Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fish Tacos for Dinner

Of all the "four letter words" known to the Gods and moral censors... none is more heinous to Big Mary than D-I-E-T. Oh it's a cranky Mary that wakes to a world devoid of a sesame bagel with cream cheese. But the years march on (that's the good news) and they aren't so gentle when you're toting around an extra pound or 50. So between the aching legs, sore back and nudging physician I've embarked on a slimming regime.

It's amazing how much you immediately begin to crave foods you haven't consumed in months the minute they get labeled forbidden. Eve sweetheart, we should sit down and talk among ourselves... This afternoon I was a quick phone call away from Cold Sesame Noodles from my local Chinese; something I haven't ordered since I learned how to make them better myself a few years back. Nevertheless for a brief moment of desire, they were my reason to live. A cooler head than the noodles persevered and Spicy Tofu with Vegetables and Brown Rice were actually a perfect choice for now and a snack tomorrow of the leftovers. But still.... those noodles , hmmmmm.

So, I felt it in my best interest to start developing calorie friendly versions of what I was craving. As you know by now if you've been reading, my taste runs to the ethnic. Not the most typically diet (there's that word again) friendly cuisines. But I think I really developed a winner with my recent Mexican dinner. Yes I know that tortillas can pack a hefty punch to a slimming plan, but if you have only two and fill them chock full of all the ingredients and garnishes, you just might fool yourself into feeling like you're getting away with a secret treat.

An additional plus to this recipe is that it is a great place to use Tilapia. Not usually a favorite of mine, but widely available at a budget price, and really a good choice here.

Fish Tacos with Refried Beans, Salt Cured Cabbage and Salsa

Now, this is going to be another case where I don't give you an exact recipe, just the ideas. Tacos are just way to casual for you not to improvise on what I set out here. Just make sure you get the cabbage slaw started early.

Salt Cured Cabbage

Very thinly slice about half a small green cabbage, avoiding the core. Toss with several tablespoons of salt, preferable Kosher, and set in a colander or sieve over a bowl to drain for at least an hour, preferably several. The salt will pull moisture from the cabbage, sort of curing it, which allows it to stay crisp and damn tasty. After the hour(s) of draining, taste the cabbage. If it's overly salty, rinse it and spin it dry. If not, proceed. Put cabbage in a bowl, and right before serving add some chopped scallion, thinly sliced radish, chopped jalapeno and fresh lime juice. Place in a bowl and serve soon.

Refried Beans

I'd really encourage you to save time and go with canned beans here, though if you have the time and inclination, dried beans are an economical alternative. If you can afford it, use organic canned beans. It's a product I truly feel warrants the extra cost. They are much lower in salt and somehow seem free of any tinned taste.

Chop a small onion and saute in a small bit of butter. Add a can or two of drained and rinsed beans. I prefer black beans, but pinto or red beans work great and are probably more traditional. Saute with a healthy dash of ground cumin, smoked sweet paprika and dried ancho chile powder. (Here's where you can season to the call of your inner chef, substituting chipotle chile, adding garlic, a pinch of ground cinnamon ... go crazy young chef!) Add maybe 1/2 a cup of water (or cooking liquid from the beans if you've cooked dry beans), turn down the heat and simmer for several minutes. When the beans begin to soften a bit more and the liquid is reduced, perhaps 10-15 minutes; remove from the heat, and using a flat bottomed metal or plastic cup begin to mash the beans. If calories are not a concern, throw in a healthy knob of additional butter (and know I detest you). Continue to mash beans until pretty smooth. Return beans to heat and cook to dry them out if necessary, knowing they will dry further as they cool. Check for seasoning and set aside.

Salsa, etc.

Feel free to purchase a top quality salsa, there are several these days; I love Mrs Renfro's Tomatillo Green Salsa. If you want to make something fresh...
Pico de Gallo is a fresh relish of finely diced tomato, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro and salt. Works great on these tacos, and on just about everything else except Cheerios.
Top other choices to garnish would be diced avocado or guacamole, sour cream or Mexican crema. Drained low fat yogurt works and keeps these fish tacos swimming leanly. Also thinly sliced olives could be tasty. Personally I'd avoid any shredded cheese as cheese and fish just doesn't work for me... but feel free to disagree and shred on. Maybe I could be convinced to consider a mild queso fresco.
In any case, arrange them in bowls to be ready to serve once everything else is ready.

Salpicon of Fish - the main event

As I mentioned, if budget concerns you, Tilapia or Mahi Mahi are not bad choices here. If budget isn't in your vocabulary, you should invite me over for dinner. Then we could enjoy Red Snapper, Striped Bass or Grouper.
Thinly slice a medium or large onion, a red pepper, a poblano(or green)pepper, and chop a garlic clove or three. Saute in a large frying pan or skillet with a few tablespoons of oil. After the onions and peppers soften add some chopped, peeled and seeded fresh tomato. Or do as I do and open a can or two of petite diced canned tomato. Just depends on your location and the season. (If using fresh tomato you may need to add some water to have enough liquid to poach the fish.) Add a dash of ground cumin and cinnamon, some dried Mexican oregano, salt and pepper.
Simmer over low heat until the flavors begin to meld. Add the fish filets and cook slowly. When the filet is half cooked, flip over to finish cooking the other side. If necessary remove the cooked fish to a platter and cook remaining filets. When all the fish is done, gently combine the fish with the tomato cooking mix, breaking the filets into large chunks and finish with some chopped fresh cilantro. Hold in a warm oven as you toast off the corn tortillas over your gas or electric burners, and rewarm the beans.
Bring it all to the table and let your guests assemble the tacos as the imagine them most delicious.

Oh my lovelies, you're just gonna love this. And it does all come together quicker than this might seem. Substitute leftover rice for the beans once in awhile, use baby greens with oil and vinegar instead of cabbage, try sliced rare tuna. You get the idea.
Or throw caution to the wind and garnish with Margaritas! Make mine with salt...