If a Taco Is Dinner, So Is a Summer Roll
Plus, tiny pasta disguised as a salad
I recently made my pitch for frying at home, which is something that many cooks are reluctant to do but is actually fairly easy, not that scary, and so damn good. The first recipe here is further proof: Fish Tacos. Fair warning: If you cook these for other people, they may ask for them again and again. Fried food can have that effect.
While nobody would question that a fish taco qualifies as dinner, most people would call Vietnamese summer rolls an appetizer. I suppose that’s fair, but really they’re both just stuff contained in a wrapper, and I would (and do!) happily eat a few summer rolls for a light dinner on a hot summer night. You’ll most commonly find these with shrimp, but I like them just as much with tofu, and of course any other cooked or leftover proteins are fair game.
On the off chance that you want dinner that’s not wrapped up in a tortilla or rice paper, try the Pearl Couscous Salad. With capers, preserved lemon, cumin, cinnamon, and pine nuts, it’s not a timid salad, but the combination is kind of intoxicating. And as we move closer to prime tomato season, this dish — which calls for cherry or grape— will only get better.
Fried Fish Tacos
Fish tacos, long a staple of coastal Mexico (and coastal California), have become popular throughout the U.S. I prefer the fish fried, but you can grill or even steam it if you like. This recipe calls for steaming the tortillas; if you don’t feel like it, just wrap them in a damp towel and heat them in the microwave. I sometimes like to char mine for a few seconds directly on a burner: completely optional, but a nice touch.
Eight 5-inch corn tortillas
1 to 1 1/2 pounds fillets of firm white fish, like red snapper, sea bass, grouper, or halibut, skinned and boned
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup cornmeal or flour
2 tablespoons pure chile powder, like ancho or New Mexico
Corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil for frying
1/2 cup shredded cabbage
Lime wedges for serving
Salsa or hot sauce for serving
1. Put at least 1 inch of water in the bottom of a steamer. When the water simmers, wrap the tortillas in a kitchen towel and set them in the steamer. Steam for 3 minutes, then turn off the heat and keep the cover on the steamer while you prepare the fish.
2. Cut the fish into 8 equal pieces. Mix the garlic, salt, pepper, and lime juice together and rub into the fish.
3. Mix the cornmeal and chile powder together. Remove the fish from the marinade and dredge lightly in the cornmeal mixture. Pour 1/8 inch of oil into a large skillet and place over medium-high heat. After a couple of minutes—when a pinch of cornmeal sizzles in the oil—gently lay the fish pieces in the skillet. Fry, turning once, until golden brown and tender (a thin-bladed knife will meet little resistance). Do not overcrowd; work in batches if necessary. Drain on paper towels.
4. Remove the tortillas from the steamer and place a piece of fish in the center of each. Top with shredded cabbage and serve with lime wedges and salsa.
—Recipe from The Best Recipes In The World
Vietnamese Summer Rolls
Makes: 4 rolls
Time: About 30 minutes
Summer rolls are traditionally an appetizer (perfect for putting out all the components and letting your guests make their own, assembly line-style), but a few of these make for a pretty satisfying dinner on a hot night, IMHO. If you have leftover shrimp (or chicken or pork), you can make them in no time flat, especially once you’ve practiced on a batch or two. To make a vegetarian version (which is honestly just as good), use some cooked sliced tofu.
1 small fresh chile, like Thai or serrano, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 tablespoon rice vinegar or other mild vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
8 medium or large cooked shrimp, cooked, peeled, and halved lengthwise, or sliced cooked pork, beef, chicken, or tofu
1 cup grated or julienned carrot
1 cup bean sprouts
2 scallions, cut lengthwise into slivers
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts (salted are okay)
4 round sheets rice paper, 8 to 10 inches in diameter
1. Combine the chile, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and garlic in a small bowl and stir to combine.
2. Line up the shrimp, carrot, bean sprouts, scallions, mint, cilantro, and peanuts on your work surface. Put out a wide, shallow bowl of hot water (110° to 120°F) and several clean kitchen towels.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Put a sheet of rice paper into the water for about 10 seconds, just until pliable (don’t let it become too soft; it will continue to soften as you work). Lay it on the towel. (You can soak a dozen or so in advance and stack them between towels if you’d like; refrigerate for up to 30 minutes before assembling.)
4. In the middle of the rice paper, lay 4 shrimp pieces and about a quarter each of the carrot, bean sprouts, scallions, mint, cilantro, and peanuts. Roll up the rice paper, keeping it fairly tight and folding in the ends to seal as you work (like a burrito). Repeat this process until all the ingredients are used up. As you work, set the rolls on the parchment without stacking and drape with a damp towel. Serve halved or whole, with the dipping sauce.
Pearl Couscous Salad
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
Both pearl (Israeli) and “regular” couscous are actually forms of pasta; the only difference is size. Regular couscous is tiny; pearl couscous is about the size of a plump peppercorn, which makes it better for salads. (I’m especially keen on the whole wheat kind, and on fregola, the toasted kind from Sardinia.) This salad is a balancing act of many strong flavors, and personal preference plays a role here. So taste as you go and adjust the seasonings and condiments as you like.
1 pound pearl couscous
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 preserved lemon, skin only, sliced as thin as possible, or 1 tablespoon minced lemon zest
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup currants or golden raisins
1/2 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup cooked or canned chickpeas, drained but still moist
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Cook the couscous, stirring occasionally, until tender but not mushy; start tasting after 5 minutes. Drain it well, rinse it briefly with cold running water, and drain again.
2. Put the oil, lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, preserved lemon, capers, and currants in a large bowl with a generous pinch of pepper and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more spices, lemon, or salt as you like.
3. Add the couscous, onion, chickpeas, tomatoes, pine nuts, and parsley and toss once or twice. If possible, let the salad rest at room temperature for an hour, tossing every now and then. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve.
— Recipe from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian