Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quick Tilapia Tacos and Fresh Cabbage Slaw with Lime and Cilantro

Many Sundays, when our weather permits, we'll take an early morning walk with our "furry child" in tow, stop for coffee, and then return home to continue on with whatever plans we have for the day. On one of these walks, a month or so ago, an absolutely darling little girl boldly approached us wanting to pet our big guy. Though only 6- or 7-years of age, "Olivia" (as she immediately introduced herself) confidently wrapped her arms around our dog's much larger head in an effort to hug him, and then asked about his "personality" and, ultimately, his lineage..."is he a mutt?" she inquired. Quelling a bit of a chuckle, I explained that he was a pure bred but that we had had a few beloved "mutts" over the years. To this she replied, "oh well, I was just wondering 'cause I'm a mutt." Upon hearing this I admit I did let out a little chuckle.

Thinking of this encounter makes me smile every time. With my own Euro-Hispanic heritage on my mother's side and my English-"Indiana-State" heritage on my dad's side, I'm a bit of a "mutt" myself. And while I've always thought that my Hispanic roots should account for my love of tacos, the truth is my dad was the one who had to teach my mother how to make all the traditional Tex-Mex foods we are so familiar with in this country. With corn tortillas brought in fresh every day to serve with their main meal, like we might serve dinner rolls, my mother had always thought of a "taco" as being whatever resulted from simply scooping a bit of this or that from your plate into your tortilla...nothing really pre-planned or structured.

So while I guess there's no proven genetic reason for my love of tacos, I do believe that there must have been a DNA-associated component that switched on once my mom got the hang of things in the kitchen. As a little girl growing up, leftovers in our home -- whether they were beef brisket, pork chops, scrambled eggs, fried chicken, or something else -- were sure to get reworked to see life again as a taco! And we never had one we didn't like.

Similar to my penchant for making a variety of soups...I'm slowly accumulating quite a file of favorite taco "pairings" and this is one. While there are myriad variations that are chock full of rich flavors, this particular taco is so great in its fresh, healthy simplicity...and ease of preparation. The whole thing comes together in under 30 minutes. (And, if you prep your slaw earlier in the day, maybe 10!) So whether you're a "mutt" with Hispanic roots or not, the simple goodness of a fresh corn tortilla filled with fish, chicken, beans, veggies...or leftovers...is hard to top.

Quick Tilapia Tacos and Fresh Cabbage Slaw with Lime and Cilantro
makes 8 tacos (with extra slaw for leftovers!)

4 to 6 cups green cabbage, thinly sliced (one medium-sized cabbage head works great)
2 to 3 cups plum tomatoes, chopped (about 4 to 6 tomatoes)
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (more if you prefer)
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
zest from one lime
6 to 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
4 to 6 tilapia fillets (depending on the size of the fillet, I calculate 1/2 to 3/4 a fillet per taco)
1 teaspoon chili powder
8 6-inch white corn tortillas

1. Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add lime juice, zest, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, toss well to combine. (The slaw should have a tangy, lime-cilantro flavor to it...with just a little glisten from the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.)

2. Heat remaining 3 to 4 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet (or stove-top griddle) over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish evenly (on both sides) with chili powder and remaining salt. Add fish to pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until it flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove from heat.

3. Warm tortillas in a skillet (or carefully "char" them directly over a gas flame...watching them diligently as they can easily catch fire!) Divide tilapia among tortillas and spoon 1/4 cup slaw over top of each. Season with salt (and pepper, if desired), to taste. Serve remaining slaw alongside...keeping any leftover slaw for sandwiches, quesadillas, sautéed chicken, etc.

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