tacos

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw

Growing up in Auburn, New York, my only concept of Mexican food was the drive-thru menu at Taco Bell.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

All through my childhood I thought “Mexican food” meant odd smelling greasy ground beef with a choice of soft or crunchy taco. If my mom ever had a hankering for something from “south of the border”, it meant she would have to make two trips; one to Taco Bell for her, and one to the Burger King across the street for my sister and myself. The only thing Taco Bell ever had to offer that I had any interest in was their sweet and greasy Cinnamon Twists, the American bastard cousin of the Churro, that I’d happily munch on while we rode across the street to get some “real” food at the BK.

Although I pride myself in being an adventurous eater now, as a kid I was anything but, and my mom was well aware that cooking tacos at home was also a no-no. My sister and I both made it perfectly clear that “Mexican food” (ground beef with seasoning packet and crunchy shells from a box) was not welcome in our home.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I went vegetarian in high school (all the cool kids were doing it) I did end up learning to love Taco Bell, and my usual order consisted of a Chalupa Supreme with refried beans instead of meat. To this day, if I ever find myself in line at the Bell, this is still my go-to order. Even though I eat meat now, I’m not a huge fan of theirs, so I’m more than happy to stick with the beans instead.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Considering that I grew up only a few hours from the bright lights of the big city, I’m really not sure why my hometown was so completely devoid of any authentic Latin food or culture (or ANY food or culture other than American or Italian). I don’t think it even really occurred to me that Taco Bell wasn’t “authentic Mexican cuisine” (Or that Hong Kong Buffet wasn’t “authentic Chinese cuisine”) until I started watching the Food Network in high school and learned there was more to the world of food than was available in my little slice of the world.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Of course, taking culinary courses in college opened my eyes to a whole new world of flavors and cuisines, and there were even a few mediocre Mexican restaurants near my school. It wasn’t until moving to Brooklyn though, that I was finally able to taste actual authentic Mexican food, made by REAL Mexicans! Imagine my surprise when I learned what a real chalupa looked like!

There was a small family owned tortilla factory down the street from my first apartment here, and shortly after I moved in they opened a little lunch counter with amazing tacos on fresh tortillas that could be bought for a song. Eventually the tacos caught on with the 20 year old hipster set and their lunch business blew up and turned into a full scale restaurant business. I practically lived off of those tacos for my first few years in Brooklyn.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Here’s the thing about “authentic” Mexican taco recipes though… This isn’t actually one of them.
You may have already guessed this after seeing the Pfeffernusse, apfelkuchen, & kugelhopf recipes in my repertoire, but… I’m not Mexican.
If I want the real deal I need only to walk around the corner. If I’m making my own at home though, I feel like I’m allowed to take a little poetic license, especially now that I know what a real taco actually tastes like!

I will say this though; Cilantro, though not necessarily in this form, is about as traditional an ingredient for tacos as you can find. Fresh lime juice and the pungent bite of raw onion, both of which you’ll find in the red cabbage slaw, are also integral parts of authentic Mexican tacos.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Grilling is an amazing way to get tons of flavor into your food without adding a ton of fat or salt or sugar. Of course, it’s also summer so I’m always looking for an excuse to cook outside. I’m a charcoal man myself, but if you have a gas grill you can add a smoking box with your choice of wood chips to help get that wonderful smokiness into your food.

If you don’t have a grill, or you’re making this recipe six months in the future when your grill is buried under six feet of snow, you can definitely skip the skewers and roast the chicken strips under your broiler. You might even be able to sear them in a heavy skillet, but the pesto may want to stick to the pan rather than the chicken.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Authentic or not, it doesn’t get much better than soft white corn tortillas filled with smoky tender grilled chicken, vibrant summery cilantro pesto, creamy ripe avocado, and crunchy cabbage with biting raw onion and bright tangy lime juice.
Not bad for a gringo eh?

For the best flavor I like to make the pesto ahead and let the chicken marinate in it for a few hours. I’d recommend that you make the slaw ahead too so all the flavors have some time to hang out together and get nice and friendly.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Cilantro Pesto and Red Cabbage Slaw

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breast
3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh cilantro, lightly packed
1 jalapeño, sliced and seeded (2 if you like heat)
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 2 limes, divided
1 to 2 additional limes cut into wedges
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 shredded red cabbage (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1 ripe avocado, sliced
12 to 16 white corn tortillas

Slice chicken breasts into thin strips with a very sharp knife. I find that putting them into the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes beforehand firms them up and makes them easier to slice.

To make the cilantro pesto combine garlic, cilantro, olive oil, juice of 1 lime, salt, & pepper in a food processor and process until completely smooth. Transfer to a large bowl with sliced chicken and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or two, or overnight if desired.

To make the red cabbage slaw, combine the shredded cabbage, diced onion, and juice of 1 lime in a medium bowl. Toss to combine and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or two, or overnight if desired.

I find that skewering the chicken makes it easier to flip and keeps it from falling through the grill grates. If using wooden skewers make sure to soak them in water for an hour before use so they don’t burn up.

