Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tacos for two, Meatless Monday style

If you read this, you know that this past weekend was a kind of a meat-a-polooza. Heavy (but delicious) German food that featured schweinhaxen (braised ham hock) on top of a spicy sausage dressing. That was my main course on Saturday night. I have to be honest and admit the leftovers were pretty tasty on Sunday too. Good thing Meatless Monday arrived just in time.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about tacos and making the tortillas at home. You can see that post here. What you can't see there is the funny little email I got from one of my coworkers who had read the post. She, who will remain nameless, is from California you see, said something along the lines of "nice tacos, but let me know when Cynthia masters corn tortillas and I might be interested". OK, it was probably worded a little nicer than that, but who can remember such things?

My wife, never one to back down from a challenge, immediately ran out and picked up some masa (Maseca brand) and was just waiting for the right time to use it. Meatless Monday seemed to be the perfect opportunity. On top of that, it gave Cyn a chance to make something from her very favorite chef, Rick Bayless. Not only is he her favorite chef, but he is the owner/operator of what I think she would tell you without hesitation, is her favorite restaurant, Topolobampo in Chicago. And this from a woman who knows food and has been to a lot of really good restaurants.

So, she set about to create her version of Chef Bayless's Tacos of Creamy Chard, Potatoes and Poblanos. The original recipe is designed for 16-18 soft tacos, but since there are but two of us, she cut the recipe in half. She also modified a few places based on our particular tastes. Here is Cynthia's version, adapted from the original Bayless recipe.

  • 2 medium large fresh poblano peppers (about 6 oz)
  • 2 tsp vegetable or olive oil
  • 1/2 medium white onion sliced 1/4" thick
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • big pinch oregano, Mexican preferred
  • smaller pinch dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup good dry sherry, or beer, or wine
  • 1 large red skin potatoes cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 1 nice bunch of swiss chard sliced into 1/2 inch ribbons, removing the thick center veins (save them!)

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cream, sour cream or creme fraiche
  • about 1/2 tsp salt
  • (the original recipe also calls for queso fresco to be added, we eliminated it, choosing to use a little more creme fraiche instead)
  • 8-10 freshly made soft corn tortillas
  • Following the directions on the package, mix the masa with the appropriate amount of water until a slightly sticky dough forms. Allow the dough to set, covered with plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel, for about 30 minutes.
Cynthia added the following touch which was not a part of the original recipe: 
  • Slice the chard stems into 1/4 inch pieces. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of rice wine vinegar, 6 tbsp of sugar and 2 and a quarter tsp of kosher salt (pickling ratio thanks to David Chang). Bring to a boil, add sliced chard and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside for later.
  • In a large saute pan, at least a 10 incher, over medium high heat add a tsp or so of oil and fry the potato cubes until crispy and brown on all sides, seasoning the potatoes when they first hit the pan. We used a nice salt blend from Penzeys called Smoky 4S Special Seasoned Salt. (Note, this is where we diverge from the original recipe quite a bit which calls for cooking the potatoes in a broth. We wanted the crunchy texture).
  • Roast the poblanos over an open flame or in a broiler turning them until until the skin is blistered and charred. Remove from the flame and cover in a bowl for about 5 minutes. Pull out the stem and seed pod, then rinse briefly to remove skin and seeds. Slice into 1/4 inch strips.
  • In a large skillet, add the oil and the onion. Cook until nicely brown but still a little crunchy. Add the chard in batches and cook down until fully soft, adding the 1/4 c water and the sherry. Add the garlic add spices, stir for about 1 minute then add the sliced poblanos. Add the cream and still until well mixed. Lower the heat to a low simmer and continue to stir occasionally. 

  • Form the dough into small balls about the size of a walnut (this is approximate and will take some trial and error) and press into flat rounds using a handy dandy tortilla press that you can probably pick up at any Latino supermarket for about $10. 
  • Cook in a DRY hot pan for about 30-45 seconds on the first side and 30 seconds on the other side (again, this will take some practice). Remove and cover with a slightly damp towel to keep warm.
  • Note from the cook: it's okay to use store bought tortillas. Unless you're slightly warped like me, you should not attempt making your own tortillas. It has taken two recipe attempts to get a yummy tortilla hot off the pan - it's not for the faint of heart. If you still want to try something special but don't want to commit to the bag o'limed corn (the masa) and a press, buy fresh corn tortillas and fry them yourself for tostadas (flat) or tacos (use two pairs of tongs to hold the shape you want while frying - it helps to be double jointed and an ex-gymnast).
Assemble components in a tortilla to your taste. Fold up edges, and there is your taco!



  1. She, who shall remain nameless, is pleased to have played a small role in inspiring Cynthia to further greatness. The tortillas looked good, and smelled great, however, I can not attest to their taste as I was not offered even a small bite. (but I did get a taste of the chard stems, which were quite interesting.)

  2. Cynthia is still perfecting the tortillas and warned me not to share them until they are perfect. You know how temperamental these creative types can be :)

  3. My mom makes the BEST homemade corn tortillas. I like them best hot off the stove with a little butter and sprinkle of salt with sliced avocado folded in. YUM! Now I need to have her make me some. :)

  4. Alex ~ this recipe looks terrific! I have not made my own "fried" corn tortillas yet, but I have made the soft ones for my Enchilada Casserole... I'll have to dig that recipe up and send later since I'm at work and on lunch break...Can't wait to try out Cyn's modified Bayless recipe!

  5. Thanks Val. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

  6. Love that you made your own tortillas - that is ambitious but I'm sure it was worth the effort! I've never made my own, but I'm inspired to try it =) And thanks for sharing with Made with Love Mondays - this perfectly embraces the spirit of the challenge!

  7. Thanks! Don't tell anyone, but the tortillas aren't that hard after you invest the $10 or so in the press. Getting the water/masa ration is the only other challenge and with trial and error you eventually get there. I'll hope to post other recipes to the Made with Love Monday site soon.


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