Apologies for going MIA unannounced last week and leaving you with nothing but Tastemade videos. That was the worst, but it couldn’t be helped. I had to go on a last-minute vacation to Guatemala.
Just to give you a little back story, my roommate and I actually planned this Central American adventure a couple months ago. We’d been coveting a stay at Hotel Atitlan since Logan’s godparents shared photos from their trip last spring, and in early March, we giddily booked ourselves a room for the week leading up to Easter. Since I live for vacation, I was pretty pumped. #Logena2k14! I bought new bikinis.
Then some life complications happened, work stuff came up for both Logan and me (so busy and important!), and adult Spring Break was unceremoniously scrapped. This was a tough pill to swallow, but I eventually came to accept it, reminding myself that there were other exciting things on the horizon. Like Cinco de Mayo and the return of Jack Bauer.
After working so hard to get over the loss of my vacay, I was quite surprised to receive a call from Logan late Thursday afternoon informing me that he had never cancelled our hotel room, and he thought we should just throw caution to the wind, buy some plane tickets, and vamos à Guatemala! Needless to say, this induced an immediate panic attack on my part. I couldn’t possibly just pick up and peace out with only three days notice. I had plans for the coming week, I hadn’t gone to the gym yet, and some of my crop tops needed dry-cleaning. Plus, I had to blog, dammit!
As per usual, my roommate talked me off the ledge, and an hour later, flights were booked, the hotel was confirmed, and the dry-cleaners had been called.
It was on.
We arrived at our hotel on Lake Atitlan, just outside Panajachel, on Monday afternoon. It was a foggy day, and I was concerned (the forecast predicted seven straight days of thunderstorms), but as soon as I got a load of the view from our room, I relaxed. Brightly colored botanical gardens extended to the banks of the huge lake, and through the fog, you could see the outlines of the three enormous volcanoes on the opposite shore. Some peacocks and a giant parrot casually wandered the property, people were drinking cervezas on the covered terrace by the pool, and I could hear strains of LMFAO coming from what appeared to be a party boat on the lake. LMFAO was right, it was on and poppin’. YES. (Sing it.)
The next five days in Panajachel were blissful. By some miracle, the forecast was total bullshit, and we had perfect, sunny weather the entire week. There were breakfasts overlooking the lake, followed by strolls through the garden, naps in the sun, afternoon cocktails, more naps, and candlelit dinners. We visited a nearby nature preserve, did some intense zip-lining, and explored the town, which was in full Holy Week celebration mode. I also read three books from cover to cover, cultivated a sweet base tan, and got to listen to Logan speak Spanglish everyday, which is pretty much my favorite thing in the world. (I could write a whole post on his attempts to communicate that he wanted the cheese on his nachos very melted. Por favor y gracias, amigo.)
Were there a few vacation hiccups throughout the week? Sure, but honestly, they only made the experience that much more memorable. I am very grateful for the entertainment provided by the giant Jesús statue at the base of our bed, the “masseuse” that gave me a full body Indian burn, and the disturbing number of ridiculously loud niños staying at the hotel. Last but not least, I’ll probably never forget the fight Logan and I had over the outcome of the Hunger Games trilogy (which he finally finished reading) at dinner one night. I imagine our fellow diners were quite confused as to who this “Peeta” was, and why Logan kept calling him a “giant pussy.”
Like I said, I live for vacation.
As you can imagine, returning to real life after such a glorious getaway has been a struggle. Vacation withdrawal is at least on par with Birthday Princess Comedown, and it can get ugly unless certain steps are taken to ease the transition. The fact that it’s finally spring in NYC helps, as does listening to LMFAO Pandora (Guatemalan party boats have renewed my appreciation for pop/hip hop circa 2007-2011) and eating Crispy Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa and Avocado Salsa Verde.
These babies were loosely inspired by the hole-in-the-wall taco joint that Logan and I frequented last week, and put simply, they are my life’s happiness in a tortilla. The ultimate spring break for your taste buds. Just to break it down, warm tortillas are spread with a generous layer of creamy, spicy avocado salsa verde, then topped with a heaping portion of crispy tilapia, cabbage and radish slaw, and sweet and tangy mango salsa. Each fully loaded bite is packed with so many mind-blowing flavors and textures, it’s almost too much deliciousness to bear. I feel the need to share my roommate’s adamant claim that these tacos are the best thing I’ve ever made. I don’t think he’s kidding.
In case you need another reason to fiesta with these tacos, I’m thrilled to inform you that they happen to be thong bikini-friendly and Dude Diet approved (assuming you respect the serving size, of course). The fish is lightly breaded in seasoned whole wheat Panko and baked to crispy perfection, providing you with some whole grain goodness and eliminating the need for oily fatness. There are also tons of veggies involved, along with heart-healthy avocado, and antioxidant-rich mango. Glutards, feel free to swap flour tortillas for corn and use gluten-free Panko, and those of you counting carbs should definitely try lettuce wrapping these bad boys.
