Thursday, August 23, 2012

Coronado Concerts in the Park: Rajas and Cheese Tacos for Stripped and Dipped

We've come up with some interesting culinary themes for the 2012 Concert in the Park Summer Season. All of our themes, dating back to 2008, are listed on Newf in My Soup's Holidays, Parties and Themes page. This week's Stripped and Dipped could be interpreted to mean foods that were stripped, peeled, skinned, naked or raw, cut into strips, made into a dip or dipping sauce, or a combination thereof. On Sunday morning, after struggling with what to make, I stumbled across a recipe for Creamy Poblano Pepper Strips (Rajas) on Food, but then found a more appealing version in Mark Miller's Tacos cookbook. I was off to Northgate Market for everything I needed, including fresh tortillas hot off the presses, and set to start roasting chiles for Rajas and Cheese Tacos.

Rajas means "slivers" or "strips" in Spanish. In Mexico and the Southwest it refers to julienned strips of roasted, peeled, and seeded chiles or sweet peppers, used in soups, as a garnish, or with quesadillas, tacos, and tamales. Here, strips of roasted poblano chiles, sweet red bell peppers, and jalapeno chiles mingle with sauteed diced onion, oregano, cilantro, Mexican Crema, queso Oaxaca, a touch of Parmesan, and toasted pine nuts. When spooned into small, fresh white corn tortillas, this filling makes incredible, two-bite hors d'oeuvre tacos. Additional accompaniments include salsa fresca, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and cut into strips, and toasted pine nuts (the recipe for rajas and cheese is at the end of this post).

Rajas and Cheese Tacos
Plate courtesy of Steelite (Craft Collection freestyle plate in green)

Carmen used julienned strips of crunchy vegetables, and lettuce and sprouts, in her vibrant Spring Rolls with Ginger Dipping Sauce, a raw vegan recipe from Carmella Soliel's Delightfully Raw.

Spring Rolls with Ginger Dipping Sauce

Kai heard my calling for fried calamari strips, perfectly crunchy on the outside and tender within, served with tartar sauce and lemon wedges.

Fried Calamari Strips

John's 'deviled egg of the week' was inspired by one of his adored dipping sauces, a Tunisian hot chili sauce called Harissa. We've made Bon Appetit's Cinnamon-Roasted Chicken with Harissa several times and John was successful in bringing those flavors to his eggs. The yolks were blended with honey, minced golden raisins and plain yogurt. Strips of roasted cinnamon chicken topped the filled egg and a bowl of lively harissa sauce stood ready for dipping. 

Tunisian Deviled Eggs

At the other end of her raw and healthy vegan spring rolls were Carmen's Chocolate Covered Bacon Strips. Optional gourmet add-ons may include chopped dried apple chips, apricots and crystallized ginger, finely chopped pecans and pistachios, toasted coconut, kosher salt, brown sugar, cayenne pepper and coarsely ground black pepper. Carmen used chopped pecans on the dark chocolate strips and cracked black pepper on the white ones. These caused quite a post-concert Newf in My Soup Facebook feather ruffling when no-show, minute chef called her a copy cat. I had to reach way back in the archives of my brain to recall Bradley's Pig Lickers, a different version of chocolate-covered bacon strips he made for Challenge Bacon in August 2010. I commented to Bradley that Carmen's version reigned supreme, and she followed with a recommendation that he watch and learn from the more accomplished chefs in the group, and to stay tuned for her chocolate covered pork rinds.

Chocolate-Covered Bacon

Melon Strips and Grapes

The music for the evening was performed by Sue Palmer's Motel Swing Orchestra, with lead vocalist Deejha Marie Pope.

