It is the season for grilling. I grill with charcoal (not briquettes, but nice chunks of hardwood charcoal) which imparts a smokey outdoorsy flavour. My barbecue is made of ceramic which ensures juicy and fragrant results. I love to light a match to the newspaper and let the fire come to life; so much more interesting an experience than propane.
I spent my Sunday digging and planting the gardens (there will be three types of heirloom broad beans, multiple varieties of filet and wax beans, spinach, kale, great white radish, crookneck and delicata squash, several kinds of fingerling potatoes, amaranth, savoury, all the other good herbs, and much, much more). After a day of sunshine and good gardening work, a fragrant outdoor supper was in order. I decided on a combination of cumin scented chicken seared on a hot grill to form a smokey savoury crust, punctuated by sweet mango, sharpened with lime and chili, and elevated with cilantro and chive. This was all wrapped in a warm soft handmade tortilla. Perfect.
Cumin and Lime Chicken Tacos with Mango Salsa
Perhaps you remember Christine Cushing? I have had her book Fearless in the Kitchen for about 15 years and used to cook from it frequently. The one concept that has stuck with me for all these years was her Chicken Tacos with Picante Papaya Mojo. Obviously I was fearless and used her recipe only as a jumping off point. Over the years I have pared back her concept to what is described below.
Cumin and Lime Chicken:
- Marinate 6 chicken thighs, or 3 breasts, in a few tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon each of cumin and coriander, a sprinkle of smoked paprika, a jalapeno, or dried chile flakes, a crushed clove of garlic, some chopped cilantro, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime. Marinate for two hours.
- Grill the chicken and let it rest 10 minutes before slicing or shredding it.
- Peel and cube two fresh mangoes and toss in a bowl. Add chopped cilantro, chive, juice of one lime, a few tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, and a red chili or chili flakes. Red onion macerated in salt and lime juice prior to being tossed in the salsa is excellent, though I use chives here because they are presently in season and close to hand.
- Let rest 30 minutes before serving.
Wheat Flour Tortilla
I have rarely found the patience to make my own tortillas, but I am not fond of the doughy commercial kind. While my tortilla making ability is rudimentary at best, freshly prepared flat bread will always be better than something from a cellophane bag, and the procedure is quite simple. These took just half an hour, even with a young helper.
These are based on Jeffrey Steingarten’s method, as described in the chapter, Crossing the Line, from his book found here. The story relays his fairly extreme lengths to acquire the recipe from a reluctant teacher. I suggest you go straight to the source for his painstaking step-by-step instructions and specifications.
- 3 cups flour and 1 tbsp salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil (Lard would be more traditional and Steingarten suggests it. If you use it you should work it first into the flour as for pastry before adding the water) mixed with 1 1/4 cup very warm water
- Blend the water and oil into the flour and salt, knead gently for a minute or so and divide into 16 little balls. Rest on a floured surface covered with a floured towel for about half an hour.
- Press with a tortilla press as below, or roll out with a rolling-pin. I use parchment or wax paper between the press to avoid the dough sticking.
- Heat a cast iron pan to medium high
- Press each tortilla sprinkling it with flour first. Pull it from the press and stretch it slightly before dropping it straight into the hot pan. They take about 1 – 2 minutes on the first side and a bit less after being flipped. If the pan is hot enough they will puff slightly in the centre. They should turn dark brown in spots (not black) and stay translucent in places.
It feels good to be entering the season of fresh, vibrant eating outdoors in the shade or the sun. Summer is coming.