I’m aware that some peeps are going to take one look at the recipe for these tacos and want to murder me Hunger Games style. Take a deep breath. Yes, the ingredient list is long and there’s a decent amount of steps involved in bringing these tacos to life, but you can totally do this. In fact, you probably already have a lot of the building blocks in your fridge/pantry, and with a little bit of planning, pulling off this fabulous meal is surprisingly easy. I swear on Logan’s life.
If you plan to serve these at an upcoming Cinco de Mayo extravaganza or fabulous spring/summer dinner party (do it), you can make the mango salsa, salsa verde and cabbage slaw in advance, and then just bread the fish and pop in the oven 10 minutes before serving. Done and done. De nada.
Spring Break 4ever. I’m gonna go drink a Corona on my fire escape.
Crispy Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa and Avocado Salsa Verde: (Serves 4)
1¼ cups whole wheat Panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
¾ teaspoons smoked paprika
½ teaspoon salt
2 8-ounce tilapia filets, sliced into sticks about 1-inch by 3-inches
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
3 cups thinly sliced white cabbage
4 medium-size red radishes, julienned
1 lime, juiced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 6-inch soft flour tortillas
For the Mango Salsa:
1 mango, diced
½ cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro
1 lime, juiced
Pinch of salt
For the Avocado Salsa Verde:
½ pound tomatillos (about 4 medium tomatillos), coarsely chopped
1 ripe avocado, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 jalapeno, chopped (This will be decently spicy, friends. If you don’t dig heat, seed the jalapeno first.)
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, packed
1 lime, juiced
Preparing your Crispy Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa and Avocado Salsa Verde:
-Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
-Start by preparing the Mango Salsa. In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the salsa. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
-Process until you have a coarse purée. Pour into a bowl and season with a little more salt if necessary. Press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface of the salsa verde and set aside until ready to use.
-Now it’s time to prepare the coating for the crispy tilapia. In a small bowl, combine the panko, chipotle chili powder, smoked paprika and salt. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick pan. When hot, add the bread crumb mixture and stir to coat with the oil. Toast the breadcrumbs, stirring regularly, for 2-3 minutes until they literally smell like toast (careful to not to burn them), and remove them from the heat. Set aside.
-Time to bread your fish! I like to set up an assembly line for this: fish, egg whites, breadcrumbs, prepared baking sheet. Do it.
-Last, but not least, warm the tortillas. I like to do this by placing the tortillas on the eye of the burner for about 10 seconds on each side until they get slightly charred. Use tongs, obviously. (If this scares you, you can also do this in a hot pan or microwave them, okay?)
- 1¼ cups whole wheat Panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
- ¾ teaspoons smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 8-ounce tilapia filets, sliced into sticks about 1-inch by 3-inches
- 3 egg whites, lightly beaten
- 3 cups thinly sliced white cabbage
- 4 medium-size red radishes, julienned
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 8 6-inch soft flour tortillas
- 1 mango, diced
- ½ cup finely chopped red onion
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro
- 1 lime juiced
- Pinch of salt
- ½ pound tomatillos (about 4 medium tomatillos), coarsely chopped
- 1 ripe avocado, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 jalapeno, chopped (This will be decently spicy, friends. If you don’t dig heat, seed the jalapeno first.)
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, packed
- 1 lime, juiced
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
- Start by preparing the Mango Salsa. In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the salsa. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
- Moving on to the Avocado Salsa Verde. Husk, wash and chop the tomatillos and place the chopped tomatillos in a blender or food processor with the avocado, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and a pinch of salt and process until you have a coarse purée. Pour into a bowl and season with a little more salt if necessary. Press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface of the salsa verde and set aside until ready to use.
- Now it’s time to prepare the coating for the crispy tilapia. In a small bowl, combine the panko, chipotle chili powder, smoked paprika and salt. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick pan. When hot, add the bread crumb mixture and stir to coat with the oil. Toast the breadcrumbs, stirring regularly, for 2-3 minutes until they literally smell like toast (careful to not to burn them), and remove them from the heat. Set aside.
- Pat the tilapia filets dry and slice them into sticks about 1-inch by 3-inches thick.
- Time to bread your fish! I like to set up an assembly line for this: fish, beaten egg whites, breadcrumbs, prepared baking sheet. Dip each piece of fish in the egg-whites, shake off any excess, then coat it in the seasoned breadcrumbs, pressing gently to help them adhere. Place each piece of breaded fish on the baking sheet about an inch apart. Transfer the breaded fish to the oven and bake for 10 minutes until the fish is opaque throughout.
- While the fish is cooking, combine the cabbage, radishes, lime juice and salt.
- Last, but not least, warm the tortillas. I like to do this by placing the tortillas on the eye of the burner for about 10 seconds on each side until they get slightly charred. Use tongs, obviously. (If this scares you, you can also do this in a hot pan or microwave them, okay?)
- To assemble your tacos, spread a generous amount of salsa verde on the warmed tortillas. Add a couple pieces of fish to each taco and top with the cabbage mixture and mango salsa. Serve immediately.