Hot and Smoky Shrimp Tacos

Recipes from Salsas and Tacos by The Santa Fe Cooking School, photographs by Natalie Dicks, reprinted with permission.

Tacos, chips and salsa, Margaritas, Tequila, and guacamole will be center-stage tomorrow at home parties and at many restaurants providing the backdrop with music, decorations and Mexican-inspired fare. Why? It is the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The day is a double celebration for me since it also is my birthday.

Many think it is the celebration of Mexico’s independence, which it is not. It is the day in 1862 when the Mexican Army surprisingly defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla. What I find interesting is that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the United States than Mexico, although it is a big celebration in Puebla, where the day is celebrated  with parades and reenactments of the 1862 battle.

Perusing the bookstore shelves, “Salsas and Tacos” by Susan Curtis and the Santa Fe School of Cooking (2019, Gibbs-Smith, $14.99) stood out; a hot little book with big taste to spice up your Cinco de Mayo. It was exciting to find this book because I met Susan many years ago when we were taking a “train-the-trainer” class in teambuilding using culinary arts in New York City. I have since taken a class at her school over a decade ago, and will see her soon in Santa Fe where she is an ambassador for the upcoming International Association of Culinary Professionals annual convention. I know I will be returning with products from her store and some recipes, too.

New Mexican cuisine is a melting pot of Mexican, Spanish, Native American and America Cowboy cooking techniques and flavors. The book provides bold recipes from the chefs from the Santa Fe School of Cooking. I found the “heat rating” for the salsa recipes and the techniques of roasting and toasting of chiles helpful. From the basic salsa fresca, roasted corn and Anasazi Bean salsa to grapefruit-orange salsa, to Jicama-Watermelon Salsa, and the recipes below for mango salsa and lemon-cucumber salsa, the vibrancy of the colors will enhance your tacos. The author writes, “It wouldn’t be fair to provide you with recipes for such amazing salsas and then leave you without any taco recipes. Hold on to your shoes because these taco fillings will knock your socks off!”

Taco recipes included go beyond a taco filled with ground beef, lettuce, tomato and cheese. If you are planning a gathering on Sunday, an assortment of taco fillings and salsas and homemade tortillas will make your Cinco de Mayo party the hottest around. Adobo Pork Tacos with Grilled Pineapple; Potato, Poblano Chile, and Spinach Tacos with Cream; Steak and Mushroom Tacos with Green Chiles; and these recipes for Hot and Smoky Shrimp Tacos and Apple Pie Tacos are among the recipes you will find.

Mango Salsa

The headnote says, “This is a wonderful garnish for grilled tuna or salmon, or any fish taco. It can also be used as a base for an excellent fish salad by mixing about 1 pound of grilled tuna or salmon into the salsa.” Rating medium.

2 large ripe mangoes

1 medium hothouse cucumber* cut into quarter-inch dice

2 medium red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into quarter-inch dice

1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into quarter-inch dice

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

2 to 3 serrano chiles, minced

Fresh lime juice, to taste

Salt, to taste

*Regular cucumbers may be substituted, but peel and remove the seeds.

Peel the mangoes with a small sharp knife. Cut the flesh away from the large flat pit in two pieces then cut it from the narrow edges of the pit. Cut these pieces into quarter-inch dice.

In a medium bowl, combine the diced mango, cucumber, bell peppers, red onion, cilantro, chiles, lime juice, and salt. Toss gently but thoroughly.

Let the salsa stand at room temperature for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Makes 3 cups.

Lemon Cucumber Salsa

The headnote says, “Serve as an easy way to dress up a simple piece of fish or as a refreshing side salad.” Rating medium.

2 cups lemon cucumber* unpeeled, cubed

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal

2 teaspoons crushed red chile (chile caribe)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (a combination of chives, mint, tarragon, and/ or cilantro is good)

Salt, to taste

Combine all the ingredients and stir. Let stand for 20 minutes, taste, and adjust seasoning. Makes about 2 cups.

*Tip: Lemon cucumbers are named for their shape and color, which resemble lemons. If you cannot find lemon cucumbers, peeled and seeded cucumbers may be substituted.

