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June 19, 2013

Putting a healthy spin on the popular fish taco

Mexican cuisine has been popular for a long time, but my recent travels around our country have persuaded me that fish tacos are big now in a way they never were before.

Naturally, perhaps, they are easiest to find in regions with a strong Hispanic influence — particularly California, Texas and Florida — but I’ve also been bumping into them in Chicago and New York. Soon enough, they should be just about as ubiquitous as falafel. It’s a happy thing.

Folks in Mexico’s coastal cities — where fresh fish and tacos are both plentiful — have been enjoying fish tacos since before the arrival of the first Europeans. But if any one individual can take credit for the north-of-the-border spread of this culinary delight, it is Ralph Rubio.

On spring break from his studies at San Diego State University in 1973, Rubio flipped for the fish tacos in San Felipe, a port town on the Baja California peninsula. Ten years later, back in San Diego, he opened Rubio’s Baja Grill, which specializes in fish tacos. Today, there are hundreds of Rubio’s locations.

Traditional fish tacos consist of battered fish topped with shredded cabbage, a drizzle of citrus mayo, all wrapped in a corn tortilla. But there’s plenty of room for variation.

These days, the fish might be grilled rather than battered and fried. Sometimes it’s served on flour tortillas, sometimes on corn tortillas. It’s almost always topped with some kind of creamy sauce, as well as with shredded cabbage and/or avocado. Whatever. I’ve never met a fish taco I didn’t like.

My version is light on calories, but heavy on flavor. The fish is lightly floured and sauteed rather than deep-fried. The citrus mayonnaise sauce went bye-bye in favor of a puree of avocado and buttermilk. The avocado contains healthy fat, and the buttermilk is as lean as skim milk, but much tastier. Topping it off are shredded cabbage, carrots and radishes tossed with vinegar, salt and a pinch of sugar.

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