Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Cooking

Capture Asian umami flavors with tuna tacos

Tacos are always on my mind. I cook them frequently, I visit the local taquerias for fun and I seek out tacos whenever I travel. Interesting fillings such as duck, vegetables and fish, rather than ground beef, intrigue. Same for wrappers: Homemade, supple wraps capture my attention.

Fish tacos sporting Asian umami flavors prove irresistible. Recently, a tuna version at La Grande Orange Cafe in Pasadena, Calif., seasoned with a sesame wasabi cream and shredded daikon, rocked my taco world. A photograph and a couple of notes locked the idea in my mental cookbook.

At home, I cook with the best tuna I can afford to buy from a store that provides information about its fish sources. The individually wrapped and frozen wild-caught ahi yellowfin tuna fillets, sold in 2-pound bags at Whole Foods and Amazon, taste great and prove reasonably priced. The recipe below uses about 1 pound of tuna, so I leave the remaining pieces frozen solid for later.

When wild-caught salmon, U.S. mahi mahi or swordfish are on special, I substitute them for the tuna. If you're in the mood for beef tacos, try this recipe with two portions of lean, tender steak, such as filet mignon. As with the fish, you'll want to sear the steak over high heat for an exterior crust with a rare center. Use a very sharp knife to slice the steak paper thin.

A brief marinade in soy and sweet mirin wine seasons the fish (or beef) perfectly. A schmear of wasabi-and-sesame-spiked mayonnaise lets your taste buds know these tacos are different. Ditto for the crunch of finely shredded daikon. As for the salsa, a touch of lemon and lemon zest, along with rich avocado, turns ordinary cherry tomatoes into a year-round treat.

For both the fish marinade and the sesame wasabi cream, prepared wasabi from a tube makes life easy. It's available at the sushi counter of most large supermarkets. Wasabi paste usually contains some oil and salt. If using powdered wasabi (found in the Asian section), mix it with water to a paste consistency; it's more pungent than paste, so start with less than the recipes indicate.

The sesame wasabi cream also calls for tahini — toasted sesame seeds pureed with salt. Look for tahini (sesame seed paste) in Middle Eastern stores or the peanut butter sections of large supermarkets. It's great to have on hand; try it stirred into a vinaigrette for a creamy dressing with no cream added, or puree it with chickpeas for delicious homemade hummus.

True, satisfying tacos feature inventive fillings, but the wrapper matters too. In Chicago, the local tortillerias deliver fresh tortillas daily; they taste best used the same day. Flour tortillas keep a bit longer and suit these tacos beautifully. Be vigilant when you shop, and select those made without preservatives. I like the organic corn and wheat tortillas from La Tortilla Factory; they're sold in the refrigerated case.

My favorite wrapper for the taco recipes here turns out to be naan bread sold in the bread aisle or the freezer case. Use one 4-ounce bread per serving. Whether you choose tortillas or naan, be sure to heat the wrappers over a gas flame, grill or in a heated cast iron skillet to soften, warm and lightly toast before filling.

I like to serve a quick, richly flavored corn soup, made from frozen sweet corn and canned coconut milk, alongside fish tacos. Be sure to use coconut milk intended for culinary purposes, such as the cartons by SO Delicious or tinned coconut milk for Thai cooking. I also like Native Forests organic coconut cream; simply dilute the 5.4-ounce can with 1 cup water. The soup makes a light entree with the addition of grilled shrimp and grilled green onions or zucchini.

Chilled Sapporo or Kirin beer pairs perfectly with these tacos.

Comments
Seared tuna salad is quite a catch

Seared tuna salad is quite a catch

A satisfying salad of tuna and beans is a Mediterranean favorite, often served as a meal in warm weather. In my favorite version, the main ingredients ó rich tuna and creamy beans ó are accented with red wine vinegar, tomato and onion, finished with ...
Published: 04/25/18
Drunk in love with banana bread

Drunk in love with banana bread

I have a thing about bananas. They have to be perfectly yellow, with a light hint of green. And they absolutely cannot have a spot of brown on them. At all. Brown bananas make me gag. My window of tasty opportunity is small, so I love to bake with ov...
Published: 04/24/18
Cooking Challenge: Making a stovetop steak for the first time

Cooking Challenge: Making a stovetop steak for the first time

Raw meat terrifies me. Growing up, I was the kid who avoided cookie dough because it could give me salmonella poisoning. Just imagine how I feel about a slab of bloody steak. So for my latest cooking challenge, Iím diving into the deep end and making...
Published: 04/24/18
Taste test: vanilla wafers

Taste test: vanilla wafers

When it comes to cookies, our judges are all in. When it comes to vanilla wafers, most of them admitted to reaching for the familiar Nilla Wafers in the bright yellow box. Surprisingly, they liked the well-known brand least of the seven wafers sample...
Published: 04/23/18
A taste test for drinking water? They can be surprisingly different

A taste test for drinking water? They can be surprisingly different

BROOKSVILLEThey brought it in glass carboys, in jars, in 2-liter bottles. It stacked up at the entrance to the auditorium, some of it just slightly murky but most of it crystal clear.Water. For more than 15 years the members of Region IV Florida Sect...
Published: 04/18/18
Five ideas for travel-friendly snacks

Five ideas for travel-friendly snacks

Whenever I fly, I pay way too much for food. Iíve stumbled jet-lagged into fancy wine booths and nearly bankrupted myself with cheese plates. Iíve purchased granola bars that cost more than my plane ticket (okay, maybe it just felt that way). If youí...
Published: 04/18/18
Enjoy a slice of sunshine with Tangerine, Ginger and Chocolate Tart

Enjoy a slice of sunshine with Tangerine, Ginger and Chocolate Tart

There are chocolate people, and there are vanilla people. I am a lemon person.Show me a dessert menu, and Iíll choose whatever is flavored with puckery lemon or any of her citrus sisters ó lime, tangerine, kumquat, yuzu. Even as a kid, I went for lem...
Published: 04/17/18
Recipe for 30-Minute Spaghetti and Meatballs

Recipe for 30-Minute Spaghetti and Meatballs

As the name suggests, 30-Minute Spaghetti and Meatballs is no substitute for the kind of meatballs simmered for hours in your nonnaís Sunday gravy. Strangely enough, the recipe doesnít even include oregano or basil or a dry Chianti. And yet I think t...
Published: 04/17/18
Re-create that fancy spa water at home

Re-create that fancy spa water at home

It was lunchtime in the middle of the workday, so although I sat at the bar at downtown St. Petersburgís Asie Pan-Asian, I opted for a water. The bartender poured a glass and I took an unknowing sip.Cucumber. It was definitely cucumber. Iím not the b...
Published: 04/17/18
Taste test: citrus-flavored sparkling water

Taste test: citrus-flavored sparkling water

Many years ago, I took a trip to Rome and learned enough Italian to find directions and order dinner from menus. I learned very quickly that if I didnít make it clear, I would get sparkling water rather than still water at every restaurant. My husban...
Published: 04/16/18