Tag Archives: tacos

Still cooking after all these beers: Salsa, Flour Tortillas, Chicken Tacos and Quesadillas

24 Feb

I realize it has been quite some time since I’ve done a cooking post.  A busy schedule, empty pantry, and lack of motivation of late have largely kept me out of the kitchen recently.  A trip to the grocery store this morning changed all that, and thankfully gave me the culinary kick in the pants I needed to get my lazy butt back in the kitchen.  A crisper full of fresh produce almost always leads to salsa.  Salsa goes great with tacos.  A little more cheese and a soft taco becomes a quesadilla.  This is how my brain works.  Let’s dive into some simple Mexican staples that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes from a modest set of ingredients.

Salsa

Fresh salsa is so easy to make and endlessly tweakable – I honestly don’t remember the last time I bought a jar of salsa (and quite frankly can’t help but think it tastes like spaghetti sauce).  Simple restaurante-style salsa takes less than 10 minutes to make and $5 worth of ingredients will net you about a quart.  No joke.

Ingredient rundown:

  • canned diced tomatoes
  • small to medium-sized onion, diced
  • bell peppers (any color, fresh or quickly roasted and diced)
  • jalepeño, minced
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • fresh garlic, minced
  • fresh lime juice
  • Seasonings – salt, cumin, garlic powder, dried Mexican oregano, epazote, dried chipotle, chipotle in adobo

How I do it:

  1. Mince 1 small onion, 1 small bell pepper, 1 large clove of garlic, cilantro (more the better), 1 jalepeno, 1 chipotle in adobo (optional).
  2. Throw that stuff in a blender
  3. Add one 1 14oz-ish can of diced tomatoes.
  4. Add a dash of salt, cumin and garlic powder, juice of one lime (I like to throw a pinch each of dried epazote and Mexican oregano for depth of flavor)
  5. Blend until nearly liquefied.
  6. That’s it.

I go this stuff faster than water.  Luckily it’s just as affordable.  A great cheap, healthy and quick snack and condiment to have around.

Flour Tortillas

I’ve actually never made tortillas from scratch, though I had a neighbor in California that would make them for me after school as a child.  A pat of butter and dash of salt made for a simple but decadent snack.  My lack of soft taco-sized tortillas at home and a little curiosity led to a quick search and a simple recipe, courtesy of texascooking.com

Ingredient rundown:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (they warn against bread flour, but that’s what I had on-hand for pizza dough and it worked just fine for me)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm milk (2% is fine)

I ended up making a half recipe, which made enough dough for 4 6-8 inch thick and chewy tortillas.  I also added a dash of garlic powder and a splash of the adobe sauce from the canned chipotles for a little character.

How they do it:

  1. Stir together the flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and vegetable oil to the lukewarm milk and whisk briefly to incorporate. Gradually add the milk to the flour, and work the mixture into a dough. It will be sticky.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a surface dusted with flour and knead vigorously for about 2 minutes (fold and press, fold and press). The kneading will take care of the stickiness. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rest for 15 minutes. (This dough will not rise, but it needs a rest.)
  3. Divide your dough into 8 balls of equal size, cover them, and let them rest again for about 20 minutes. Avoid letting them touch, if you don’t want them to stick together.
  4. Dust your work surface with flour. Working one at a time, remove each piece of dough and pat it into a 5-inch circle. With a rolling pin, roll out the tortilla, working from the center out, until you have a 7- or 8-inch tortilla a little less than 1/4 inch thick.
  5. Transfer the tortilla to a hot, dry skillet or griddle (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet with great results). It will begin to blister. Let it cook for 30 seconds, turn it, and let the other side cook for 30 seconds. Remove the tortilla, place it in a napkin-lined basket and cover with aluminum foil. Repeat for the remaining tortillas.

Chicken Tacos

With the salsa and tortillas knocked out, we’re a few fillings away from some pretty gnarly tacos.  I just bought a boatload of chicken thighs so my protein was settled.  I always like a little contrast from the usual salty-spicy core of tacos so in this case I though some lightly pickled onion and jalepeño would work well.

Ingredient rundown

  • tortillas (see above)
  • boneless chicken (I’m partial to dark meat, breasts will work fine, too)
  • strip of bacon, thinly sliced
  • onion and jalepeño, sliced into thin slivers
  • sweet bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • white vinegar
  • cilantro, chopped
  • salt, pepper, spicy rub (I always have plenty of Penzeys Northwoods Fire on hand)
  • salt and pepper

How I do it:

  1. Thinly slice half a small onion and jalepeño, add chopped cilantro and a healthy splash of vinegar and let soak, stirring often, while you prepare the chicken
  2. Rub chicken with salt, pepper and spicy seasoning blend.
  3. Add sliced bacon to hot skillet to render some fat out before adding seasoned chicken.
  4. Brown chicken for4-5 minutes on each side until lightly crispy and caramelized.
  5. Add sweet peppers during last few minutes to lightly saute.
  6. Remove chicken and slice into bite-sized strips.
  7. Assemble tacos with salsa and optionally, lettuce, sour cream and shredded cheese.

Quesadillas

As I said before, a soft taco is some extra cheese and a hot pan away from being a quesadilla.  (I also make a not-so-secret sauce out of ranch dressing and chili powder that I spread thinly on the tortilla before topping with cheese and other fillings – thanks college roomie Kate for that gem).  I add a scant teaspoon of vegetable oil to a skillet over medium heat and cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown and flaky-crispy.  The thick homemade tortillas really crisped up nicely into borderline gordita territory.  It’s good to be back.


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