I think anyone who has had a great fish taco, and the decadent Baja fish taco in particular, has fallen in love with the complex interchange of simple flavours, crunchy textures, the dialogue of sweet and tangy, and the pure comfort of food that pleases the soul. Recreating it home without pulling out the deep-fryer, though, is a challenge. So when kohlrabi turned up in my CSA share last week, it got me thinking. I know, everyone looks at kohlrabi and thinks “fish tacos,” right? No, the fish tacos were already on my brain, but I got to thinking whether could I use the kohlrabi instead of the typical iceberg lettuce and instead of the deep-fried fish to bring in that satisfying crunch? And could I use the barbecue to produce a flavourful fish that would stand up to it all?
I have tried with variable success to make fish tacos at home a few times. While they’ve been tasty enough, they haven’t been great enough for me to blog or re-make. I’ve tried cod which was tasty enough but flaked so much that even when made indoors was difficult to produce anything that didn’t resemble catfood on a tortilla. I tried monk fish once which was meaty, for sure, and with good flavour, but in being ‘meaty’ it lacked textural sophistication. So this time, I turned to a fillet of halibut and, because it came without skin, I chose to use a fish cage, hoping it would allow easy and safe flipping and transfer from the grill. I will say, it worked beautifully and it had all the qualities of being flaky, resilient, and stronger in flavour.
So the kohlrabi. Yes, that was the reveal in the CSA Mystery No4 I presented earlier. It’s an unusual veggie if you haven’t tried it before having the crunch and texture of a fresh apple or even the interior of the broccoli stalk (to which is related) with a bit of the sweetness and pungency of cabbage (to which it is also related). It is wonderful vegetable, highly accessible, and with a fresh crispness that makes it great part of any summer.
Truthfully, once I started down the path to re-imagining the taco, everything got re-imagined. I thought to myself, why does the ubiquitous sour cream have to be served as a side — why not incorporate it into the kohlrabi and use the cream and kohlrabi to transport the essential cool flavours of the coriander to balance with the warm flavours of grilled fish? Trying to keep the cream light but tangy and fresh, I chose to wrap the kohlrabi with a sauce of Greek yogurt for a refreshing coolness and infused in this both fresh coriander and ground coriander for some extra essence of this herb. Because I wanted the kohlrabi to behave liked shredded lettuce, I pulled out my mandolin to shred it fine. If you don’t have one, well, some food processors will do the trick. Failing this, try your knife skills and, failing this, resort to grating it by hand but accept it won’t be as nuanced.
Next up was how to flavour the fish. One of the challenges I’ve faced with fish on the grill is that it sticks to the grill when you turn it or it breaks and in the process you lose the fish. So my solution was to use oil to create a spice paste — a so-called “wet rub” — that I could use to marinate the fish. There was nothing complicated about this though I did make a few choices along the way that transformed the wet rub into a pure marinade. First, I seeded and skinned a small Roma/plum tomato to add some fibre strength to the marinade — and, secondly, I used a half-cup of orange-pineapple juice to bring some acid to it. The choice of flavours were chosen because of the acidity but also because of the final element of the tacos, the salsa.
Yes, the tomatoes are in season and this was a clear option for the salsa, but I wanted something ‘sweet’ to balance out the other flavours of the kohlrabi and the grilled fish. I recalled my success last year of making a Grilled Salsa with zucchini and pineapple, and decided to take this to another level with just the grilled pineapple … with the simple addition of two fresh herbs: basil and mint. I will confess that as amazing as the rest of the fish tacos turned out, this salsa stole the show. Don’t read that the rest didn’t work, because it was awesome — the salsa, however, was just something extraordinary …. which is why I will ultimately post it separately as well as here.
Finally, for a final flourish of colour, I roasted some mini red peppers. This was hardly a necessary ingredient from a flavour perspective, but the purposes of creating these pictures, I wanted some colour … which is the same reason I shredded a small carrot into the kohlrabi as well. I didn’t want a plate of otherwise ‘white': kohlrabi, fish, and pineapple. All of this was served on a soft corn tortillas which added a nice bit of nuttiness to the dish and worked well to pull it all together.
Prep time: 40 minutes, total, including sides
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Fish Tacos: Grilled Halibut, Kohlrabi in Coriander Cream, and Grilled-Pineapple Salsa
- 1 lb (500g) Halibut fillet
- 3 tablespoons (45mL) avocado oil
- 1½ tablespoons (20mL) chile powder
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5mL) ground coriander seed
- 1/4 teaspoon (1mL) ground cumin
- 1/4 cup (65mL) or roughly 1 small Roma/plum tomato, seeded, skinned, and chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 12 corn tortillas*
* Note: not all commercially made corn tortillas are gluten-free. Choose your brand carefully if you’re gluten sensitive.