Alec and Sonoma

Julie back from summer travels

This dancing couple comes in matching outfits every week

A refreshing white on a warm summer evening


The 'Smitten Ones' arrived on a tandem bicycle, but we're not sure how they got home ;-)


Mark Miller's Rajas and Cheese
From Tacos, 75 Authentic and Inspired Recipes

Poblano chiles, red bell peppers, jalapeno chiles

Oil Roasting the Chiles

Fresh chiles are commonly roasted and peeled to deepen flavor and, if desired, help loosen the skin so it is easier to remove. Chiles blackened over a gas flame or under a broiler can sometimes pick up the flavor of the heat source, which is not always desirable. Mark Miller recommends two methods for roasting chiles. Dry-roasting in a dry cast-iron or heavy-bottomed skillet works well for smooth-skinned chiles like jalapenos and serranos, as well as fruits like tomatillos. Use the oil-roasting method for chiles that you want to stuff, for a clean, sweet vegetable flavor without smoke, for a sauce that requires chiles with a deep green color, or for chiles whose ridges and valleys (like poblanos and sweet peppers) would blister unevenly with other roasting methods.

Oil-Roasted Chiles ready for easy removal of the skins

Rajas and Cheese, kept warm in a chafing dish 

Rajas and Cheese mini tacos
Plate courtesy of Steelite (Craft Collection freestyle plate in green)

Rajas & Cheese
Slightly adapted from Tacos
Makes 6-8 mini tacos


1 1/2 large sweet red bell peppers (oil-roasted, peeled, cored and seeded)
3 large poblano chiles (oil-roasted, peeled, cored and seeded)
4 jalapeno chiles (oil-roasted, peeled, cored and seeded)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 small white onion, diced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, toasted
Pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup Mexican Crema (or creme fraiche or natural sour cream)
2 ounces grated queso Oaxaca (or Chihuahua cheese or Monterey Jack)
1 1/2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
6 (5 1/2 inch) soft white corn tortillas
Optional Garnish: oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and cut into strips, and toasted pine nuts
Accompaniment: Salsa Fresca

To Oil Roast the Poblanos, Jalapenos and Red Bell Peppers: Heat 2 inches of canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pan to 375 degrees F. Roast only 1 or 2 chiles at a time to avoid overcrowding and lowering of the oil temperature. Turn the submerged chiles as the skin starts to blister, after approximately 1 1/2 minutes per side. Turn the chiles as necessary until all sides are blistered, but not burned. Transfer to a bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Allow chiles to steam for about 15 minutes and then peel off the skin with your fingers or dull edge of a knife. Do not rinse the peeled chiles. Split open the chiles and remove the veins and seeds. Slice into strips, about 3 inches long by 3/8 inch wide.
For added heat, simply cut the jalapenos into strips without discarding the seeds.

Set aside the bowl of roasted, peeled, cored, seeded and sliced chile and bell pepper strips.

In a large, heavy nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onion until translucent, about 3 minutes. Decrease the heat to low, add the bell pepper and chile strips, then stir in the cilantro, oregano, salt, crema, queso Oaxaca, and grated Parmesan. Cook over low heat, stirring continuously so the mixture doesn't brown or scorch, until the queso melts, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat immediately.

To serve, lay warm tortillas side by side, open face and overlapping on a platter. Divide the filling equally between the tortillas and top with salsa, sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts.

Newfie Notes: I doubled the recipe for our concert in the park crowd. I prepared the chiles and bell pepper strips, and sauteed them briefly with the onions, oregano and cilantro. After arriving at the park, and just before serving, I put the chile mixture back into a pan over low heat (on our portable burner) added the crema and cheese, and finished cooking as directed. I transferred the filling to a chafing dish to keep warm, and everyone was able to assemble their own tacos and add salsa, sun-dried tomatoes and/or toasted pine nuts as desired.

Disclosure: Steelite International provided me with four pieces from the new Craft Collection. I had been searching for some beautiful, rustic pieces for the blog and food photography shoots and absolutely love these!

Craft by Steelite from Steelite on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Carmen said...

Thank goodness for last minute ideas! Your rajas was a memorable dish that I must try! Delicate, creamy and colorful! The tortillas make it nice entree, but rajas would also be nice as appetizers on roasted polenta disks - or, even as a topper for a soup or ... a deviled egg! For Brad: We're looking forward to seeing how you use jelly beans next Sunday!