1

Time for a food blog entry! A lot of Fresnans love Don Pepe Taqueria. I went there many years ago--don't remember what I had, but I really didn't like it, so I hadn't been back, in spite of everyone's rave reviews. A few weeks ago, I decided to give it another try.

I'm so glad I did. The fish taco I ordered was really good: soft white fish, shredded lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and crema. It was big and flavorful.

I'll be returning to Don Pepe!

In addition to another great fish taco at Las Barcas in Huntington Beach, CA, I also recently prepared fish at home. I have a great tapas cookbook by Joyce Goldstein which features an unusual fish recipe, white fish and pine nuts. I noticed it a few weeks back and decided to try it. Again, so glad I did. The fish was perfectly cooked, and the tomatoes and peas in the sauce complemented the fish well. This is a recipe that I'll be making again.

Actually, you should try the recipe, too. Here it is (with the adaptations I made because I didn't have everything the recipe called for).

Fish in Pine Nut Sauce (Merluza en Salsa de Pinones)

1/4 c. pine nuts
2 T. olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 T. finely minced garlic
1/8 c. bread crumbs (I used Panko)
1 can stewed tomatoes
1/2 c. dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Nice piece of white fish fillet (enough for 2 servings)
1/2 c. frozen peas
1/8 c. chopped parsley

Toast pine nuts (8 minutes at 350 degree farenheit)

In a frying pan, heat 1 T. oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the paprika, garlic, 1/2 of the pine nuts, bread crumbs, stirring often for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cooking wine and cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm over low heat.

In another frying pan, heat 1 T. oil over medium heat. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper, add to the pan, and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes on each side. Pour the sauce over the fish, add the peas, and simmer until the fish is opaque throughout, about 5 more minutes. Transfer to serving dish and garnish with pine nuts and parsley. Serve at once.

I've tried a number of recipes from this cookbook--Tapas: Sensational Small Plates from Spain--and have loved them all. Make this recipe AND buy the cookbook!

Don Pepe
4582 N Blackstone Ave
Fresno, CA 93726
(559) 224-1431

I frequently have short-lived obsessions with particular dishes. One of my more long-lived obsessions is with guacamole. I love the recipe that I learned from a former boyfriend--and right now I also love the guacamole sold at Fresh & Easy. But this blog entry is not going to be about guacamole . . . although the version served at America's Taco Shop is exactly the kind I love: chunky with small pieces of tomato and lots of garlic.


Rather, this blog is going to be about my love for corn on the cob. I love this time of year when fresh, sweet corn is sold at roadside stands and farmer's markets. A few weeks ago, I stopped at the Fresno State market to buy some corn. It's so delicious with just butter, salt, and pepper. At America's, they serve a much less healthy but quite divine version of corn on the cob; it's coated with a fine layer of mayo, rolled in cotija and served with lime and chile sauce. Wow! My obsession now will be to try to figure out how to make this . . . or to find a restaurant that serves it in Fresno.


America's also serves quite tasty tacos. I had two with carne asada that were quite yummy.


But, oh that corn. I wish I had a piece to eat for lunch right now.

America's Taco Shop
4447 N. 7th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85013
Tlf. 602-515-0856



3

Saturday morning, I went to the Fresno Farmer's Market and was inspired by the many fresh and unusual ingredients I found there. My inspiration led me to finally try a couple of recipes from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. I loved his restaurant Frontera Grill in Chicago when I ate there a few years ago--and I thought I would end up preparing something from his cookbook right away. Alas, it took learning to love nopal and buying nopal at the Farmer's Market this past weekend for me to finally try a few recipes out.

I should have done this sooner as the food I prepared was so delicious and healthy. I actually made two kinds of salsa, a taco filling made of lamb's quarters (a kind of green I found at the market), and the nopal salad. The verdict? Yum. Yum. and Yum.


This taco was perfect. I loved the interplay of the citrusy tomatillo-chipotle salsa with the sweetness of the greens and the nuttiness of the cotija cheese. I loved the tangy flavor of the nopal, even though I ended up cooking it way too long. The tomato-onion-serrano chile mixture was good, just not very subtle . . . so it's the only recipe that I would play with a bit to try to improve. And I have to say that eating the leftovers today was just as satisfying as the original meal.