Kohlrabi in Coriander Cream:
- 2 cups (500mL) Kohlrabi, thinly julienned
- 1 small carrot, thinly julienned
- 3 tablespoons (45mL) mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup cup (85mL) Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons (30mL) freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5mL) ground coriander seed
- 1/2 cup (125mL) fresh coriander leaves, chiffonade
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Grilled Pineapple Salsa
- 1/2 Fresh pineapple (2 cups), peeled and cored and cut lengthwise into 1/8ths
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) fresh basil, chiffonade
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) fresh mint, chiffonade
- 1/2 lime, juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1/2 – 1 jalapeño, seed and finely diced
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (to taste)
- agave syrup, to taste (only if necessary)
- Begin by preparing the marinade for the halibut and start by cutting the tomato into quarters and by removing the seeds — then use a sharp knife to remove the skin. Alternatively, you can blanch the tomato in hot water for a few minutes and peel it this way instead. Chop the tomato and set aside.
In a small non-stick frying pan, heat the avocado oil over medium heat. When hot, add the spices (chile powder, oregano, coriander, and cumin) and fry the spices for about 2 minutes until they lightly brown.
Add the tomato and cook for another minute …
… and finally add the juice to the marinade and simmer for about two minutes until the marinade is slightly thickened.
Remove from heat and transfer to a non-reactive pan that you can marinate the fish in and place the pan in the fridge for about 15 minutes until it is cool.
When cool, add the fish to it and then turn it over and spoon extra marinade over the halibut. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- While the fish is marinating, prepare the pineapple salsa. Preheat barbecue grill to 400°F (200°C). Begin by removing the outer skin of the pineapple, being sure to cut out all the little ‘seed’ pieces that are hard on the mouth. Then top and tail the pineapple and cut it in half, lengthwise, and repeat until you have about 6-8 strips of pineapple (it will vary depending on the size of your pineapple). Now you’re only going to need about 2 cups of pineapple in the end, so you can either grill all these pieces and measure what you need, or you can put about half-to-a-third of it in the fridge for another use. When grill is to temperature, lightly oil the grates and place the lengths of pineapple across them.
Grill for about 4-5 minutes, then turn when nice brown (not black) grill marks have appeared … and grill for another 4-5 minutes.
Remove from grill and let cool 5-10 minutes.
When the pineapple has cooled enough to touch, slice each spear lengthwise again and then cube the pineapple before placing it in a non-reactive container that you can refrigerate.
Remove the basil and mint leaves from their respective stems and roll them together and chiffonade them before adding the leaves to the pineapple.
Finely dice the jalapeño and add it along with the lime juice and add the salt to salsa. Taste for balance and adjust as necessary: not all pineapple is equally sweet, so you may need to add a bit of agave or, if the pineapple is ‘too’ sweet, add more lime juice. Cover and refrigerate if making ahead or leave on the counter to marinate for an hour or two if cooking the fish soon.
- While the grill is still on and hot, you may also prepare the red pepper, if you choose to use it. As mentioned, the flavour isn’t essential, though it is always a nice treat. Ultimately, it is being added for colour, so if you don’t want the work, you can skip the step. Otherwise, cut the pepper into wedges and place it on the grill.
… and grill for 5 minutes at 400°F. Turn, and grill for 5 minutes more. Remove from grill and let cool. Don’t fret about the ‘black’ part of the skin. This is desirable because you’re going to remove the skin which makes for a sweet, slightly smoked pepper strip, without the toughness and bitterness of the skin.
- Next, prepare the kohlrabi in coriander cream. This is an easy component to prepare. Start by peeling the tough outer skin and top and bottom away from the juicy and crisp interior of the kohlrabi.
The only trick is whether to pull out the mandolin if you have one — or if your knife skills are strong, use a chef’s knife. Failing that, use a sharp grater or food processor with a grater attachment.
In the end, I prefer the mandolin method for delicate, long, strips of kohlrabi.
Repeat with the carrot which is just to add some colour and depth to the dish.
Remove the leaves from the coriander stems and roughly chop them and add them to the kohlrabi.
Whisk the remaining ingredients together to make the coriander cream and add this to the kohlrabi and mix together. Taste for salt, cover, and refrigerate.
- If the grill isn’t still on, heat it up again to 400°F (200°C) and remove the fish from the fridge and carefully place it on an oiled fish basket and sprinkle both sides of the fish with salt now …Place the basket on the grill, close the cover, and cook for 8-9 minutes … then turn and cook for another 8 minutes until the halibut easily flakes with fork.
Remove from grill and let stand on serving platter while you get the rest ready.
While the grill is still warm, as well, you may choose to quickly warm/grill your corn tortillas before serving them to your guests.Place a spoonful of coriander kohlrabi cream on each tortilla, a “chunk” (few flakes) of halibut, and top with some freshly grilled pineapple salsa and a few pieces of grilled pepper … and enjoy! And, as delicious as the salsa is, don’t go crazy with it or it will overpower the rest of the dish.