As I mentioned in my previous post, this past Saturday, Annie joined Mark and myself for a little pre-Cinco de Mayo celebration. The reason for doing it on veinte-seis de Abril is because Annie and Pierson and some other friends are taking a little sailing trip to Mexico and will just be getting back on the real cinco de Mayo. At first the plans were grand - large celebration in Annie's back yard, lots of people and food and drink. We toyed with the idea of attempting tamales again, but quickly decided against it. We thought about making carnitas and then mole, but as the weekend drew near decisions about who to invite and what the menu would consist of became an overwhelming ordeal.
Finally we decided that Annie would just come over and I would throw together a simple little meal for the three of us. With the temperature outside in the 90's, whatever it was I made needed to be light. No beans, rice or meat. To go with our margs and chips, guacamole and salsa, I decided on a simple salad from Rick Bayless's fantastic cookbook Mexican Everyday. Basically it was just crunchy shredded romaine, peppery watercress, and cool jullianed jicama all tossed in a vaguely spicy cilantro, mint and lime vinaigrette. Along with the salad, I made some really interesting shrimp tacos, using a recipe I got off Food and Wine. Looking over the list of ingredients, I loved the idea of the dried spice blend and the combination of fresh and sun dried tomatoes. Best of all, it was fast and easy.
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil packed)
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 plum tomatoes, diced
1 pound small tiger or gulf shrimp, peeled, de-veined and tails removed
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
8 6-inch soft white corn tortillas
2 small Hass avocados, cut into medium dice
lime wedges, for serving
If the sun dried tomatoes seem dry, place in a bowl with hot water and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain, pat dry and finely chop.
In a small bowl, combine the thyme, marjoram, tarragon, cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the fresh and sun-dried tomatoes and the herb mixture and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the shrimp, stir to combine.
Continue to cook until the shrimp have just turned pink but are still tender and the sauce has thickened. Do be careful not to overcook the shrimp.
Add the cilantro and stir again to combine. Taste and then correct the seasonings.
Meanwhile, heat the tortillas. Place a metal or bamboo steamer basket in a pot filled with about 1 inch of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Wrap about 8 tortillas in a clean cloth kitchen towel and place in the steamer basket and cover. Steam over the boiling water for 1 minute then turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes.
To serve, place warm tortillas on a plate, spoon some of the shrimp mixture down the center of each and then scatter with the diced avocados. Serve the tacos at once, with salsa and lime wedges to spritz over.
So I loved this recipe so much, I made it two nights in a row. First of all, the method of heating the tortillas, which comes from Rick Bayless's afore mentioned Mexican Everyday, is really important. I did not heat my tortillas the first night and even having sat out to come to room temperature, they sort of cracked and tasted dry. Sadness. Heating them really changes the texture and to a degree, flavor. They taste steamy and moist and are very pliable, not breaking or cracking at all. If you like, you can double up on the tortillas, the way they do at all the divey little taquerias around town. This ensures that they won't break, spilling filling into your hands and lap.
And speaking of filling, shrimp and tomato are always a winning pairing, but using both fresh and sun dried is a exciting and unexpected touch. During the cooking, the fresh tomatoes start to break down just ever so slightly, softening and giving off their juices, while their sun dried counterparts maintain their chewy texture and tangy, intense tomato flavor. The shrimp also give off juice during cooking which unites with that of the tomato, forming a thick and surprisingly creamy sauce. Flavoring and adding depth to that sauce is the dried herb mixture and of course, the pungent garlic. I tend not to like using dried herbs but I have to say, they work here. Still, next time I make this, I may experiment with fresh herbs, tossing hearty fresh thyme in with the sizzling garlic, since it can stand up to the heat and then combining the softer and more delicate marjoram and tarragon with the cilantro, adding it in at the end. Finishing everything off are the creamy rich avocado and the bright acidy zing of the lime juice. I also spooned over a fiery salsa I made from roasted jalepenos and garlic, which added a welcome heat.
Serve 3 to 4