Unlike the dino nugget-loving youth of today, my siblings and I grew up with the adventurous palates of well-traveled diners, because, well, that’s what we were.
Our parents didn’t shy away from traveling with three small children, something I didn’t fully appreciate until I had a child of my own. I currently consider making it to the grocery store and back with our 4-month-old a medal-worthy accomplishment.
My parents braved far-off destinations from Morocco to Belize, Mexico to the Pyrenees, all with their merry gang of kiddos in tow. And you know what the riads in Morocco don’t serve alongside their fresh mint tea? Dino nuggets.
So, from a young age, my siblings and I were forced to expand our palates, appreciate the food that was put in front of us, and gain a deeper understanding about the cultures of our destinations via the food on our plates.
Fast forward to college, and my now-husband George’s adventuresome eating was one of the many things that first drew me to him. Some of our first dates, while we were both interning in New York City, were to the cheapest “locals only” spots we could find in Chinatown. George showed off his ability to order in Mandarin, thanks to his Chinese language major, and I showed off my inability to handle spicy food. Our young relationship budded under the flickering fluorescent lights of dodgy dim sum restaurants below Canal Street.
Fast forward again, to 2016, when another summer internship—this time while George was in business school—afforded us the chance to spend four weeks in Bangkok. We jumped at it. Since falling in love with Bangkok while traveling in Thailand years prior, we had always hoped for an opportunity to go back.
What ensued were six weeks of eating, drinking, and sweating our way through Southeast Asia. We spent Monday through Friday in Bangkok, eating at every hidden street cart and drinking at every speakeasy that we read about on blogs and heard about from George’s ex-pat co-workers. On the weekends, we took off.
One weekend, we traveled north to Chiang Mai, where we feasted on dozens of different variations of khao soi (think: curried chicken noodle soup). The next, we headed for the tropical island of Koh Samui, where the food was subpar and touristy, but the Singha beer was ice cold and dirt cheap. Another, we border-hopped over to Cambodia, where we were dazzled by not only the majestic history of Angkor Wat, but also by Cambodian cuisine, insects and all.
Once the internship ended, we spent two weeks traveling throughout Vietnam, feasting on char-grilled meat skewers from street carts, sweet and vinegary bun cha from the restaurant where Bourdain and Obama had dined for “Parts Unknown” just months prior, pho from bubbling vats, and banh mi on the crustiest baguettes from tiny hole-in-the-walls with no menus.
In short, we spent six weeks falling in love with the salty, spicy, sweet, funky flavors of Asian cuisine.
Hello, Grilling Season
Soy sauce, sriracha, and toasted sesame oil are three ingredients that, while Asian in origin, have become staples in many American kitchens, including my own. If a dish is missing a savory punch, it gets a hit of soy sauce. If it needs a bit of heat, sriracha is my weapon of choice. Toasted sesame oil is the perfect flavor boost for everything from salad dressings to grilled vegetables.
To kick off grilling season, aka summer, aka the best time of the year, I wanted to create a steak marinade based on these three ingredients. No sriracha? Use any other chili-based hot sauce in its place. No soy sauce? Use Worcestershire, but thin it out with a few tablespoons of water.
That simple marinade serves a dual purpose: it both marinates the steak and serves as a sauce for the snap peas, which are cooked right on the grill in a foil packet. While the steak marinates, George and I quickly knock out assembling the packet and mixing up a simple sesame oil-based slaw and creamy sriracha sauce. The steak gets grilled, then sliced up and put to use in tacos along with the slaw, sriracha sauce, and slices of avocado.
Salty, spicy, creamy, and crunchy, these tacos are the perfect excuse to dust your grill off after months of wintry neglect. Low-maintenance recipes like this one are perfect for summer, when all you really want to do is enjoy being outdoors, not cooped up in the kitchen.
Growing up, my father was always relegated to grill duty, but instead, I propose grilling together. It’s the ultimate excuse to spend time outdoors together, with the added bonus that no single person gets all the blame for overcooking the meat.
As the days grow longer, our dinnertime becomes later and later, since we like to throw our dinner on the grill at dusk, then eat under the cafe lights that we finally hung over our front deck. If we close our eyes, these flavors take us back to that magical summer adventure in Southeast Asia. But then we open them, and remember that we’re actually eating tacos in Northern California, with our baby asleep just inside, and that feels like an even better adventure.
