DIY Taco Night
George Muñoz knows tacos. He ran the cult favorite La Chinita Poblana taco shop in Broad Ripple for five years and was preparing to expand to bigger digs when he got the opportunity to buy Festiva, the 16th Street restaurant originally launched by Peter George and Tom Main as an adults-only fine-dining Mexican eatery, now transformed into a family-friendly neighborhood spot that’s putting the “festive” back in Festiva. First order of business: Add more tacos to the menu. A morning spent talking tacos with Muñoz is filled with tales of barbacoa, carnitas, and all the tasty side dishes his Mexican immigrant parents and grandparents prepared when he was a kid growing up in Chicago. (Moral of the stories: If you haven’t tried cactus paddle, you must.)
To re-create that home-cooked magic, Muñoz shares a few tips and recipes for an authentic taco night at home.
Ditch the lettuce and shredded cheese. Instead, go for cilantro, salsa, and onions (diced white and pickled red). Muñoz’s recipe for pickled red onions will change your life. He learned the technique from a chef from the Yucatán when Muñoz ran Adobo Grill in Chicago.
• 1 large red onion, unpeeled
• ½ cup seasoned rice vinegar
• 3 tablespoons orange juice
• ½ cup lime juice
• 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
• 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 3 whole peppercorns
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1. Heat the unpeeled onion over an open flame or on a griddle until charred, rotating the onion often. It should take around five minutes. The onion should be softened on the outside when you’re finished. The goal is not to have it cooked completely, but not raw either. Set it aside until it’s cool to touch, up to two hours.
2. Peel the onion and cut into quarter-inch slices.
3. Place in a bowl and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
CHIPS & TORTILLAS
Chicago-based El Milagro is Muñoz’s choice for corn tortillas and chips, available locally at Carniceria Guanajuato. Raul Lopez, an immigrant from Mexico City, founded El Milagro in Chicago, where it’s still run by members of his family.
RICE & BEANS
Long-grain rice is stewed in a mix of whole tomatoes, chicken stock, garlic, and onion. You can use stewed beans, but Muñoz has an affinity for the refried version, with an extra kick from banana peppers.
Muñoz prefers a chunky guacamole, with the avocado smashed into onion, garlic, tomato, cilantro, lime juice, and salt.
Muñoz recommends keeping it simple. Put individual bottles of Mexican Coke, Topo Chico mineral water, and Dos Equis beer on ice, and then let your guests help themselves.
Carnitas and chicken are always crowd-pleasers. But avoid chicken breasts, advises Muñoz. “Thighs are much juicier and more flavorful,” he says. Or make Muñoz’s tasty vegetarian version, using poblano peppers.
Rajas con Queso Tacos
• 6 fresh poblano chili peppers
• 2 red bell peppers
• 2 tablespoons corn oil
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 large yellow onions, halved and sliced about ¼ inch
• ½ cup fresh corn
• 16-ounce container
• ¼ cup regular cream
• 1½ cups shredded asadero cheese
• salt and pepper
1. Roast the chilies over an open flame or on a griddle until blackened but not charred. Wrap chilies in a towel and place them in a plastic bag for 10 minutes.
2. Remove the chilies from the plastic bag. Using the towel, rub the skins off. The chilies should be firm. Cut them into half-inch strips, discarding the seeds and ribs. Do not rinse.
3. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are caramelized and golden brown. Stir often.
4. Add peppers and corn. Cook for 5 minutes.
5. Add the Mexican crema and regular cream. When it’s heated through, turn off the burner and add the shredded cheese.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the tacos:
1. Briefly heat corn tortillas on both sides in a hot skillet. (This is important! If you don’t heat the tortillas, they will crack.)
2. Place 4 tablespoons of taco filling on each tortilla.
3. Serve with your favorite salsa.
Knob onions: Charred on the stovetop or grill, served whole. Chayote: Sauté it with crema, cojita cheese, and garlic for a warm side dish, or slice and use raw in a salad. Calabacita (Mexican zucchini): Lighter in color than the zucchini found in American grocery stores, and delicious when cooked in a sofrito (olive oil, garlic, onions, and tomato).
Pick up flan or tres leches cake from one of the many authentic Mexican bakeries in town:
Mamá Inés Mexican Bakery
3822 Georgetown Rd., 317-488-1243
Panaderia y Pastelería La Piedad
2344 E. Stop 11 Rd., 317-889-7064
5348 W. 38th St., 317-299-8801