Sunday, September 21, 2008


I know, I know, who needs a recipe for tacos? Well, you might. If you prefer Taco Bell, be my guest, but I wouldn't eat there on a bet.

Living as I do in Denver, we have no shortage of Mexican restaurants where you can get excellent tacos. I felt like making them at home the other day and came up with my own recipe from scratch, start to finish.

A few pointers before beginning: use corn or flour tortillas about 6-7" in diameter; grill them rather than fry them; check out a teaspoon of the chorizo by microwaving it for 30-60 seconds - the varieties of chorizo are myriad, some more fatty and salty than others - if you have a particularly salty variety be careful with the seasoning as you prepare the meat filling; use your favorite jarred salsa if you are too lazy to make your own.

Let's get started.

Tacos (12 pieces)

For the salsa:
3 medium sized fresh tomatoes, 4 if they are roma
1/2 medium onion, very finely diced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
chili powder to taste
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
1 jalapeno, be brave and don't seed it, just chop it fine

Carve out the stem end of the tomatoes and cut into 1" pieces. Pulse in a food processor until as smooth or chunky as you want it.

Place the tomatoes in a bowl and add the onion, garlic, jalapeno, lime juice, chili powder and salt and pepper. Taste it. If you want more heat, soak a dried red chili in hot water until softened. Mince it very fine. Add it in increments to the salsa, tasting as you go along. When you're happy with the heat factor, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to use, strain out the liquid and save it to make bloody Marys.

For the other fillings:
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground chorizo
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
chili powder
1 jalapeno pepper
red pepper flakes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken or beef broth
1 corn tortilla
iceberg or romaine lettuce, cut into thin strips
grated or shredded cheese, jack or cheddar, whatever you like

Start by sauteing the onion and garlic until softened, 5-6 minutes. Add the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle on some salt and black pepper. Cook the meat until no longer pink. If there is a fair amount of fat in the pan, drain some of it off. 3-4 tbsp is fine. More will make a greasy mixture.

A word here about the ground beef: I never buy supermarket ground beef. I prefer to take a decent cut of beef (top round, eye of round, chuck) and grind it with my Mixmaster - fine setting. Why? If I am going to make burgers, I like to cook them rare/medium rare. The best way to avoid e-coli is to use a hunk of meat instead of pre-ground. The bacteria can only exist on the surface of a solid piece of beef. It can permeate ground meat. Drop the beef into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, grind it, and now it's safe to cook burgers as rare as you like. For the tacos, since you are cooking the meat thoroughly pre-ground beef is perfectly fine.

When the meat is cooked, add the chili powder, jalapeno, red pepper flakes (if using), tomato paste, broth, and the tortilla, torn into 1" pieces. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. If the mixture gets too dry, add more broth

Taste. Add more of whatever you feel it needs. If there is too much liquid, let it continue to simmer until thickened. You don't want it runny when you try to pick up your taco to eat it. The tortilla acts as a thickening agent.

To assemble the tacos:

On a stovetop grill, using the flat side, place as many tortillas as will fit at one time, having sprayed them lightly with cooking spray. Grill them for 2-3 per side. For my taste, a still-flexible tortilla with some color on it is ideal. If you are doing multiple batches, wrap the tortillas in foil and keep warm in a low oven.

I like to start the taco with lettuce to keep the meat from too much direct contact with the tortilla. This is a defense against sogginess. Top the lettuce with meat mixture, then cheese, then salsa.

There is a homemade taste that is essential to me when I am cooking.

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