I have to say that Mexican is probably my second favorite food of all time (right after any thai dish featuring basil and garlic as the two main ingredients. Thus, it should be no surprise that I’ve got a few ideas on how to properly cook your Mexican food. Today I’ll be focusing on Tacos and Burritos, though, to be fair, the only real difference between the two for me is that one sometimes has beans and is wrapped in a soft shell.
Still, there is nothing more satisfying than making up an entire plate of tacos and slowly demolishing them despite your stomach’s protests of “enough!” So, let’s start with the filling shall we?
Again, my definitions of “taco” and “burrito” are primarily focused on whether you use hard curved shells (hard flat shells are obviously “tostadas”–of which everything here could equally apply to) or soft wrapped shells. Still, I’ll go ahead an call the following my “taco filling” recipe (the exact amounts are pretty much rough suggestions since I don’t know exactly how much of the various items I use):
- 1 large white onion
- 6 cloves of garlic (don’t forget lesson 10!)
- 1 lb chicken or ground beef
- 16oz can black or pinto beans (drained)
- 16oz can tomatoes (drained)
- 16oz can corn (drained)
- Chili powder, Cumin in roughly 2:1 ratio (I’d guess start with maybe a tablespoon of chili powder and half a tablespoon of Cumin?)
- Dried oregano (I never realized how well oregano goes with Mexican, but I love it and use roughly equal parts oregano to chili powder…so maybe start with half as much and see how you like it). Also it might seem strange to only use three spices (chili powder, cumin and oregano) in place of a taco seasoning packet, but with the garlic and onions in this recipe that is really all you need.
- Salt to taste (careful, the canned beans, tomatoes and corn have a lot)
Saute the onion, add garlic with chicken or beef (they are each good, but only an uncultured goon would add chicken AND beef). When meat is nearly cooked add beans, tomatoes corn and spices and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Admittedly the chicken can get a little tough if you cook it too long (chicken may be better in a crock pot…see the burrito section below), and this is a fairly short simmer time to bring out the spices, but overall this is a good basic recipe and I think it tastes fine. And really, anything with that much garlic will taste pretty good.
To the above basic filling recipe you can add all kinds of things, some of my favorites are:
- Chipotle peppers (the ones in a can with adobe sauce)(also, somewhat spicy and strong flavored, so you might want to nix the other things on this list)
- chopped fresh cilantro
- fresh or canned green chilies
- hot peppers (I prefer habaneros (maybe use 2 with seeds removed to add a moderate heat to the above recipe) to jalapenos…they are spicier, but are less “tongue spicy” and still have a nice flavor)
- potatoes, peas, green peppers, etc (though I don’t usually mess with them in my fillings)
Anyway, the above recipe obviously isn’t a traditional “all beef” taco recipe. The corn and tomatoes may be a bit much for people, but meat is expensive and adding two whole cans of “stuff” to your mix (in addition to the can of beans) makes more than twice as much for half the price. And I think tomatoes and corn are good in tacos, so deal with it!
The main reason I only use these for burritos is because there usually isn’t room for them in a taco shell if you want to put everything else in too, so we’ll go ahead and call this a burrito section.
Now, I used a lot of canned food for the taco filling above…and that’s mostly because it is so easy. I mean, I always have some cans of beans, tomatoes and corn (along with chili and chipotle peppers) on hand, so making tacos is as simple as sauteing onions, garlic and meat, adding a few cans of food and spices and calling it good! It really is a very quick meal to make.
But, making your own beans is a much better way to go if you are patient…I just usually don’t want to wait all day for them to slow cook in a crock pot. So, for when you have the time, here is the recipe I use:
- Fill a crock pot 2/3 full of dried pinto (or black beans) and water in a 1:2 ratio (2 cups water for every one cup of pinto or black beans–usually 4 cups water to 2 cups of beans will make more than enough)
- Add 2 cubed onions and about 15 whole cloves of garlic (yes, really…again, you can’t have too much garlic!)
- Salt (you’ll need a fair amount, but can always add more when they finish cooking so don’t go too overboard)
And that’s it! Turn the crock pot on high (or low if you have a lot of time) and let them cook for about 4 hours. A lot of people soak their beans overnight, but I really don’t think you need to if you are going to cook them for multiple hours anyway. The garlic will dissolve, the onions will mostly dissolve and the beans will begin to turn the water into a beany paste (a lot of people quit cooking while there is still liquid in the pot (the beans will look like THIS) but I prefer to leave them in a bit longer myself).
Now you’d think these would be kind of bland, and of course you could add Jalapenos, dried chipotle peppers, spices, stock, bacon grease, whatever you want, but honestly, if you salt them well, anything with that much garlic is going to be great…and it’s nice to have the natural bean flavor there too.
Though, I will admit that adding a pot roast to your beans is basically brilliant. Just make the same recipe as above but replace some of the beans and water with a pot roast (or some chicken breasts I would assume, though I’ve never tried it myself). The roast will break apart by the time the beans have sucked up all the water leaving a pot of beany, meaty, garlicky goodness.
I will add, for my mom’s benefit, that if you make the roast by itself you are then making the filling for “taquitos” which (according to her)(inexplicably) are not just “small tacos” but rather “soft shell tacos with only roast beef, guacamole and cheese…no exceptions and no substitutions!”
