It's fair to say I'm a bit of a food floozy – I fall in love easily -- a new, delicious thing comes my way and I am totally smitten. But the reality is, unless it's really, truly phenomenal, I eventually move on to find something else. A few month's ago I was in Texas for work and spent each and every mealtime educating myself on TexMex. You see, I have a total, unbridled prejudice against TexMex as being too sauced, too cheesy, and just too over the top.
I was ecstatic to find my education had stuck when I came across my first plate of Tacos Norteños. It was a rainy day down in San Antonio and I tucked into the bustling Rosario's restaurant in search of lunch. Though everyone kept talking up the puffy tacos, I couldn't resist the sound of the toasted, melty taco that the menu had listed as Tacos Norteños. To be honest, I'm not really sure why these are even called Tacos Norteños -- there are much more authentic versions of Tacos Norteños out there and these don't bear any resemblance to them.
These tacos are what you'd have from some sort of food hybridization of a taco and a quesadilla - a tacodilla? Well, I've concocted my own version that's even less authentic than TexMex -- some AidaMex tacodillas if you well. Whatever you want to call it, this is why you should dig it: grilled chipotle chicken gets layered with refried beans, grilled onions, and cheese then toasted like a quesadilla. So, tell me, do you need any more convincing to try them out? Ya, I didn't think so.
(about 12 cloves) separated and unpeeled
1 quartered and unpeeled, 1 cut into 1-inch rings
from 1 (7 ounce) can
cut into wedges
plus more for the onions
(about 2 pounds)
For the salsa: Place a large dry (unoiled) cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add the garlic, the quartered onion, and tomatoes (in their peels and skins). Char the vegetables, turning occasionally with tongs, until they're dark brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Set aside to let vegetables cool slightly then peel. Meanwhile, cut off the stems of the cilantro leaves and discard. Measure out 1 cup of the cilantro leaves and save the rest for garnish.
Combine vegetable with 8 of the chipotles, 3 tablespoons of the lime juice, 3 tablespoons of the oil, 1 cup of the cilantro leaves, and a pinch of salt in a blender or food processor. Process until finely pureed; taste and add more chipotles, salt, or lime juice, as desired.
This salsa is pretty hot so, if you'd like it a little more mellow, go ahead and use fewer chipotles. The salsa can be made up to 4 days in advance. Store refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
For the chicken: Season the chicken all over with another big pinch of the salt then place the chicken in a large bowl and pour 2 cups of the salsa over the top. Turn to coat chicken well then cover. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.
When the chicken is ready to be grilled, remove it from the marinade, discard excess marinade, and let chicken come to room temperature while the grill heats, at least 5 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a gas grill or large grill pan to medium or light a charcoal fire and let burn until the coals are covered with gray ash.
When the grill is heated, brush onions lightly with oil, and grill, turning them regularly, until charred and tender, about 5 minutes total. Remove onions to a cutting board and cut into a medium dice; season with some salt then set aside.
The onions can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
Grill the chicken, turning once, until cooked through and juices run clear when pierced with a sharp knife but still juicy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove chicken to a cutting board, sprinkle with a bit more salt then slice crosswise into 1/2-inch strips.
The chicken can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
For the tacos: To assemble, spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the refried beans over half of each flour tortilla then layer with a spoonful of the cheese, some of the grilled onions, and about 1/8 of the chicken meat. Fold in half to close then cook in a dry cast iron pan over medium heat until cheese is melted and tortillas are toasted, about 8 minutes. Fill tacos with wedges of avocado and some cilantro leaves and pass extra salsa and lime wedges on the side.
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp