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft and tender. Stir a couple of times while they are roasting.

2. In a non-stick skillet, heat corn tortillas over medium-high heat. When tortillas start to bubble up, flip and heat the other side until golden brown, about 30 seconds for each side. Place tortillas on a baking sheet and lightly spray with cooking spray. Place under a hot broiler for about 2 minutes. Remove from oven and turn over tortillas. Place tortillas back under the broiler for another two minutes.*

3. Heat black beans over the stove or in the microwave. Top tortillas with beans, sweet potatoes, onion, cilantro, lime juice, and any other toppings you desire. Serve warm.

*I heated my tortillas up by putting them directly on the burner over a medium flame, and flipping them with tongs. This is how I always heat up corn tortillas for tacos, and it’s very quick, but it did result in softer tortillas you’d get if you followed the recipe,so our tostadas were a bit floppy and we ended up eating them like great big tacos.

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We’ve been on a bit of a Mexican kick around here, first with those amazing fish tacos and now with these incredible beef tacos. Oh! And there was also some pork tostadas that I’ll have to blog about soon – all wonderfully delicious, authentic Mexican meals.

I’m sad these tacos are all gone now! They were so, so tasty. And the recipe made a ton so we were basically eating them all week. They are just packed with flavor – the beef is cooked with chipotle chiles in adobo so it is smoky and complex without being too spicy, and all of the toppings combine to add crunch and sweetness and spiciness and creaminess. There’s a corn and tomato salsa, a cilantro-lime crema, and an avocado-red onion relish (which I didn’t make but I’m sure would be awesome).The biggest hit of the toppings was the spicy pineapple salad – it definitely took the tacos to a whole new level. I’d never had pineapple in a taco before, and it was surprisingly amazing. The combination of the smoky meat and the bright, sweet fruit was out of this world.

The recipes, which comes from Everyday Food magazine, also includes instructions for cumin rice and beans, which was a tasty dish to have alongside the tacos. All in all, it was a fabulous and fun meal – something about all those tasty toppings made it seem really festive. This would be a great meal for a dinner party.

This recipe does take a lot of time – almost 3 hours from start to finish, so you have to take that into consideration. However, once you get the beef in the oven, it’s hands off for 2 1/2 hours so you can do other things – like prepare the toppings. The meal can seem to be pretty involved with all of the toppings, but they do come together rather quickly. All of the toppings except maybe the avocado relish can be made in advance and stored in the fridge.

Smoky Beef Tacos

From Everyday Food, March 2009

Serves 8

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 2 3/4 hours

2 -3 tablespoons chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo*

1/2 cup ketchup

8 garlic cloves, chopped

2 teaspoons dried oregano

coarse salt and ground pepper

1 boneless beef chuck roast (about 3 pounds), trimmed of excess fat

16 corn tortillas (6-inch), lightly toasted

toppings (recipes follow)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, stir together chiles, ketchup, 1 cup water, garlic, oregano, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

Cut beef into 4 equal pieces. Add to pot and turn to coat. Cover and bring to a boil; transfer pot to oven. Bake, covered, until beef is fork-tender, about 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer beef to a bowl. With a large spoon, skim off and discard fat from the cooking liquid. Shred beef with two forks; moisten with cooking liquid as needed. Season with salt and pepper. Lightly toast the tortillas over a low gas flame using tongs or in a dry skillet on medium heat. Serve beef with tortillas and desired toppings.

*I nervously used 2 tablespoons (chipotles are powerful!) and was pleasantly surprised that the beef came out flavorful but not too spicy. If you want your meat to pack a definite punch, go for 3 tablespoons.

Spicy pineapple salad

Serves 8

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pineapple – peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

2 jalapeno chiles, ribs and seeds removed, thinly sliced crosswise

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

coarse salt and ground pepper

In a large skillet, heat oil over high. Working in 2 batches, cook pineapple and jalapenos until lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with vinegar and salt and pepper.

Avocado-Red Onion Relish

Combine 2 diced avocados and 1 finely chopped medium red onion with 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 3 cups.

