Yesterday, I posted about the Dark Days Challenge. Today, I am posting my first entry. The challenge is to make a meal of sustainable, organic, local, and ethical (SOLE) foods. I have chosen one of our favorite, yet quick and easy, meals: Fish Tacos Modified Baja Style.
Baja is famous for its fish tacos that are widely available from street vendors selling from small carts with propane powered fryers. We love to eat them but realize that deep fried fish with a floury crust is not the healthiest food. Adaptation! I decided that I could create a healthier style of fish tacos for our more frequent enjoyment. Be gone floury, fried, greasy crust! Enter spicy, diced, delicious fish cubes!
It seems easy to think, “I’ll just whip up some fish tacos tonight”, until you have to think about where the fish comes from and if it is sustainable and ethical. The best fish for this recipe comes from the large predatory fish like tuna, wahoo, or dolphin fish, which produce meaty, solid fillets.
The majority of the fish we eat here is locally caught; either just off of the coast in the Pacific, or in the Sea of Cortez, on the opposite side of our peninsula. In the past, Mexico, just like many other countries (including the US), has been ignorant of the dangers of overfishing certain species. Fortunately, Mexico has taken huge steps to protect its bounty of sea resources.
My favorite fish for this recipe is local, line caught yellowfin tuna. It is caught just off our coast from small boats called pangas. We buy it seasonally from our favorite fish monger at the local Mercadito, or open air market, and freeze the fillets for use later. Best of all, yellowfin tuna is not a protected species and appears to be increasing in population. Yay!
And the rest of my ingredients? Yup,they meet the SOLE requirements, too! We are very picky about tortillias. Our preference is a thicker style that will hold up well for making enchiladas, tacos and other Mexican dishes. We actually import the majority of our tortillias from a small, family owned factory in San Diego, about 50 kilometers from here, called Porkyland. Mr. M’s parents used their tortillias in a Mexican restaurant they owned years ago and they are still the best. (Sorry Rosarito). By the way, Porkyland tortillias have made it to the big time; they are available at Costco and Amazon!
Next I had to examine the cheese. Sometimes we use local Queso Cotija, the tasty crumbly cheese, but I was out of that. I did have a chunk of Queso Viejo, which accurately translates to Old Cheese. It is very strong and uniquely tasty; maybe too strong for the fish. So I added some local Monterey Jack cheese to tone it down. Perfect!
Tomatoes from the garden? Check. Cabbage? Hmmm, not ready yet. No lettuce either. We do have an abundance of ready to harvest Wong bok, a type of Chinese cabbage. One leaf was more than enough to shred for this recipe. Take my word for it, not the best choice! Use regular white cabbage or, if you have to, lettuce. The Wong bok was too strong!
The Baja Secret Sauce? All fish tacos in Baja are offered with a creamy white sauce. It is usually, crema, local cultured cream that is not sour, combined with mayonnaise. I prefer to use plain nonfat thick yogurt, combined with mayonnaise. Okay, here is my failing: the mayo. I don’t make it, I buy it, but it is sustainable and available locally.
The red salsa? Homemade and home canned. I used my Salsa de Arbol. I will post about that later.
What else? Ah yes, my secret taco seasoning: THE special touch to the fish; here it is:
1 Tbs dried ground California Chiles: NOT commercial chili powder
1 Tbs coarsely ground dried Chile Mulatto or Chile Ancho
1 tsp granulated garlic or 2-3 cloves minced fresh garlic
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried marjoram, crushed
½ tsp dried oregano, crushed
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
This is sufficient for about ½ to ¾ of a pound of cubed fresh fish. It can also be quite tasty on ground beef or turkey. If you like it hotter, use New Mexico Chiles instead of California. You can substitute any ground dried chiles actually. This is just our preferred combination. The key ingredient, surprisingly, is the cinnamon. Don’t be afraid! Use it!
To use: Place fish fillets in freezer until just slightly frozen, or defrost frozen fillets, so that the fillet will be solid enough to easily cut into cubes. Put about 1 tablespoon of your preferred fat (I use coconut oil) into a skillet and heat. Add fish cubes and toss until they are opaque on the outside. Add seasoning and cook until the fish flakes easily. The fish will exude some moisture. Cook until the moisture and seasoning adheres to the cubes. This is just a couple of minutes.
The last condiment? Fresh limes to squeeze over the fish. We do have an abundance of limes from our trees, but I decided to use a more unusual citrus, a lemon from our Pink Lemonade Tree. Yes, as you can see in the photo it is pink inside when ripe! It is also a very pretty tree with green and white variegated leaves and striped lemons! The taste? It is a sport of the regular yellow Eureka lemon so familiar in US markets and tastes just like it.
And to accompany the tacos? Locally harvested pinto beans, previously home canned and just heated and smashed. When I can them, I add homegrown onion and garlic before sealing. Delish and the ultimate fast food!
The final result? A quick, easy, delicious SOLE meal that will brighten even the darkest day. Start to plating less than 20 minutes. Try it and let me know if you like it.