Being back in Chicago, if only for a long weekend, was fantastic. After living in the windy city for the past 10 years, there are a few restaurants I really miss (recently moved to Washington, D.C.). Not sure if Big Star fully qualifies as a restaurant, more of a bar that serves good food. Nonetheless, it has quickly become a favorite hangout. An old gas station turned into an eatery (primarily serving tacos) and watering hole (with a well-chosen selection of beer and whiskey). It has a large outdoor patio; a nice place to enjoy a beer and people watch. On weekends when the weather is nice, Big Star is a magnet for locals, and snagging a coveted table in the sun can take some time.

The food at Big Star is simple, but always satisfying. Given its Midwest heritage, the menu features a healthy amount of very tasty meat, pork in particular. Notwithstanding, I really enjoy their selection of vegetarian tacos and the like. This particular tostada was inspired by my most recent visit to Big Star. More specifically, Tostada de Calabacitas (“little squash”) — roasted summer squash & zucchini, epazote, crema, pickled ancho chiles, pepitas, and queso fresco.

Made a variety of condiments — roasted corn, roasted tomato salsa, and pickled chiles — to accompany the tostada. You can make as many or as few condiments as you prefer. Enjoy them alone or in combination on top of the tostada. What I particularly enjoyed were the pickled anchos. Anchos (dried poblano peppers) are fairly mild (heat-wise) with a fruity — hints of raisin and figs — taste. If you like more heat or a bit of smokiness, you can use a combination of ancho and chipotle morita (dried jalapenos) peppers. I also added thinly sliced onions and garlic to the pickled chile preparation.

Fresh, sweet corn picked earlier that morning, along with a hitchhiker (worm). This may have been the juiciest corn I’ve ever eaten. The kernels were so plump and sweet. Corn season is quickly coming to an end, probably only a week or two left, so get some fresh corn while it lasts.

Pan roasted the corn in a dry skillet…

Pickled Ancho and Chipotle Chiles

4 ounces chiles (ancho or chipotles or a combination)
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons light brown sugar

With kitchen scissors, cut chile peppers crosswise into thin strips. Place in mixing bowl. Add onion, garlic, vinegars, oil, salt and sugar. Mix well. Transfer to an air tight container. Refrigerate for at least eight hours or up to several months. Serve chilled or at room temperature.


Oven Roasted Tomato Salsa

2 pounds Roma tomatoes
1 small onion, sliced thickly
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1-2 jalapeno peppers, depending on desired level of heat
2 canned chipotles in adobo sauce
sea salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the tomatoes, onion slices, garlic cloves, jalapenos, on a sheet pan in a single layer. Season with salt, and toss with olive oil to coat. Roast in the oven about 30 minutes until the tomatoes, garlic, and jalapenos are soft, and the onions slightly caramelized.

Transfer to a food processor. Add the cilantro, canned chipotles, and water. Season with salt to taste. Pulse about 10 times, until mixed but still slightly chunky. Serve warm.

Pan Roasted Corn

Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

2 ears of corn
1 small chile (such as jalapeno, anaheim, fresno), stemmed and sliced crosswise into rings
1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Cut the kernels from the corn cobs (over a shallow bowl, to prevent making a big mess). Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the corn and chiles to the dry pan and stir for 8 to 10 minutes until the corn kernels have browned a bit.

In a small cup combine the lime juice, salt, and water. Stir until the salt is dissolved.
Sprinkle the cilantro over the corn, then drizzle the liquid, cover, and remove from the heat. Let sit a few minutes and taste for salt.

Assembling the Tostada

Zucchini/squash, cubed, tossed in oil, salt and pepper, and roasted in the oven until soft
Mexican crema or creme fraiche
Queso fresco, crumbled
Cilantro, chopped
Roasted pepitos (pumpkin seeds)
Pickled anchos and/or chipotles, onions
Pan roasted corn
Oven Roasted tomato salsa

Spread some Mexican crema, creme fraiche, or yogurt on the tostada. Place a layer of roasted zucchini/squash on top. Layer on some roasted corn, pickled chiles and onions, and salsa. Top with queso fresco, roasted pumpkin seeds, and chopped cilantro.

Big Star, Chicago, IL. Enjoying tacos, beer, and sun on the outdoor patio…

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