Consider, if you will, the following Venn diagram:
Okay, so I’ve pretty much always liked tacos.
I remember getting really, really, I’m-almost-embarrassed-to-admit-it excited about trips to Taco Bell when I was in middle and high school. That stuff is like crack for teenagers.
Mexican restaurants? Like, the kind with free chips and salsa? Poor-college-kid paradise.
But let me tell you guys, the last couple of years have been a slow, delicious taco revelation.
So, without further ado, let me present to you a list.
Stuff I know now that I didn’t know in my Old El Paso days:
1. You can make your own tortillas.
You must make your own tortillas.
Buy a big bag of masa harina (which, I learned, is a type of corn flour that’s been nixtamalized ). Mix it with water and a little salt to make dough (there are directions on the bag), form your tortillas, and toast them in a skillet until they look kinda like this:
They’re impossibly easy, especially after you’ve successfully whipped up a batch or two, and once you’ve tried these rich, savory circles of toasted corn goodness, you’ll never crave a crumbly shell from a box again.
2. Ground beef is not a necessity, despite the directions on that Old El Paso package.
Use chicken, or tofu, or shrimp, or some other ground meat like pork or turkey. For our taco dinner the other night, we used medium heat pork breakfast sausage.
Yeah, I said breakfast sausage. Sounds weird, but it’s got just a little heat and spice to it that blends perfectly with smoky cumin and a mess o’ fajita-style veggies.
Heck, you could skip the meat altogether if you like and just pile your homemade tortilla down with some deliciously seasoned vegetables, and you’d be in taco heaven.
3. Wait. Veggies?
I know those Old El Paso-ans suggest that the only vegetables you need for a good taco are some shredded iceberg lettuce, a little tomato, and perhaps a black olive or three.
But we like to pack our tacos with sauteed garlic, onions, and bell peppers, some roasted poblanos, creamy avocado, and roasted tomatillo salsa verde.
Not to mention a bright, beautiful handful of freshly chopped cilantro.
Tacos kinda seem like junk food, but when they’re loaded with all these garden goodies, they might even be good for you.
4. You don’t need sour cream.
Actually, Micah and I don’t even buy sour cream. Mostly because I don’t care for it, so it never gets used up before it goes bad.
But, really, sour cream is kind of a kitchen unitasker anyway. (I don’t know anyone who just eats the stuff plain.)
So if you can substitute an ingredient that serves multiple purposes and is actually good for you, why wouldn’t you?
It’s easy: any recipe that calls for sour cream will work just fine with plain Greek yogurt instead. (And plain Greek yogurt is a perfectly normal thing to eat by itself, unlike a big bowl of sour cream.)
That’s right. If you’re really craving a little bit of creamy tang on your taco, a little dollop of plain Greek yogurt will do the trick.
* * * * *
Now that I’ve shared our taco enlightenment, let me tell you about taco night.
The thing about tacos is that they’re anything but high-brow.
They’re street food, fast food, convenience food, kid food, easy food.
Tacos are what people make when they don’t feel like cooking.
But when you do feel like cooking, or when you’re whipping up a nice dinner to impress company or celebrate with friends, don’t shun the lowly taco.
If you let it, that handheld pocket of savory goodness will wow special guests, add cheer to any celebration, or even spice up a date night with your favorite person in the whole world.
What I’m suggesting here is a little more work than shells from box and a packet of seasoning mix. But it’s worth it.
This is a taco night to remember.
What’s in it (the taco filling):
- 1 pound medium heat pork breakfast sausage
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 large onion, chopped
- 1 large bell pepper, chopped
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika (smoked is fabulous)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne or chipotle
- salt and pepper
Step by step:
- Brown the sausage over medium heat in a large skillet, stirring and breaking the meat up as it cooks.
- When the sausage is done, drain off most (but not all) of the fat. Don’t throw it away–this stuff makes a great cooking fat for scrambled eggs tomorrow!
- Add the garlic, onion, and bell peppers to your skillet o’ sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5-8 minutes or until the veggies are tender.
- Stir in the tomato, herbs, and spices, and cook for about 3-4 more minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Remember that roasted tomatillo salsa verde that I mentioned earlier? You can make it, too!
What’s in it (the salsa):
- 3/4 pound fresh tomatillos, halved (or quartered, if they’re big)
- olive oil, salt, and pepper for roasting
- 1 avocado
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- juice from one lime
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste
Step by step:
- Preheat your oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the tomatillos on it in a single layer.
- Brush the tomatillos with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Roast for 10-15 minutes or until they look really juicy and tender and sizzly and good.
- Let the tomatillos cool for a few minutes, then throw them into the food processor or blender with the avocado, cilantro, lime juice, and cumin. Puree until your salsa as smooth as you like, then season with salt, pepper, and cayenne until it tastes amazing.
You’ve got taco filling and salsa…now what?
Serve those tasty fixins with:
- homemade tortillas (this recipe is the same one that Micah and I use from DIY Delicious, and basically the same as what you’ll find on a bag of Maseca)
- steamed rice (I seasoned mine with butter, salt, lime, and fresh cilantro)
- black beans (Micah stewed ours in the pressure cooker with vegetable broth, chopped onion, garlic, and cumin)
- roasted poblanos (brush with olive oil, bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, stick in a paper bag for 5-10 minutes, then peel, cut open, remove the seeds, and slice)
- fresh sliced avocado
- lots of chopped fresh cilantro
- a little bit of grated cheese
- lime wedges
- Greek yogurt (or, if you must, sour cream)
- good tequila that you can sip (not shoot) throughout the meal
And the leftovers?
That’s what omelets are for:
Because taco morning is just as awesome as taco night! (Though at this point I might suggest laying off the tequila. )