I've been traveling a bunch for work, which has left our fridge less packed than usual. It's a bummer to open the fridge and so few bags of produce, but D gets positively gleeful about all the open space. O.C.D Organized people just love empty fridges, am I right?
With less time at home, I'm on the lookout for quick weeknight dinners that make use of whatever precious little food I've got in the fridge. Bonus points for dishes that aren't pasta, which is a fallback too often.
This week, I barely cooked at all. I only had one night in town when I wasn't working late, and our friend Abby was visiting from NY, so we met her at El Chucho, the new Mexican restaurant in Columbia Heights. It's got a dimly lit interior, tall tables and bar stools, and lots of bearded dudes in plaid shirts walking languidly around with plastic baskets in hand. Walk in, and you feel like you've walked into Brooklyn; Abby felt right at home. The food wasn't bad, the ambiance was fun, and margaritas were on tap. Of course. I bet we'll be back soon. Meanwhile, we're copying their dishes at home.
El Chucho had tacos de calabacitas on order, made with breaded fried squash. They were so addictive, we didn't miss the meat. When the weekend rolled around, I was hungry for more Mexican food but didn't have any squash on hand (it tends to be limp and sad in wintertime). I did have a bag of mushrooms that needed using, and a handful of tomatillos left over from the previous week's dinner party. I braced myself for a bit of fussing, figuring it was worth it - a craving is a craving, yes? But much to my surprise, dinner came together quite quickly. Corn tacos were heated. The mushrooms were tossed with a quick sauce of tomatillos and canned chipotles. Everything cooked through while I mashed up an avocado's worth of guacamole and opened a jar of the salsa I made this summer. We didn't have any queso at home, so I topped the tacos with a pinch of feta cheese, which in retrospect wasn't at all necessary. Done and done: dinner on the table in 20 minutes.
What I like most about these mushrooms is their versatility. I can see stuffing them into burritos or enchiladas, folding them into short vermicelli for a Mexican riff on fideos, or even adding some to a handful of melty cheese, piling the mixture into a flour tortilla, and making a mean quesadilla. They can go on pretty much anything. Come to think of it, they're the sort of thing I'd make a big bowl of, then tuck in the fridge for a busy day's dinner. Cooked mushrooms are smaller than raw ones; everyone's happy.
Mushroom Tacos with Chipotle Serves 4
For the mushrooms: 2 tablespoon olive oil, divided 2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped 1/2 lb. tomatillos, husked, rinsed, dried, and roughly chopped 1 canned chipotle, chopped, plus 1 tablespoon of the canning sauce (start with half a chipotle if you're sensitive to heat) juice of half a lime 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced salt
For serving: a big pile of small corn tacos guacamole and salsa (purchased is fine) queso fresco or feta cheese, optional
Put a large frying pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When oil shimmers, add garlic. Stir around to distribute, and cook for 1 minute. Then add tomatillos, stir into the garlic, and cook until they break down slightly, 2 minutes. Add chopped chipotle, stir through to incorporate, and cook until the mixture softens and becomes mostly smooth, about 2-4 more minutes. Spoon the sauce into a bowl, taste, and add salt or pepper as needed.
Give the pan a rinse and wipe it dry, then return it to medium-high heat and add the other tablespoon of olive oil. When oil shimmers, add mushrooms. Toss to distribute evenly, and then let them sit there for a few minutes, until the mushrooms on the bottom of the pan develop some color. Every couple of minutes, give the pan a shake to move mushrooms from top to bottom and vice versa. After 5 minutes or so, the mushrooms will have emitted enough water to shrink slightly, and the pan will be less crowded. When this happens, spoon in the tomatillo-chipotle sauce, stir it around to coat the mushrooms, and cook 1 or 2 more minutes, until mushrooms are coated and browned. Squeeze the half a lime into the pan, stir to incorporate, and turn off the heat. Scrape the mushrooms into the bowl that held the tomatillo-chipotle sauce. Wipe the pan out a bit, and return it to the heat.
Heat corn tortillas one at a time by leaving them in the hot pan just until warmed through (or, if you're crazy as I am, until the bottom of the tortilla is a bit brown and crispy), then stack them on a plate as they finish warming. When you've warmed enough tortillas for either one or two per person (depending on preference: I like two per taco, D prefers one), put the tortillas on plates, spoon some of the mushroom mixture onto the tortillas, and top with guacamole, salsa, and/or cheese. Serve immediately.