Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
While I love Mexican food, I am no expert. I realize that what I generally consider Mexican or Tex-Mex food is me fiddling around with an American version of a taco. That being said, I love them!
Sitting on Chopped with a Mexican food authority like Aaron Sanchez has taught me a few things about how to approach making a good taco. While I always consider flavor the most important thing, texture in a good taco can be almost as critical. Avocado is almost always a must and I love shrimp as a companion.
In place of the shrimp, you can sub in roasted, sliced steak or chicken. Or I have also made this taco a vegetarian dish by omitting the shrimp altogether. It’s just a matter of finding the balance of ingredients you like best. Don’t like cilantro? Simply omit.
Now, how spicy is spicy enough? This is the dilemma with tacos. Everyone likes a different heat level. I always have a bottle of hot sauce on the table for those who like to drizzle it over their tacos. In a restaurant kitchen, I can’t tell you how many bottles of hot sauce we go through. Some of my cooks make hot sauce from (extremely spicy!!) “Ghost” chilies and drown their tacos in it. I don’t even know how they stomach it!
Fresh jalapeno is wonderful in this recipe but it’s best to thinly slice a small one and have people add their desired amount. If you remove the seeds and ribs from the jalapeno, it is basically not spicy. Just remember to wear gloves or slice the chili carefully.
Alex Guarnaschelli’s Garlic Shrimp, Tomato and Avocado Tacos
1 small hot house cucumber, peeled and sliced into ½-inch rounds
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tsp. sugar
2 small cloves garlic, grated
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 2 large lemons, divided
1 medium avocado, halved, pitted
12 pieces medium (“U-10”) shrimp, grilled or seared, cut into small pieces
8 sprigs cilantro, stemmed
6-8 small hard corn tortilla shells
1 small jalapeno, thinly sliced
1. Marinate the cucumbers and tomatoes: Arrange the cucumber slices and tomato halves (flesh side up) in a single layer on a baking sheet. Season them with salt and sugar. In a small bowl, stir together the garlic and olive oil and drizzle half of it over the tomatoes and cucumbers. Squeeze the juice from one lemon over them; set aside.
2. Prepare the other vegetables and shrimp: Use a tablespoon to scoop out the avocado in bits. Season with salt, a dash of the remaining lemon juice and the remaining garlic oil and cilantro. Toss till combined.
3. Assemble the tacos: Place a tortilla on a flat surface. Arrange some of the cucumber and tomato mixture and shrimp in an even line down the length of the tortilla. Top with avocado. Repeat. The best tasting tacos are ones that have a mix of all the different flavors in each bite. Serve immediately with jalapenos, if desired.