A while back my weight was pushing maximum density. I first noticed my pants were tight when I buttoned them. Then my prominent paunch began to resemble Buddha’s belly. It was time to drop some pounds.
Portion control was the first order of business. I had to learn to push myself away from the table. This was especially challenging since the childhood lessons that shaped my eating habits were “Finish everything on your plate” and “Don’t waste food. There are children starving in Biafra…”
Cooking has always been my hobby so changing my technique in the kitchen was the next hurdle. I had to replace traditional French and Italian recipes with lighter, spa-style preparations. I began to steam, poach or grill the dishes I was preparing instead of frying, braising or roasting them. I also tried to develop flavors with vinaigrettes and seasoning rubs instead of thickened sauces or dairy based emulsions.
The hardest part was trying to find something to order when we dined out. Some restaurants offer lighter dishes but many do not. Mexican restaurants were the biggest challenge. Janine loves Mexican food but it is not really ideal for the health and fitness conscious. I didn’t want to deprive her of it just because I was trying to eat light.
Most of the Mexican restaurants in our area serve dishes that are swimming in oil or smothered in melted cheese. These are not the ticket when you are trying to limit your fat and calorie intake. One little Taqueria we frequent offers an entrée called Pechuga de Pollo Nortena. It proved to be my saving grace.
The dish consists of a thinly sliced chicken breast served in a tangy tomatillo sauce. Green and yellow squash slices add color, texture and nutritional value. The chicken is lightly seared in a hot pan so very little oil is required. The sauce is made by simmering fresh tomatillos and aromatic vegetables until they are soft. The mixture is pureed and reduced to intensify its flavor. No cream of butter is required. A squeeze of fresh lime juice is all that is needed. The zucchini and summer squash slices are gently sweated in a sauté pan then finished in the sauce.
The following recipe is our version of this dish. It satisfies your cravings for Mexican flavors without maximizing your density. Now all you have to do is stay away from the tortilla chips.
Chicken and Tomatillo Sauce –
- 4 boneless chicken breasts sliced in half lengthwise to make 8 thin cutlets
- 1 small zucchini sliced in half lengthwise then cut into ¼ inch thick slices
- 1 small summer squash sliced in half lengthwise and cut into ¼ inch slices
- 1 lb tomatillos, husks removed and cut into large dice
- 1 small onion cut into small dice (about a ½ cup)
- 1 poblano pepper, core and seeds removed, cut into medium dice
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, core and seeds removed, cut into small dice
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 limes (one cut in half for juicing, the other cut into eighths for serving)
- 3 tbs of vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper
Prepare the tomatillo sauce –
Heat 1 tbs vegetable oil in a medium saucepan, Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add tomatillos, poblano and jalapeno peppers, garlic and 2 tbs of water. Cover and simmer until ingredients are soft. Put sauce in blender or use an immersion blender to process until pureed. Pass through fine mesh strainer to remove seeds and skins. Place strained liquid back into sauce pan and simmer until reduced to about ¾ of its original volume. Squeeze fresh lime juice until desires acidity is reached. Taste sauce as you go. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Keep sauce warm until chicken breasts are cooked.
Prepare the squash –
Heat 1 tbs of oil in a large sauté pan. Add squash slices. Turn to coat slices evenly with oil. Sprinkle a big pinch of salt over the squash. Sauté squash until they are tender. Remove squash from pan and keep warm until chicken breasts are cooked. Wipe pan clean.
Prepare the chicken –
Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tbs of oil in the sauté pan until it begins to shimmer. Add chicken. Sear on both sides until cooked through on the inside and lightly browned on the outside.
Finish the dish –
When chicken is cooked, lower heat and add tomatillo sauce to pan. Bring sauce to a simmer. Turn chicken once or twice to evenly coat with sauce. Add squash. Stir to coat squash in sauce. Serve with lime wedges.