By Jean Zehringer Giesige
By Jean Zehringer Giesige
I remember giving a party in the early 1980s for a soil technician with the Soil and Water Conservation Service and his wife who had just moved to town from Texas (you know you live in a small town when a new soil technician is cause for a party).
Tex-Mex food was just beginning to make a local appearance. The food at Casa Rodriguez, a Mexican restaurant that is now a Celina institution, seemed exotic, its diners adventuresome as they dipped their corn chips into fiery hot green sauce. Making an effort to be on the cutting edge of societal trends, as I sometimes did in those days, I had bought a bag of mesquite wood chips and was using them to smoke some chicken on the grill for the big soil-technician party.
When the chicken was ready, I told all the guests to come and get it. "It's a new recipe," I said. "It's mesquite-grilled chicken."
Only I said, "mes-SKWEET." The right way, I figured out much later is "mes-KEET."
I thought the new soil technician and his wife would choke on their chicken legs. They had never heard anything so funny as an Ohioan talking about mes-skweet chicken. For the rest of the night, they kept it up, talking about their mes-skweet chicken and complaining about the mes-skweetos that were biting them in my backyard.
I was young and ignorant then. Now I'm old and ignorant, but at least I've learned a little more about Tex-Mex food. Tortilla shells, jalapeno peppers and green chilies are now regular items on my shopping list. I can even pronounce them.
Our children are growing up eating these foods as if they were part of their heritage, a turn of events that I find endlessly fascinating. During the school year, their lunch menu includes burritos, tacos or fajitas at least once a week, replacing the old standby of my youth, creamed turkey over mashed potatoes.
Look how far we have wandered from our homeland kitchens in just a few short generations. I wonder what my grandmother would have thought about sitting down to a big plate of tacos. She literally would not have known which end was up. She would have bitten into one, unsuspecting, and then it would have shattered all over her, spilling taco meat and sauce down the front of her clean house dress. Then she probably would have set it aside and gone back to something more reliable in her eyes, like an apple dumpling.
With apologies to Grandma and all my ancestors, I must concede that time moves on. The world brings new foods to our door, which we adapt to meet our own needs. I don't pretend that what we eat is authentically Tex-Mex. Members of my family don't care much for the taste of cumin, a spice that's an essential ingredient in many Tex-Mex recipes, so I habitually omit it. That's a little like leaving the wiener out of the wiener schnitzel.
But we have learned to roll burritos and fajitas. A friend taught us to heat tortillas right on the stovetop for an authentic grilled flavor. And I like to can my own salsa, which I store on the shelf right next to the apple butter that my grandmother would have recognized. There's a whole big beautiful world out there. We might as well take a big bite out of it.
This grilled chicken has a nice Tex-Mex flavor and it is one of our favorite recipes. It is especially good for fajitas. Grill it, slice it and serve it with grilled peppers and onions on tortillas with salsa and sour cream. Just don't call them "fa-jeetas" in front of anyone from Texas.
1ò4 c. olive oil
3 T. lime juice
2 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. sugar
1ò2 t. dried oregano
1ò4 t. salt
1ò4 t. pepper
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Combine olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, onion, garlic, sugar, oregano, salt and pepper. Place chicken breasts in one-gallon sealable plastic storage bag, and pour lime-garlic mixture over it. Refrigerate four hours or overnight, turning the bag occasionally. Grill chicken breasts until the meat is no longer pink, eight to 12 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time. Serves six.