Mexican Tacos…For Realsies

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The New York neighborhood where I live, Astoria, Queens, is statistically one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the US, or so I’ve heard. Since moving here, I’ve learned that the authentic Mexican way to make tacos is not the ground-beef-and-cheese-laden creations from Tex-mex joints (…or Taco Bell, for shame) that we’re used to. Mexican tacos are much more stripped down – naked tacos, if you will. The key to making these seemingly simple little packages delicious is combining rich, punchy flavors with fresh ingredients. They’re super easy to throw together and make for a great take-to-work lunch when you’re sick of sandwiches and salads.

Here’s my slightly pumped-up-kicks version that I created with inspiration from the Mexican ingredients at my local grocery store. I do it with chicken and a refreshing salsa! PS IT’S GLUTEN-FREE! Word.

So a classic Mexican taco is going to have a corn tortilla, meat, onions, cilantro, and lime. Everything else is just gravy.

The gravy I chose to include after perusing the offerings at my super culturally diverse grocery store (which is 24 hours and across the street! but kinda dicey and smells funny…) were Mexican crema, refried beans, and cotija cheese, which has the texture of a hard cheese like Parmesan but the flavor of a moist, bland mozzarella.

Here’s my recipe.

Ingredients

6 corn tortillas

1 lime

2 chicken breasts

1 tomato

1 white onion

1 bunch cilantro

1 can refried beans (fat-free is fine)

1/2 cup Mexican creme

1/2 cup Cotija cheese

Hot sauce of your choice

Spices of your choice (adobo, red pepper flakes, etc)

How-To

1. Make your salsa. I recommend doing this first so that the flavors get some time to meld together while you’re assembling other components. Finely dice one tomato and one white onion. Mix together in a bowl (mixing with your hands works best for this part and is also the most fun). Roughly chop a handful of cilantro – as much or as little as you want – and add to the mix. Squeeze half your lime into salsa. Add salt and pepper. When finished mixing, cover with Saranwrap or tin foil and transfer to the refrigerator for a time-out.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 250°. Place the corn tortillas in the oven for about 5 minutes; this will warm them up and make them more flexible.

2. While tortillas are warming up, get your chicken started. Cut chicken into cubes. Heat up some olive oil in a pan, burner set to med-high. Place your chicken in the pan and brown it up. While chicken is browning, add spices of your choice. I don’t like anything incredibly spicy, but I added some chipotle hot sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. I also recommend adobo seasoning, Tobasco, or some red pepper, depending on your tastes. Squeeze the other half of your lime into the chicken to finish it off. Simmer until chicken is thoroughly browned.

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2. Take your tortillas out of the oven. Mash the refried beans in a bowl just to be sure they’re a smooth consistency. Heat them up in the microwave a little if they’ve been in the refrigerator, but if you’ve just opened a fresh can and they’re room-temperature, leave ’em that way! Add a smear of beans to each tortilla.

3. Add a smear of Mexican crema on each smear of beans. Sprinkle Cotija on top.

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5. CHICKEN TIME. Place your chicken layer on the beany-creamy base you’ve already created.

6. Salsa, ASSSSSEEMMMBLLLLEEE!! Remember that awesome fresh salsa you made? Go retrieve it from the fridge! Its time-out is over! Spoon a healthy heap of salsa onto each taco. The cold, flavorful veggies taste awesome with the warm tortillas and chicken.

And that’s it! Yummy, fresh, and easy Mexican-style tacos that you can make at home! This is one of my favorite recipes because it’s not only time effective, it’s also cost effective. Plus you can add pretty much anything you want – guacamole, extra veggies, steak or pork instead of chicken. Have fun with it and let me know your variations!

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