fond food memories for me always include names like taco night, friday night-pizza night, and potato bar. to this day whenever i finish making loaded baked potatoes and salad for dinner i always tell houston that “the potato bar is now open”. that sentence must be deeply imbedded within my genetic code. it just spews forth without hesitation. anyway, i still get a kick out of ‘themed’ dinners like these–they make me feel child-like.
everyone once in awhile taco night means going out for tacos (there are so many places to get fabulous tacos in austin, don’t even get me started…), but mostly it means making the taco filling (we use ground turkey–it has a very meaty bite, but is much lighter than hamburger) and fryin’ up the shells and serving the whole mess with fixin’s. that way everyone gets to eat tacos exactly how they like ‘em.
i like to get those ready first and keep them in the fridge nice ‘n’ cool ’till everything else is ready. you can go tradtional tex-mex with ice berg lettuce and yellow cheddar or put another spin on it like i have here. this is more california baja-style with shredded purple cabbage and queso fresco.
do you remember these? everyone used them. sometimes i still do if i’m feeling lazy. but really, you already have everything that’s included in this packet hanging out in your spice rack. really. go look right now.
the only thing you might have to get is some cocoa powder (unsweetened). but you should get some of that anyway and add it to your next pot of chili. it adds a nice depth of color and flavor that will really surprise you.
you should NOT under any circumstances, however use store-bought taco shells. go the extra mile and fry them yourself. this is the differnce between ok and delicious. it’s really easy. i found these red tortillas at our local mexican mega-mart. they’re made with red chili powder-purdy, huh?
bring a shallow frying pan 1-2 fingers full of vegetable or canola oil you’ll want something fairly inocuous here. can you tell i’ve had this pan since the time my mother fried taco shells in it? ah, my first (and still only) le creuset!
use a deep fry, a.k.a. candy, thermometer to get the oil to about 350 degrees F. this is the perfect temperature to get fried things crispy, not soggy.
add in your first tortilla, sliding it in carefully as not to splatter yourself. let it puff up a little. after about 5-10 seconds, while it’s still pliable, fold it over but not all the way. you want to be able to get fillings in there after you take it out. fry on 1 side for about 5 seconds, then flip over to the other side. each tortilla should only take 15-20 seconds in the oil.
drain on some paper towels. you can keep them warm in a 200 degree oven if you like.
fill ‘em anyway you like and enjoy!
homemade taco night tacos
1 lb ground turkey
1 small onion, diced
2 fresh jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, diced or sliced thinly
3 garlic cloves, minced
a few tablespoons of canola oil (plus more for frying)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (find this in the baking aisle, it was what you once used to make hot chocolate before they came out with those little packets)
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp mexican oregano (fresh or dried)
1 cup of your favorite salsa
1/4-1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 lime
fixin’s and hot sauce or salsa of your choice—get these chopped, shredded and ready to go. put them in the fridge so they’re nice and cold when you build your tacos. the contrast with the hot, spicy meat and the toppings is all part of the package.
in a large skillet over medium high heat, saute the meat up in a bit of canola oil until almost no pink, breaking it up as you go. take it to just underdone because you will adding it back in and it will cook for a little longer. this will prevent it from drying out. drain the grease from the meat through a colander. set aside. add a bit more oil to the same pan and saute the onion and peppers until soft. add the garlic and saute for about a minute, stirring often so the garlic doesn’t brown (this will make it bitter). add the chile powder, cocoa powder, cumin, and oregano and stir often for 30 seconds to a minute. add the meat back to the pan as well as the salsa and water. i start with 1/4 cup or so of water, give the whole thing a good stir, then add more if it appears too dry for my taste. you want it a little soupy, but not drowning. turn the flame down to low and cover, simmering for 5-10 minutes. turn off the heat and add the cilantro and lime juice.
fry up the tortillas. heat a shallow pan with about an inch or so canola oil until it reaches 350 degrees on a deep-fry or candy thermometer. fry tortillas one at a time, folding each over after about 5 seconds in the oil, then cooking for about 5-6 seconds for each side. drain on paper towels.
get your toppings and hot sauce out and open up the taco bar!
these go great with a cold beer like st. arnold fancy lawnmower.