amba fish tacos

amba fish tacos

I’m back in Hong Kong, and thinking about all the wonderful food from our trip to Chicago (and also briefly Austin, Philadelphia, NY, and NJ). When we were at home with friends and family we cooked nothing but dolma, and when we were out and about we ate nothing but tacos. There are a million amazing taquerias in Chicago, so no matter where we happened to be, whether visiting my in-laws or my sister on the north side, friends on the south side, my family in the suburbs, passing through a random neighborhood on the go, or driving down familiar streets… we could always find good tacos within minutes.

But there was one day I actually made some tacos at home for a change, and I just had to share them with you, because they’re my current favorite thing to make for dinner: beer-battered fish tacos with quick-pickled amba, cilantro, radishes, and a little squeeze of lime juice.

Amba, in case you haven’t encountered it, is essentially pickled green mango—it’s unbelievably tangy and bright, and it goes perfectly with fried food. Store-bought versions are almost always made with mango, but some homemade versions are even made with cabbage, carrot, or peppers (the uniting feature is that they’re all pickled in a fenugreek brine. Traditionally, amba is served with falafel (in Iraq and many other places), so it’s no surprise that it also works wonderfully with perfectly crispy Mexican-lager-battered tilapia. Here, instead of classic amba sauce made with green mango, I’ve chosen semi-ripe mangoes, which are delicious on these tacos as more of a slaw than a condiment.

amba fish tacos
amba fish tacos

amba fish tacos

yield: 20 tacos (about 2-3 tacos per serving)
total time: 45 minutes
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amba (quick pickled mango)

  • ½ of 1 medium red onion, sliced thinly

  • Apple cider vinegar

  • 1 large semi-ripe mango, peeled and julienned*

  • ¾ teaspoon yellow curry powder (preferably fenugreek seed heavy)

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

  • Salt, to taste (about ⅛ teaspoon)

  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper

  1. Soak the red onion in a couple tablespoons apple cider vinegar for 10 minutes.

  2. Strain the red onion (discard the oniony vinegar), and combine with the mango, curry powder, extra virgin olive oil, salt, crushed red pepper, and some fresh apple cider vinegar to taste (about 1 teaspoon). Set aside.

the tacos

  • 1-2 cups neutral oil, for frying (e.g., canola, sunflower, peanut, etc.)

  • ¾ cups all purpose flour (90g) + about ⅓ cup more for dredging

  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

  • ¼ teaspoon salt + more to taste

  • Half of an 11.2 ounce bottle Mexican-style lager

  • 1 ½ pounds tilapia (675g), cut into about 20 pieces

  • 20 small corn tortillas, warmed for a few seconds in the microwave or on the stove

  • Amba/pickled mango (above)

  • 5 limes, each cut into 4 wedges

  • 8 radishes, sliced thinly

  • Cilantro leaves for garnish

  1. Let ¾-inch of oil heat in a 10-inch frying pan (preferably nonstick or cast iron) set over medium heat, and make the batter while you wait on the oil to heat. The oil is ready when you dip the end of the fish in it and it immediately sizzles.

  2. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, black pepper, and ¼ teaspoon salt, then pour in the half bottle of beer, mix everything together (don’t overmix, and enjoy the leftover beer while you cook), and set aside.

  3. Pat the fish dry with paper towels, and season with more salt (to taste). Once the oil is hot, dredge the fish in flour, shake off all the excess, and dip in the batter. Remove the fish from the batter and flap the fish on the side of the bowl once or twice to let the excess drip off.

  4. Gently lower the fish into the hot oil, and then repeat with about 4 more pieces. Let them cook for about 3 minutes per side (carefully flip them over once they’ve turned golden brown on one side, and cook thick pieces a bit longer). Lower the heat if they brown too quickly, and keep an eye on them.

  5. Remove the fried fish to a paper towel-lined plate, and work in batches until they’re all fried (you can keep the plate in a 200°F oven for about 30 minutes to keep them warm).

  6. Build the tacos at the very last second before eating (or set up a taco bar/taco table if you’re cooking for a group). Each corn tortilla should be topped with a piece of fish, some pickled mango, radishes, and cilantro leaves. Serve with a lime wedge on the side.

Make ahead the day before: Prep all the components (mix together dry ingredients for batter, cut the fish into pieces, prep the limes, radishes, and cilantro). Make the mango topping and store in the refrigerator overnight. Soon before frying and serving, set everything out on the table or buffet. Whisk together the batter and fry the fish about 30 minutes before you plan to eat. Bring the fish to the table while they’re still hot.

How to store leftovers: Leftovers keep in the refrigerator for a couple days, and can be reheated in a toaster oven at 350°F until crispy on the outside and warmed through. They’ll be a little dryer leftover, but still delicious. The mango topping keeps in the refrigerator for several days. You can even freeze everything if you’d like to store it longer than a couple days (freeze the fish on a plate or sheet pan, then place in a tightly sealed plastic bag, and reheat in the oven. Keep the mango slaw in the freezer, and then let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight, or microwave it on low until it thaws. The texture of the mango will be softer after thawing, but it’s still super delicious and holds up pretty well. And, of course, corn tortillas freeze beautifully).