Asian-Inspired Grilled Steak Tacos With Snap Peas
For the tacos:
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sriracha
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder (or 3 garlic cloves, minced)
- 1 pound skirt or flank steak, silver skin removed
- 4 to 6 taco-size flour tortillas
- Cooking spray
- 1 avocado, thinly sliced
- Sesame seeds, for garnish
- Lime wedges, for serving
For the snap peas:
- 12 ounces sugar snap peas
- 1 tablespoon butter, cut into 4 pieces
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
For the sesame slaw:
- 2 cups store-bought coleslaw mix or thinly shaved cabbage
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- Juice of 1 large lime
For the creamy sriracha sauce:
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise or sour cream
- 1 to 2 tablespoons sriracha (depending on preferred spiciness)
- Juice of 1 lime
- Pinch of kosher salt
Combine soy sauce, sriracha, sesame oil, honey, and garlic powder in a gallon Ziploc bag. Zip closed and shake to combine. This is important: Pour about 1 tablespoon of the marinade into a small bowl to reserve it for later.
Add steak to Ziploc bag, remove all air, and seal so that the marinade can completely surround the meat.
Leave the steak to marinate at room temperature while you prepare the rest of the meal. Or, if you have time to marinate the steak ahead of time, keep it refrigerated in the marinade for up to 48 hours.
To make the snap peas, tear off a large piece of aluminum foil and place the snap peas in the center. Add the reserved tablespoon of steak marinade, pieces of butter (it will melt while the peas cook!), and salt over top. Fold up the aluminum foil around the peas, leaving a quarter-sized hole in the top for steam to escape.
To make the sesame slaw, place coleslaw mix in a bowl and sprinkle salt over top. Use your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage by crunching it tightly between your fists over and over for about 15 seconds, or until the cabbage begins to soften. Stir in sesame oil and lime juice and set aside.
To make the creamy sriracha sauce, stir together the mayonnaise, sriracha, lime juice, and salt. Set aside.
When you’re ready to eat, preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat (about 400 degrees F).
Remove steak from marinade and pat dry. Discard marinade. Grill for 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steak to a cutting board and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Add the snap pea foil packet to the grill and cook for 5 minutes total. Spray tortillas lightly with cooking spray and grill for about 30 seconds per side with the lid open, until charred but still soft.
Use tongs to carefully remove the snap pea foil packet from the grill. Carefully rip it open and transfer the peas and sauce to a bowl, add sesame seeds, and toss to coat in the soy-butter sauce.
Slice steak against the grain into very thin pieces. Top 4 to 6 tortillas with a few slices of steak, some slaw (toss it again to coat it in the dressing before you use it), sriracha sauce, a couple of avocado slices, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve with snap peas.
If you have extra slaw, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days.
When purchasing your steak, try to find a piece that has a uniform thickness of roughly 1 inch. Flank steak can often be way thinner on one side and thicker on the other, which makes it difficult to grill perfectly. If you wind up with a steak that varies widely in thickness, you can even cut it between the thinner and thicker ends, and grill the thicker end for longer. If there isn’t a 1-pound steak on the shelves, ask the butcher to cut one for you.
Don’t have an outdoor grill? Use a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat instead. Cook the steak first, then the tortillas, then cook the snap peas by adding all of the ingredients to the skillet at once and cooking for 3 to 4 minutes.
Switch up your protein! To make chicken tacos instead, use 1 pound of chicken thighs or breasts, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side. For shrimp tacos, marinate for 30 minutes maximum, and grill for just 1 minute per side. For tuna tacos, marinate 1 pound of sushi-grade tuna for up to 1 hour, then grill for just 2 minutes per side for tuna that’s perfectly seared on the outside but rare on the inside.
To make burrito bowls instead, omit the tortillas, make a batch of rice or quinoa, and serve everything piled on top. Want to go grain-free? Triple the slaw and use it as your base.
Caroline Chambers is a recipe developer, food writer, and author of “Just Married: A Cookbook for Newlyweds.” She currently lives in Carmel, California, with her husband, George, and brand new baby boy, Mattis. Follow her on Instagram for cooking tips and snippets from her life in Northern California @carochambers