Corn and Tomato Salsa

Combine 10 ounces thawed frozen corn with 1 cup quartered grape or cherry tomatoes, 2 teaspoons vegetable oil and 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 3 cups.

Cilantro-Lime Crema

Stir together 16 ounces reduced-fat sour cream, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, and 1/2 cup chopped cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 2 cups.

Cumin Rice and Beans

Cook 1 cup of rice, either white or brown, according to package directions, but add 1/2 teaspoon of cumin to the cooking water. I used brown rice, so: bring rice and 2 cups of water , a pinch of coarse salt and the cumin to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, covered, for about 50 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 can of drained and rinsed kidney beans. Cover and let stand for 1 minute.

One of the great things about living in Southern California wasn’t just the delicious authentic Mexican food, it was the cheap delicious authentic Mexican food. Here in Massachusetts, we get to pay double for mediocre, non-authentic Mexican food.

Or, I could just learn how to make it at home!

Over the past two years, I’ve developed a modest arsenal of authentic Mexican recipes, including Pioneer Woman’s salsa. I’d never made fish tacos though. I don’t cook much with fish. I used to not like seafood much, but even now that I’ve grown out of my fish-aversion, I still don’t really think about it as a meal option. But when Michelle at Brown Eyed Baker raved about the fish taco recipe she snagged from Martha Stewart’s new Power Foods cookbook, I knew I had to try it. And I can say with confidence that fish will be making a more regular appearance on our dinner table now, because these fish tacos were awesome.

The recipe calls for skin-on striped bass or red snapper, but my grocery store didn’t carry either of those, so I used skinless tilapia, which worked out just fine. The recipe comes together fairly quickly, although there is half an hour to two hours of marinating time, which needs to be factored in. You rub the fish with a mixture of chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper, freshly minced cilantro and olive oil, and let it rest in the fridge while you prepare the accompaniments – lightly salt some shredded cabbage and set aside, and make a batch of pickled veggies. I wasn’t too sure about the pickles but they added a nice touch to the tacos.

These tacos are delicious and authentic. The fish is very flavorful, and when piled high with shredded cabbage, pickles, sour cream, and cilantro, the tacos are pretty irresistible. I definitely recommend using hot sauce, because the tacos won’t be spicy without it, and I thought they really came alive with a sprinkling of Tabasco.

Grilled Fish Tacos

Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s Power Foods, via Brown Eyed Baker

Yield: Makes 12 tacos*

Prep: 20 minutes Inactive prep: 30 minutes to 2 hours Cook time: 8 to 12 minutes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon chili powder

Coarse salt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus extra leaves for garnish

2 pounds skin-on** stripped bass or red snapper fillets, or skinless tilapia fillets

5 cups shredded cabbage (1/2 head)

Neutral-tasting oil, such as canola or safflower, for grill

Corn tortillas

Lime wedges, avocado, sour cream, and hot sauce, for serving

Quick pickled vegetables, optional (recipe follows)

  1. Stir together cumin, oregano, chili powder, and 2 teaspoons salt. Mix in the olive oil and cilantro.
  2. Use a sharp knife to make shallow slits about 1 1/2 inches apart into the fish skin (or the fish flesh, if skinless); rub both sides with spice mixture and set the filets in a large dish. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  3. Toss together cabbage and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a medium bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes.
  4. Prepare pickled vegetables, if using.
  5. Heat grill or grill pan to high (if using charcoal grill, coals are ready when you can hold your hand 5 inches above grill for just 2 to 3 seconds. Lightly oil grates or pan. (If using a grill pan indoors, be sure to turn on your stove’s ventilation fan – and possibly disable your smoke detector temporarilybecause the fish will smoke quite a bit.)
  6. Place fish, skin side up, on grill. Cook, without moving fish, until opaque throughout, 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip, using two spatulas if necessary. Cook until fish flakes slightly when pressed in the center, 5 to 7 minutes more. (I found that my fish only needed a 3-4 minutes on each side.)
  7. Transfer fish to a serving platter; let cool slightly, then shred with a fork into bite-size pieces. Garnish platter with lime wedges and cilantro sprigs. Serve warm or at room temperature (within 1 hour). Allow guests to assemble their own tacos, layering fish with cabbage, avocado, sour cream, hot sauce, pickled vegetables, and other toppings, as desired.

