October 3, 2012

Ithaca’s Famine Of (Good) Mexican Food

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I confess, I am a Mexican food snob. As a native of Arizona, the land of delicious (and cheap) Mexican food, I am reluctant to ever think that Ithaca could ever match the authentic fare I long for. Tuesdays were Taco nights and Fridays during Lent meant bean and cheese burritos (which my parents failed to realize contained pork).

But there is hope, I think. There are a few contending “Mexican” food restaurants popping up around town. I grabbed dinner at Mexeo in Collegetown the other night and was delighted by the flavor of what I ordered: The “bro bowl” was layered with very well-seasoned pork carnitas and my carefully selected accompaniments. Mexeo also makes its own horchata, the rice milk thirst-quencher I long for on hot summer days.

Still, the food seemed to be more Tex-Mex than Mex and had a few Americanized idiosyncrasies that turned me off: Jarred pickled jalapenos (the nacho kind), frito pies and the all-present tofu (#IthacaProblems). I’ve dined at Viva Taqueria in the Commons a few times but noticed a similarly saddening trend. The new farm-to-table restaurant on East Hill, Agava, is supposed to be fantastic according to some of my compadres but I have a hard time trusting them considering their state of origins. Nonetheless, expect my critique soon.

The truth is, Mexican food isn’t hard to make; ingredients are cheap and there’s little labor involved. A few Mexican recipes would do wonders for a college student’s culinary repertoire.  Add this one to yours: Braised Chicken Tacos with Salsa Fresca, Ancho Crema, Shredded Cabbage and Monterey Jack cheese.

Makes about 12 tacosAll of the ingredients can be found at Wegmans, Tops or Walmart.

For the braised chicken:•    1 chipotle chili in adobo•    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil•    2 lbs chicken, breast will do but dark meat is better!•    ½ yellow onion, chopped•    2 cloves garlic, chopped•    1 tablespoon ground cumin•    ½ teaspoon ground coriander•    1 teaspoon dried oregano•    1 teaspoon salt•    2 cups chicken stock

Toss all the ingredients in a small roasting ban, cover and bake at 300 degrees for two hours (you could also Crock Pot this all day). Pull chicken out of liquid and shred barbarically with two forks. Return chicken to the stew and continue cooking over medium heat on the stove for 20 minutes until the liquid is saucy.

For the salsa fresca:•    4 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped•    1/4 red onion, finely chopped•    1 jalapeno, minced•    8 cilantro sprigs, chopped•    3 garlic cloves, minced•    1 lime, juiced•    1 tablespoon olive oil•    1/2 teaspoon saltToss all the ingredients into a small bowl and let them mingle for 20 minutes before serving (flavor bow chica wow wow).

For the ancho crema:

·   2 dried ancho chilies, reconstituted with hot water

·   1 cup sour cream

·   1 lime, juiced

·   ½ teaspoon salt

Blend the ancho chilies with a few tablespoons of their soaking water and all of the lime juice until smooth. Mix the puree and the salt with the sour cream.

For taco assembly time:Have armed your shredded chicken, ancho crema and salsa fresca along with

·  1 head red cabbage, shredded finely

·  ½ lb Monterey jack cheese, shredded

·  12 corn tortillas, which you should wrap tightly in foil and warm up in the oven for about 5 minutes (do not microwave!)

Gather the amigos y amigas, make some margaritas, assemble some tacos and let the fiesta begin.

Original Author: Austin Buben