Make these recipes as soon as you can find some nopal and lamb's quarters.

Roasted Cactus Salad (Ensalada de Nopales Asados), adapted from Rick Bayless

1 bag nopal cut into small pieces (Bayless gives directions on how to prepare the cactus paddle which I was able to skip)
2 T. olive oil
Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon

For the Tomato-Serrano Salsa
1 large, very ripe, round tomato finely diced
Fresh serrano chiles to taste, roughly 2-3 (I only used one and I would clean out the seeds next time, even though the recipe didn't specify that one should)
1 garlic clove, minced
3 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 c. finely diced white onion
1 t. fresh lime jiuce

The recipe also calls for romaine lettuce, Mexican queso anejo, and radish slices or roses to use as garnish.

Instructions:

Toss the cactus with 1 T. olive oil and salt on a baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender and all liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Cool (I totally overcooked the nopal, but it still tasted great).

Salsa: in a large bowl, mix the tomato, chiles, garlic, and cilantro. Add onion and lime juice.

Don't mix the cactus and the salsa until right before serving.

Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa (Salsa de Chile Chipotle y Tomate Verde), again from Rick Bayless

3 to 6 canned chiles chipotles en adobo (I used 3)
3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
5-6 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Salt, about 1/2 t.
Sugar, about 1/4 t.

Heat an ungreased skillet to medium heat and roast the garlic cloves. Turn occasionally until the garlic is black in spots, about 15 minutes. Cool, slip off the skins, then roughly chop.

Lay the tomatillos on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot broiler. When the tomatillos blister, blacken, and soften on one side, about 5 minutes, turn them over and roast the other side. Cool completely on the baking sheet.

Scrape the tomatillos and any juices they have secreted into a blender and add the garlic. Pulse the machine until everything reaches your desired thickness. Add the chiles and pulse again. Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in 3 to 4 T. water (if desired), and salt and sugar to taste.

Tacos of Garlicky Mexican Greens with Seared Onion and Fresh Cheese (Tacos de Quelites), from Rick Bayless

9 c. loosely packed, stemmed lamb's quarters (I ended up buying a bunch and just roughly chopping them)--chard would work here, too
1 T. olive oil
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt, about 1/2 t.
Cotija cheese
corn tortillas
Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa

Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the greens and cook until barely tender, about 2-3 minutes for the lamb's quarters, 1-2 minutes for the chard. Pour into a colander, then spread out on a large plate or baking sheet to cool. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add the greens, and stir for a minute or so longer, just enough to heat them through. Taste and season with salt.

Place some greens in a heated corn tortilla, sprinkle with the cheese and add a dollop of salsa.

2

I want to do right by this restaurant: Casa de Tamales.

I'm not a tamale fan, but this place has transformed me into a believer. Tamales are good--not the heavy, tasteless items that I once thought they were. Almost every tamale I've ever had has had too much masa, not enough filling.

Casa de Tamales gets it right. The tamales are small, but with just the right proportion of filling and masa. The chef makes traditional tamales, but s/he also experiments with a "gourmet" menu. The owners are from Michoacan, according to Alex, from the same town that his family is from. For Alex, eating at Casa de Tamales is like having his mother's home cooking, so we went there to celebrate Mother's Day.

I thought and thought before selecting. I decided on two--a soyrizo version and the chicken alfredo tamale. I wanted to try the soyrizo tamale because I like soyrizo, but also because it was topped with nopal. Since eating a nopal soup in Oaxaca, I've been longing for good nopal . . . which is what I found at Casa de Tamales. The soyrizo was good, but the nopal was what really stood out to me with its crunchy, fresh taste.

I loved the second tamale for the filling: chicken, roasted poblanos, potatoes, and casero cheese. The restaurant uses a jalapeno masa topped with a creamy tomatillo sauce and a black bean salsa. I know it sounds strange, but this was delicious, a fabulous combination of creaminess and spiciness.

