Summer. The days are longer. The great outdoors is calling. The backyard grills are...grilling. Despite Dallas feeling like the surface of the sun (re: hot. so very hot) Sally and I have been in full outdoor mode. The arrival of a new stroller (he loves it!) and gorgeous outdoor furniture (showing it off in all its glory soon!) have both contributed to our desire to be outside. But it's really the craving to fire up the grill and cook some delicious summer-inspired food that has us most excited about the new season. I don't always dine with Sally and her husband but when I do, we usually try to cook something. The tricky part is agreeing what to make. One type of cuisine we can always agree on is Mexican - even better if the recipes allow us to doctor the dish to be our own.
This past week I had it in my mind that a family taco night needed to happen. I told Sally and Robert that all I needed them for was the grilling and eating - that I would take care of the rest. I'm not typically the one to take the reins but they've been so busy with the arrival of sweet baby and after finding this recipe on Skinny Taste (a go-to recipe source for my whole family) I felt happy and confident to make taco night a reality!
True confession: it was the inclusion of Cotija cheese in this taco recipe that caught my attention while I was perusing options. Past posts (here and here) have revealed my affinity for La Vaquita’s Queso Fresco – a really light, creamy, delicious cheese that’s a perfect pairing for Mexican, Tex-Mex and other styles of cuisine – but I haven’t really shared how much I love Cotija. Like all of the La Vaquita cheeses, the Cotija is super fresh and made to reflect the authentic, traditional flavors of Hispanic cuisine. But where the Queso Fresco is mild and bright in taste, Cotija is salty and bold. Due to its aged process and firm texture that can be grated or crumbled, it’s earned the nickname “the parmesan of Mexico.” It’s a great salty addition to savory dishes and packs a great flavorful punch!
Grilled Chicken Tacos with Lettuce Slaw, Avocado and Cotija Cheese: Like I said, this recipe found on Skinny Taste originally jumped at me because of the Cotija cheese. Maybe all the sun I’ve been getting has made me crave some salt? Either way, I was excited to try it out. Because I wanted the taco night to really have options for a “build your own” taco experience, I added the Queso Fresco and some salsa options to the mix. The extra cheese might make the recipe a little less “skinny” but it definitely adds to the delicious factor!
- 14 oz (4 thin sliced) boneless chicken breast cutlets
- 1 1/4 tsp seasoned salt (I used Lawry’s Season Salt)
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp lime juice (I ended up using more lime juice – about 3 teaspoons)
Taco and Slaw Ingredients:
- 2 1/2 cups (4 oz) shredded romaine lettuce
- 1/2 cup (1 medium) vine ripe tomato, chopped
- 1/4 loose cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup thin sliced red onion
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 tsp lime juice
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- pinch fresh black pepper
- 8 corn tortillas (I also used flour)
- crumbled La Vaquita Cotija
- crumbled La Vaquita Queso Fresco
- 1 sliced (5 oz) ripe avocado
- 1/2 jalapeño, sliced
- 4 lime wedges, for serving
- Season chicken with seasoned salt, olive oil and lime juice and marinate for at least an hour.
- Heat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan on medium-high heat.
- Oil the grates and grill about 2 minutes. Turn and cook an additional 1 minute, or until cooked through. Set aside on a cutting board and slice into thin strips. (Note: we used a Green Egg for grilling the chicken so our timing was a little different than the Skinny Taste recipe!)
- While the chicken is cooking, in a large work bowl mix the lettuce, tomato, cilantro, onions, olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.
- On the grill heat tortillas, turning till they slightly char, about 1 1/2 minutes on each side. (Note: we skipped this step!)
- Design your taco. Add chicken, lettuce slaw, avocado and top with cotija or queso fresco cheese (or both!), salsa, jalapeño, and/or fresh lime.
Quick Mexican Brown Rice: Because I didn’t want the tacos to be lonely, I found this recipe (also via Skinny Taste) and figured it would be a perfect side dish. I’ve never made my own Mexican rice so I was a little worried that I’d be in over my head but it really was a very easy recipe to follow.
- 4 cups frozen or cooked (unseasoned) brown rice
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- ½ medium onion, finely diced
- 2 medium plum tomatoes, small dice
- 1 jalapeño, seeds and membrane removed, minced (I only used half of a large jalapeño!)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- lime wedges, for serving
- chopped cilantro (I added some to the mixture and put some leafs on top as a garnish)
- Cook rice according to package directions. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions, tomatoes and jalapeno and sauté until just tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
- Add the tomato paste, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir to evenly coat the vegetables. Add the cooked rice, stir, and cook for 1 minute or until heated through. Serve with cilantro and lime wedges on the side.
Family taco night was a huge success! The recipes were super easy and packed with flavor and the La Vaquita cheeses were the perfect topping for both the tacos and rice. Summer – while largely being about sun and fun – is really a family sort of season and I feel like we kicked things off in the right way with our homemade meal. There’s just not many things that feel better than eating good food and clinking cold beers with the people you love…even if it does kind of feel like you’re sitting on the surface of the sun while doing it!