After an indulgent long weekend in New Orleans, a week of healthy eating was in order. But healthy doesn’t have to mean flavorless; we love food too much to eat boring dinners. The first night back we had slow-roasted tomato and garlic spaghetti; the next night I made what I call “French salad”: a combination of lots of chopped vegetables, a little bit of cooked chicken breast, some feta if I have it (I didn’t this week), and chopped toasted almonds, lightly dressed in a lemon-mustard vinaigrette. Leftovers came to work with me the next day, too.
And last night, we had Mexican food. Too often, Mexican food gets a bad rap. Many people assume it must be smothered in cheese, cooked in lard, and therefore bad for you. Sure, some things involve cheese, and many dishes are fried. But some of the best Mexican food is fresh, light and full of vegetables (ahem, fresh salsa?) and can be a very healthy meal.
For example, taquitos–typically listed as a starter on Mexican restaurant menus–are corn tortillas that are fried, then rolled around chicken, beef or other ingredients, and baked until crisp. They are often topped with queso fresco in a creamy sauce (similar to crème fraîche). I eliminate the frying, top with salsa, and serve with a side of chipotle black beans (another great use for one of my pantry staples) for a healthy but very satisfying dinner. The crisp taquitos are most easily eaten with your hands.
In the past I’ve used chipotle chicken for this recipe, but any cooked chicken will do here, provided it’s shredded or sliced small enough to easily roll up into the tortillas. For the version below, I baked a boneless breast of chicken, drizzled with some olive oil & spices, in the oven at 350° until just cooked through, and stored it in the fridge until I was ready to make this.
- 10-12 corn tortillas*
- About 2 cups of cooked chicken
- 3/4 cup of shredded sharp cheddar
- a big handful of chopped cilantro – about half a bunch (sub scallions if you don’t like cilantro)
- olive oil
- 1-2 canned chipotles in adobo, chopped (use more or less depending on your preference for heat)
- 1 can of black beans, rinsed & drained
- salsa (fresh or a good preservative-free jarred variety, like Green Mountain Gringo)
- chopped cilantro or scallions, for topping
Preheat the oven to 400°. Prepare a glass baking dish or a sheet pan lined with foil and brush (or spray) with a light coating of olive oil so the taquitos will not stick to the pan. In a bowl, mix together the chicken, cheddar and cilantro.
Wrap the tortillas in damp paper towels, and microwave on high for 30-60 seconds until they are soft and pliable enough to roll without breaking (this is best done in two batches). Lay out a few tortillas on the counter, and put 2-3 T of filling along the center of each one. Roll up tightly, to about the size of a fat cigar. Secure with a toothpick and place seam-side down on the baking sheet. Do this for all the tortillas, leaving a little room between each on the pan. (If you don’t have toothpicks, place the taquitos tightly together so they hold each other in place; they will not get as crisp this way and you may have to bake them longer.) Brush the taquitos with about a tsp of olive oil (this helps them crisp). Bake for about 20 minutes until the edges start to brown and they are crisp in the middle.
While the taquitos are baking, in a small pan heat some olive oil, and add the chipotle(s). After a minute or two, add the drained beans. Cook over high for 2-3 minutes, then add about a 1/4 cup of water, and let the beans simmer on low. Stir now and again, and use a wooden spoon to slightly mash some of the beans, if you like them more creamy, as they cook. These can stay hot over a very low flame while you wait for the taquitos; just add some water if they seem to be getting too dry.
When the taquitos are ready, remove from oven, top with salsa and more cilantro (or scallion) and serve with beans on the side.
*Try to buy a good brand of fresh corn tortillas, such as La Fe or Cinco de Mayo. Be sure to read the labels: some of the national/bigger brands of “corn tortillas” actually contain more flour than corn, and often contain fat. Good corn tortillas, on the other hand, should list corn as the main ingredient, which makes them very low fat and often high in fiber (as well as gluten free). At the grocery store, these are sometimes in the Mexican food aisle, but just as often in a cold case.