Taco Night on the Grill

 

I can’t get enough of taco night. Neither can my wife Amy or my daughters. We love it, and especially me, because I can do everything — with the exception of chopping with a knife or the food processor — on the grill. It makes for easy clean-up, and who isn’t for easy clean-up?

I cut my teeth on Tex-Mex in Austin, Texas circa 1984 (does Instagram have a filter for that?). At this point in my life I hadn’t eaten that much Mexican food. For the most part it didn’t exist in Indiana outside of Chi Chi’s and my inner punk rocker wouldn’t allow me to set foot inside any place that colorful or where the waitstaff could happily sing Happy Birthday table side.

Nevertheless, when I would slide into a booth at one of the many hole-in-the-wall eateries (many of them were Spanish-speaking only), I would order as many kinds of salsa as I could point to on the menu. I didn’t know this many kinds of salsa existed, or for that matter soft shell tacos, or the food love of my life, tamales.

As I ate my way around both sides of Highway 35, little did I realize I was becoming an addict, to Texas country music, chili, and to Austin itself. It was hard to come home, and once I was back in Indiana it didn’t take long before I began jonesing for Texas Hill Country, salsa included.

All About Grilled Salsa

The grill is a great way to make an old salsa recipe feel new.
I couldn’t even guess how many varieties of salsa there are in the world, but I do know I haven’t found one yet that can’t be made on the grill. I like a fresh raw salsa as much as the next person, but sometimes I like to shift the flavor and it is an easy thing to do on the grill.

Chile oils on your hands are not your friend.
Be careful with hot chile peppers. I used to go at them in the manly man way and just tough it out, but the night I rubbed my eyes after working with Thai birds I thought a different approach might be appropriate. If you choose to go with bare naked hands in handling them, just realize you will quickly find out just how many places on your body you actually touch and how many places are very sensitive to capsaicin oils.

Get in touch with your inner caveman or woman.
I used to put my peppers and tomatoes on the grill grate and then one day I just decided to plop them right on the coals. It sears them very quickly while leaving the interior raw — the best of both worlds. You can roast whole heads of garlic too, but they need to be left to the side of the coals so they cook and soften slowly or you will burn the cloves which makes them bitter.

Liquidy or dry, it all depends on your tomato variety.
A lot of fresh tomatoes have a high liquid content. If you use too many tomatoes, your salsa will be watery, which isn’t always a bad thing. If you want a thicker salsa, it is a good idea to use plum or San Marzano tomatoes.

The finishing touches matter.
To the finished salsa I always like to add a drizzle of olive oil for mouthfeel and a splash of acid, be it lime, red wine vinegar, or whatever. Make sure you season your salsa with salt and black pepper.

Corn tortillas or flour both can be warmed on the grill, and should be.
I prefer corn tortillas over flour and my preference for cooking corn tortillas is right on the grill. They puff up and blacken in spots and become yummo-licous. Just make sure after searing them to wrap them in foil so they stay soft and don’t dry out.

Choose your toppings accordingly.
Almost every person I have ever met who hails from Central America prefers green cabbage, sliced razor thin, to lettuce for their tacos. It gets even better when you dress the cabbage with a touch of red wine vinegar and olive oil. You probably won’t find a lot of sour cream or cheese on the table either. I tend to go for authentic Mexican but I like Tex-Mex too. If you want to go for healthy, grill up a bunch of vegetables to use for toppings and forgo the dairy altogether.

Grilled Salsa

Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups

Depending on the kind and size of tomatoes you use, this salsa can be liquidy or firm. You will have to judge. Roma tomatoes have little liquid and work well for a chunkier salsa.

  • 1small head of garlic
  • 3 or 4roma tomatoes
  • 1 or 2heirloom variety tomatoes (Box Car Willies or Wisconsin 55 are good)
  • 1poblano pepper or 3 jalapeños or your choice
  • 3 to 4half-inch-thick slices of red onion, left intact
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Handful of cilantro
  • Splash of red wine vinegar
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  1. Fire up your charcoal grill. Let the coals get blazing hot.
  2. Wash the vegetables.
  3. Place the garlic off to the side of the coals where it will brown the paper skins but not burn the cloves. The garlic will take the longest to cook of everything. Let it get good and brown on all sides.
  4. Now place the tomatoes and peppers right on the coals. Let them blister and blacken. Remove them to a tray. Let the juices collect in the tray.
  5. Place the grill grate on the grill and grill the onions until they are caramelized and soft.
  6. If you plan to grill more stuff, like a nice skirt steak, you will probably need to add a few more coals to the fire. You be the judge.
  7. Peel the pepper, being carful not to spill or lose any pepper juices. I remove the seeds and, obviously, the stems. Put peeled peppers, tomatoes, onion, and peeled roasted garlic cloves into the bowl of a food processor. Add the tomato and pepper juices that collected in the bottom of the tray.
  8. Add a two-finger pinch of salt, some pepper, half the cilantro, the red wine vinegar, and olive oil. Pulse the processor until the salsa reaches your desired consistency. I like this particular salsa smoother than most but still chunky. Taste the salsa and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
  9. Pour into a serving bowl, garnish with cilantro, and serve

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47 thoughts on “Taco Night on the Grill

  1. Great tips! I’m fairly lazy so we make burritos more often than tacos but the beauty of tacos is variety. If you want to eat 4 tacos, you can have 4 different ones….and variety is the spice of life. Mexican food or Tex-Mex was virtually unheard of 10 years ago here in New Zealand but now we have heaps of good restaurants. How authentic they are I don’t know but they taste good so that’s a plus. I do love how easy it is to make at home though. I haven’t used corn tortillas at home but always order them when I’m out.

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  2. Do you have a particular wine you like with this recipe?? We love tacos here and LOVE salsa. But I can’t think of a wine off the top of my head to recommend to my readers to go with this! Suggestions?

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  3. Awesome recipe! I’m glad to see that you’re roasting the peppers. That’s something that I see many people forget. All food has a more complex flavor when it’s cooked but especially chilies. I look forward to trying this recipe!

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  4. I am the salsa KING. Tell me how you want your salsa and I’ll make it better than that. It is fairly rare one comes across another salsa aficionado such as ourselves. It all started in my first attempt to make chip salsa, as I was extremely poor and that shit’s expensive, and you’re stuck with it whether you like it or not. So I entered into my life long affair with all things salsa. The one thing that I recommend (time allowing) for chip salsa that is, is to soak your main ingredients in plain white vinegar over night, then strain off and save most of not all remaining juices. Save that, it can be used again and again. Then mix in everything and anything else you like. I’m so glad to come across this post, I am excited to try your methods and enjoy them, they sound delectable. Salsa for life my fellow Salsa King and salsa on for salsa-ever, may the salsa be with you………………………….salsa for now……..

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  5. If you ever visit Yucatán in México (or a place which serves ‘comida yucateca’) make sure you try the traditional ‘chiltomate’. It is a salsa made from grilled mashed tomatoes (or slightly blended), with chopped onions, cilantro and chile habanero. It is definitely my favorite!

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  6. Looks delicious! I bet I could replace the red wine vinegar to lemon? I have always put sugar to my salsa, but I guess the grilled ones are sweet enough. 🙂 Must try it one day! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Spicytones.com
    Eva

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  7. Mexican cuisine,…. Never tried in my life but I would sure now after reading this ! Pictures will make every individual’s mouth water, I bet !
    Love the salsa recipe….My mom use to make a similar thing but she don’t call it salsa….

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