June 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

MGM Grand Detroit's executive chef kicks back with tasty tacos

Alejandro Garza, assistant executive chef at the MGM Grand Detroit, says he remembers helping his mother make Spanish rice at their home in Southwest Detroit when he was only 7 years old and “just tall enough to reach the stove.”

As a teen, he got a job delivering pizzas for Valentino’s Pizza in Redford Township. “Because I got a couple of speeding tickets while doing it, I was going to quit, but my boss wanted to keep me so he said come on inside, work in the kitchen and learn to make pizzas,” Garza says. “When he sold the pizza place and opened a restaurant called the Dearborn Café, I followed him there. And it was that restaurant’s chef, Michael Ruffin, who inspired me to go to culinary school.”

Garza graduated from Schoolcraft College’s Culinary Arts Program in 1991. While studying there, he also worked at Fonte d’Amore (now closed), a restaurant owned by Luciano Del Signore, the current owner of the popular Bacco in Southfield.

After graduating, Barza worked for the Ritz Carleton hotel in Dearborn for nine years followed by a stint as banquet chef at The Henry Ford. In 2009 he was hired by the MGM Grand Detroit, where he is now assistant executive chef for seven of the casino’s restaurants.

Garza chose to share his Spanish rice recipe for sentimental reasons. But he says he did some tweaking to his mother’s original recipe. “I add more cumin than she did, and she didn’t do chili powder at all,” he says. “She also put in green peppers. I don’t because I don’t like them.”

And while the steak tacos are essentially his own creation, the chef says their ancho paste marinade has the flavors he grew up eating.

“My mother used ancho peppers a lot,” he says. “The idea for the ancho pepper paste came from my mother’s version of enchilada sauce.

“At my house, my kids call anything in a tortilla shell a taco, and we use tortillas in place of sandwich bread.” And because his wife and two children particularly love these steak tacos, he says he probably makes them every few weeks during the year and a lot more often in the summer.

To accompany the steak tacos and Spanish rice, Garza suggests Jarritos mandarin natural flavor soda for the kids and either that or a Dos Equis ale for the adults. And for dessert, he likes the idea of a caramel flan.

Alejandro's Summertime Steak Tacos With Spanish Rice

1 ½ pound flat iron beefsteak, scored
Ancho Pepper Paste Marinade (prepared in advance, see recipe)
3 ripe avocados, diced
Salt and pepper
12 flour tortillas
Pico de gallo (prepared in advance, see recipe)

Score the meat on both sides. Spread the ancho paste marinade on both sides. Marinate the meat for two hours. Then grill the meat over high heat (on gas grill or over charcoal) for 6 minutes per side.

While the meat is cooking, dice the avocados and combine them with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat tortillas in a cast iron skillet or on a griddle. When heated, place on a plate. Spread each tortilla with two tablespoons of the avocado mixture. Add three slices of steak, top with one tablespoon of pico de gallo and fold. Serve with Spanish rice (see recipe).

Per serving (per taco): 363 calories; 23 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 57 percent calories from fat); 24 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 34 mg cholesterol; 402 mg sodium; 16 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Ancho Pepper Paste Marinade

Can be prepared a week in advance and refrigerated.

1 piece of dried ancho pepper
1 quart of water
2 tablespoons cilantro
3 cloves garlic
Juice and zest of ½ a lime
2 ounces vegetable oil
½ tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Boil the ancho pepper in water for 4 minutes. Let it cool in the water. After the pepper is cool, remove the seeds and put it in a food processor, along with ¼ cup of the water pepper was boiled in, the cilantro, garlic, limejuice and zest, vegetable oil, cumin and salt and pepper. Blend until it becomes a paste (about 1 minute).

Pico De Gallo

Can be prepared two hours in advance.

4 ripe tomatoes, finely diced
¼ cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ jalapeno (with seeds), diced
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Spanish Rice

Can be prepared 45 minutes in advance and reheated if needed.

13 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ jalapeno, minced
3 ounces red pepper, diced
2 ounces vegetable oil
1 cup long grain rice
½ teaspoon cumin
4 teaspoons chili powder
1 large tomato, diced
13 teaspoon oregano
2 cups chicken stock
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Saute onions, garlic and peppers in oil until translucent (about 1 ½ minutes). Add rice, cumin and chili powder, and fry rice for about 2 minutes. Then add the diced tomatoes, oregano, chicken stock and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Season to taste. Finish with the lemon juice. Serves 6.

Per serving: 232 calories; 10 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 39 percent calories from fat); 30 g carbohydrates; 1.5 g sugar; 2 mg cholesterol; 458 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 2 g fiber.

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Chef Alejandro Garza says he probably makes these steak tacos (with Spanish rice) every few weeks during the year and a lot more often in the summer. / David Coates / The Detroit News