Sunday, February 18, 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
Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Nothing says indulgence like noshing on some seriously giant Alaskan king crab legs. Theyíre not just tasty, theyíre a low-fat source of protein: One leg has about 25 grams of protein and a host of vitamins and minerals (including sodium, incidentall...
Published: 02/15/18
Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

Youíve likely seen persimmon in the grocery store and then shied away from it, not quite sure what to do with it. The most common variety in the United States is the fuyu persimmon, also called Japanese persimmon, and it looks similar to a slightly f...
Published: 02/15/18
Global flavors: Celebrate the Olympics with creative nacho recipes

Global flavors: Celebrate the Olympics with creative nacho recipes

The global experience that is the Olympics has returned, and that gives us a fun opportunity to learn about different countries and parts of the world while watching the triple axels and halfpipes.Food is one way to bring far-off places a little clos...
Published: 02/14/18
Sheet-Pan Chicken With Sweet Potatoes and Peppers recipe

Sheet-Pan Chicken With Sweet Potatoes and Peppers recipe

For most of the year, I hold to the notion that what grows together goes together, especially when it comes to mingling things on a sheet pan.Springís tender greens and shoots; summerís juicy zucchini and tomatoes; fallís pumpkins and Brussels sprout...
Published: 02/14/18
Five ideas for quick and easy Valentineís Day desserts

Five ideas for quick and easy Valentineís Day desserts

Busy crafting a nice dinner for yourself and your boo this evening? Donít worry, weíve got dessert covered. Here are five ideas for after-meal sweets, little morsels that come together quickly so you can focus on the main event. Michelle Stark, Times...
Published: 02/14/18

From the food editor: Seared Steaks With Peppers and Almonds are elegant and simple

If you buy good ingredients, half the work is already done. That may sound a little hokey, but itís true and itís the cooking advice I need to heed more often in my own kitchen.My husband and I are dining out on Valentineís Day this year, something w...
Published: 02/13/18
Taste test: red velvet cake mixes

Taste test: red velvet cake mixes

Sorry, restaurateurs, but Valentineís Day can be one of the worst evenings to eat out ó especially if you like great food, prompt service and intimate dining. Restaurants can be crowded and loud, and the staff can be stressed and rushed. So if itís n...
Published: 02/13/18
Recipe for sweet and sour cauliflower thatís not too sweet

Recipe for sweet and sour cauliflower thatís not too sweet

Washington PostHereís the truth about sweet and sour dishes: One cookís sweet is another cookís sour. That is, the balance between the two is highly subjective. Take lemonade, the most beloved sweet and sour beverage that comes to mind. I prefer it o...
Published: 02/08/18
Stories of food and romance from our readers

Stories of food and romance from our readers

We asked our readers to share a romantic food story or an especially memorable meal with their loved one. Here are some of our favorite submissions. Camping meal with flairA year before we married, Bob and I went on a camping trip to Key West, testin...
Published: 02/07/18
Engagement Chicken may not lead to lasting love, but it does dress to impress

Engagement Chicken may not lead to lasting love, but it does dress to impress

Frankly, the very idea behind Engagement Chicken makes me a little twitchy. It is essentially this: Make this chicken for your boyfriend and he will propose because you have proven you are a true woman now that you know your way around a roasted bird...
Published: 02/07/18