Thread 4 or 5 chicken strips onto each skewer and try to leave as much of the pesto on them as possible. Grill the skewers over a medium to high flame until just cooked through, flipping once. This should only take 4 or 5 minutes per side but that will depend on the heat in your grill. Since the chicken is sliced thin it will dry out if overcooked.
Warm your tortillas over the grill too, just until soft and warm, about a minute per side.

Assemble the tacos with a few chunks of chicken, a sprinkle of red cabbage slaw, a couple slices of avocado, and a squeeze of fresh lime. Serve with additional lime wedges if desired.
I recommend about 3 tacos per serving, 4 if you’re hungry.

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homemade taco seasoning

Why hello there! Longy time no seeum!

homemade taco seasoning | Brooklyn Homemaker

It’s been a minute, I know. Sorry about that.

I went upstate for a little vacation with my sister and her kids, and as much as I wanted to, I didn’t have time to get a backup post together to share while I was away. We went to a Bluegrass festival in the Catskills for 5 glorious days, and while I missed you guys, I loved every second of it.

Amazing music and friendly strangers. Boiling hot days and freezing cold nights. Spending time with family. Getting drunk on whiskey and wine and dancing barefoot until the wee hours of the night. Going to sleep on a firmly inflated mattress and waking up on a rock. Drying blankets in the sun after accidentally leaving the tent windows open during a thunderstorm. Lifting my niece up over a sea of tents to see the rainbow after the storm. Doing my duty in a porta potty or at the grocery store bathroom…

Absolute heaven.

Grey Fox bluegrass festival Grey Fox bluegrass festival Grey Fox bluegrass festival

In keeping with my last post, I had ideas for a summery healthy dinner that I planned to share with you last week, but fate had other ideas. I scheduled an extra day off after the festival so I’d have time to nurse the world’s largest hangover. My plan was to make and photograph said recipe then. Two days into my trip however, things changed.

If you recall my “yardening” post from last spring, you may remember hearing about our “sickly plum tree” and seeing the trunk of said tree in the photo below.

tree trunk

Two days into my trip I received a text from Russell with this photo:

fallen tree

That’s taken from our bedroom window, and in the foreground you can see the deck we built last summer (with stairs to the right) to make getting out into the yard easier for us and the pups. The old “sickly plum tree” had just given up. Since we moved in I’ve been trying to figure out how to nurse the poor tree back to health, but the fact of the matter is that I had little to no idea what I was doing. I tried trimming off dead branches, but more kept dying, and every spring the leaves and fruit suffered from a white mildew that would cause all the fruit and about half of the leaves to fall off early in the summer.

Late last summer I noticed that the tree had A LOT of ants on it, and most of them would travel down to the base of the tree and disappear into the ground between the roots. Well, apparently the ants had decided to take advantage of the defenseless old tree and make a nice home in it’s trunk. When I finally got back home to take a look, the trunk of the tree was completely rotted out and had been turned into a dark and crumbly swiss cheese of insect tunnels. After fighting with all the strength it had left, the tree had finally just given up.

Seeing how bad the trunk was, I’m actually surprised it hadn’t fallen earlier.

Rather than making delicious food in the comfort of my home, on my day off I got to stand outside for several hours in 95 degree heat and cut the poor tree up into manageable chunks with the world’s dullest, rustiest handsaw. After waiting for almost a month for our landlord to fix our oven when it broke, we figured it wasn’t even worth asking for his help with the tree so I just did it myself. It was quite a workout though, so at least I can say it was all in the name of fitness.

Anyway, now the yard looks more like this.

fallen tree after

I’ve still got a lot of work to do to clear all the debris and get rid of the wood somehow (we can’t have fires back there, we tried once and had the fire department at our door within 20 minutes). Although I miss the tree, and it may take some getting used to, I actually really like how open the yard feels now. I feel like I might need to rethink my (meager) landscaping there, but the quality of light in our room feels so much nicer and brighter now, so that’s good.

SOOOooooo…

Without the time to photograph a full meal after the tree massacre, I thought I might share this taco seasoning I’ve been using lately instead. Russell and I tend to eat a lot of ground turkey or grilled chicken tacos, and now that we’re trying to eat better they’re a great meal we can make after work. There are a lot of small family owned tortilla factories in my neighborhood so we can get our corn tortillas super fresh. A few torillas filled with some well seasoned lean meat, sauteed onion, and black beans is the perfect quick and easy weeknight meal. Rather than cheese or sour cream, we like ours with a few creamy slices of ripe avocado.

homemade taco seasoning | Brooklyn Homemaker

I like to make my own seasoning because we make tacos so often. The store bought stuff is crazy salty and some of it has some really questionable ingredients that I’m not super comfortable eating on a regular basis.

