We'll admit it, we're obsessed. Tacos are casual, portable and oh-so-customizable — our new favorite way to consume trendy ingredient combos that put ho-hum salsa and leftover chicken to shame. Spice up your weekday routine with inspiration from Eric Williams, chef and owner of Momocho in Ohio City. "[Tacos] are the Latin American version of the sandwich," says Williams. "But instead of mayo or ketchup, you have salsas, mojos and marinades." Momocho and its more recent sister spot, El Carnicero in Lakewood, offer creative takes on tradition. "We've all grown up with mom's ground-beef tacos, when fajita veggies like roasted peppers and onions were fancy," he says. Instead, he serves up Korean-style sirloin with kimchee, or avocado leaf-crusted tuna with blood oranges and candied jalapenos. To get outside your hard shell, start with authentic corn tortillas, pick a protein and build new or interesting flavors around it. "Instead of grilled chicken breast, get a whole bird, rub it with toasted spices and braise it," advises Williams. "Push the limits and try something different."
Momocho's Eric Williams shares his recipe for braised beef brisket — the coffee- and chile-tinged star of the restaurant's popular machaca taco.
5-6 lb. piece beef brisket (do not trim fat)
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup ground coffee, Guatemalan if possible
1/4 cup ancho chile powder
Combine ground coffee, ancho powder and salt and season brisket. Sear brisket in a pan over high heat, 4 to 5 minutes per side to caramelize. Cut brisket into four similar-sized pieces and place into a large braising pan or Crock-Pot.
16 ounces dry red wine or burgundy wine
12 ounces tomato juice
2 ounces lime juice
8 ounces red wine vinegar
½ cup kosher salt and 1/4 cup kosher salt, divided
¼ cup ground coffee
¼ cup ancho chile powder
½ cup chopped garlic
½ tablespoon black pepper
½ tablespoon cinnamon
2 bay leaves
1 large Spanish onion, quartered
Add ingredients to braising pan and add enough water to cover brisket. Cover with foil and place in 300-degree oven for 3 to 4 hours (or simmer in Crock-pot). Remove from oven and discard whole onions and bay leaves; remove brisket from liquid (reserve liquid to serve or reheat). Pull or shred brisket by hand or with kitchen tongs. Serve with corn or flour tortillas, sauteed peppers and onions and sides of salsa verde and guacamole.
Press 'Em Fresh
Making homemade tortillas is easy. Here's how.
Using your hands or a spoon, mix masa harina (finely ground corn flour) with warm water according to package directions until soft. "If you add too much water, it's going to break very easily," says Leticia Ortiz, owner of Tortilleria La Bamba, which supplies shells to area restaurants.
"You've got to have a tortilla press," she says. "Most are for a 6-inch tortilla." Break off a ball of dough about the size of your palm and line the press with two pieces of plastic wrap. Press the ball flat, then peel off the plastic.
Start toasting the shells right away, because the corn flour will dry quickly. "[The skillet] has to be hot," says Ortiz. You don't need oil, and shells should look spotty and golden. "It's like pancakes — just flip it when it's ready."
No condiment builds flavors quite like hot sauce. We're partial to Pope's Kitchen Smoking River hot sauce ($4.99), a mild but bold green sauce made with hickory-smoked jalapenos, garlic and onion. "There's no extracts or liquid smoke," says owner Clark Pope. "I make each batch myself." popeskitchen.com
Break the Mold
If you like feta, try queso fresco, a mild, crumbly goat's milk cheese that goes well with spicy flavors such as chorizo. $6.50 for a 12-ounce package, The Cheese Shop in the West Side Market, 1979 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-771-6349, 201cheeses.com
Oaxaca (pronounced wah-HA-ka) is a stringy cow's milk cheese similar to mozzarella. Try it melted over shredded beef. $5.29 for an 8-ounce package, La Plaza Supermarket, 13609 Lakewood Heights Blvd., Lakewood, 216-476-8000
Used primarily as an accent topping due to its stronger flavor cotija is Mexico's version of Parmesan. Sprinkle over roasted corn and veggie tacos. $8.99 for a 7-ounce container, Heinen's, 900 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-302-3020, heinens.com