Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Christine Rivera's Brussels Sprouts in the Style of Elotes

If you're familiar with elotes you know that they're a summertime treat--traditional Mexican street food in the form of corn on the cob that's been grilled to smoky perfection, sprinkled lavishly with salt and chile powder, then slathered with mayo or crema, and topped with cotija cheese and lime juice. One crunchy bite yields layers of popping flavors and textures.

Of course, corn is summer crop. So what to do when it's unavailable? Galaxy Taco's chef de cuisine Christine Rivera says take the basic concept and extend it to other vegetables--in this case, Brussels sprouts.

I recently spent a morning with Rivera, a charming and driven San Diego native who has been working with chef/owner Trey Foshee for several years. Originally an elementary school counselor as part of the Early Mental Health Initiative, Rivera took up cooking as a de-stresser from work. It was something she picked up from her dad, whose Tijuana family are big home cooks. One of her family favorites is empanadas made with flour tortillas and then fried.

Rivera took culinary classes at Grossmont College and found she loved it so much she started hunting for work in restaurants and enrolled in the school's Culinary Arts Program. She began in the time-honored tradition of restaurant novices as a dish washer--for her it was at a local Red Lobster. From there, she started prepping at Kensington Grill under chef JC Colón--all while attending the Grossmont program. In the summers she worked at the Del Mar Race Track for Premier Foods, "turning and burning," as she described it. When Rivera learned that George's at the Cove was hiring, she applied for a job. Her interview with Foshee led to a job at George's Ocean Terrace.

"I loved it," she says. "I loved the culture and the pace." After a year and a half they moved her to George's California Modern to work the grill and hot line stations. When Foshee started planning Galaxy Taco he wanted her to be his chef there and began training her in how to run a kitchen--everything from inventory and systems to hiring.

"One year before Galaxy Taco opened, Trey talked to me about it. One of the things he wanted to do was make masa from scratch so we started experimenting with it. We went on a crusade to make it the best possible. And we focused on developing the menu."

Rivera opened the restaurant with Foshee last summer. In fact, it's become known for its organic blue corn masa, which Rivera makes daily. "I love making the masa and I'm excited to do it every day. I love the smell as it comes out of the grinder."

Rivera manages day-to-day operations and collaborates with Foshee on recipe ideas. "I've loved every single minute of it," she says with a grin. "It's not easy but it's fun. I learn so much from Trey. He's a chef. He's a restaurant owner. He has so many different roles. How he balances everything, including his family life, is pretty incredible."

For the Brussels sprouts dish, currently on the menu, the idea was to create the same flavor profile as traditional elotes, but use vegetables currently in season. I love the charred, smoky flavor the roasting gives the Brussels sprouts. Combining them with the heat and richness of the Spicy Chipotle Mayo, the acid of the lime juice and the salty cheese creates a lively bite that makes you just keep digging in. It brightens the fundamental earthiness of the Brussels sprouts. I can see making this dish with corn kernels, with cauliflower, string beans, carrots, and baby artichokes.

While the finishing of the dish is done in a cast iron skillet, Rivera pre-cooks the Brussels sprouts to cut the working time. Here she roasts them in a pan with olive oil. She also makes the Spicy Chipotle Mayo ahead of time so that the flavors come together. Be sure to get everything prepped before starting because the stovetop cooking goes very quickly.

Brussel sprouts in the Style of Elotes (Street Corn)
Christine Rivera of Galaxy Taco

4 to 6 servings as a side dish

You can use Brussels sprouts—or other vegetables you enjoy—to make this dish when corn is out of season. Or instead of corn, if you like. If you make it with corn, you can grill the corn on the cob and add the ingredients when you serve the corn (traditional style) or remove the corn from the cob and prepare it as directed below. Be sure to mix up the Spicy Chipotle Mayo ahead of time so the flavors will meld. Once you get started with the cooking process it will take about five minutes so you want everything prepped and ready to go.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and halved
Extra virgin olive oil
¼  cup cilantro, chopped, reserving 1 teaspoon for garnish
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon Cotija cheese plus 1 teaspoon for garnish
1 lime, cut in half
Spicy Chipotle Mayo (see below for recipe and make ahead of time*)   

Spicy Chipotle Mayo
1 cup mayonnaise
1 chile from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (you can find this in your local supermarket)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lime juice

Combine and mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss Brussels sprouts in extra virgin olive oil and salt. Roast Brussels sprouts for about 15 to 20 minutes (depending on size) and let them chill.

Place a pan on the stove at a low medium heat, add extra virgin olive oil. Once the pan is hot add Brussels sprouts. Toss them to cook evenly, then add cotija cheese, cilantro (saving some for a garnish), and lime juice from half a lime. 

Stir for about 5 minutes on low to medium heat. Remove from heat and add the chipotle mayo. Stir well to insure that the mayo is evenly distributed. Place in a bowl and sprinkle the reserved cotija cheese and cilantro on top and squeeze the second half of the lime. Enjoy!

Galaxy Taco is located at 2259 Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla.

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