Sunday, August 27, 2006

grilled chicken burritos

I had the chance to visit both China and Mexico this summer, China along with a group of professors from my university and Mexico to give a paper at a conference. Both trips were great. Everyone says that real Chinese food in China tastes nothing like what we have here in the States, but if that's the case, the Chinese are now making remarkable concessions to American tastes. Everything I had vaguely resembled something I'd had before in the States, only better. Much better. Fresher ingredients, nothing soggy or congealed, a lot of vegetables. There were some familiar dishes-- staples like kung pao chicken, only better than any kung pao chicken I'd ever had in my life...

It was also my first trip to Mexico, and the two best meals I had were at a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende called El Correo (some kind of spicy pork dish) and in a village in the countryside outside San Miguel, a lunch that was entirely vegetarian, with fresh salsas, refried beans, something that resembled spinach, and some other tasty things.

Now it's back to school, and to celebrate the end of the first week, I decided to experiment with this week's installment from the Splendid Table, the NPR feature on food that I get delivered to my email inbox. After making these grilled chicken burritos, I'm thinking of making a big donation to the program. What made this so awesome was not taking any shortcuts-- marinating the chicken in a mixture of cumin, lime juice, garlic, and cilantro for a few hours, actually GRILLING it (Nour's job), carefully preparing the guacamole (which turned out much better than the usual stuff I slap together with a smashed avocado and some lime juice and salt) and the green tomatillo salsa. I also made refried beans-- I don't think the canned ones taste as good as the recipe claimed. Then you cook your tortillas on the grill, spread with refried beans, the sliced chicken, cheese, the guacamole and salsa, and you have something really and truly amazing... I don't know about "weeknight kitchen" though, unless you happen to have a few hours to spare for marinating, a pound of tomatillos, some Mexican queso blanco, and some charcoal on hand.

Recipe adapted very slightly from the Splendid Table, Lynne Rossetto Kasper

The Chicken:

1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tblsp minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix ingredients together. Marinate chicken in plastic bag for at least three hours. When it's time to grill, grill 5 minutes per side, let stand 5 minutes, then slice diagonally.

Accompaniments I used:

Flour tortillas
2 cups refried beans, heated
2 cups queso blanco or Monterey Jack
2 cups Guacamole (recipe follows)
2 cups Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows)

Guacamole (adapted for what I had on hand)
Makes 2 cups

3 ripe avocados, peeled and diced roughly
1/3 cup chopped plum tomatoes
1 Tblsp. minced jalapeno pepper,
1 Tblsp. chopped cilantro
3 Tblsp. lime juice
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3 dashes Tabasco

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Smash the avocados to keep a bit chunky. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Tomatillo Salsa:

1 lb. tomatillos, coarsely chopped
1 roasted jalapeno, peeled and seeded
1 cup chopped tomato
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 Tblsp. lime juice
1 Tblsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste

Combine all ingredients, mix well, chill until ready to use.

Once chicken is grilled, let stand 5 minutes, then slice diagonally. Grill tortillas 30 seconds per side, spread with refried beans, cheese, chicken, salsa and guacamole. Num, num.

Agave field, Jalisco, Mexico

Erhai lake, Dali, China