2017-10-07 / Food

Dieting: A love/hate relationship

By ALAN BENNETT
Food Columnist

Breaking news: I’ve gained weight.

That means I’m on a diet, and I’m taking you all down with me.

One doesn’t typically think of Mexican fare as “health food,” but that’s only because we’re accustomed to the cheese-smothered, sour cream-laden cuisine so often served at those “authentic” restaurants lining our thoroughfares.

In reality, the cuisine is much lighter, incorporating fresh ingredients in modest portions. My recipe for chicken tacos may not be wholly authentic, but it incorporates much of the same principles, using braised — not fried — lean meat, roasted peppers and a combination of spices to boost flavor while limiting calories.

I’ve maintained tradition by using small, soft corn tortillas and cotija cheese in my recipe. If you can’t find cotija, Greek or French feta cheese makes a decent substitute. You can also adapt this recipe to use with pork, applying the same braising technique.

Just because these little cuties are healthy doesn’t mean they don’t taste great. And because they’re light, that means you can have as many as you want … right?

Healthy-ish Chicken Tacos
Start to finish: 45 minutes
Serves: 6-8

For the filling:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon chile flakes
1 cup tomato purée
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper
For the roasted poblano cream:
2 medium poblano peppers
1 small avocado
¼ cup Greek yogurt
1 lime, zested and juiced
½ cup milk or water
½ cup cotija cheese
1 cup shredded red cabbage
Corn tortillas
Lime wedges and sliced avocado, for serving

Season the chicken on both sides with salt, pepper, oregano and cumin. In a deep, wide skillet set over medium heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onions and sauté about 10 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Spread the mixture to the sides of the pan and place the chicken in the center, searing the meat. Once the first side is golden-brown, flip and add the tomatoes plus one cup water. Bring to a brisk simmer and loosely cover, allowing chicken to braise 25-30 minutes until tender and cooked through.

Meanwhile, prepare the poblano cream. Over a gas burner or under the broiler, roast the poblano peppers until charred on all sides. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap — this will loosen the skins. Once cool enough to handle, use paper towels to peel away the skins.

Remove the tops and seed pods and place in the bowl of a blender. Add the avocado, yogurt, lime zest and lime juice and blend. With the blender running, slowly stream in the milk or water until a smooth dressing forms. Set aside.

When the chicken is cooked, remove from the pan onto a board and either shred or slice then. Return the chicken to the pan to coat in sauce. Assemble tacos by layering chicken, cabbage, avocado and cotija cheese onto tortillas, spooning over a generous amount of poblano cream.

Serve with lime wedges to perk up the flavors.

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