The combination dishes come with sides of rice and pinto beans. I loved the rice, which is not something I say very often.

I want to try the more traditional tamales, too. Alex's shredded beef tamale with guacamole looked really good.


And Kyle's tamale with mole and chicken with tomatillo sauce looked tasty, too.


We also ordered dessert tamales. My chocolate cake tamale was forgettable, but Kyle and Alex seemed to love their raisin and cinnamon tamale.

I'm so glad to have finally eaten a good tamale. No other version will ever live up to it, I fear.

Casa de Tamales
3747 W. Shaw
Fresno, CA
559-275-9300

1

The Red Wave Inn is the kind of place that doesn't have a website. It's low tech, unassuming, intimate--a bar/restaurant that I've overlooked for years. I've known that people go to the Red Wave, which is just across Shaw from Fresno State, but I was never really that interested in going myself. I figured it was a dive, and I wasn't really sure why anyone would go there.

I'm a believer now. My friends, John, John, Alex, and Kyle frequent the Red Wave--and their passion about the place finally convinced me to go. In truth, I think it was the stories about the Mexican food there that really made me want to try the place.

But first, let me say--the Red Wave isn't a restaurant, it's a bar. But the Mexican food there is fresh and really quite delicious.

I've been to the Red Wave a couple of times in the last few weeks. Every time, I get the taco plate--tacos made with asada, lettuce, cilantro, and onions served with a nice tomatillo sauce, beans, and rice. The tacos are delicious and I always enjoy well prepared pinto beans. The first time I went there, my friends teased me about licking the plate. I didn't, but I really, really wanted to.


I also really love the ambience at the Red Wave--the fact that it's cozy and not at all pretentious. The fact that all the bartenders know my friends by name. The fact that we usually run into other people we know there, as well. Most importantly, I love that we can sit for hours talking shop, gossiping, or philosophizing about life (that's what we English types do, right?).

I'm not sure I'm an insider there yet--but I totally get my friends' enthusiasm for the Red Wave Inn.

Red Wave Inn

2375 E Shaw Ave
Fresno, CA 93710

(559) 228-8446

4

Recently, I went to Guadalajara and Oaxaca and discovered dishes I'd never seen in Mexican restaurants in the U.S. Who decided that a taco was worthy of an American diner but entomatadas weren't????? Mexican cuisine is so varied, so interesting, so delicious. It really is a shame that restaurants here in the U.S. reduce Mexican food to tacos, burritos, and enchiladas.

While I was in Mexico, I tried the following:

Chilaquiles (tortilla chips cooked in tomato sauce served as breakfast):


Tlayuda (a crisp tortilla--think tostada--covered with beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado and topped with cecina, cured pork):


Sopa Xochitl (soup with squash, sweet corn, and squash flowers):


Sopa de guia con chochoyotes (soup made with chayote squash leaves):


Entomatadas (think enchiladas prepared with a tomato sauce rather than a sauce with chile):


Sopa de nopal (soup made with prickly pear cactus):


Chile en nogada (this dish at Azucena Zapoteca in San Martin Tilcajete was a stand out: poblano chile stuffed with picadillo and raisins, topped with a walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds):


Sopa de Azteca: (thick broth with tortilla chips and chunks of cheese and avocado):


Guajolote con Mole Manchamanteles (turkey served with a mole sauce made of chile and fruit, banana stuffed dumplings and corn fritters eaten at the wonderful Los Danzantes):

I loved each one of these dishes and wish that I could find them here in Fresno. Yes, I bought a cookbook. Yes, I already own a cookbook by Rick Bayless. Yes, I know about Susanna Trilling. I guess I'm going to have to start cooking . . . as soon as I lose the pounds I gained eating this delicious food in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.

Restaurante Azucena Zapoteca
Highway 175 to Puerto Angel (Km 23.5)
San Martin Tilcajete
Oaxaca, Mexico
(951) 510 7844

Los Danzantes
Macedonio Alcalá 403-4
Centro Historico, C.P. 68000
Oaxaca, Mexico
(951) 501-1184