There are as many different opinions on how to make good guacamole as there are on how to eat fig newtons (I personally scrape the pastry outsides off with my teeth until I have a big pile of fig fillings and then I smash them all together into a big fig ball and eat it like an apple)(I don’t really…though that does sound delicious). Anyway, most guacamole recipes usually involve lime juice, but I’m here to say that vinegar is the way to go!
Mostly because vinegar has a much more complex flavor than just plain lime juice to me, and I think it is a complexity that compliments avocados quite well. I mean, I’ve had some great lime juice guacamole before, but it just never had quite the nice flavor of a vinegar guacamole to me. With that in mind, here is my short and simple recipe:
- 1 Avocado
- 1 small clove garlic, minced (or half a clove if you want to be a wuss about it)
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar (give or take…add it to taste)
- Salt to taste
Add everything together and mash it up, you can make this recipe in about a minute it is so fast. And honestly there is nothing wrong with adding the following ingredients (they are all great), they are just more of a hassle with the chopping and all:
- fresh cilantro
- green peppers, hot peppers
- spices, etc
I’m of course being a bit facetious with the extra time…it won’t take that long to chop that stuff up, it’s just that the simple recipe is perfectly fine (and I’m lazy)!
I should add a few more notes about the vinegar too. Just add vinegar in small amounts until you can just barely taste it…if you get too much in your guacamole it will taste…well…too vinegary and then you’ll come whining to me about how crappy my vinegar guacamole is! As for the different kinds of vinegar, white always works but I’ve had mixed results with apple cider vinegar, but it has been good too. I personally like balsamic vinegar in my guacamole for dipping, but it doesn’t go very will with tacos and a lot of people don’t think it goes well with guacamole at all.
Finally, don’t add vinegar and lime juice together…that never seems to work.
As for shells, I like the little curvy yellow (or white) ones. Heat your oven to 425 and leave them on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes to crisp them up and they are great. I can’t recommend a particular brand, but do keep an eye on the ingredients, a lot (all of them?) use various amounts of lard or other saturated fats, which, while delicious, aren’t the best things for you.
1.5 cups bread flour
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
.25 cup fat (shortening, butter, lard, or some combination thereof [I usually use shortening])
.75 cup hot water (as hot as your faucet will produce, but not boiled or anything)
Add the first four items to a bowl and squish together until the fat is integrated and mixture clumps on squeezing. Then add the water in thirds, thoroughly mixing in at each step. Knead the dough 7-10 minutes, then roll out into a tube and divide into 8-12 parts. Roll the parts into balls, place on a plate, and cover with a warm, damp cloth. Let the dough balls rest for 20-25 minutes, then roll out into flat rounds. The type of fat used seems to affect how thin you can get them rolled out. Then throw them onto a frying pan on high for 45 seconds or so on one side and then 15-30 on the other side. The first pancake rule holds: the first few don’t turn out that well. Usually you can tell when they’re ready to flip because bubbles have formed and expanded to a large but manageable size; squish the bubbles down on flipping.
So, we’ve got our shells and our filling, all that is left is to add some toppings and salsa. I top mine with any number of the following items:
- Cheese (I like sharp cheddar)
- Sour Cream
- green onions
- fresh cilantro
- romaine lettuce (chopped very finely)
- tomatoes (though I usually don’t bother as salsa usually makes them redundant)
Granted, with all that stuff, anything I’ve said about the delicate flavors of the guacamole or beans goes right out the window in a big explosion of random flavors. But hey, that’s part of the charm of tacos I guess!
Finally, a few notes about salsa. Many may shudder in horror, but I actually use Pace myself. I think it tastes alright on tacos, and more importantly, it is way cheaper than “the good stuff” since I can get a half gallon for like 7 bucks (and I tend to use a ridiculous amount of salsa over the course of one of my “taco benders”).
That said, I’ve had a lot of homemade salsas that were mostly fresh vegetables (tomatoes, jalapenos, onions etc) with cilantro and lime juice that were very good. I don’t remember an exact recipe for how to make homemade salsa, but I’m sure there are plenty online.
One homemade salsa that particularly stands out to me however is one my mom made a long time ago using a grill outdoors. We grilled onions, jalapenos, garlic (and I think even the tomatoes…though we couldn’t leave them on the grill very long). Then we just put everything into a blender with a bit of salt and it was great. The smokey flavor of the grilled vegetables was perfect (and the grilling also took some edge off the raw garlic) and it is a recipe I’d definitely like to try again!
I don’t pretend that anything here is super fancy, or especially groundbreaking in the field of taco making. These were just a few of my thoughts on the subject of how to make tacos without seasoning mix. The above suggestions should produce a nice meal in a short amount of time, feel free to vary them as you see fit!
I would also like to add that it is important to remember not to make more than five tacos per plate (depending on how fast you will eat them). Making yourself all 20 at once is a much more efficient use of your taco making time, but the shells will get soggy, so remember, groups of five!
And, finally, with the amount of garlic and beans you will be consuming here, you should keep in mind that your epic taco binge will not make you a popular person at social gatherings for the next .