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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, July 25

Gapers Block

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Even though I can't get frostbite in the time it takes me to walk to the train anymore, it's still damned cold out. It's been longjohn weather for more than 60 days in a row, the sun rarely shines through the clouds, the once-pretty snow is now yellow and black and studded with poopsicles and for the next month I'm pretty convinced I'm going to spend a lot of time dreaming about vacation. This is the time of year when Chicago's weather really starts to get me down. I've had enough of winter and am ready to be embraced by high humidity and heat and even the smell of Wrigleyville the morning after a night game. But I've got a long way to go.

To combat this winter funk, I've decided to focus on my diet. Eating things that are high in protein, low in fat, and avoiding tons of simple carbohydrates and processed sugar is one way that I'm hoping to keep my body from slowing down and bulking up. I'm not going to suggest any diets, fad or otherwise, because I'm a big fan of food and think everything in moderation is what is best. But I'm hoping that the consumption of light fare will help keep the blah away.

Seasonal fresh produce that is locally grown is pretty hard to find right now, if not downright impossible. But, if I want produce that is fresh and maybe even in season, I just have to look farther south for that. South, like Mexico, or at least Baja Califonia.

I'll give you a couple of recipes that can be made quickly at home and are light and tasty, won't break the bank and may inspire you to turn up all your lights and wear your sunglasses while you eat. I'm talking about mango and avocado salad with a lemon vinaigrette served with skillet-cooked fish tacos and a creamy sauce. All the fish tacos I've had have been deep-fried, but I decided to come up with a version that is cooked in a little bit of oil, but doesn't have nearly the artery-clogging, butt-enhacing capabilities. So, crank up the syncopated music and get out your cutting board.

Mango and Avocado Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
1 ripe mango
2 ripe Avocados (see note at end about ripeness)
1 ripe lemon
2 handfuls of arugula or mixed greens
2 scallions (or small handful of fresh chives)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Peel the skin off the mango with a sharp knife and cut all the flesh away from the almond-shaped pit. (Many people are allergic to the skin of mangos. If you aren't sure, you can wear rubber gloves or at least wash your hands immediately after cutting away the skin.) There are pretty ways to chop a mango, but I haven't perfected it. Since it is going to be bite sized chunks anyway, it doesn't have to be pretty. Place the chunks into a bowl and sprinkle with a small squeeze of the lemon juice. Quickly toss the mango in the juice. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and around the pit. Twist the two halves against each other to separate. Holding the half with the round pit in your hand, firmly strike the pit with the blade of a heavy knife. Twist and the pit should come out easily. To get the pit off the knife, place your hand around the back of the blade and pinch the pit with your thumb and index finger and the pit should just pop right off. Pick up one half of the avocado and, being careful not to slice through the skin, slice the flesh vertically and horizontally with the knife to create bite-sized chunks. You can then use either a large spoon to scoop out the bits or carefully cut the meat away from the skin. Put this into the bowl and squeeze lemon juice onto the avocado, tossing lightly. The lemon juice will keep everything from browning. In a separate bowl, combine the scallions and the lettuce. Squeeze out most of the juice from half of the lemon onto the bowl, drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top, toss lightly with your hands. Take a handful of the lettuce mixture, place it on a plate and place a generous amount of the avocado and mango mixture on top. The mango and avocado should be the bulk of the salad.

Fish Tacos with White Sauce

White Sauce:
1 green serrano pepper
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon garlic salt
juice from 1 lime

To give this fairly simple sauce a bit of flavor and bite, we're going to smoke the pepper. Serrano peppers are spicy but flavorful, especially when smoked. Cut the stem off the pepper and stick a fork into the top. If you have a gas stove, turn your burner on high and hold the pepper in the flame being careful not to heat up the fork. If you've got an electric stove, turn the heating element to high and place the pepper on it, turning it with tongs to make sure it doesn't burn. You should hear it crack and pop and see the skin turn black and maybe bubbly. Once the entire skin is black, take it off the fork. Get a small piece of plastic wrap and wrap the pepper up loosely. Let it cool for about two minutes. You should now be able to remove the skin from the pepper pretty easily. Rinse it off if necessary. If you aren't a huge fan of spicy food, cut the pepper open lengthwise and use the tip of a teaspoon or a small paring knife to scrape out the seeds and the vein. If you like spicy food, leave this in. Mince and put it into a medium-sized bowl. Pour in all the other ingredients, stir and refrigerate for up to three days. The longer it sits, the more the flavors marry, and if you leave in the seeds, the spicier it gets.

