Building Intensity through Flavor and Substance

I love tacos – they are quick, easy and perfect for those last-minute get-togethers! Yet keeping a ravenous group at bay in order to snap a few photos is a nearly impossible task. I have already had several parties where tacos were the main event…which you can tell never made it to this blog. Yet my most recent endeavor was saved by an age-old trick: the marinade. This made preparation the day of a breeze, giving ample time to snap some awesome photos! No taco party is complete without salsa and guacamole (my recipe HERE), both of which we had plenty! The fillers were two recipes that gave this taco bar a unique twist: Grilled Tamarind Chicken and Tequila-Lime Shrimp Skewers.
Tamarind soda…having never even used Tamaring before, this ingredient seemed a little far-fetched. I received my FineCooking issue this month, and was dying to give this recipe a try. About Tamarind: primarily indigenous to tropical Africa, the Tamarind tree can be found in areas throughout Arabia, South Asia and Mexico. The fruit resembles a pea pod, and is often brown or reddish-brown in color. It imparts a sweet and sour taste, resulting in its popular use for a number of dishes ranging from sorbets and sweetened drinks to soups and salads.*
The beauty of this marinade is two-fold: one is the tangy flavor imparted by the tamarind, and the other is the tenderizing effect from the soda itself (you can find it in the Asian or Latin aisles at your supermarket). The recipe is SO simple, and yet this was some of the tenderest chicken I’ve ever made for tacos! The flavor was subtle, yet a delicious tangent from conventional Tex-Mex marinades. Click HERE to learn more about this unique recipe!
Normally these two ingredients imply a very different kind of evening…yet for culinary purposes, they can be a powerful pair. Tequila has (understandably) received a horrible reputation, yet it is this very repute that has made it a premium liquor in both production and standards. The blue agave plant is the base for tequila, and is to this day still harvested manually by “jimadores,” who know and understand the plant like the backs of their hands. The distillation process is equally venerable.**
I’ve made this marinade before, and it works like a charm! No worries if you’re not a tequila fan: the alcohol cooks off, leaving a unique flavor that won’t (at least shouldn’t) stir up any bad memories. The shrimp only need to cook briefly, making for a quick and easy meal. Feel free to eat these with tacos, or straight off the skewer (which you may be tempted to do): click HERE to check out this awesome recipe.
Considering this meal was a taco bar, these dishes each started out with a single idea, then were built upon with other ingredients – salsa, guacamole, bean salad, cheese, sour cream, etc. The idea of building multiple items upon a theme led  to my musical inspiration: Maurice Ravel’s Boléro (thanks to my awesome subletter Erin Bollacker!) This piece is built upon an ostinato, or a musical phrase/rhythm that is repeated over and over again. Gradually, more instruments are added to the theme, growing in volume and size. The climax is a massive finale with the entire orchestra playing in tandem – not unlike a finished taco brimming with fillings and sauce! The ostinato context, on the other hand, reflects the simplicity of making these delicious tacos. The video link I’ve included is of the Vienna Philharmonic with (my favorite!) Gustavo Dudamel conducting – the opening solos are absolutely breathtaking! Mind you, this is a 20 minute recording, which should be ample time to assemble at LEAST 2 of these awesome tacos (perhaps 3) – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamarind
**http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tequila

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