* Semi-ripe mangos are firm, but yield slightly to pressure. Their flesh is tangy and sweet, and firm enough to hold its shape when sliced. Slice a bit off the bottom to steady it, then slice big fillets from the wide sides, and little fillets from the skinny sides. Peel the fillets with a vegetable peeler. Slice thinly, then julienne the slices (use the following GIF series as a guide).

B-min.jpg

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orange blossom fig cake

orange blossom fig upside down cake

Fig season is a little confusing—there’s always a big rush in June, but then they tend to disappear for a few weeks, only to come back in full swing for the rest of the summer and early fall. Apparently this is because they have two back-to-back fruiting seasons. But I’ve been noticing them popping up in supermarkets this week, so I guess fig season is here, at least for now! The next time you spot them at the market, be sure to grab one or two baskets, so you can make this fabulous fig cake, and have plenty to snack on while you wait for it to bake.

orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake

While I’m usually a big fan of buttermilk in cakes like this one, I decided to go with plain yogurt here, because I wanted to make this a little easier to throw together using ingredients you probably have around the house on a day that you just happen to find some really delicious figs. Like buttermilk, yogurt gives this cake moisture and a little tang, but unlike buttermilk, it’s probably actually in your fridge right now. I mean, that’s what was in my fridge the day that I brought these beauties home from the fruit market and decided to make this wonderfully syrupy orange blossom fig upside down cake. If you happen to have buttermilk, you can instead use 1/2 cup buttermilk in this recipe (instead of 3/4 cup yogurt).

The only ingredient that’s a little hard to find is orange blossom water, but you can get it at a supermarket with a good international food aisle, just about any Middle Eastern market, and of course online. It’s good to have around for Middle Eastern baking, and I strongly recommend keeping a bottle handy (once you do, you’ll start putting it in everything). If you can’t find orange blossom water, this cake is also wonderful with a few drops of rosewater, which is a little easier to find—in addition to Middle Eastern markets, you can also find rosewater in South Asian markets. If you go with rosewater, be sure to use restraint, as it has a tendency to overpower. Or feel free to omit flower-waters altogether, and let the figs speak for themselves.

orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake

orange blossom fig cake

active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour
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fig and brown sugar bottom

  • Butter for greasing the pan

  • 57g melted butter (half a stick/4 tablespoons)

  • 100g light brown sugar (1/2 cup)

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 300g small fresh figs (about 10-11 oz)*

  1. Butter one 8-inch round cake pan. Cover the bottom with a parchment round.

  2. Mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, and salt, and pour it over the parchment-covered cake pan. Use an offset spatula to spread the brown sugar out evenly over the bottom until it's completely covered.

  3. Slice the figs in half. Arrange the figs cut-side-down over the buttery brown sugar.

orange blossom yogurt cake

  • 200g flour (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 5g baking powder (1 1/4 teaspoon)

  • 1.5g baking soda (1/4 teaspoon)

  • 3g salt (1/2 teaspoon)

  • 2 large room temperature eggs (110g)

  • 55g melted and cooled butter (half a stick/4 tablespoons)

  • 150g granulated sugar (3/4 cup)

  • 170g plain yogurt (3/4 cup)**

  • 15g orange blossom water (1 tablespoon)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F convection (177° C).

  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl.

  3. Beat the eggs and butter together until they are very well incorporated. Then add the sugar, yogurt, and orange blossom water, and beat to combine well.

  4. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture, and stir together just until everything is combined. It won't be completely smooth, and there might be some tiny lumps; this is completely fine. Don’t over-mix!

  5. Carefully pour the batter over the figs, smooth out the top a little bit with a spatula, and bake for about 30 minutes. It's done once you can insert a toothpick into the center and batter doesn't stick to it.

  6. Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes in the cake pan. Then trace around the edge with a butter knife to make sure it's loosened from the pan. Place a plate or cake-stand upside-down over the cake. Put on your grippiest oven mitts, and hold the plate and cake together so that your thumbs are underneath the cake pan. Carefully and quickly rotate it away from yourself and give it a quick up-and-down shake to release the cake from the pan. Remove the pan, slice, and serve.

* If you can’t find small figs, you can use larger ones. Just make sure you cut them into about 1/2-inch slices instead of cutting them in half. To get the same look as these photos, slice the figs along their equators instead of stem to end.

** If you have Greek yogurt, you can substitute it here, but make sure you water it down slightly before measuring (using either a little milk or water). It needs to be the approximate consistency of plain, unstrained yogurt (Greek yogurt doesn’t have as much moisture).

orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake

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