Baja California is an 800-mile-long peninsula, known for its varied geography, beautiful beaches and delicious cuisine. Baja California, about 15 miles from downtown San Diego, is south of the California border and is part of the country of Mexico.
A few years ago we visited the area and had some of the best fish tacos I have ever had. While Baja is part of Mexico, Baja cuisine is distinct from mainland Mexican cooking. Since virtually all points on the peninsula are no more than 50 miles from a body of water, seafood plays a starring role in many dishes. Also, its physical separation from mainland Mexico has allowed Baja cuisine to develop independently.
Many ethnic influences helped shape Baja’s culinary point of view. Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers went to colonize Baja because they believed it was an area rich in jewels. Both Asian and European seafarers visited Baja on fishing and trading expeditions. So, eventually, a cuisine of Mexican, Spanish and Asian influences emerged and that eventually led to tacos.
In its simplest form, a taco is a tortilla wrapped around a filling. Most food historians speculate that the fish taco emerged when Asians introduced Baja natives to the practice of deep-frying fish. When this battered fried fish was combined with traditional Mexican toppings, the fish taco was born.
Modern fish tacos emerged in the 1950s in the Baja city of either Ensenada or San Felipe; it’s an ongoing debate, with both cities claiming to be the “home” of the fish taco. From their tiny stands, street vendors in these cities produce simple, inexpensive fare fast. The fish taco is hot, fresh and delicious — the perfect combination for hungry workers and market goers.
While I do not deep fry the fish in my recipe, these tacos are delicious and come close to what I remember eating in my visit there.
Baja California Style Fish Tacos
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup dark beer
12 ounces firm fillets of mild, white fish, cut crosswise into 1-inch wide strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4-6 small corn tortillas, warmed
Tomato Salsa, recipe below
White Sauce, recipe below
Combine flour, cumin, garlic powder, salt and cayenne in a medium bowl. Whisk in beer to create a batter.
Coat fish in the batter.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Letting excess batter drip back into the bowl, add the fish to the pan; cook until crispy and golden, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
2 medium tomatoes, seeds removed and chopped
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 scallion finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos
1 small clove garlic, grated
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
In a medium bowl, mix together tomatoes, red onion, scallion, jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, oregano and lime juice.
Season with salt and pepper and chill until serving time.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoons milk
Whisk all ingredients together in bowl. The sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.
Assemble The Tacos
Serve the fish in warmed tortillas topped with salsa and drizzled with white sauce.
July’s dinner recipes take full advantage of all the wonderful, seasonal produce available at this time of year. Where I live, this month is just about the end of the local growing season, too hot, while many of you are just reaping the benefits of gardens begun just a few months ago. And, for me, it is also too hot to grill. What you say! Since I am fortunate to be able to grill 12 months a year, the thrill is not seasonal. Some days I do not want to deal with the heat and the hot grill. So. many of my meals on these very hot days are prepared in an air-conditioned house.
Garden Fresh Meatloaf
Serve with a green bean salad and fried Italian peppers, recipes below.
2 lbs. grass-fed, organic, lean ground beef
2 carrots, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
Half of a large green bell pepper, finely diced
1 small sweet onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Half pint grape tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 cup of your favorite fresh herbs, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup ketchup
1 cup bread crumbs
½ cup water
Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add all the diced vegetables and garlic to the skillet and cook until tender.
Add the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the beef in a mixing bowl. Add the cooked vegetables, beaten eggs, ketchup, water and bread crumbs.
Combine thoroughly and place in a greased 9×5 loaf pan.
Bake the meatloaf until an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F, about 60-75 minutes.
Let rest a few minutes and then unmold, slice and serve.
Green Bean Salad
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
To make the vinaigrette:
Whisk together the vinegar, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a serving bowl; set aside.
For the green beans:
Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil; add the beans and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a bowl of ice water. Drain well and toss with the vinaigrette, oregano, feta and onion.
