It might be a bit of an understatement to say I have a thing for spicy food. There are at least five kinds of hot sauce prepared for battle in my refrigerator right now and a large tub of whole dried chili peppers lying in wait inside my spice cabinet (for things like my grandfather’s crispy eggs). When I frequent my favorite noodle houses, I gravitate to the dishes flanked by those little red peppers and proceed to order them extra spicy. If they haven’t done the job, I pull out the big guns and request a bottle of Siracha and a side of chili oil and go to town.
I have a funny feeling that it was that hot pepper my grandfather fed me at two years old (you know, just to see what would happen) that spawned my love of all things spicy: wasabi, curries, hot peppers, salsas, you name it. That, and my dad’s iron stomach. Give him a spicy dish and watch a feverish flush creep up his neck beads of sweat form on his forehead and tears roll down his face and he will still be smiling. Heartburn? What heartburn?
I quite like that warm tingle myself, the buzzing feeling in your lips, not to mention the health benefit laundry list including weight loss, low cholesterol and stress relief from eating spicy food. I must have been a very intuitive child in addition to my awe-inspiring physical ability to scale high-back pianos in the blink of an eye.
All things considered, after I whipped up a batch of spicy fish tacos, something I crave often thanks to the little Philly restaurant Pico de Gallo, I decided the sizzle factor was pushing it for the average person. A faint buzzing in the lips is pleasant; a numb face a la the dentist chair is pushing it. The tweaked tacos are a symphony of textures–soft corn tortillas with crispy blistering pockets, the crunch of pepper cabbage slaw, soft flakes of white fish, and cool creamy chipotle sauce–and flavors–salty fish with just the right amount of smoked peppery heat and the tang from citrus and cilantro. A simple sweet corn salad rounds out the meal nicely and cools off your sizzling taste buds.
Spicy Fish Tacos with Firecracker Slaw and Fresh Corn Salad
For the firecracker slaw:
1/2 small head red cabbage, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
2 jalapeno chiles, chopped
8 oz sour cream (reduced fat works just fine)
1/2 7 oz. can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
In a blender or food processor, blend the sour cream and peppers in adobo sauce just until the peppers are pureed. Add sour cream to chopped vegetables and mix well.
For the tacos:
4 tilapia filets (or 1 filet per person/per 3 corn tortillas)
2 limes, 1 halved; 1 cut in wedges
12 small white corn tortillas
1/2 cup packed cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a griddle pan or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. In the meantime, sqeeze lime halves over the filets and coat generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and place in pan to sear on one side for about 2-3 minutes. Flip filets and allow to cook until fish flakes or about another 1-2 minutes.
While fish is cooking, drizzle tortillas with olive oil and place on the free side of the griddle pan or in another skillet and allow to cook in batches on both sides until just golden brown. The tortillas should remain pliable; do not let them dry out.
For the corn salad:
4 ears corn, shucked
1/4 cup packed cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
Using a small, sharp knife, cut the kernels from the cobs and set in a bowl. Add cilantro, onion and lime juice and stir to combine. You may add salt and pepper if you wish.
Assemble tacos by splitting each tilapia filet in three portions and place one piece in each tortilla. Add a few tablespoons of slaw to each taco. Serve with corn salad, lime wedges and chopped cilantro.