Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Nov. 30, 2021

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Thai-inspired taco a very special treat


One of the best things about visiting my daughters in Arlington, Va., is that there are so many funky restaurants to choose from. One of my favorites is Taco Bamba, a chainlet of fast-casual taquerias that dishes up some of the Washington, D.C. area’s best tacos at surprisingly non-D.C. prices.

Each of its six locations features two taco lists. Tradicionales are classics like carnitas, barbacoa, al pastor and birria, while the Nuestros menu highlights original creations.

At the Ballston taqueria just around the corner from my daughters’ apartment, the El Pollo Rico taco pays tribute to the local Peruvian restaurant of the same name (and Taco Bamba chef/owner Victor Albisu’s Latin American heritage) with a filling of Peruvian-ish chicken, green chili puree, aji amarillo aioli, salsa criolla, serrano chile and crispy potato.

It’s good, but my absolute favorite — and the taco I can’t stop thinking about — is the One Night in Bangkok. Seared shrimp is paired with a spicy chorizo larb inside a flour tortilla and topped with mint, basil, chiles and crispy onion.

Lucky for me — and you — Chef Albisu agreed to share the recipe, so I don’t have to drive four hours to eat one.

The list of ingredients is longish, but save for the lemongrass stalk, everything can be found in your local grocery store. To quick-pickle sliced Fresno chilies, simply bring 1 cup white wine vinegar, ½ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt, then pour brine over chiles and let cool.

The recipe makes more larb sauce than you’ll need for six tacos, but no worries — you’ll want to spoon it on top of grilled and shredded chicken, beef or anything that lends itself to Thai flavors.

One Night in Bangkok Taco

Makes 6 tacos. Victor Albisu, chef/owner Taco Bamba.

For larb sauce

1 serrano chile, minced

2 green onions, minced

1-inch piece lemongrass, minced

¼ cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons fish sauce

¼ cup sugar

¼ bunch mint, chopped (about ¼ cup)

4 Thai or Italian basil leaves, chopped

¼ bunch cilantro, chopped (about ¼ cup)

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 clove garlic, grated

½ tablespoon orange juice

For tacos

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces ground chorizo

¼ cup larb sauce

6-8 mint leaves

6-8 Thai or Italian basil leaves

6-8 cilantro leaves

6 corn tortillas

1 scallion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons pickled red Fresno pepper or other spicy pickled chile

1 serrano chile, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons crispy shallots or onions

Make larb sauce: Place minced serrano chile, scallion and lemongrass in a medium bowl. Add soy sauce, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Stir well to incorporate sugar.

Add chopped herbs, grated ginger, grated garlic and orange juice to bowl, and mix to combine. Set aside while you make tacos.

Prepare tacos: In a saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons cooking oil over medium-high heat. Season shrimp with a little salt and pepper, or whatever spices you like and, once oil is hot, add to the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side, until the shrimp is opaque all the way through. Remove from pan and reserve.

In the same pan, add chorizo and cook for about 5 minutes, breaking it into crumbles until cooked through.

Spoon cooked chorizo into a bowl. Add cooked shrimp. Add ¼ cup larb sauce and toss together until meat and shrimp are well coated.

Add mint, basil and cilantro leaves to the bowl, gently tearing them with your fingers and stirring into the mixture. Give it a taste. Add more larb sauce if desired.

With a small amount of oil, toast your tortillas in a pan over medium-high heat, on both sides until the tortilla is hot and pliable.

Divide chorizo-shrimp-larb mixture evenly between your tortillas. Top tacos with sliced scallion, pickled chile, sliced serranos and crispy shallots.