Chill before serving.
Italian Fried Peppers
10-12 long Italian frying peppers
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, sliced thin
½ teaspoon crushed fennel seed
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Wash and dry the peppers.
Heat a large saute pan over medium to high heat and add just enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 30 seconds
Add the peppers and season with salt and pepper. Turn the peppers over a few times to coat in oil.
Add the fennel and oregano and cook for about 10 minutes until soft and beginning to brown. Can be served at room temperature.
Shrimp Tacos For Two
Serve this entrée with a cucumber salad. Recipe below.
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 small clove garlic grated
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled, tails removed and deveined
4 corn tortillas
Homemade Tomato Salsa, recipe link
Shredded Garden Leaf lettuce
Shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese
Combine olive oil, lime juice, cumin, paprika, garlic and red pepper in a zip-top plastic bag, add the shrimp and seal. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Remove shrimp from the bag; discard marinade. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat.
Arrange the shrimp on the pan and grill 2 minutes on each side.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat 4 corn tortillas with olive oil cooking spray and place them in a metal taco holder.
Place the holder in the oven and heat the tortillas until just beginning to get crispy, about 10 minutes.
Remove the holder from the oven and fill each shell with shrimp, tomato salsa, cheese and shredded lettuce.
Cucumber Salad with Ranch Dressing
1 large cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, sliced into 1/4″-thick half-moons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small sweet onion sliced into thin rounds and halved
¼ cup ranch dressing (recipe link here)
Chopped fresh dill, optional for garnish
Place cucumber slices in a colander; sprinkle with salt, tossing to coat. Let stand for 15 minutes, then rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
Alternate the cucumber and onion slices on a serving plate. Drizzle with the ranch dressing, garnish with dill, if using, and serve.
This is a great one pot meal. If you do not have access to fresh cherry peppers, you can use the jarred version instead.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb potatoes, peeled and quartered
All-Purpose flour, Kosher salt and black pepper
4 cloves garlic
4 chicken thighs, skin removed
½ cup dry white wine
A dozen fresh sweet red cherry peppers, halved and seeded
1 package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes, optional
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the potatoes and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove the potatoes to a bowl and set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat.
Season the chicken with a 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and dredge in flour, shaking off any excess.
Cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side.
Return the potatoes to the skillet.
Add the wine, artichoke hearts, red chile flakes, if using, and cherry peppers.
Simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Stir in the oregano and serve.
Grilled Greek Salmon
Serve with a Tabbouleh Salad (click here for recipe link), Tzatziki Sauce and Pita Bread or Chips.
Sumac is a middle eastern spice that’s tangy and a little tart. If you don’t have it, use more lemon zest instead.
1 1/2 lbs fresh salmon fillets, cut into 4 equal pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon sumac
Tzatziki Sauce, recipe below
Mix together the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, salt, dill, dried oregano, crushed red pepper and sumac in a plastic ziplock bag.
Place the salmon fillets in the bag and close the bag.
Gently massage the marinade into the fish to coat it evenly, refrigerate and allow the fish to marinade for about 30 minutes.
Heat an outdoor grill to medium high.
Place the fish on a foil lined baking sheet skin-side down, turn the foil edges up and pour the marinade over the fish.
Slide the foil onto the grill, close the lid and cook the salmon for about 8-10 minutes.
Remove the foil from the grill by sliding the foil back on the baking sheet.
You can also cook the salmon in the oven.
Bake in a 400 degree F oven for about 15-20 minutes.
Spoon some Tzatziki Sauce over the top and serve with Tabbouleh Salad and pita chips or bread.
This sauce is delicious on top of grilled salmon.
2 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1 1/4 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Place the yogurt in a medium bowl.
Grate the cucumber on a box grater onto a paper towel, roll up and squeeze the towel to remove some of the liquid.
Add it to the yogurt along with the remaining ingredients and stir.
Cover and chill in the refrigerator before serving.