Hot and Smoky Shrimp Tacos

The headnote says, “The flavor and the spiciness of chipotle chiles, which are smoked red jalapenos, make a perfect foil for the garlicky shrimp. This dish was meant to be hot, but you can vary the intensity of heat by reducing the quantity of chiles. If you like, the shrimp may also be prepared using an outdoor grill; make the sauce without the shrimp then brush some on the shrimp before grilling. Toss shrimp with the remaining sauce after they are cooked.”

Taco Filling

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

8 cloves garlic, sliced

11/2 pounds medium shrimp (26-30 per pound), peeled and deveined

11/2 teaspoons coarse salt

1/8 to ¼ cup pureed chipotle chiles in adobo

½ cup roasted tomato puree or canned tomato sauce

2 tablespoons cold water

Juice of ½ orange

Juice of 1 lime

½ cup chopped cilantro (about ½ large bunch)

Corn tortillas (store bought or use recipe on pg. 107 in the book which is found at https://bit.ly/2Prv3nI)

Preheat a heavy skillet or saute pan to medium hot (325 degrees); add olive oil and butter and continue heating until oil begins to smoke (400 degrees). Immediately add garlic, shrimp, and salt, stirring or tossing vigorously. Oil tends to splatter at this temperature, so be careful. When shrimp begin to turn opaque, stir in the chipotle chile puree and saute about 15 seconds to completely coat shrimp. Add tomato puree, water, and orange and lime juices. Reduce heat slightly and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Serve in corn tortillas, 2 or 3 shrimp per taco.

Serving suggestion: Garnish tacos with shredded romaine lettuce, Salsa Verde (recipe on page 24 in book), sliced avocados, radishes, lime wedges, and a dollop of sour cream. Serve with white rice and black beans.

Makes 20 to 25 tacos

Apple Pie Tacos

The headnote says, “Dessert tacos aren’t a traditional Mexican dish; however, we wanted to include one of our favorite creations. We decided on the simple approach in keeping with the easygoing and casual nature of tacos. Easy to prepare, these look like tacos and have the universally satisfying flavor of Mom’s apple pie.”

Taco Filling

4 tart apples, peeled, cored, and cut in quarter-inch-thick slices

Dash of salt

1/4cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons ground Mexican canela or cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ cup apple juice

1/8 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon ground Mexican canela or cinnamon

Preheat a heavy skillet or saucepan to medium (300 to 325 degrees). Toss sliced apples with salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar then with flour and cornstarch. Place butter in pan; when it sizzles, add apple slices. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until flour mixture combines with butter. Add canela and allspice then apple juice and remaining sugar. Bring to a slow boil and cook for 5 minutes, until apple slices are soft and sauce is smooth and thick. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Tacos

This recipe is from pg. 108 from the book:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

3 tablespoons vegetable shortening

¾ cup hot water (145 degrees or more)

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Cut in the shortening until mix is the consistency of course cornmeal. Add water and mix to form a soft but not too sticky dough. Knead about 15 times to form a smooth dough. Form into 8 to 10 equal-size balls. Cover and let stand for 20-30 minutes. Flatten dough, rolling away from you with a small wooden dowel or rolling pin, turning dough 1/8 turn after each roll. Tortillas should be about 5 inches in diameter and of a uniform thickness. Cook tortillas on a preheated 350-degree comal, griddle or skillet for 15-20 seconds on the first side; flip over, and cook 20 seconds more while pressing down with a spatula. Keep warm in a cloth towel until ready to serve.

To serve: Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling on each tortilla and fold in half. Melt some of the butter on a preheated comal, nonstick skillet, or griddle; place a filled tortilla in the butter. Cook about 11/2 minutes per side, until golden brown. Repeat for remaining tacos. Caution: If the temperature is too high, the tortillas will brown before filling is heated through. Dust tacos with powdered sugar and canela or cinnamon.

Note: These may be prepared ahead of time and reheated in a 325-degree oven.

Makes 8 tacos

Serving suggestion: Accompany tacos with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream, fruit sorbet, or whipped cream.