I was eight when I got my first diary. A small, red leather book clasped with a gold lock, sitting under the Christmas tree. I wrote faithfully in that diary each night before bed, with the worries of a young girl’s mind. From that time on, I’ve collected dozens of journals, filled with my thoughts, observations and dreams, written sometimes more regularly than others.
In every book, I mark a page and title it Prayer List. I write down names and a word or phrase associated with the prayer—health, healing, peace, marriage, guidance, loss, understanding. Lately, my prayer list has been filled with prayers for comfort—a comfortable sleep for friends who are new parents, comfort for friends wading through the sorrow of divorce, comfort for parents whose daughter was taken from this world way, way too soon.
When I was in college, my Granny once sent me $100 cash in the mail, with the explicit instructions to go and stock up on comfort food. Comfort foods means different things to different people, but in general it’s the familiar food we grew up on, food that brings us heartwarming memories of family and laughter. While comfort food can not heal all wounds, it can often act as a calming salve.
Tacos may not seem like they would be comfort food to a girl from Kentucky, but we used to have tacos quite often around our family table—crispy fried shells filled with seasoned ground beef, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and sour cream. My tacos may be different than the ones Mom made for us, but tacos still feel like a warm hug. Even more, they are best eaten sitting around the table with the people you love--a casual, hands-on and tactile meal, a meal that invites conversation and sharing. Comfort.
These braised chicken tacos are incredibly easy, and they never let me down. They are great for a family dinner, because everything can be made ahead of time and then just re-heated right before serving. I like to serve these tacos with a shredded cabbage slaw, roasted sweet potatoes and a variety of toppings—sliced avocado, thinly sliced radishes, queso fresco, roasted tomato salsa, Greek yogurt (or sour cream) and toasted pumpkin seeds. I love homemade corn tortillas, so I always press my own, but you can buy corn tortillas instead. Put all the toppings out in bowls and let everyone build their own perfect version.
I hope these bring comfort to your table.
Braised Chicken & Poblano Tacos
Makes enough chicken for at least 12 tacos, and probably 15 or more
½ teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon coriander seed
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6)
2 tablespoons bacon grease*
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 poblano peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
Splash of white wine or beer
½ cup grape or cherry tomatoes
Handful of cilantro, chopped
Place a small skillet over medium heat and add the cumin and coriander seeds. Toast for a few minutes, or until the seeds are fragrant. Watch them carefully and be careful they don’t burn. Remove them from the heat and let them cool, and then grind them in a mortar and pestle or with a spice grinder. Set aside
Season the chicken thighs with sea salt.
Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid over medium high heat. Add the bacon grease (or olive oil and butter) and let it melt. Add the chicken thighs to the pot in one layer, being sure not to crowd the pot. Let the chicken thighs brown well on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pot to a plate and set aside.
Add the onion, poblano peppers and garlic to the fat in the pot with a pinch of sea salt. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the vegetables, stirring often, about 5 minutes or until the onions start to become translucent. Stir in the ground cumin and coriander.
Add a splash of wine or beer to the pot (about ¼ cup) and scrape off any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the reserved chicken and the cherry tomatoes and stir. Cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to low and let simmer for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 ½ hours, or until the chicken thighs are very tender.
Remove the chicken thighs from the pot and shred the chicken. Return it to the pot and stir. Add the fresh cilantro and stir to combine.
Serve on grilled corn tortillas with your favorite toppings, like:
thinly sliced radishes
roasted tomato salsa
Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
toasted pumpkin seeds
and your favorite accompaniments, like:
shredded cabbage slaw
roasted sweet potatoes
*replace bacon grease with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter if you’re making dinner for anyone who doesn’t eat pork