These carne asada tacos are marinated, grilled, sliced, and served in a soft, white corn tortilla with cojita cheese and charred onion relish.
You can take inspiration from anywhere. Even from a 5th grader’s Spanish homework. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage month, my son Jack had to write a short paper on a Hispanic food or object and make said food or object to present to the class. And of course the translation of “make” is, “your parent will make it, package it, and deliver it to school, piping hot, just in time for your 25 classmates to sample it” (and hopefully not spit it out).
So, guess what we’re having for dinner tonight? Yep, said food.
So Jack chose the taco as his muse and well, mom ran with it. While I love a Tex-Mex, crunchy-shelled, ground beef taco smothered with cheese and hot sauce as much as the next guy, I thought why not go all out for the little bugger. Make the real deal…carne asada tacos with charred onion relish. Let’s just hope those 5th graders have sophisticated palates.
When I lived in California many moons ago, my office was across from a very popular car wash. And everyday, a taco truck would pull up behind the car wash and the most fantastic smells would begin to waft toward my office just before noon. This was long before the days of the hipster, fusion-everything food truck. This truck was as bare bones and utilitarian as they come. Two kinds of tacos and when it was gone, it was gone. And it went quick.
Moving to northern California completely opened my eyes to authentic Mexican food. To put it in perspective, when I grew up, I thought Taco Bell was the gold standard of Mexican cuisine, as it was only one of two Mexican restaurants available locally. And now, I’m not going to lie and tell you that I would turn away a Beef Meximelt after a long night out, I have come to appreciate the simpler, brighter flavors of real Mexican food.
My food truck favorite was the carne asada taco, which translates literally to “grilled meat”. The meat (most often flank or skirt steak) was marinated, grilled, sliced, and served in a soft, white corn tortilla with a sprinkling of white onions, cilantro and a squirt of fresh lime juice. Simple, but bold.
So today’s inspiration comes from those delicious tacos from years gone by and my son’s homework. After many incarnations of the marinade, I have settled quite happily for the one I’ll include today. And, not being a fan of biting into raw onions, I’ve created a charred onion relish that captures the flavors of those simple toppings, but with less bite. I can’t promise you that his 5th grade class will be sold, but I hope you will be.
- 2 pounds flank steak
- 12 soft corn tortillas (7 inch)
- 1 1/2 cups Cojita cheese, crumbled (crumbled feta or ricotta salata could be substituted)
- Lime wedges and chopped cilantro for serving
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup cilantro, stems and leaves, chopped
- 1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, chopped
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 2 tsps. sugar
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup Mexican beer
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tsps. Kosher salt
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- Additional salt and pepper for seasoning steak before grilling
- 2 large onions (I like Spanish onions), peeled and sliced into thick rounds
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 cup cilantro, stems and leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- Zest of one lime
- Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients for marinade in a bowl and whisk well to combine.
Place flank steak in a large ziploc bag and pour marinade over steak.
Seal bag and turn several times until steak is well coated.
Refrigerate steak a minimum of three hours or overnight.
Remove steak from marinade and season liberally on both sides with salt and pepper.
Grill over medium-high heat for about 6-7 minutes per side.
Rest the steak, covered with foil, for at least five minutes to allow the juices to redistribute before slicing.
Slice the steak thinly, against the grain, to serve.
While you're grilling the steak, brush the onion slices with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Grill about 5 minutes per side or until slightly charred, being careful as you flip them.
Combine charred onions, remaining olive oil, and the rest of the relish ingredients in a food processor and pulse until all ingredients are blended. I like mine with a good bit of texture like pickle relish, not very saucy or smooth.
Reduce the heat on the grill to medium and grill the tortillas until warmed through.
To serve, top each tortilla with steak slices, a sprinkling of cheese and chopped cilantro, onion relish to taste, and a squirt of lime juice.
Serve with lime wedges.