Grits Go South of the Border

Color and freshness are the keys to making simple food feel celebratory.

Brisket Tacos, Poblano Grits, and Friends Make a Fiesta

There's nothing that some good tequila, great company, and spicy food can't fix. No matter what ails me, hand me a margarita and some tacos, and I'm a happy girl. I blame my penchant for pico de gallo on my father, a Mexican man who regularly ate raw jalapeños -- downing two or three without pause -- at the dinner table. And my mother, a Tennessee-bred belle from the deep South, gave me my love for all things Southern.

Blistered Poblano Pepper Cheese Grits marry spicy, savory, and sinfully good.

On a weeknight back in late August, our great friends Katharine and Luke joined us, along with their sweet baby boy, Augie, for a feast of BBQ Beef Brisket Tacos, Blistered Poblano Pepper Cheese Grits, Mexican Street Corn, Broiled Sweet Peppers, and an easy Watermelon-Mint Agua Fresca to cool chile-laced tongues. My goal: blend my culinary cultures to produce food that stood up to discerning palates without feeling fussy.

It's easy to blister the skins of peppers over a gas range. Here, a few locally-grown poblano peppers endure the flame to bring out their sweet spice.

It worked. Dinner prep consisted of buying the freshest ingredients available, mixing homemade elements with prepared ones, and keeping the presentation focused on colors and simplicity.

Traditional Mexican Street Corn gets a Southern twist with a kiss from a smoked paprika and garlic yogurt sauce.

In the end, I realized, these flavors were made to meld. After all, BBQ beef brisket is an easy substitution for any number of grilled meats traditionally used, in Mexican cuisine, to top tacos. And the earthy blend of corn polenta, queso fresco and peppers in the Blistered Poblano Pepper Grits mirrored the dance between masa, chiles, cheese and meat in those most heavenly pillows of Mexican goodness: tamales. Easy sides like Mexican Street Corn and Broiled Sweet Peppers added vibrant flavors without being labor-intensive, and some well-chosen beverages -- the non-alcoholic Watermelon Mint Agua Fresca, as well as some Mezcal Margaritas -- infused a smoky and a sweet element that rounded out this meal perfectly.

BBQ Beef Brisket Street Tacos layer homemade guacamole, pickled radishes, queso fresco, and cilantro for bite-sized bliss. Liberal squeezes of lime cut the richness of this dish.

Here's a universal truth about good food: If people stop talking for an extended period of time while they're eating, if licked fingers and murmurs of appreciation replace lively conversation, you've most likely produced a winning combination. And, often, simplicity is key. Many of the best dishes are ingredient-light, allowing each element to shine.

Broiled Sweet Peppers, topped with Queso Fresco, Cilantro, and coarse salt, are an easy way to pack a flavor punch.

So it was on this late-summer evening, when the food was as rich, easy, and accessible as our laughter-filled conversation, and the table lay awash in candlelight. Friendship, like good food, requires love and attention. But sometimes, when the ingredients are just right, it's really no work at all.

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