Tuesday, May 3, 2011


America can thank the state of Puebla in Mexico for two particularly awesome achievements. The first is that it was there that Mexico defeated a horde of French forces on May 5th, 1862. For whatever reason (well actually there are lots of theories, most of them involving accusations that the French were trying to sabotage the North by helping the South in the Civil War but couldn't lend a hand once they were defeated in Mexico) the United States has decided that it really wants to celebrate this achievement with Cinco de Mayo, despite the fact that Mexico itself feels happy yet lukewarm about the event (it's kind of like how Christians view Hanukkah. People, Hanukkah is not the equivalent of a Jewish Christmas.) But as I like Coronas and I really like guacamole, I'm OK with this arrangement. Viva Cinco de Mayo!

The second achievement of the state of Puebla is growing the Poblano pepper. Poblano peppers are mild chile peppers that typically grow to the size of a medium bell pepper. Poblanos are picked before they're ripe. So though we think of poblanos being green, mature poblanos are actually red and contain a bit more heat. But in what I like to call "Poblano Roulette" sometimes even a green pepper will be super spicy.

Poblanos are delicious and versatile and used in a ton of Mexican dishes. They're particularly good when they're roasted and skinned because the pepper takes on a smokey, meaty quality. Chiles rellenos is a well known dish where poblanos are stuffed with cheese and meat and deep fried. In fact poblanos seem the perfect anecdote to roasted bell pepper fatigue. Twenty bucks on Mexican-Italian fusion as the next big trend.

Grilled Steak Tacos with Roasted Poblanos and Tomato-Chile Salsa
Adapted from Rick Bayless

I really love Mexican food. I don't cook enough Mexican food. Why not? It's New York's fault. And, I'm lazy.

It's New York's fault because my grocery store doesn't sell many of the required peppers to cook proper Mexican food. They started stocking jalapenos only a year ago (!) and I'm lucky if they haven't run out by the time I get there. So while I could walk to a larger, gourmet supermarket or ethnic grocery, I'm mired by my laziness in a bog of bland, Mexican-free food. I know. It's a damn shame.

But here I am again, in California, Mexico's own home away from home. With so many chiles of various size, shapes, and spice levels at my disposal, it seemed a shame not to use them all. For these tacos, poblanos are roasted and cut into smoky, silky strips. Skirt steak is marinated, grilled to medium rare perfection, then cut into strips to mimic the peppers (I think I've just given away that I'm a former vegetarian. I still think of the peppers as the star of this dish with the steak as the supporting player.) Best of all, this salsa is legitimately spicy. Finally, I can buy enough serranos to make my tongue tingle and justify downing a few Coronas with lunch.

serves 4-6


For Tacos:
1/4 cup chopped white onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds skirt steak, fat trimmed
3-4 poblano peppers
24 small corn tortillas

For Salsa:
3 tomatoes
4 serrano chilies
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Marinate Steak: Combine white onion, minced garlic, lime juice, cumin, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Place steak in a large zip-lock bag or baking dish. Cover with marinade and let rest in refrigerator for 2-4 hours.

Make Salsa: Roast tomatoes under a broiler until they've started to blacken and are soft and cooked through, about 12 minutes. Cool tomatoes then pull off blackened skin and discard.

In a small heavy skillet over medium high heat, roast serrano chilies and garlic (in their skin) until they have softened and begun to darken, 5 minutes for the chilies and 15 minutes for the garlic. Take off heat. When garlic has cooled, discard skins.

In a food processor, combine roasted garlic and serrano chilies. Pulse until smooth. Add tomatoes and pulse until almost smooth with a few chunks. Transfer tomato mixture to a small bowl. Stir in onions, cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt.
Make Tacos: Roast poblanos under a broiler until black on all sides. Wrap in a dish towel and let sit for 5 minutes. Rub off blackened skin. Cut off stem and discard any seeds. Cut peppers into 1/4 inch strips.

Heat a gas grill to medium high or put a grill pan over medium high heat. Lightly grease grill with oil. Grill steak until medium rare, about 2 minutes per side. Let steak rest for 5 minutes then cut into 3 inch strips. Fill each tortilla with steak mixture, roasted poblanos, and salsa.

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