Note: We fried our corn tortillas in canola oil, which isn’t exactly the authentic way to serve fish tacos, but we prefer them fried. If you want to have them fried, pour about a 1/4 inch of oil into a small frying pan and heat it up until a drop of water sizzles when dropped in (watch out for splattering oil), or when you dip an edge of a tortilla into the oil and the oil immediately starts boiling around it. Prick the tortillas in the middle with a fork to prevent them from puffing up, and fry quickly in the oil, keeping the tortilla submerged with tongs – it’ll take less than a minute.

Quick picked vegetables

I only had 1 jalapeno, so I quartered this recipe. I’ve included the quartered amounts in parenthesis, in case you don’t want to make a quart of pickles. A quarter recipe will yield 1 cup.

Yield: 1 quart

Prep time: 20 minutes

2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar (5 oz)

1/3 cup  granulated sugar (1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)

2 teaspoons coarse salt (1/2 teaspoon)

3 cups cold water (3/4 cup)

4 carrots, peeled and diagonally sliced 3/4 inch thick (1 carrot)

2 small red onions, halved and sliced into 3/4 inch wedges (1/2 of a red onion)

4 jalapeno chiles, quartered lengthwise, ribs and seeds removed (1 jalapeno)

Combine vinegar, sugar, water, and salt in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and stir to dissolve sugar. Add carrots, onion and jalapeno, and reduce heat to medium-high. Simmer until carrots are just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool before covering and refrigerating. (Pickles will keep up to 2 weeks.)

*We made 4 tacos last night and it seemed like we barely made a dent in the pile of fish. This yield depends on how much fish you stuff into one taco, but I bet we’ll get more than 12 tacos out of it.

** I question the need for the skin. I didn’t have any trouble flipping the skinless tilapia fillets, and the only reason I can think of to keep the skin on is to hold the fish together. I’m not sure if the bass or snapper would behave as nicely if they were skinless, but I have a feeling that if all you can find is skinless fish, you don’t need to sweat it.

There are many great things about living in New England, but the Mexican food is not one of them. My husband grew up in central California and we lived in Los Angeles for two years before moving to Massachusetts, so we (especially James) are used to good authentic Mexican food. We knew it would be hard, living in Massachusetts, to find good Mexican food, but we didn’t think it would be impossible. We asked around, got suggestions from people who live here, and hit up the local Mexican joints.

The salsa is the first indication of the quality of the food. The Mexican-ness of it, if you will. So when we get served up a dish of ketchup that the waitress proudly declares is their house-made salsa, we know. New Englanders, it seems, have no idea what real salsa is like: fiery and bright, zinging with cilantro and lime, pureed nearly smooth, spicy but not just spicy – complex and interesting.

There are very, very few restaurants that serve this sort of salsa in New England.

So when this recipe appeared in my google reader, I knew I had to try it. James is a salsa fiend. And it’s a winner. Ree Drummond,  AKA the Pioneer Woman, may live on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma, but sister knows her salsa.

It’s everything that salsa should be, it’s as close to true Mexican salsa that we can get out here. And best of all, it’s easy to put together. It uses canned tomatoes, which are consistently tasty year round, so your salsa consumption doesn’t have to be relegated to the few weeks in summer when local tomatoes are ripe. And it makes probably four or five cups of salsa, which is a whole lot of salsa (unless you’re James).

If you’re looking for a dip to bring to a Superbowl game this weekend, trust me: bring this.

Pioneer Woman’s Salsa

From The Pioneer Woman Cooks

1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes in juice

2 cans (10 oz) diced tomatoes and chiles (Rotel, if you can find it)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, chopped (with seeds)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/2 cup cilantro (I tend to lean more towards 1 cup)

Juice of half of a lime

Put all of the ingredients in your food processor or blender and pulse to achieve your desired consistency. PW recommends 10 to 15 pulses, so that’s pretty much what I do, too. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, and serve with tortilla chips.

Suzi

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