A Girl and Her Tacos: Santa Monica


A million years ago when I lived my L.A. life I had a favorite meal that was hard to come by: potato and rajas tacos at Border Grill in Santa Monica. As a poor grad student Border Grill was out of my reach except for the most special of occasions, so I bought the cookbook. It was my first brush with celebrity restaurants, and I felt as though I knew the chefs—Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger—from the hours I spent watching their early Food Network show Too Hot Tamales. For the price of two orders of potato and rajas tacos I got my hands on the recipe. Today the tacos are off the menu in Santa Monica, but still available for a mere $3 each from the Border Grill food truck.

When we received our most recent CSA box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden I was flabbergasted by the haul of peppers we brought home. Our mix included a variety of sweet, or at least not hot, peppers, as well as about a dozen serranos. Some were long and red and pointy, others petite and light green with a distinct flavor, a handful dark green and tinged with red, and a few good old typical green baby bells. For nearly a week I regarded the veggie bowl on the counter each time I walked through the kitchen, confounded about how to use the immense variety.

As we wended our way through rush hour traffic to our aerials class in east Austin inspiration struck: rajas. Traditionally rajas are made with fire-roasted poblano peppers, sautéed with onions and finished with a touch of cream and cheese. Sometimes other delights sneak their way into the rajas mixture: potatoes (proven by my old favorite) and corn are popular guest stars. Since we’ve just barely moved back across the globe my old cookbook is still packed away somewhere, and with no cream on hand, I had to improvise. Once made, we layered the rajas mixture with a bit of shredded cheese and some homemade black beans topped off with a dollop of labneh into handmade corn tortillas. It was a simple dinner worthy of the memories from days gone by at Border Grill.

Quick Weeknight Rajas

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large bell peppers or their equivalent in poblanos or other mild peppers, thinly sliced
2 serrano peppers, seeds removed, thinly sliced (adjust to the heat level you prefer)
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 ears corn, kernels removed
Kosher salt

Add the oil to a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the peppers, onion, and garlic and sauté until onions turn translucent. If vegetables stick, add a few tablespoons of water to deglaze the pan and continue to sauté. Add the corn and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until corn kernels are crisp-tender. Remove from heat and season to taste with kosher salt.