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New Recipe: Taco Tuesday Gets Spicy with Chicken Tinga Tacos

Chicken tinga tacos is an easy way to upgrade your weeknight dinner. Minimal chopping and a little bit of simmering in a spicy, smoky sauce delivers a traditional Mexican dish for a casual yet extraordinary meal.

Growing up, Tuesdays were always Taco Tuesdays for my family. No one made the tacos in my house — we picked them up from the fast food place down the street. They were far from authentic tacos — ground beef smothered in a mildly spicy sauce, topped with shredded iceberg lettuce and shredded cheddar all piled into a hard shell. It was a night I looked forward to, but clearly, these tacos were dreamt up somewhere north of the Mexican border (Wyoming, to be specific).

Fortunately, I've been exposed to plenty of authentic tacos since then, and these chicken tinga tacos are pretty close to the real thing. Tinga is a dish made with shredded meat — you see a lot of chicken tinga (tinga de pollo) but there's also pork tinga and beef tinga. Sometimes you'll even see things like "chicken tinga poblana" which you might mistakenly assume means the recipe includes poblano peppers, but it doesn't. In that case, "poblana" refers to Puebla, Mexico. You may know it as the birthplace of Cinco de Mayo, but it's also where tinga first graced Mexican dinner tables and where poblano peppers originated.

This is a quick and easy way to get an authentic taste of Mexico at home. The meat isn't cooked in any special way — what is special is the sauce. It relies on a blend of dried chipotle peppers bathed in adobo sauce (tomato paste, paprika, garlic, onions), fresh tomatoes, and chicken bouillion for its spicy, smoky flavor. It's all simmered together for just 15 minutes which means you can have your tacos cooked, assembled, and on the table in about a half-hour. Anything faster than that would just be chips and salsa.

Tips, Ideas, And Substitutes

This is already a ridiculously easy recipe: there's a little bit of whirring, some simmering, and a tad of sprinkling. But here are a few ways to make it even easier.

Rotisserie chicken Why bother with raw chicken breasts or chicken thighs when you don't have to? There's no shame in cutting down on your total time in the kitchen with a pre-cooked chicken from the grocery store. They make for great shredded chicken. They're also delicious — I've never come across one I didn't want to eat in its entirety on my way home from the store.

Leftover chicken If you have baked, broiled, or grilled chicken from earlier in the week, you can easily tear it into shreds for your taco. If you want to be really efficient, you can work this idea into your meal plan by picking a simple slow cooker chicken dinner you know will create leftovers; then use those leftovers for your chicken tinga recipe.

Canned tomatoes If you don't want to bother cutting up tomatoes, that's OK; you don't have to use fresh tomatoes. This recipe calls for 5 plum tomatoes, which you can swap out for canned tomatoes. 5 plum tomatoes are roughly equivalent to a 10 oz. can of diced tomatoes.

Chicken Tinga Tacos 2

Photo by Ericka Sanchez for Yummly

Mix It Up

Tinga itself isn't bound to taco recipes — it'll be the star of your dinner, but you can alternate between the supporting players at your whim.

Hard shell tacos Some people aren't into soft corn tortillas. Using hard taco shells from the grocery store works just fine with tinga to make chicken tacos.

Tostadas If you've seen "tinga toast" floating around the internet, that does not mean putting tinga on toasted bread. Tinga toast really means "tostada" which is a flat, crispy corn tortilla — it's a hard taco shell without the signature "U" shape. You can find those in the same grocery aisle as the tortillas.

Flour tortillas If you prefer the texture of flour tortillas, you can use those in place of corn tortillas. Because they're more delicate than corn tortillas, make sure you serve them immediately so they don't get soggy from the sauce.

Enchiladas Instead of ground beef and enchilada sauce, stuff your enchiladas with tinga and spoon the sauce over the top along with cheese.

Burritos Instead of steak or ground beef in your burrito, use chicken tinga.

Quesadillas For quesadillas, instead of mixing plain chicken with your cheese, use chicken tinga.

Chicken Tinga Tacos 1

Photo by Ericka Sanchez for Yummly

Other Substitutions

Chicken flavoring To simplify this recipe, we used chicken bouillon instead of chicken broth. It calls for 1 teaspoon of bouillion, but you can use one cube of bouillon — it contains 1 teaspoon.

Cotija cheese Cotija is a white, salty, crumbly Mexican cheese. Alternatively, you can use queso fresco which is milder and softer than Cotija. If you can't find either one at your regular grocery store, you can use feta, which is crumbly and salty like Cotija.

Don't Skip The Toppings!

One of the key differences between the American version of tacos and Mexican tacos is the toppings. If you're accustomed to iceberg lettuce, I highly recommend converting to the cabbage that Mexican recipes call for. Purple cabbage adds a pop of color, but it also adds more crunch, flavor, and nutrition than lettuce. Cilantro, while sometimes polarizing, adds a brightness to the tacos, while a good squeeze of lime balances everything out for a satisfying Mexican meal.

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