Last week I went to a food fair near Madison Square Park, and I was super excited to try a deep-fried Brussels sprout taco I’d read about online. The taco, which I gobbled up in about three bites, was fine enough. It had creamy sauce and pureed beans, and some pickled onions. But it wasn’t what I was envisioning in my head. I’d wanted just plain old fried Brussels sprouts. Maybe their papery insides lightly charred. Some bacon mixed in. And a simple, good salsa on top. I don’t fault the taco stand for not selling this, by the way. As Roberto Santibañez told the New York Times recently, if you put one item in a tortilla and try to sell it as a taco, no one in New York will buy it. In my house, though, we are free to taquear whatever we want. Yesterday I fried up the Brussels sprouts and bacon (splattering my yoga shirt in the process -- note to self, do not fry bacon in yoga clothes), and while everything cooked, I charred our last CSA tomato on the comal. I whipped up a quick toasted chile de árbol salsa, then spritzed the hot, crispy Brussels sprouts with lime juice and a few spoonfuls of the red stuff. One bite and it was exactly what I’d been hoping for: sweet, acidic, tangy. Not exactly unfussy, but perfect for me. Fried Brussels Sprout and bacon tacos, with charred tomato salsa Makes 6-8 tacos Serves 4 for a light appetizer, or 2 for dinner with leftovers Notes: You can make the salsa the day before, to save some time. For the charred tomato salsa: 1 large, ripe beefsteak tomato (about 1/2 lb.) 5 chile de árbol 1 medium-sized clove garlic, unpeeled 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste For the fried Brussels sprout tacos: Just under 1/4 lb. thick-sliced bacon (I used about 9 slices); or lardons 1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, rinsed and thorughly dried About 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed A package of corn tortillas Lime wedges for serving 1. First, the salsa: Heat a comal or nonstick skillet to medium-low. When hot, place the tomato in the center, and the garlic clove and chile de árbol on the side. (Sides of pan = less direct heat = less chance of burning.) Turn the chiles frequently until they start to release their spicy aroma, about 30 seconds to a minute. Remove chiles from the comal to cool. Meanwhile, turn the tomato and garlic until they're soft and blackened in spots. Pluck off and discard the chile stems. Crumble or tear the chiles -- with their seeds, if you like it hot -- into the blender jar. Peel and roughly chop the garlic clove, and add that, too. Blitz until minced. Quarter the tomato and add to the blender jar with one or two tablespoons of water. (Or none.) Once salsa reaches your desired texture, pour into a bowl with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let sit while you fry the sprouts. 2. Then, the tacos: Cook the bacon over medium-low heat in a large cast-iron skillet. Alternately, you can use this very cool water method from Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats, which ensures that the bacon cooks evenly. While the bacon cooks, remove any funny-looking outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts. Cut off the hard end nubs, and slice them neatly in half. Set aside. Cool the cooked bacon on a plate lined with paper towels. In the same pan as you fried the bacon -- yep, we're gonna use that grease -- add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and heat over a medium flame. When hot, use tongs to carefully place Brussels sprouts cut-side down, in one layer. They should sizzle. Don't move them. And don't leave the kitchen or start washing dishes, because these things cook quickly. Turn them once the edges start to darken, about 3 minutes. Remove from pan once they're dark-golden on both sides. Repeat with the rest of the Brussels sprouts, draining each batch on paper towels. (This took me about three batches in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. I really need a larger one. Santa?) Chop the cooled bacon and toss with sprouts. Warm the tortillas on the stove or the microwave. (I usually start with two per person, for a light meal.) Place tortillas in a cloth or basket to keep warm, and serve Brussels sprouts and bacon immediately, passing lime wedges and salsa.
