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Cinco de Mayo My! Try South-of-the-Border Grilled Chicken Kabobs and Rice
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food Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

I was 14 years old. I had saved earnings from babysitting jobs for several months and finally had enough to purchase a plane ticket to California. The family who lived in the house behind us had moved to Fullerton and they invited me to spend part of my summer vacation with them.

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It was on that trip to California that I was introduced to a food I had never tasted. If it existed in Minnesota at that time, I had never heard of it.

I remember the excitement in my friends' voices as they told me about something they wanted me to taste. It was called a taco. They explained spicy ground beef and cheese and lettuce were in a crunchy shell that I could pick up and eat from my hands like a sandwich. After a quick stop, we had a few large bags full of individually wrapped tacos filling the car with delicious aroma. With seven of us around the kitchen table, the tacos didn't last long.

It was that first introduction to Mexican flavors that got me hooked. I can't resist the fresh flavors of lime, garlic, jalapenos, beans and rice.

Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, celebrates a victory of the small fledgling Mexican army over a strong, well-equipped French army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It's a grand day of fiestas in Mexico and the United States. And, an important highlight of a fiesta is the food.

South-Of-The-Border Grilled Chicken Kabobs and Rice is certainly not authentic Mexican, but it does offer many of the flavors that I enjoyed that summer in California with just a bit more flair and casual sophistication.

Strips of chicken breast bathe in a marinade of fresh lime juice, garlic, chili powder and minced jalapeno. The flavored meat is threaded onto metal skewers with chunks of sweet bell peppers before cooking on a hot grill. Corn tortillas warmed on the grill can be used as a mitt to pull the meat and vegetables off the metal spike.

Long-grain rice browned in butter bakes in the oven with chicken broth, onions and garlic, tomatoes and chiles. It's an easy, no-fuss way to prepare rice. With the last-minute addition of black beans and corn, it rounds out a meal that is just right for a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

And, oh, how wonderful that the Mexican army fought hard on that day in 1862. Who knows? I may have met a stuffed crepe rather than a taco during my summer vacation in California.

South-of-the-Border Grilled Chicken Kabobs and Rice

1/4 cup olive oil

Grated zest of 1 lime

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, cut into cubes

1 green bell pepper, seeds removed, cut into cubes

Salt

Rice:

4 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cup long grain rice, uncooked

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 (4.5-ounce) cans chopped green chiles

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, heated to boiling

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Make the marinade by whisking together the olive oil, lime zest and juice, garlic, jalapeno and chili powder in a small bowl.

Slice chicken breasts lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick strips. Place the strips into a large zip-top bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken strips. Seal the bag and massage to be sure all chicken is coated with marinade. Place bag in a shallow dish. Refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.

Thread the chicken strips accordion style on metal skewers, alternating with pepper cubes. Discard any remaining marinade. Season the skewers with salt.

Coat grill with cooking spray. Grill kabobs over medium-hot coals, turning frequently, for 15 minutes or until chicken is done. Makes 4 servings.

To prepare rice, melt the butter in a heavy oven-proof 2-quart pot. Add onion and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until tender. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes or until rice is lightly browned. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add tomatoes and green chiles. Carefully pour hot chicken broth into the pot. Stir to combine ingredients. Cover pot and place in preheated 350-degree oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove pot from oven. Stir the rice mixture. Add black beans and corn. Stir to combine. Replace cover. Bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven. Stir in chopped cilantro just before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Use only 1 lime for this recipe. First grate the zest (the green part of the peel) from the lime, then squeeze the juice from the fruit.

--Canned whole tomatoes can be used rather than fresh tomatoes in the rice. If you're using fresh, the newer peelers with serrated blades make peeling soft fruits and vegetables with thin skin, such as tomatoes and peaches, a snap. No need to score and scald before peeling.

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