recipe

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.

Advertisements

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake

You guys. I have a confession to make.
I’m the world’s WORST blogger.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

It’s been sunny and warm for the past few days and I had to draaaag myself indoors to write this post. I’ve really wanted nothing more than to lay out in the yard after work and snuggle puppies and drink rosé.
Russell’s been visiting family in LA and I should be taking this opportunity to catch up on my writing, but once the sun goes down and the spring chill sets back in, I’d rather be watching reruns of the Walking Dead or RuPaul’s Drag Race with a pint of pistachio ice cream.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

In addition to laziness and springtime distractions, I’ve also fallen victim to springtime cravings. The arrival of warm weather and green leaves makes me crave fresh produce and bright spring berries like crazy. I mentioned last week that as much as I crave these foods, local production hasn’t caught up to my cravings just yet and so far the produce at the green markets leaves a bit to be desired.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve been trying to hold out, but the other day I caved. I’m really the worst.

Just awful.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Wandering the aisles of the grocery store the other day I stumbled across a big bucket filled with rhubarb stalks. Conveniently located behind the rhubarb were stacks and stacks of organic strawberries fresh from the freight truck.

I tried to resist, but their strawberry siren song was too much for me and I circled the produce section twice before finding them in my basket at the checkout line.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Truth be told, I had no damned clue what I would do with my pre-season berries and rhubarb but I just HAD to have them. There aren’t many things in this world that I love more than a strawberry rhubarb pie, but a pie is so filling-centric that I know I need to wait for strawberry season proper to go that route.

In terms of flavor, nothing beats a berry that was ripened in the sun, in season, a few miles (or footsteps) from your home. These bright red little berries however, fresh off the truck from California, travelled a looooong way before finding their way onto the shelves at the Food Town in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They were pretty durn good, especially after not tasting a fresh strawberry for months, but they tasted nowhere near as fresh and flavorful as they will in a few short weeks.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Tart rhubarb and a healthy bit of sugar would help doctor up my lackluster berries, but in this case they would need to be more of an accent flavor and less of the main attraction. I needed to come up with a recipe that would elevate them and let them shine without expecting too much of them.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

It didn’t take me long to think of a rustic skillet cake I made last summer, with caramelized peaches and cornmeal. Perfect! I didn’t want to go the cornmeal route this time, but the basic idea was spot on. I’d cook the sliced berries with the rhubarb, a bit of butter, and some sugar; and then I’d pour them over a tender buttermilk cake baked in a big ol’ cast iron skillet.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

This cake is perfect.

In another week or two, when strawberries are actually in season here, this will definitely be happening again because then it’ll be even more perfect than it’s current state of perfection.

Topped with fresh barely sweetened whipped cream, it’s like a jammy little slice of strawberry shortcake.
Rustic and unfussy. Sweet and tart. Fluffy and tender. The cooked strawberry rhubarb is sweet and bright and jammy and fresh. The cake is just sweet enough and a tiny bit tart from the lemon and buttermilk. It’s buttery and light and moist and just…

perfect.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Strawberry Rhubarb Skillet Cake

adapted from Joy the Baker

Strawberry Rhubarb filling:
1 cup sliced rhubarb (from about 3 stalks)
2 cups hulled and quartered strawberries
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt

Cake:
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
zest of one lemon
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons turbinado sugar or coarse finishing sugar

Preheat oven to 350 and move a rack to the center position.

Combine strawberries, rhubarb, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, and pinch of salt in an 11 or 12 inch skillet.* Place over a medium high flame and cook, stirring frequently, until fruit is soft and coming apart and juices have reduced to a thick syrup, about 10 to 15 minutes. Do not let juices burn.

Scrape strawberry rhubarb mixture into a bowl to cool and scrape skillet clean with a silicone spatula. It’s okay if a little residue remains.
Melt butter in skillet and pour out all but 1 tablespoon to cool. Coat skillet evenly with remaining tablespoon. Add lemon zest to cooling butter and stir to combine.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Set aside.
In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, lemon juice, eggs, vanilla and butter.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture all at once.  Stir with a silicone spatula just until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl until there are no dry pockets of flour. Do not over mix.  Pour batter into the prepared skillet and spread (or shake) smooth.  Dot the batter with strawberry mixture as evenly as possible, and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Allow cake to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. If desired, serve with a generous dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream or a light dusting of powdered sugar.

Cake will last, removed from skillet and well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.

*If you don’t have a cast iron skillet you can cook the strawberries and melt the butter in any pan you have, and use an 11-inch round tart or quiche pan, or a 9×13-inch pan for the cake. The batter may spread more thin so you’ll need to keep a close eye on it in the oven.