Branch out with what you tuck inside tortillas.
When it comes to summertime cooking, I’m all for keeping it cool — not only on the plate, but also in the kitchen. That’s why I try to fire up the grill as much as possible, rather than heat up my oven. Keeping it light, keeping it easy and keeping me comfortable is my June to September mantra.
Keeping it Mexican might as well be in there, too, as that seems to be the chosen cuisine of summertime around my house.
Growing up in San Diego, where it’s summer for most of the year, I learned to appreciate the lighter side of Mexican food from an early age. Yes, Mexican restaurants in Southern California still serve the Combination Plate #5, loaded with enchiladas, chile rellenos, rice and beans, but they also feature the fresher and healthier side of South-of-the-border fare.
Salads, vegetables and brothy soups are menu mainstays, as well as seafood. As a child, I was not interested in some of the more iconic Mexican seafood dishes, like ceviche, a dish made of fresh raw fish, marinated in various citrus juices. While I love it now, there was no way I was going to eat it then. No, Mexican seafood did not pass my lips, until I had my first fish taco.
Though they’ve been around for decades in Baja California, they came to fame in San Diego with Rubio’s Fish Tacos in the early ’80s when I was in my late teens. It took me a while to gain an appreciation for tacos del mar, but who can resist mild whitefish tucked into a warm tortilla with a flavorful salsa and shredded cabbage? Oh, did I mention the fish was fried? Yes, they had me at fried.
Before long, I started exploring other options. One of my favorite seafood taco fillings turned out to be shrimp.
It makes a terrific taco filling because it’s mildly flavored and has a firm texture. One of the benefits of frying the fish is that it encapsulates the fillets in a crisp batter, preventing them from becoming mushy. One of the negatives is that it’s, well, fried, which most agree is not particularly good for you. On the other hand, shrimp doesn’t need to be fried to maintain its textural integrity.
I take the shrimp taco one step further by adding creamy coleslaw spiked with mango matchsticks. The slightly sweet creaminess of the coleslaw, combined with its all-important crunch, highlights the tart savoriness of the lime and chipotle-marinated grilled shrimp. A slice of avocado brings the taco home.
The marinade takes only a moment to whisk together, and you can make the coleslaw while you’re waiting for the grill to warm up. It’s that quick and easy, which will leave you lots of time to enjoy the evening on the deck or the back yard, with a glass of something refreshing in your hand. Now that’s my idea of a cool summer meal.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.