Tuesday, December 28, 2010

0 Recipe #224: Baja-Style, Tequila-Lime Shrimp Tacos with Avocados & Cilantro-Sour Cream Sauce

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We recently returned from a warm(er) destination, so that's probably what inspired this recipe idea. :) It was unseasonably cold while we were visiting -- so it wasn't actually warmer by much -- but we still had a good time all the same. So, who knows, maybe while I was there freezing my #$%@&! off in my sleep, I was dreaming of shrimp tacos jumping over a fence instead of sheep. ;) (Hey, I just realized that rhymes. Cool. :) )

If you're looking for a light & healthy meal that's also muy delicioso, try shrimp tacos, a classic staple of southern Californian cuisine. Just ask any West-Coaster to rattle off the names of comfort foods that remind them of home & summertime, & the odds are pretty good that shrimp tacos will be found on that list.

If you're lucky enough to be hanging out in warm weather this time of year, just fire up the grill, pull up your beach chair, & get ready for some tasty tacos. :) You can eat this while you're basking in the sun or perhaps watching the sun go down, with a nice cold one in your hand. Ahhhhhh.

Or, if an ice cold beer isn't your thing, this dish also goes well with a light, crisp white wine, pomegranate mojito, caipirinha, or pitcher of sangria. Or, if you're teetotaling it, might I suggest a niña colada or kiwi-ade, or perhaps another light & refreshing, non-alcoholic, fruit-based beverage from this blog. :)

Of course, this recipe can be enjoyed any time of year. It doesn't have to be hot outside. In fact, we had it for dinner tonight & it was a mere 28 degrees outside. Anything that makes you think about summer when it's cold outside has got to be a good thing, right?! ;)

Baja-Style, Tequila-Lime Shrimp Tacos with Avocados & Cilantro-Sour Cream Sauce

Shrimp Marinade Ingredients:
1/2 lb. medium raw shrimp (about 16-18 shrimp), peeled, deveined, washed, & cut into thirds
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (the juice of about 1/2 lime)
1/4 c. gold tequila
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely minced & densely packed
1/2 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 1 large clove)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. Mexican chili powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)

Sour Cream Sauce:
1/2 c. light sour cream (or nonfat, plain Greek yoghurt)
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp. lime zest
1/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 Tbsp. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4" thick rounds

Pico de Gallo: (Or, if you prefer, you can just halve this recipe.)
1 c. grape tomatoes, quartered (about 1/2 pint of grape tomatoes, or roughly 18 grape tomatoes)
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (the juice of about 1/2 small lime)
2 Tbsp. red onion, peeled & diced
1/2 Tbsp. jalapeño, stemmed & diced (& also seeded, if you prefer less heat)
1 tsp. fresh garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 1 small clove)
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, finely minced & densely packed
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. pico de gallo seasoning (substitute with Mexican chili powder if unavailable)

Additional Toppings:
1 c. green cabbage, shredded (about 1/4 small cabbage head)
1/2 c. queso fresco, or feta cheese, diced into 1/2" cubes
1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled, pitted, diced, and generously covered with freshly squeezed lime juice to taste (to preserve color & prevent oxidation) (or substitute guacamole if preferred)
a few dashes of hot sauce (i.e., Tabasco pepper sauce, etc.), to taste (optional)
1 lime, quartered, for serving

Taco Shells:
8 soft, lowfat corn tortillas, 5-6" in diameter

Directions: Marinate the shrimp: Toss all of the ingredients for the shrimp marinade (including the shrimp!) into a large Ziploc/plastic bag, seal, & shake bag (or massage ingredients from outside of the bag) to evenly coat shrimp & thoroughly combine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the condiments: Add all of the ingredients for the sour cream sauce -- except for the scallions -- into a blender & pulse until smooth. Transfer mixture to a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in scallions, cover, & refrigerate until ready for use. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together ingredients for pico de gallo sauce, cover, & place in the refrigerate to marinate until ready for use. Place all of the additional toppings into the appropriately sized bowls, cover, & refrigerate until ready for use.

Cook the shrimp: Preheat your grill, grill pan, or sauté pan over medium heat. Then pour the contents of the Ziploc/plastic bag onto a large (12-13") sauté pan. Stir frequently, cooking just until shrimp turn pink, lose their translucence, and begin to curl up, about 1-3+ minutes per side (depending upon cooking method & how fast your pans/ranges conduct heat). Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, cover to keep warm, & set aside.