My craving for BLT's started with the bread. Not Bimbo, but thickly sliced, toasted, homemade bread. The kind that deserves a good slathering of Brazilian banana-orange marmalade, which was slowly going bad in our fridge. But back to the BLT. It would be a messy monster, with thick slices of heirloom tomato and thick slices of bacon. Nestled over the bacon would be a mound of sauteed red onions, still sort of al dente, and a layer of chile mayonnaise that oozed out the sides. But not a creamy mayonnaise, something more chile-forward (yes, I just said "chile forward") -- something with a little tobacco and fruit in it. Last week I was in a bit of a funk because because mosquitoes kept torturing me while I slept. On Wednesday I finally found the ganas to make the bread. (Used Joy of Cooking's Milk Bread recipe, without the egg wash because I forgot.) Besides the bread rising like a monster in the oven, it came out fine. Last night -- I had to act quickly because the bread was going stale -- I fried the bacon in our cast-iron skillet and tossed the onions in the bacon fat, de-glazing everything with a bit of Indio beer. Whipped up a quick salsa in my blender and added a little mayo to even everything out. The result was a two-hand-holder sandwich: big, gloppy, chin-staining, with juicy tomato bits dripping out the bottom. The spread had exactly the chile taste I wanted -- hints of chocolate and tobacco and berries, with just a touch of heat. I finished my sandwich before Crayton did, so I looked at him very sweetly and asked for a bite of his. Because he's nice he said yes. I think I ate his last piece of bacon. BLT's with ancho-pasilla spread and sauteed red onions Makes two big sandwiches with some left over Note: The onions really make a difference here, adding a layer of sweetness and some texture. I'd definitely want to include them in any future BLT experiments. Also, I was tempted to make a chipotle mayo but I'm glad I didn't -- the smoky bacon stands out that much more. For the BLTs: Four slices thick white bread, toasted A few leaves high-quality lettuce 1 1/2 small beefsteak tomatoes, sliced 150g or 5-6 thick slices smoked bacon 3 thick slices red onion A few tablespoons dark beer For the chile spread: 2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and de-veined 2 pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded and de-veined 1 small clove garlic, peeled 1 large tomatillo (50g or about 2 oz.), simmered in water until soft 1 1/2 tablespoons water 2 tablespoons mayonnaise spritz of fresh lime juice salt and pepper to taste Hydrate chiles in hot water for about 10 minutes, until skin has softened. Place in blender with garlic and water, and tomatillo, and blend into thick paste. Add more water if necessary. Let cool to room temperature and stir in mayonnaise, lime juice, salt and pepper. Chill spread until ready to use. Meanwhile, to make BLTs, fry bacon in a heavy skillet, or however you usually fry bacon. (Some people use the oven.) Remove bacon and strain out most of the grease. With the flame on medium-high, add onions to pan and cook, stirring constantly so they soak up all the yummy charred bits. Add a little more grease if they start to burn. After a minute or two, once the onions have started to turn translucent, add a stream of beer (if you want) to deglaze the pan. You could also add water or chicken broth. To serve, spread each slice of bread liberally with chile spread. Top with lettuce, tomato, bacon and onions. Cover with remaining slice of bread and cut in half to serve.
Back when Crayton and I were still dating, when I'd just gotten the cooking bug, I proposed (not that kind of proposal) that I whip up a Sunday brunch. We could have eggs. And cajeta pound cake. And these little things I'd just read about in a newspaper article: bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese. This was circa 2002, I believe. Or maybe 2003. All the years have started to run together lately... In any case, my friend Michelle came over to be my cooking co-pilot, and we cut and seeded jalapeños, and took turns stirring the liquid cement-like pound cake batter. (This is when I realized the handiness of electric mixers.) Everyone loved it all -- but it was the jalapeños that captured everyone's heart. They were smoky, and creamy, and just a wee bit spicy. You could eat four before you even know what you were doing. It was a jalapeño hypnotic state. Since that day, I've made the jalapeños pretty much every year, usually at manly inspired events such as The Super Bowl. On Saturday, I made them for So Drunk in the August Sun Day, which is a holiday Crayton and his friends came up to honor sitting outside and drinking. We popped the jalapeños on the grill and they were a huge hit. Seriously, if you want a go-to appetizer -- and you have friends who are not vegetarians -- this is pretty much it. On Sunday we also threw 'em in tortillas, because we live in Mexico and we roll like that. It was quite good. Recipe below. ...