This seasoning is not only fresher and much less salty, but you also know exactly what you’re putting into it and can customize it to your taste. I like my tacos nice and spicy, so in addition to the chile powder I like to add ground cayenne pepper too. Cinnamon adds a warmth without adding spicy heat, and smoked paprika adds a great warm smokiness. You may think cornstarch is an odd addition to a seasoning blend, but most taco seasoning does have thickening agents in it to help make a nice thick sauce. If you don’t like using cornstarch you could substitute arrowroot powder instead or leave it out altogether. It’s your party!

homemade taco seasoning | Brooklyn Homemaker

Homemade Taco Seasoning

  • Servings: makes about 6 ounces, enough for 4 to 6 pounds of meat
  • Print
adapted from Love & Olive Oil

6 tablespoons ground chile powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper, optional
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine all spices in a small bowl and whisk until evenly distributed. Can be stored in an airtight jar or container for future use. Recipe doubles (or triples, or more) very easily.

If using ground meat, brown the meat first then add seasoning along with a few tablespoons of water. You’ll want about 2 tablespoons of seasoning per pound of ground meat. Stir regularly until meat is fully cooked and sauce is thickened. I like to add a diced small onion while I brown the meat, and a drained can of black beans right at the end. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

You can also use the seasoning as a rub for chicken breast. Sear the chicken breasts until fully cooked and slice thin before adding to tacos.

grilled shrimp tacos

I think that it’s officially safe to the warm weather is here to stay!

grilled shrimp tacos with cilantro pesto and jalapeno crema | Brooklyn Homemaker

This spring has been all over the place when it comes to the weather. One day it’s sunny & gorgeous, and the next day it’s grey & freezing. It’s a very hard life we lead here in Brooklyn.

grilled shrimp tacos with cilantro pesto and jalapeno crema | Brooklyn Homemaker

I actually made these tacos two or three weeks ago, but the very next day the weather took a turn and I felt weird posting them when it was so chilly outside.
The day I made them was absolutely gorgeous though, and Russell and I had the day to ourselves to wander Brooklyn and frolic in the sunshine.

grilled shrimp tacos with cilantro pesto and jalapeno crema | Brooklyn Homemaker

So frolic we did.

grilled shrimp tacos with cilantro pesto and jalapeno crema | Brooklyn Homemaker

We walked into Williamsburg and found a cute little place to have brunch, and afterward we went to a local nursery and got some new plants for the yard. It was still pretty early in the season so they didn’t have a huge selection, and our yard has the perfect combination of total shade, no hose hook-up, and super dry crappy soil; so we have to be careful about what we plant. About 60% of what I experiment with back there doesn’t make it through the first year, but we’re hoping the pachysandra we picked up will be hardy enough to survive our humble little wasteland.
So… fingers crossed!
After that we stopped by an old family fish market to get some shrimp to grill for dinner.

grilled shrimp tacos with cilantro pesto and jalapeno crema | Brooklyn Homemaker

When Russell makes fish tacos he usually makes a quick sauce with plain greek yogurt and sriracha, but this time I wanted to try something fun and a little different. I made a quick cilantro pesto to marinate the shrimp, and then made a jalapeño crema to add some creamy zip.

Both these sauces are super simple and easy to make if you have a food processor, so don’t be intimidated that you have to make two sauces. I also recommend skewering the shrimp to make them easier to flip on the grill and make sure they don’t fall through into the fire, but if you don’t have skewers it’s not impossible to grill the shrimp without them.

grilled shrimp tacos with cilantro pesto and jalapeno crema | Brooklyn Homemaker

My playing around really paid off. The shrimp came out tender, smoky, herby, tangy and perfect. Grilling them over a charcoal fire rather than gas definitely adds a lot of extra smokiness, but if you have a gas grill you can add a smoke box with wood chips to replicate the same flavor.

The bright fresh red cabbage adds a really nice crunch, and the jalapeño crema adds a welcome creaminess with a hint of spice. Mine actually wasn’t very spicy at all, but that will depend on your jalapeños. A nice squeeze of bright fresh lime juice and you’re in shrimp taco heaven!

grilled shrimp tacos with cilantro pesto and jalapeno crema | Brooklyn Homemaker

grilled shrimp tacos with cilantro pesto

3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh cilantro, lightly packed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lb jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
1/2 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
2 seeded jalapeños
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded red cabbage
corn tortillas
1 lime cut into wedges

To make the cilantro pesto combine garlic, cilantro, olive oil, lime juice, salt, & pepper in a food processor and process until completely smooth. Transfer to a large bowl with shrimp and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or two, or overnight.
Clean the food processor and make the crema. Combine the sour cream or crema, lime juice, salt, and jalapeño and process until completely smooth.

I recommend using skewers to make the shrimp easier to flip and keep them from falling into the grill. If using wooden skewers make sure to soak them in water for an hour before use so they don’t burn up.

Add 5 or 6 shrimp to each skewer and try to leave as much of the pesto on them as possible. Grill the shrimp over a medium to high flame until just cooked through, flipping once. This should only take 3 or 4 minutes per side but that will depend on the heat in your grill. Warm your tortillas over the grill too, just until soft and warm, about a minute per side.

Assemble the tacos with two to three shrimp each, a sprinkle of shredded cabbage, a drizzle of crema, and a squeeze of fresh lime.