Taco night!

Always one of my favorites.  Making tacos is perhaps a little laborious for a weeknight, but if you’re having friends over on a weekend and are looking for a fun, participatory meal, these are perfect.  Whip up some margaritas and you have a lovely escape from this dreadful January weather!

Vegetarian tacos are full of protein, veggies and whole grains, and I don’t really see any need to improve on them myself, but of course if you are an omnivore, feel free to prepare meat in addition.  I always make cilantro-lime rice and black beans, some sauteed peppers and onions, and some salsa and guacamole.  Homemade tortillas are also a must.

Seasonings


The basic seasonings you need for any Mexican-esque recipe are:  ground chilies, cumin and oregano.

When you buy chili powder, it is usually a combination of these things.  I almost always add additional oregano and cumin, however.  I like Penzey’s chili powders because they are high-quality and come in a variety of heats, so you know what you are getting.  I have also made my own before using Alton Brown’s recipe.

Buy whole cumin seeds — never buy pre-ground cumin, it is completely tasteless — and toast and grind them yourself.  It takes like 2 minutes.  Dry toast them in a skillet and when they start to brown, grind them in a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder.  It makes a world of a difference.  Whole seeds are much more versatile ingredients too. For example, I toss them in whole with the sauteed vegetables below, and it adds a nice kick of flavor.

Penzey’s sells Mexican oregano specifically and I feel like it is a little more authentic, but you’re probably fine with using whatever you have on hand.  Oregano holds its flavor pretty well when dried so you don’t need to be as particular about this ingredient.

Cilantro-lime rice

Super easy.  Just cook rice as you normally would and when it is done, season to taste with the juice of 1-2 limes, chopped cilantro, and salt.  If you want it to bear the closest resemblance to a certain beloved burrito chain, use white basmati rice; if you want something healthier, use brown rice.

Black beans

I always prefer to start with dried beans.  Here is a post on how to work with them.  Pre-soak them as you normally would and then cook on the stove for an hour or so, seasoning with salt, pepper, chili powder, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, a bay leaf and perhaps a dried chili or two.

If you must use canned beans, warm them on the stovetop with the above spices.

Sauteed veggies

Maybe the addition of peppers and onions makes these more like fajitas?  I don’t know.  It’s just what I like.

Mince some onion and slice some onion and bell pepper.  Heat oil in a pan.  Add a sprinkle of cumin seeds.  Then add the onion and saute briefly, until translucent.  Add the garlic and bell pepper and season with chili powder and oregano.

Tortillas

The most important part!  Making your own corn tortillas takes some time but once you try them you will never be able to go back. They are freaking amazing.

The first thing you will need is a bag of masa.  Masa is corn flour.  I have seen specialty groceries like Whole Foods selling it at exorbitant prices, so don’t go there.  Go to a Latino grocer or whichever grocery store in your area caters to immigrant communities.  For some reason in this region Shopper’s seems to be the best place to find Central/South American ingredients.

This is also the best place to get a tortilla press.  You could probably get away without one, but pressing the tortillas by hand will take a long, long time.  They are inexpensive anyway!

There should be instructions on the bag of masa.  Mine calls for 2 cups masa, 1.25 cups hot water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Sift the flour and salt together and add the water, mixing until a dough forms.  If it is too dry, add more water tablespoon-by-tablespoon.  The dough should not be sticky or damp, but it should be pliable and easy to work with.

Break off a chunk about the size of a golf ball and form into a ball with your hands.

Repeat with the remainder of the dough.  This should make about 18 balls. Cover unused balls with a damp towel.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.

Line your tortilla press with a plastic bag sliced open.  Place one ball of dough near the top of the press.

Carefully press down, gently holding the ball in place until it is partially smashed.

Place tortilla on skillet and heat for about 1-2 minutes, until underside is slightly browned.  Flip over and repeat on other side.

Tortillas will feel stiff and crisp when first removed from the skillet.  By the time you have finished heating the whole batch, they will have softened.

Yum!

Condiments and garnish

Salsa and guacamole are quite necessary components.  In the summer, I like to make a fresh pico de gallo out of the abundance of tomatoes available.  Just combine some diced tomato, onion, pepper, cilantro, etc and toss with lime juice, salt, and seasonings.

Since it is not summer, however, I just mailed it in and purchased some from the store.

Also pick up a couple avocados.  Mash them up with a fork and mix in some of the pico de gallo for a quick guacamole.  Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, lime juice.

You can serve sour cream alongside — or you can make some crema.  I’ve never tried that myself though.

As garnish, I also like to have some fresh sliced jalapenos.  Feel free to have some shredded lettuce or whatever else you like too.

Top with some freshly grated cheese — I had cheddar on hand but I also like queso blanco or queso fresco with tacos.

Set up your own taco bar so everyone can fix theirs just the way they like them!

-R

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One thought on “Taco night!

  1. Pingback: Grilled veggie tacos with cilantro pesto | Bounteous

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