Tacos de Lengua

I wish I could tell you these tacos are delicious and leave it at that, but I should probably address the issue of lengua — tongue.

Watching hours of Anthony Bourdain and reading more about food convinced Michael and I that we ought to be less discriminating in our meat choices. We like to be informed carnivores, people who eat meat, well aware that it came from a live animal, instead of ignoring what a steak once was.

We realized, if we’re going to eat the spinal muscles (T-bone) and diaphragm (skirt steak) of cattle, we shouldn’t squirm over tongue just because someone couldn’t come up with a more marketable name for it.
So at a Mexican restaurant in LA, Michael ordered a huaruche de lengua. It was awesome. A month or so later we made tongue and oxtail stew. Friday it was tongue tacos after Michael got a tongue from Missouri Legacy Beef. (See Michael’s portrait of Mark and Susie here.)

For the tacos, the meat was cut so small and mixed with other ingredients, even Kat was OK with it (It was her first time trying beef tongue). Cooking tongue might be difficult for some because there’s no hiding the fact you’re cooking a giant tongue. But it didn’t really bother me, especially the second time around.

If you can get over the idea of eating tongue, it’s to your benefit. The meat is really tender and tasty. Plus it’s so cheap. Remember, it’s just another muscle of the animal. Nothing to be afraid of.

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Cinco de Mayo Cooking Demo with Chef LaLa

With a name like Chef LaLa and a cookbook called Latin Lover Lite, Laura Diaz-Brown highlights her funky — and easily marketable — side. But after a Cinco de Mayo cooking demonstration, I found more to admire about the woman.

Chef LaLa cooked and spoke at an Inside Columbia Magazine event Friday night. She was also in town for the Speaking of Women’s Health conference. In an hour, I learned she used to be a pop singer, went to med school to be a heart and lung specialist, became a certified nutritionist and studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

She also made four dishes in real time — without the tricks cooking demonstrators usually use. On her menu was:

  • Coca-Cola-Marinated Pork with Fruit Salad
  • Chicken Fajitas
  • Chicken Enchiladas
  • Colorful Bean Salad (Recipe on her website here.)

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Chorizo Taco Salad with Corn Salsa

Last week I picked up a pint of beautiful cherry tomatoes at The Root Cellar. I popped a whole one in my mouth and it was like candy (which is a wonder because I didn’t even like tomatoes really until I got to college). I was so happy to finally have a tasty tomato after months of winter. But the sun was shining that day in Columbia, and I decided to make a meal that would feel like my perennially warm home of Los Angeles: a light and fresh taco salad.

I love beans and cheese too, but this was not a day for those. This day was about the fresh tomatoes and greens I had picked up. I made a sweet and spicy corn salsa with the cherry tomatoes. Then, I filled the tacos with a chorizo and ground beef mixture, green peppers and red onions (cooked, but still tender), the salsa, sour cream and cilantro. I put the tacos on top of a bed of greens for presentation, then we went out to my front porch, and smashed the tacos and mixed the whole thing together to eat as a salad.

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The Flavor-Principle Cookbook

I love to flip through cookbooks, but lately I’ve been more interested in food theory — books about ingredients, techniques, flavors, etc. Besides not being able to stick to a recipe to save my life, I prefer to learn the concepts behind cooking. It’s like that saying: Give a gal a fish recipe and she’ll eat for a night. Teach her how to cook it and she’ll eat for a lifetime. Or something.Flavor Principle Cookbook

I found an incredibly interesting book in the university library called The Flavor Principle Cookbook. It discusses the flavor principles and cooking techniques of several cultures, and then offers examples of traditional dishes and unique ways of combining ideas from different regions. This seems progressive for 1973.

I loved reading about the flavor principles from each culture, noticing the overlap and slight differences among them. For instance:

  • Olive oil + tomato + garlic = Southern Italian
  • Olive oil + tomato + saffron = Spanish, Southern French
  • Olive oil + tomato + mixed herbs (thyme, basil, oregano) = Mediterranean, Provencal
  • Olive oil + tomato + cinnamon and/or lemon = Greece, Balkans, Middle East

You can almost draw a map and follow the cuisine.

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Fiesta Quinoa with Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette

Quinoa, in case you’re unfamiliar, is that trendy new grain that South Americans have been eating for thousands of years. I had it for the first time a few months ago. It’s is a little bitter on its own so I like it with lots of other flavors.

For whatever reason, I feel the need to be spontaneous every time I make quinoa. I cook up a pot of it, then start sauteeing things. Once it was garlic, onions, zucchini and butternut squash. Another time it was tomato, corn and andouille sausage. This time I wanted something to go with salmon and chimmichurri (South American cilantro sauce).

I originally wanted a cold side dish, but it was just after spring break and my produce wasn’t fresh tasting enough. I salvaged some slightly shriveled red and green peppers by roasting them with salt, pepper and olive oil. I sauteed some garlic with part of a jalapeno and habanero. I also added frozen corn, black beans, lime juice, lots of spices and cilantro to the quinoa, and decided to serve it warm with a dollop of plain yogurt since I didn’t have sour cream. It went nicely with the fish, but wasn’t great.

For the leftovers, I decided to make a dressing that would improve the dish if served cold. I came up with a cumin-lime vinaigrette with cilantro that was just what the quinoa needed, and would be good on some other salads too. Next time I’ll keep the dish cold from the get-go.

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Arepas (Venezuelan Corn Cakes)

Senior year of high school I went to my best friend Annabelle’s house every Friday night for Shabbat dinner. I’m not Jewish, but I went for the food and the company. Annabelle’s family is from Venezuela so both are always enjoyable.

One of my favorite foods we’d have were arepas, which are fried cornmeal patties. Sometimes they had cheese inside, otherwise I topped them with it myself. Annabelle’s house always had a good selection of cheeses and dips. Burrata, queso fresco, crema, salsa…

I don’t get to visit Annabelle too often these days, but I have

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learned to make arepas. They’re very simple: precooked cornmeal (like PAN), water and salt. Mix all that together, form into patties, fill or don’t fill, then fry them in a little oil.

You might not know any Venezuelan Jews, but you’ll appreciate these nonetheless.

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