A Meal Fit For A Candidate: Barack Obama

Chef Rick Bayless. i i

Chef Rick Bayless founded the Mexican restaurant Topolobampo in Chicago. Jerome De Perlinghi for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jerome De Perlinghi for NPR
Chef Rick Bayless.

Chef Rick Bayless founded the Mexican restaurant Topolobampo in Chicago.

Jerome De Perlinghi for NPR

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Can we learn anything about the presidential candidates from what they like to eat? As a public service, NPR asked some of their favorite chefs to teach you how to cook the kind of food that graces the candidates' plates when they eat out.

When Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, want a special night out in Chicago, they often head for the award-winning Mexican restaurant Topolobampo. But don't equate the word "Mexican" with burritos and refried beans.

Chef Rick Bayless founded "Topolo," as locals call it, almost 20 years ago to prove to Americans that genuine Mexican cooking can be as sophisticated as French and Italian.

In fact, the dishes you might find on the menu on a typical night — perhaps lobster napped with a sauce of arbol and chipotle chilies, or seared, line-caught marlin in a toasted ancho chili crust — might be too elaborate to make easily at home. Instead, Bayless urges you to try his simple recipe for an authentic Mexican street food: skirt steak tacos with smoky guacamole.

Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos With Caramelized Onions

Chef Rick Bayless assembles grilled skirt steak tacos with caramelized onions. i i

Bayless assembles grilled skirt steak tacos with caramelized onions. Jerome De Perlinghi hide caption

itoggle caption Jerome De Perlinghi
Chef Rick Bayless assembles grilled skirt steak tacos with caramelized onions.

Bayless assembles grilled skirt steak tacos with caramelized onions.

Jerome De Perlinghi

Ingredients

  • 1 large white onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (keep the rounds intact for easy grilling)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
  • Salt
  • 1 pound skirt steak, trimmed of surface fat as well as the thin white membrane called "silver skin"
  • Vegetable or olive oil for brushing or spritzing the onions and meat
  • A small bowlful of lime wedges for serving
  • 12 warm corn tortillas

Makes 12 tacos, serving 4 as a light meal

1. Marinate the meat. In a food processor or blender, combine 1/4 of the onion, the garlic, lime juice, cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process to a smooth puree. Place the skirt steak in a non-aluminum baking dish. Using a spoon, smear the marinade over both sides of the skirt steak. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

2. Caramelize the onions. Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn just until the coals are covered with gray ash. Either turn the burner(s) in the center of the grill to medium-low or bank the coals to one side of the grill for indirect cooking.

Brush or spray the remaining onion slices with oil and sprinkle with salt. Lay the whole rounds of onions on the grill, not over direct heat. When they start to soften and brown, about 10 minutes, use a spatula to flip them and brown the other side. Remove from the grill and break onions into rings.

3. Grill the meat. While the onions are browning, remove the steak from the marinade and gently shake off the excess. Oil the steak well on both sides, and lay it over the hottest part of the grill or directly over the coals. Grill, turning once, until richly browned and done to your liking, about 2-3 minutes per side for medium. Remove to a cooling rack set over a large plate — this keeps the juices in the meat rather than running out. Let the steaks rest until the onions have finished grilling.

4. Serve the tacos. Cut the long piece of skirt steak into 3- to 4-inch sections, then cut each section into thin strips across the grain (that is, in line with the full length of the skirt steak). Mix with the onions, season with a little salt and set on the table, along with the lime wedges, roasted tomatillo guacamole (see recipe below) and hot tortillas, for your guests to make into soft tacos.

Roasted Tomatillo Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 3 large ripe avocados, preferably the pebbly-skin Hass variety
  • 1 cup roasted tomatillo salsa (see recipe below)
  • Salt
  • Cilantro sprigs for garnish

Makes 3 generous cups

Remove the little nub of stem that is sometimes lodged at the top of each avocado. Cut each avocado in half by slicing straight down through the spot where the stem was attached, until you reach the pit, then rotating the knife all the way around the pit. Twist the two halves apart, then scoop out the pits. With a spoon, scoop out the soft flesh from the skin, collecting it in a large bowl as you go. Coarsely mash with the spoon (or you can use an old-fashioned potato masher or large fork).

Gently stir the salsa into the avocado. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until you're ready to serve. (Not only will the guacamole improve if made half an hour or so before serving, but it also will maintain its fresh look longer if served cold.) Scoop into a decorative bowl, garnish with cilantro sprigs and you're ready to set it out for your guests to enjoy.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Ingredients

  • 4 medium (about 8 ounces total) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and halved
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • Hot green chilies to taste (I like 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed and roughly chopped
  • About 1/3 cup (loosely packed) roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
  • Salt

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Set a large (10-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (if a nonstick skillet is unavailable, lay a piece of foil in the skillet). Lay in the garlic and tomatillos (cut side down). When the tomatillos are well browned, 3 or 4 minutes, turn everything and brown the other side. (The tomatillos should be completely soft.)

Scrape the tomatillos and garlic into a blender or food processor, and let cool to room temperature. Add the chili and cilantro, and blend to a coarse puree. Pour into a salsa dish.

Scoop the chopped onion into a strainer and rinse under cold water, shaking off the excess water. Stir into the salsa. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. You'll need 1 cup of this salsa to flavor the guacamole. Refrigerate the leftover salsa for another use.

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