Make the tacos: Preheat your grill or a dry sauté/grill pan over high heat for a few minutes. Grill tortillas until lightly charred on both sides, only a few seconds per side. Or, if you're making them in a pan, heat the tortillas, one at a time, until light golden brown, about 15-20 seconds per side. Alternatively, you can also wrap them in a damp paper towel & heat them in a microwave, although they won't have the same beautiful charred/golden brown appearance created by the aforementioned cooking methods.

As soon as the tortillas are done cooking, immediately transfer them to plates, one at a time, folding over each tortilla "circle" (in half) to make the customary/standard taco shell shape, & then covering/wrapping them in paper/kitchen towels to keep warm. This folding process must be done while the tortillas are still warm & pliable; otherwise, it'll be like trying to fold over a wooden plank. ;)

Assemble tacos: Either pre-assemble the tacos for everyone yourself before calling them to the table, or better yet, delegate -- let people have some fun & make their own. :) Place shrimp, a dollop of pico de gallo, & other desired fillings (shredded cabbage, avocado, cheese, etc.) into each taco, & drizzle with cilantro-sour cream sauce. Place onto plates with lime wedges on the side. Serve & enjoy!

Yield: 8 servings, or 2 tacos per person for 4 people.

Chef's Notes: I strongly recommend making the pico de gallo & sour cream sauce several hours -- or if possible, a day or two -- in advance. You can also marinate the shrimp overnight or several hours in advance to make the kitchen prep even easier/quicker. That way, you'll have most of the kitchen prep already out of the way. Then, all you have to do is chop up a few of the toppings, cook the shrimp, & make the taco shells.

For the taco assembly, I made a mini taco bar, with each condiment & topping in its own separate bowl. I left the shrimp in the pan (but of course you can transfer them to a bowl if you prefer), & placed the taco shells on a plate covered with a kitchen towel. I placed all of the bowls on a table & lined them up in a straight line, assembly-line style.

This way, people can put as much or as little of whatever they'd like in their tacos. Plus, it can be a lot of fun to assemble your own tacos. The kids will love the opportunity to get involved & demonstrate some of their burgeoning independence. :) Gives Mom a break too. Obviously self-assembly is not recommended for the little ones, unless you like vacuuming. ;)

If you have household pets, it's best not to let them assume the role of vacuum cleaner when scraps from this dish do, in fact, fall onto the floor. First, this recipe contains lots of ingredients that are part of the onion family - garlic, onions, & scallions -- all of which are toxic for dogs & cats. Second, while jalapeños aren't necessarily toxic for dogs & cats, they aren't really that great for them either. So, please don't feed them jalapeños or other spicy foods to see how they'll agree with their digestive system(s). Then, you will be most certainly be vacuuming up after your "vacuum cleaner." ;) But all kidding aside, there are serious potential health consequences for your pets. So, please take care that these ingredients end up on the floor unattended. Not surprisingly, a lot of foods that tend to disagree with humans also tend to disagree with dogs & cats as well.

(I won't elaborate on this subject any further, since the subject of pet toxins, while certainly important, is a bit off-topic for a recipe blog, not to mention the descriptions of their effects are rather unpleasant; so if you want more information on this topic, just click on the previous links for more details.)

Variations: Grilling is really the best/preferred method of making this dish. So, if you've got a grill, I'd strongly recommend using it to make the shrimp & brown the tortillas. The grill adds that extra bit of flavor that just can't be reproduced in a sauté pan. A grill pan will come close to approximating this flavor, but a grill itself is really the ideal way to go for this recipe. Nothing like the flavor of fire. :) So hand over some of that primordial charred goodness!

Also, another way to serve this dish is to prepare it as an appetizer, i.e., in a "chips & dip" type format. If you're making this for a party, you could also offer black beans as an alternative protein source for vegetarians or people who don't eat seafood. Also, diced mango could also be served as a condiment as well.

I like using cabbage in this recipe because it adds an extra crunch to the tacos. Of course, you can try different varieties of cabbage (red, Napa, etc.) or just substitute lettuce for the cabbage, if you prefer.

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