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~ Light & Easy Tex-Mex-Style Skinny Chicken Tacos ~

IMG_3792Mexican food is a favorite of mine, but I often wish it wasn't.  Don't misunderstand me -- I can and will gobble up all its flavor-packed goodness with the best of 'em.  It's next to impossible for anyone me to resist the melty or crumbly cheeses along with the creamy-rich refried beans, guacamole and crema.  That said, more often than not, when dinner is done, I find myself wishing I'd exercised (pun intended) even a modicum of restraint, but, let's face it, despite the array of fresh ingredients used in Mexican food, Mexican fare doesn't offer any genuinely light options -- even a taco salad can contain up to 1200 calories. What's a girl who values her waistline to do? She takes matters into her own hands and makes "skinny" tacos -- a take on "baja-style tacos" (which implies a larger ratio of lower-calorie and fresher ingredients to calorie-packed ones).

It's worth mentioning that I often serve these as appetizers.  Why?  They're not your typical taco. Besides not being overstuffed or overly-messy, they are at their best when served slightly-warm or at room temperature -- they're eaten much like any other sandwich served in the heat of the Summertime.   There's more.  They maintain their crunchy-munchy integrity for several, 3-4 hours (if they last that long), which means you can assemble them and put them out just before your cocktail or tailgate party begins and let everyone help themselves to one, two or three. 

IMG_3778My basic but flavor-packed 5-minute Mexican marinade:

6a0120a8551282970b0223c846f14d200c6  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary corn or vegetable oil*

3  tablespoons white vinegar

3  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality organic lime juice not from concentrate

1 1/2  teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2  teaspoons dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

1  teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves

*Note:  Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare.  If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute corn or vegetable oil without compromise.

6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b 6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b 6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b 6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b~Step 1. In a small-capacity food processor, measure and place all ingredients as listed, except for cilantro.  Mince and add cilantro. Process until smooth and emulsified, 15-20 seconds.

Light & easy.  For my version of skinny tacos:

IMG_3686For the chicken:

all marinade, from above recipe 

2  pounds chicken tenderloins, sliced into skinny strips

For the vegetable sauté:

4  cups green, red and yellow bell pepper strips (about 1 each:  medium-sized green, red and yellow bell pepper)

2  cups sliced red onion strips  

1 1/2 teaspoons each: ground cumin, Mexican-style oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

1 teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

2  cups sliced grape or cherry tomatoes, total used throughout recipe (2/3 for the vegetable sauté and 1/3 for garnish

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, total used throughout recipe (2/3 cup for the vegetable sauté and 1/3 for garnish)

2  tablespoons achiote, corn or vegetable oil, for sautéing vegetables

For serving and garnishes (in order of assembly):

16  fresh corn tortillas, deep-fried in corn oil to a crunchy-but-still-pliable state, about 45 seconds per tortilla

2  cups finely-shredded iceberg lettuce

all the sautéed chicken, pepper and onion mixture

1/3 of the sliced grape or cherry tomatoes, reserved from above, for garnish

1/3 of the minced, fresh cilantro leaves, reserved from above, for garnish

high-quality, store-bought, cilantro-lime dressing, for garnish

1/4  cup finely-shredded cotija cheese, for garnish (Note:  Cotija cheese is salty and dry, very resemblant of Parmesan, so, use sparingly.)

IMG_3692 IMG_3692 IMG_3692 IMG_3692 IMG_3692~Step 1.  Slice chicken as directed and place in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add marinade and seal bag.  Using your fingertips, massage the bag, "squishing the chicken around", until chicken is coated in marinade. Set aside, at room temp 30-60 minutes, or, 3-4 hours in the refrigerator (overnight is too long).  Remove from refrigerator 1 hour prior to cooking.

IMG_3701 IMG_3679 IMG_3679 IMG_3679 IMG_3679 IMG_3679~Step 2.  Slice onion and peppers and place in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  In a small bowl, stir together the spices:  ground cumin, Mexican-style oregano, Mexican-style chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and black pepper. Add the spice blend to the veggetables, seal the bag and toss to coat veggies in spices.

IMG_3711 IMG_3711 IMG_3711~ Step 3.  While the chicken is marinating, and after the vegetables have been coated in the spice mixture, now is the best time to fry the corn tortillas.  In a deep-fryer containing corn or peanut oil and preheated to 360° according to manufacturer's specifications (or, in a sauce pan fitted with a candy thermometer on the stovetop), deep-fry each corn tortilla to a crunchy-but-still-pliable state, for 45 seconds. Remove tortilla from oil, place it on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and season with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  Arrange finished tortillas in a wooden taco rack or on a large serving platter.

IMG_3737 IMG_3737 IMG_3737 IMG_3737 IMG_3737 IMG_3737~Step 4.  Transfer chicken and all of its marinade to a 3 1/2-quart enameled cast iron skillet and adjust heat to medium-high.  Sauté chicken until just cooked through, 5-6 minutes, stirring almost constantly with large spoon or spatula, until almost no liquid remains in the bottom of skillet.  Turn heat off and transfer chicken to a medium bowl and set aside while sautéing the vegetables as directed in Step 5 (see below).  Note:  There is no need to add oil to the skillet prior to sautéing the chicken because the marinade has oil in it.

IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3784~Step 5.  Add the 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and adjust heat to high. Wait about 30 seconds. Add the vegetable melange.  Sauté, stirring constantly, until vegetables are crunch-tender, 1-2 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Turn the heat off. Return the still warm chicken to the skillet and toss to combine.  Remove from heat and set aside for 30-40 minutes, to cool (a bit more than) slightly.  Stir in about 2/3 of the sliced tomatoes and 2/3 cup of the minced cilantro, reserving the remaining tomatoes and cilantro for garnish. 

IMG_3787 IMG_3787 IMG_3787~Step 6.  To assemble the tacos, evenly distribute the shredded lettuce into the bottom of the sixteen prepared taco shells. Evenly distribute the chicken and vegetable mixture atop the lettuce in each one.  Scatter a few tomatoes and a sprinkling of cilantro atop the meat and vegetable mixture, followed by a drizzle of the flavorful cilantro-lime dressing and a light sprinkling of the shredded cotija cheese.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature -- like you would eat a refreshing Summertime sandwich.

Light & easy?  I can't eat just three. So much for my diet.

IMG_3817Light & Easy Tex-Mex-Style Chicken Taco Stir-Fry:  Recipe yields  1/2 cup marinade and enough filling for 16 tacos.

Special Equipment List:  small-capacity food processor; cutting board; chef's knife; 2, 1-gallon food storage bags; deep-fryer or 4-quart saucepan; paper towels; wooden taco rack or serving platter; 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron skillet or 12" cast-iron skillet; large spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7d2d12e970b 2Cook's Note: My favorite fish taco is the one that is in front of me, and, the first one I ever ate was so good I've declined to debate this issue with anyone -- if you bring it up, I'll just hit the mute button.  It was 1986, and, there was a day trip from San Diego, CA to Tijuana, Mexico on our agenda.  As I recall, the trip took about an hour and I'd ordered a "Baja Fish Taco" at a taco stand, which I ate en route -- I wish I'd ordered two. ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Baja-Style Cod-Fish Tacos ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)


Good morning Theresa -- I am addicted to that dressing!

Looks Wonderful.. especially with cilantro lime dressing!

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