1/2 pound firm white fish fillets (perch, grouper, catfish, etc., its okay if the skin is on the fillet)
2 tablespoons peanut or corn oil
1 lime**

You'll also need:
1 pack of corn tortillas
1/4 head of cabbage, shredded or cut thinly against the grain
1 small tomato, diced

Rinse off the fish and pat it dry with paper towels. Rinsing it will remove any loose scales, patting it dry will keep the oil from popping. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, then pour the oil into the pan and swirl it around to coat the bottom. Place the fish fillets in with the skin side up. (If you do it the other way the skin will shrink and cause the fish to curl, making it harder to cook evenly.) Let the fish cook this way for about 3 minutes. You can gently prod at the fish with a spatula to keep it from sticking but don't force it or it will break apart. After three minutes, flip the fish to the other side and cook for another three minutes. You should be able to see the fish go from translucent to opaque. Once the fish is opaque all the way through remove it from the pan. The skin should just peel off thanks to the thin layer of fat between the skin and the meat, but be careful not to burn yourself. Chop the fish into slightly-bigger-than-bite-sized pieces and place it in a bowl. Squeeze one lime over the top of the fish. Toss in the juice and serve.

Place a few pieces of fish on a warm corn tortilla, sprinkle on a handful of cabbage, drop in a few tomato chunks and a spoon or two of the white sauce. Enjoy with a frosty cerveza, anything with tequila, or a glass of sweetened ice tea.

* To determine if your avocado is ripe, place the avocado firmly in the palm of your hand and squeeze gently. It should have about as much give as a baseball. You want it to be firm, but with just a little give. Once it starts to get soft, it's best left to the guacamole. If you don't know what a baseball feels like, try this: Make a fist with your thumb crossing your fingers and tense your hand. Feel the flesh at the of your thumb web. Avocados with this density are just a little too ripe.

** Since it isn't lime season, you may have a hard time finding juicy limes. To make any citrus fruit easier to juice, cut it in half and place it in a bowl in the microwave for about 10-20 seconds. This should provide just enough steam to make it juice easier to squeeze without being so hot that you can't hold it.

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miss ellen / February 17, 2004 11:48 AM

This sounds lovely, Cinnamon! I've had a taste for fish tacos for awhile now & I couldn't find anyone to join me @ Wahoo's when I was just out in California :(

But, just yesterday, I picked up the latest copy of UR and found out that Texas Star Fajita Bar, just down on Armitage, near Map Room, is having an "all-you-can-eat Fish Taco Friday" (i know, sounds scary) now through the end of March....

I'm definitely going to hit this up & check it out. They serve an alaskan white fish, lightly breaded, with slaw dressing on the side.

Cinnamon / February 17, 2004 12:08 PM

Thanks, Ellen.

I forgot to mention that you can turn your leftover shredded cabbage and creamy sauce into coleslaw. Shred two carrots and add to those ingredients. Stir a tablespoon of dijon mustard into the 1/4 cup or so of yogurt that you should have leftover from buying a small cup and pour this over the veggies. Stir and refrigerate. It should last several days in the fridge. Ours didn't last long enough to see how long it would last.

miss ellen / February 17, 2004 12:59 PM

ok, now i'm seriously hungry! lunchtime calling.

ken / February 17, 2004 1:33 PM

I found this site when I bought a box of mangos and trying to figure out what to do with them. There are directions with illustrations on cutting them

emily / February 17, 2004 4:40 PM

I'm going to stop by the Rogers Park Fruit Market after work for some mango and avocado and make these tonight. I have a ton of frozen whitefish in the freezer, and have been looking for an exciting way to cook it. I'm going to change it a bit and add some cilantro to the white sauce for some extra flavor and color.

Anne / February 23, 2004 9:21 AM

Thanks Cinnamon! I've been looking for the recipe to the secret and oh-so-tasty white sauce for ages! I miss good fish tacos from Montana (along with Fat Tire beer) almost every day! I can't wait to try this on my own. I'm usually such a wimp about cooking fish! Thanks!

Cinnamon / February 23, 2004 5:01 PM

Have fun with it, Anne. It's quite easy and quite delicious.


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