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Toppings put finishing touch on taco meal

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Grilled steak tacos with cherry tomato-avocado salsa, garnished with crisp radish slices. Your best move for tacos at home is to make a well-considered salsa that works with the protein at hand, and to put out a crisp vegetable or two as a counterpart to the soft filling in the warm tortillas.

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    The grilled steak taco filling can be served as a meal on its own.

It’s not the warm tortilla or the tender filling that makes a taco for me — it’s the condiments. The main protein almost doesn’t matter, be it fish, beef tongue or crisp pork carnitas. As long as there are several kinds of salsas and hot sauces, alongside the lime wedges, sliced radishes and chopped onions available at the taco joint, you’ll find me happily dabbing, squeezing and layering before taking a bite.

At home, though, your choice of taco condiments is usually more limited. How many salsas are you willing to make?

Your best move, then, is to make a well-considered salsa that works with the protein at hand, and to put out a crisp vegetable or two as a counterpart to the soft filling in the warm tortillas.

In this summery recipe, grilled skirt steaks, marinated with garlic, coriander, cumin, chili powder and lime zest, serve as the protein. The longer you let the meat sit in the seasonings, the more intense the flavors will become. Marinating overnight is best, if you can plan ahead, but just an hour or so makes a difference.

Even if you don’t get around to putting it into tacos, the steak itself is flavorful enough to stand alone. Serve it with a salad, and enjoy its beefy simplicity.

That said, the salsa is worth the effort, and you can make it as the meat marinates.

To make it, onion, garlic and a jalapeno are grilled together, caramelizing their flesh, making them tender and sweet. Another jalapeno is added raw with a squirt of lime juice for bracing, fiery notes that you can adjust to taste.

For a bit of richness I add avocado cubes. It’s not a common move; usually, if they are paired with tacos, avocados are mashed into guacamole or neatly sliced on the side. But their gentle flavor and buttery texture work well here.

Once you’ve got the meat, salsa and tortillas, you can garnish your tacos with any crisp vegetables on hand. I love radishes, but pickled carrot rounds, sliced onions or shredded cabbage are welcome. Then mix it all up, and garnish to your heart’s content.

GRILLED STEAK TACOS WITH CHERRY TOMATO-AVOCADO SALSA

  • 2-1/2 pounds skirt steak (usually 2 steaks)
  • Corn or flour tortillas, for serving
  • Sliced radishes, for serving
  • Mexican crema or sour cream, for serving (optional)
  • >> Marinade:
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons New Mexican or other mild chili powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely grated or minced
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lime (cut lime into wedges for serving)
  • >> Salsa:
  • 1 white onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch-thick slices
  • 2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 1 quart cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Rub all over steaks; cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or preferably overnight.

To prepare salsa: Light grill or heat to medium-high (or heat the broiler). Grill onion, garlic and 1 jalapeno until tender and charred on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes (or place on a broiler pan and broil). Remove from heat.

When cool enough to handle, roughly chop onions, peel garlic and remove seeds and stem from jalapeno. Transfer to a blender or small food processor.

Halve remaining jalapeno and seed it, if desired, then add it to the blender. Process to a chunky paste. Scrape into a serving bowl and toss with tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, lime juice and salt.

Add more charcoal to the grill, if needed, and grill steaks until done to taste, about 2 minutes per side for rare (or broil).

Let meat rest on a cutting board covered with foil at least 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, grill or broil the tortillas until warm.

To serve, slice meat across the grain, and serve with warm tortillas, radishes, lime wedges, salsa and crema. Serves 8.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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