Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook 

This week you'll find recipes for quick tacos, with all the ingredients cooked on the grill. The mesa flavor is more unusual for us on the Eastern seaboard, but in the Southwest it’s common fare so of course, the inspiration came from a western newspaper-The San Francisco Chronicle.

First up are green chiles, which are later stuffed with cheese. After the chiles are done, the marinated skirt steak, which is messier, goes onto the grill. A cast-iron grill pan (you can also use a heavy skillet) was used on the side to sear the achiote onions. I like to load my tacos with lots of garden goodness-radishes, greens or more grilled veggies.

At this point you have a whole mariachi band of flavors for an instant taco party, with guests filling their tortillas with anything they want. They'll want more achiote onions than you have. You can never make enough. While you are at it, teach them the taco stance - holding the taco out to the side and not over their laps. And give them lots of napkins.

Tacos From the Grill

Serves 4-6

Skirt steak takes well to marinating (allow 12 hours, if possible), and is best for quick grilling, perfect for these tacos. The chiles are the easiest chile rellenos in the world to make - instead of batter, they are wrapped in warm corn tortillas. You can also cook the steak and the chiles in a grill pan or on a stovetop griddle.

Carne asada

  • 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak, excessive fat removed and silver skin trimmed away
  • 1/2 cup of juices from 7-ounce can of jalapenos en escabeche (save the pickled jalapenos to garnish the tacos or for another use)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Lee James' Barbecued Chiles

This version is a beautiful thing as there is no breading and frying. You also don't need to peel the chiles as the skin is delicate.

  • 12 Anaheim or poblano chiles, washed and patted dry
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil + more if needed
  • 12 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 12 sticks to fit into each chile

Assembly

  • 2 dozen fresh corn tortillas
  •  Achiote-Marinated Red Onions (see recipe)
  • Roasted Tomato Salsa or Salsa Verde (green)

For the carne asada: Pound meat between two sheets of plastic wrap until about 1/4-inch thick; place in a glass dish in which it just fits, or in a heavy-duty self-sealing plastic bag.

Combine the jalapeno liquid, garlic and olive oil, and pour over the steak. Cover the dish with plastic wrap, or if using the plastic bag, squeeze the air out and seal. Refrigerate 12 hours, or overnight, turning the steak occasionally to marinate evenly.

For the chiles: Shortly before cooking, prepare the chiles. Use thin plastic gloves to handle if you are sensitive to chile oils. Using a sharp paring knife, slice down one side of chile on the inside curve. Slice horizontally 1-inch below the stem and halfway through the chile. The cut will look like a T. Open the chile, remove the seeds, and rinse out remaining seeds under cold water. Don't worry - you won't be rinsing out flavor as happens with already cooked chiles. Rub all surfaces lightly with olive oil.

To cook: When ready to cook, prepare a grill to high heat

When really hot - about 400° - add the chiles. Cover grill and roast for about 15 minutes; turn chiles over once or twice. Move them around on grill to get the most heat. The skins will turn brownish and puff up away from the flesh (you can leave the skins on).

Remove chiles from the grill. Use tongs to open each one up and slip in a stick of cheese. Hold the chiles on a rimmed baking sheet until you can place them on a hot griddle or cast-iron pan just enough to heat and melt cheese, about 1 minute. Or, run them briefly under the broiler.

Meanwhile, grill the steak: Sprinkle the steak with salt and pepper. Cook about 10-12 minutes, turning once or twice. I like cooking this cut of meat a little longer because it seems to become more tender.

Let meat rest for 10 minutes; slice across the grain in thin, angled slices.

To assemble: Warm corn tortillas on the grill or oven; wrap in foil to keep warm, if necessary. When ready to eat, place a chile relleno inside a warm tortilla. Add pieces of carne asada, achiote onions and salsa.

Achiote-Marinated Red Onions 

Serves 6

The onions are marinated in achiote paste, the favored flavor of Yucatan. Look for achiote paste (made of annatto seeds), sold in packets, in Latino grocery stores or the Latino foods section of supermarkets. The onions are best made several hours or a day in advance;

  • 3 tablespoons achiote paste
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 red onions, sliced 1/8-inch thick

For the onions: Mash the achiote paste in bowl, then slowly drizzle in the vinegar and water. When creamy, blend in the salt, sugar, oregano and olive oil. Add the onion slices, and turn to coat all sides. Turn onions over in the marinade several times. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Just before making tacos, drain the liquid from the onions; sear onions 3-4 minutes in a hot skillet or grill pan.

Grilled Stone Fruits

Grilling fruit is simple and fun. This live-fire cooking causes the sugars in fruit to caramelize, creating new smoky concoctions that remind you how decadent, yet low-calorie and chock-full of vitamins, fruit can be.

Peaches, plums, and even apricots make perfect grill companions. They grill quickly and can be fragile so leave the skins on and then peel them afterwards (or just leave the peels on). Keep your eye focused on the grill as the fruits grill quickly.

Try to get freestone fruits which generally arrive later in the season. Wash the fruit and slice around the pit where you see a seam. Twist the fruit halves to separate and remove pit. Blot the inside of the fruits dry.

Heat the grill to medium-high heat.

Place the fruit on the grill, skin side up, and grill for just a few short minutes-until grill marks appear.

Serve topped with vanilla bean ice cream.

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