Sunday, July 7, 2013
Zucchini and Corn Veggie Tacos: Open-faced independence
I ate tacos on the 4th of July this year.
I realize this is basically sacrilegious. Because the phrase is not "As American as tacos," even though one could make a case that they are representative of the grand ole melting pot (which, in my opinion, is obviously filled with cheese).
Cheese is very American.
But tacos, at (open-)face value, are not. Particularly on a holiday dedicated to the fruits of the grill - sticky ribs laced with honey-sweetened barbecue sauce, burgers topped with square hats of American cheese, hot dogs smothered in relish and squiggles of ketchup and mustard. And pie. Lots of pie. All of which I had none of - not even a sliver, not even a forkful apprehended from the tin whilst the rest of the party was watching the fireworks.
Because I spent the 4th of July alone this year.
It's weird to come right out and say that. Not because I'm embarrassed or ashamed, but because I can guess the reaction. The in-unison, "Awws," the post-mortem invitations declaring, "You could have spent the 4th with us!", and the raised eye brows wondering if I'm a novel away from becoming J.D. Salinger.
The truth is far less interesting, of course. My parents had vacated their house in Newport Beach for a week with friends, and I, blessed with a four day weekend, was in desperate need of a retreat away from LA and the demands of a workload and schedule that has become increasingly robust as of late.
After the past few weeks of long hours, post-work events, wine-fueled dinners, and 6 a.m. workouts jammed in before starting it all over again, I was craving the stillness and quiet of a few days of solitude in the place, and home, where I grew up. I didn't want to drink myself silly with friends at a BBQ, I didn't want to run around the yard waving a sparkler, and I didn't even want to eat pie a la mode. I wanted to lay out on my parents' ancient patio furniture in front of their nonexistent pool, I wanted to watch Ross and Rachel fight in the "Friends" reruns playing on "Nick at Nite", and I wanted to eat tacos.
In short, I wanted to celebrate my independence to do absolutely nothing of significance for the 4th of July.
Driving back up to LA yesterday afternoon, feeling more relaxed than I have in months, it struck me just how necessary that nothingness was, particularly in that setting. Home. Where I was and who I was before all the restaurants, before the tasting menus, before the obligations, before the life and career I've created for myself in LA. The girl who wore Guess overalls and braided her hair for cross-country meets and had separate color-coded notebooks for every class. Because she was going to be the only reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle to ever make the cover of Time Magazine.
Or maybe move a few miles beyond the Orange Curtain and make a career out of writing and talking about food. Until one day realizing that it takes just as much independent thought to come back, to remember, to recalibrate, than it does to leave.
Even on a holiday that is meant to to be spent eating burgers and pie with friends, family and the neighbors with the unobstructed view of the fireworks.
Zucchini and Corn Veggie Tacos with Avocado Yogurt Dressing
Makes 6-8 small tacos
Notes: Full disclosure - these tacos were not the tacos I ate on the 4th of July, but rather a version I cobbled together the day after the 4th with the leftover produce lingering in the fridge. They aren't very traditional, but something about the combination of flavors and textures sang to me. The sweetness of the corn, the kick from the salsa and chili powder, the coolness of the avocado-yogurt dressing, and crunch from the pepitas - it's the kind of taco that screams summer and demands to be eaten outside on your parents' ancient patio furniture in front of a nonexistent pool. You could very rightly pair these with a Corona with lime, or completely throw caution to the wind and sip a French Rosé. Because it's America, and it's all a big melting pot anyway.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-lb zucchini, cut into 1/3 inch cubes
1 ear of corn, husks removed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Juice of half a lime
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
6-8 small flour or corn tortillas
2 tablespoons pepitas, toasted
Salsa Verde (I'm a fan of Trader Joe's for $1.99!)
Avocado Yogurt Dressing
For Avocado Yogurt Dressing
1 ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/4 cup water
Prepare the avocado dressing by blending the avocado, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, yogurt, water, and salt in a blender (or us a hand blender). Set aside.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the corn, cover, and boil for 3 minutes. Drain immediately and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Using a chef's knife, carefully shuck the kernels from the cob. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onion, reduce heat to medium, and cook for a couple minutes before adding the chickpeas. Continue to sauté over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the zucchini, garlic and sauté another two minutes before adding the corn to heat through. Lower the heat, add the cumin, chili powder, coriander, a good shake of salt and pepper, and cook for 30 seconds to lightly toast the spices. Turn off the heat and stir in the lime juice, cilantro and pepitas.
Meanwhile, warm the tortillas, one at a time, in a large, non-stick pan over medium heat until soft. Wrap in a clean dish cloth or towel to keep warm.
Top each tortilla with spoonful of the veggie filling, topped with salsa verde and avocado yogurt dressing to taste.