Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spring Tacos with Roasted Chicken, Sliced Radish, Guacamole Salsa, Feta & Lime

Granted there's probably not a taco that wouldn't be appreciated in our home, but these are particular favorites this time of year when hints of spring make you crave fresh flavors and crisp textures. And they offer a bit of a departure from the Tex-Mex norms with lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, and salsa...all good, no doubt, but predictable.

As I've said before, you can put just about anything in a tortilla and call it a taco. We've certainly tried our own creations over the years and rarely have we been disappointed. However, until I came across this particular medley of flavors (several years ago via a Martha Stewart show or mag feature), I'd never thought to replace the crunch of lettuce or cabbage with the somewhat mild-to-peppery flavored radish...and it works beautifully. And now is the perfect time for spring/summer radishes.

While you can pretty much get them year-round, the smaller red radishes that are most prominent in markets right now offer the perfect balance of flavor for these fresh tacos. They are crisp, crunchy, and packed with great flavor that is punchy, spicy, and earthy...without being overpowering like many of their winter brethren. (Winter varieties are started in late summer and warmer soils can ramp up the pungent flavor in radishes, giving some of them a bigger bite than might be appreciated.) I've also used "Easter" radishes in these tacos -- the ones that are really a mix of several different varieties in one bunch, with colors ranging from crimson, to purple-y pink, to pale pink. In either case, you basically just want to make sure you select radishes that look bright and unblemished, are firm and compact, and have leafy green tops that show no signs of wilting or yellowing. They can be stored for up to a week in the fridge if you remove their leaves and place the roots in a plastic bag. And, you can even enhance their crispness by dropping them in a cold-water bath for an hour or so before they're called to the cutting board.

Layered on top of shredded chicken tucked into a warm corn tortilla, capped with a great tangy guacamole salsa, sprinkled with sharp, salty feta cheese and some fresh cilantro, and then drizzled with a good squeeze of fresh lime juice, the humble little slices of radish in this taco sparkle. They bring a lively personality to the mix, adding a welcome punch of crisp flavor... while melding beautifully with the other, equally bright components. And, yes, you can substitute the cilantro with another green...perhaps flat leaf parsley or arugula so you still get a bit of an herb-y bite. (I'm not sure why cilantro has such a polarizing impact but it seems like most people either love it or hate it. There doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground. Whatever green you choose, just try to select one that has a bit of presence.)

This is an effortless meal, simple and quick to throw together. It's especially suited for a buffet, a larger group, or a busy night when dinner happens in shifts since all the ingredients keep well tucked in the fridge until ready to prep. The tortillas are quick to warm up and the chicken is truly best at room you don't have the assembly-line pressure you might with a more conventional taco that is better served up warm. (And, if you cheat a bit I did on this night... you can buy a roasted whole chicken from your market's deli section and cut your prep time even more. From anywhere between $5 and $8, you can get up to four cups of shredded chicken from a whole bird.)

So, yes, this is a simple taco...but certainly not a plain or predictable one. Its unique little radish crunch, tangy, bold flavor, and fresh construction definitely sets it apart as a favorite of ours for spring.

Spring Tacos with Roasted Chicken, Sliced Radish, Guacamole Salsa, Feta & Lime
adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe
serves 4 (makes 8 to 10 tacos)

4 cups shredded, cooked chicken (from one whole roasted chicken*)
6 to 8 radishes, halved and sliced
1 6-ounce container crumbled feta cheese
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
8 to 10 white corn tortillas
2 limes, each cut into 6 wedges

For guacamole salsa:
2 cups diced avocado (from 2 large, or 3 medium avocados)
1 cup diced tomato (halve tomatoes and gently squeeze excess pulp out over sink before dicing)
1/2 cup diced yellow onion (or white onion, if preferred)
1 jalapeƱo pepper, minced
freshly squeezed juice from one large lime
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Mix ingredients for guacamole salsa (diced avocado through salt and pepper seasoning), cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge until ready to use. (Cutting cross slices in each avocado half and then scooping out meat with a large spoon makes prepping easy.)

2. When ready to serve, warm tortillas over gas flame or in a skillet. Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup shredded chicken into each tortilla, generously dot with sliced radish, add a sprinkle of both feta and chopped cilantro, and top with a dollop of guacamole salsa. Serve with wedges of fresh lime to squeeze over top.

*Note: If you use a roasted chicken, hold leftover carcass aside for stock. Season shredded meat with a little salt and pepper, toss and set aside (or cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge). Remove chicken from fridge to bring to room temperature before serving, or warm it slightly in the microwave.

For stock, simply drop leftover chicken carcass into a pot, add water to cover completely, toss in a cut up onion and carrot, add a whole bay leaf, sprinkle in some salt and pepper, cover it, and set it to simmer on really low heat for an hour or two.

Pour stock mixture through strainer into a large bowl. If not using stock immediately, let it stand until cooled, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge (or pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze for later use). When you remove it from fridge, skim fat from top before using. (For an average sized chicken, you'll get about 8 cups of stock.)

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