To all the meat-lovers: I’m sorry. Although I’ve vigorously loaded up on meat this month, the posts this month have suggested otherwise – but I’ve been in the mood for sweets, I suppose. Plus, I haven’t cooked as much these past couple of weeks, as you well know by now. Fortunately, I have a trusty backlog of tasty recipes to share, especially some from that first week in June.
So with that, let’s get right to it.
Although I’ve known this all along, this fact became abundantly clear to me over the past month: I heart tacos. Tacos with beer-braised turkey are great for wintertime, and Korean-infused tofu tacos are spicy, crunchy, and entirely suitable for the vegetarians, but meat-lovers love them too, as the tofu is swaddled in pepper paste, and fried til crispy on the outside and soft, melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. (Clearly, I dug those tacos…) And in May, I know I must have made at least two types of fish tacos (fried and unfried). I doubt I’ve met a taco I haven’t liked, quite honestly.
You see, a tortilla shell, crunchy or soft, corn or flour, is like a painter’s blank canvas. You add whatever you want from there: protein, salsa, vegetable, sauce, cheese, whatevs, and a masterpiece you have. A perfect taco has textural contrast – if the tortilla is soft, add some crunch in the toppings; if you’re crafting a crunchy-shelled taco, salsas are perfect. At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose.
It’s funny, because a few years ago my only association with a taco, aside from Taco Bell, of course, was the “boxed taco kit” from the grocery store. There was even a Taco Bell version, wasn’t there? Said taco kit included your shells (soft, crunchy, or combo (!)), some over-processed salsa, and the lovely taco “seasoning”. You bought your meat, which was typically ground beef, and if you dared to spice it up, you’d add some iceburg lettuce and again, over-processed ingredients, shredded Kraft cheese. I won’t lie – I liked them, and I’d probably still like them today if I could forget about the ease of making them fresher and more varied.
This taco is probably one of the best chicken tacos I’ve eaten in a long time, maybe ever, if I dare say it. The chicken (thighs, please) is lightly spiced and the toppings are super simple: avocado, pickled red onion, and cotija cheese. The cheese is a dry Mexican cheese that’s used similarly to Parmesan, but it looks and feels like feta cheese; it is slightly salty, which works well with the sweet, acidic onions and the spiced chicken. Look long and hard for it (Whole Foods or a Mexican market should carry it), because you won’t find another cheese like it, and all the sites suggest substituting with Parmesan although I can’t imagine it working well here. I’d use feta over parm, if I had to choose.
As for the pickled onions, I could rave about them for a while, if I had the time. They’re quickly plunged into boiling water to remove that raw red onion bite and then quick-pickled in some citrus juices, a bit of sugar, and cumin. I could eat them straight out of the bowl, which I may or may not have done a few times while the chicken was cooking – they are perfectly crunchy, onion-y in a sweet way, and citrus-spiked. And so pretty, aren’t they? with their neon-pink glow. It’s a festive looking dish for sure, almost too pretty to eat, really. But not quite…
Pollo Asada Tacos w/ Pickled Onions
Adapted from Cooking Light, April 2010; serves 4
1/2 c fresh lemon juice
1/3 c fresh lime juice
1 t sugar
1 t cumin seeds
1 medium red onion, sliced into thin strips
1 1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into thin strips
1 t dried oregano
1 t ground cumin
1 t chipotle chili powder
3/4 t salt
3/4 t black pepper
8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 avocado, sliced
1/2 c (2 ounces) crumbled Cotija cheese
Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves. Place onion in a small saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; drain and dunk onion in ice water. Drain onion; add to juice mixture. Chill until ready to serve.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Sprinkle chicken with oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper; toss to coat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes or until browned and done, stirring occasionally.Heat tortillas according to package directions. Divide chicken evenly among tortillas. Drain onion; divide evenly among tortillas. Top each tortilla with avocado and 1 tablespoon cheese; fold over.