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Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York’s best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we’ll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back Tuesdays for a new book.
Dos Caminos Tacos: 100 Recipes For Everyone’s Favorite Mexican Street Food
By Ivy Stark, with Joanna Pruess, 280 pages, Countryman Press, $24.95
“I have a taco notebook that grows fatter and fatter every year,” Dos Caminos chef Ivy Stark writes in the introduction to her new cookbook, Dos Caminos Tacos. “It’s stained with salsa and greasy fingerprints, crinkled from splashes of beer and agua fresca, and positively stuffed with menus, placemats, matchbooks, photos, and scribbled recipes from the many taquerias I have visited in search of the perfect taco….And I have found some stellar ones.” She’s also built a small Mexican empire, spanning six restaurants in three states, on stuffed tortillas and their ken.
We’d love a look at that book, but yesterday, Stark released the next best thing: in her second treatise on Mexican food, the chef offers the tasted, refined, tested, and tried outcomes of her taco-tinged travels. Find tacos, (¡por supuesta!) stuffed to the brim with traditional fixings (carnitas, goat barbacoa, fried fish), and newfangled mashups (scallops and chorizo, octopus ceviche, purslane, wild mushroom and nopales), all illustrated in bright, full-color photos by Noah Fecks.
Stark also shares recipes for salsas and sides, and a whole section on chiles, which covers types and the conservation of these Mexican staples. But perhaps most preciously, she shows you how to make your own tortillas, a skill typically gleaned by bleary-eyed gringos in some Spanish mama’s kitchen, where they must stand in the smoky hours before dawn as she pats out the day’s tortillas.
Yesterday, we caught up with the Dos Caminos chef, who talks “Beast-” v. “Best-” coast tacos, avocado season, and where to find the best authentic Mexican in NYC.
Coming as you are from California, and being in the business of serving Mexican food New York, what would you say to naysayers claiming there’s no good Mexican in NYC?
Uuuugggghhhh. All of the Angelenos in California get really mad at me when I say this, but all of those bad chain Mexican places came from California. [Until recently,] Mexican food wasn’t very well developed in New York; there wasn’t a real market for it, so therefore people weren’t opening restaurants and researching ingredients and looking at the authentic cuisine. Now that there’s this huge demand for it, the food is getting better, and there’s more competition. I’m competing against so many restaurants now, whereas before, it was small competition, so we all just have to keep getting better and better.
It’s also just the availability of ingredients. I couldn’t get really great Mexican ingredients 10 years ago; now I can.
How has the food changed since this upswing began?
We’ve certainly gone from very authentic tacos to chefs getting really creative and using crazy ingredients. We did bone marrow tacos a couple weeks ago as a special, you know? Just a lot more contemporary, cheffy types of ingredients.
What ingredient do you look forward to in spring, and how do you like to use it?
Avocados come into season in California this time of year, so we get that season happening, and I happen to love those avocados; they have this really rich, nutty, bacony flavor, and I grill those and combine them with asparagus, which is of course a great spring ingredient. That’s our spring avocado and asparagus taco! It’s actually the picture on the book’s cover.
How about an easy, approachable taco for a quick at-home weeknight meal?
There is an easy grilled chicken taco in the book that I put in there just for that reason; for a simple home-cooked meal. Most of the recipes are not too labor-intensive, but the easy grilled lime chicken tacos are definitely that.
Where do you like to go for a great, cheap, authentic Mexican meal in NYC?
I live in Brooklyn and I like to go to Sunset Park. All around Sunset Park there are just one after another great little taco delis, delis that sell Mexican products, and they’ll have a little corner in the back where they’re selling tacos, and they’re great, you know? Excellent.
Anything we should be watching for in the months to come?
Oh, definitely! We’re really starting to get into the season for fresh produce. And also, the goat cheese from Long Island is really good, we have some beautiful beets coming in, that asparagus, we’ll be getting corn soon, which is awesome…There’s a recipe in the book for pickled ramps, I mean…All of that good stuff!
What makes a great taco?
The tortilla. You can take anything delicious — you know, a great piece of bacon — and when you put it in a good, warm, handmade tortilla, you’ve got a great taco.
And where in the city would you recommend people go to find great, fresh tortillas
We make our own here at Dos Caminos, but there’s a place called Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona, and they make really good home-made tortillas. And also, Tortilleria Mexicano Los Hermanos, [in Bushwick.]
Grilled Asparagus and Avocado Tacos
After a chilly spring in New York, as a chef I was dreaming of the great produce of the season that had been slow to arrive. When I finally came across some beautiful purple-tipped asparagus at the Union Square Greenmarket, I almost cried. I really wanted to make a taco with them. In Mexico, asparagus is common in the markets, and everything eventually becomes a taco! Rich, creamy California Hass avocados also make their debut in spring and are a perfect complement to asparagus.
Although the result was not a traditional taco, it represents how I was feeling — the Mediterranean flavors were inspired by a longing for the warmth of the sun and the coming summer.
Gently grilling asparagus and avocado adds a light smoky flavor to them and gets you out of doors.
Refried White Beans
Cucumber Pico de Gallo
12 large asparagus spears,
woody ends removed
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Fine sea salt
2 ripe avocados, preferably Hass variety
12 corn tortillas, preferably handmade,
warmed on the grill
¼ cup crumbled queso fresco
1. Prepare the Refried White Beans and Cucumber Pico de Gallo. Light a grill or heat a grill pan until hot.
2. Drizzle the asparagus with oil and sprinkle with salt, turning to coat evenly. Lay the asparagus on the grill and cook until small brown spots form on the spears, turning several times to cook them evenly, 5 to 6 minutes total cooking time. Remove, cut them in half, and tent to keep warm.
3. If space allows, prepare the avocados alongside the asparagus. Using a sharp knife, cut the avocados in half lengthwise. To remove the pit, cut deeply enough into it so you can turn the knife; the pit will come loose. Peel the avocado halves, brush with a little oil, and grill them, flesh-side down, until grill marks appear on the avocados and they are warm, 2 to 5 minutes. Remove and cut each into six slices.
4. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of Refried White Beans into each tortilla. Lay an asparagus spear on the white beans, add an avocado slice, and garnish with about a teaspoon each of the Cucumber Pico de Gallo and queso fresco. Pass extra beans and Pico de Gallo at the table.