The good news is that I can always make some cool tilapia fish ceviche (Seh-VEE-Cheh) tostadas instead.
Now that summer is almost through, I hope you don't mind if I scoot in this recipe at the last minute. I have to thank my friend Gloria for this one. She is from Eastern Jalisco, where there are no white sandy beaches or fancy sweet tropical drinks with little umbrellas. It probably is the last place you would expect to find a simple yet jump-for-joy no-cook tilapia ceviche recipe. It is a small town, more like a rancho to be exact, not too far from Guadalajara.
So when Gloria and Armando invited my viejo and me over for dinner, I was somehow hoping for something else. I was wishing for something like birria de chivito—stewed baby goat—a dish that is all together authentic and in keeping with the romantic notion of what I think of as rustic Mexican food. Something that could only come out of Mexico's heartland, not anything oceanic if you catch my drift. What I found instead was a huge bowl of this tilapia ceviche with corn tortilla tostadas. I could say that I was disappointed, though in retrospect, I am happy that the poor baby goat was granted a reprieve and did not have to be sacrificed just to satisfy my cravings. Stewed baby goat will have to wait for another day.
Always one to create an event by performing a simple but dramatic act, Gloria presented us with a large bowl of guacamole. It was nothing more than smashed avocado with a bit of salt—and just perfect, not gussied up with salsa or lime juice this time. No need for further embellishment, it really tasted gorgeous just like its fresh green color. The real surprise, though, was when Gloria instructed us to spread mayonnaise on the tostadas before topping them with the ceviche and the guacamole. Its tangy creaminess framed the hot and lemon-tinged ceviche, grounding it, making it more substantial so that it wouldn't just float away as some ceviche recipes do. Of course, the ceviche didn't float away, but I did.
Whenever I enjoy a dish that I know I will be thinking about for a long time, I always ask the cook why she likes it, and why did she decided to cook it this time. I was half expecting Gloria to say, "Eating ceviche reminds me when I saw the ocean for the very first time. There was a flaming orange sun setting over the calm waters of the Pacific just off Puerto Vallarta. Draped across the sky were shades of orange and violet—then a soft twilight descended over us, suffusing everything in a soft, pinkish glow. And suddenly I knew that I couldn't bear to live without it, to listen to the ceaseless bounding of the surf for the rest of my life." Or something quasi-poetic like that.
Instead she rolled her eyes and replied, "Don't you know that I was lazy and I didn't feel like cooking?"
Ay, amiga mía, my sentiments exactamente.
Tilapia Ceviche Tostadas
This is so easy that you really don't need a recipe. This is just a guide so that you can make as little or as much as you want. However, if you have to have a recipe, here it is. Make sure that you use only a non-reactive bowl, such as plastic, stainless steel or glass, while the lemon juice is "cooking" the fish and onions in the frig. It is a no-brainer to say that this dish tastes best icy cold, so lay the bowl of ceviche on a bed of crushed ice.
8 oven-fried tostadas (see recipe below); OR, 8 store-bought tostada shells (for hot, muggy days only!)
1 pound tilapia or red snapper filets, chopped into small bite-sized pieces
The juice of two medium lemons
½ cup diced white onion
½ cup diced green bell pepper, finely chopped jalapeño or serranos, or any combination thereof*
½ tomatoes, the sweetest you can find
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
salt to taste
1 mashed avocado
bottled Mexican-style hot sauce, or fresh chile salsa
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together the chopped fish and diced white onions. Pour in the lemon juice, and using a spoon, mix it with the fish and onions. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for an hour or two, or until the tilapia is opaque. The tilapia is now cooked. Add the chiles, tomato and cilantro. Add salt to taste.
Mash the avocado and place with the pit in a separate bowl. I made mine plain, but you can gussy it up if you want.
Before serving, spread some mayo on each tostada. Add a large spoonful of the ceviche and serve immediately. Serve with the guacamole, cut limes, and the hot salsa.
*(Variation: If you have the time and don't mind standing over a hot stove, omit the bell pepper and add diced roasted poblanos instead. It is certainly worth the sweat!)
OVEN FRIED TOSTADAS RECIPE: I adapted this recipe for great oven-fried tostadas from the January/February 2006 issue of Cook's Illustrated. They are crunchy without being too greasy.
about 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 store-bought mini corn tortillas
Brush each tortilla on both sides with a little oil. Salt them to taste, and arrange them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place the tortillas in a pre-heated 450˚oven for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until they start to turn color. Flip them on the other side and continuing baking until they are golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove them at once.