Taco Tuesday is a tradition in warm weather climates (and beyond) across America. It’s an excellent excuse to kick back with a margarita and chow down on a quintessential Mexican food staple. Since I’m from Arizona (and half-Mexican), tacos are comfort food, celebration food, a simple dinner during the week and part of a fiesta of dishes for weekend dinner parties. In other words, there’s always a good time for tacos.
The contents of my fridge center around this principle: At any one time, I can rustle up two things: homemade chicken noodle soup and tacos. Whether it’s for illness or dinner, I’m prepared. This means that a homemade roasted chicken (or store bought rotisserie chicken) features prominently in the line-up every couple of weeks so that I can cook the carcass for soup and freeze the leftover chicken meat for tacos or enchiladas. There is generally a packet of organic ground beef in the freezer as well.
One of the great pleasures in life is preparing and sharing a good meal with good people. Currently, I’m hard at work on a new gaming site called Sixty Vocab, which is designed to quickly build users’ foreign language skills. My co-founders, Kim and Kevin Ramirez, live in Philadelphia, and we often have marathon working sessions together. When the work is done, I sometimes make Spicy Sonoran-Style Tacos for dinner (it’s a compliment that the recipe now adorns Kim’s refrigerator). This taco treat has been prepared as far away as Paris and London, and now that I’m temporarily living in Strasbourg, France, it’s been a huge hit with locals.
So it is my pleasure to share the recipe with you.
Spicy Sonoran-Style Tacos
For the meat:
1 1/4 lb. Ground beef (no less than 15% fat)
2 small white onions, minced
3 cloves of garlic pressed
2 TBSP olive oil
1 jalapeño pepper (if you like super spicy, add 1 Serrano chili pepper, too)
12-15 corn tortillas
2 TBSP vegetable oil
For the toppings:
1/3 head shredded lettuce
2 diced roma tomatoes
1 cup shredded cheese
1 mashed avocado (2 if you have a group that loves guacamole)
1/3 bunch diced cilantro
A jar or bottle of your favorite salsa to put on the table
1. Brown two small white onions, three cloves of garlic, and one jalapeño — all minced — in olive oil (about three minutes). Remember that spice builds over time, so check every seven minutes if you want to add the Serrano peppers.
2. Add the ground beef and cook over medium heat until cooked through. Add a bit of water to keep the meat moist and simmer on the lowest setting. Check frequently to make sure there is enough moisture to avoid the beef drying out.
3. In a separate frying pan, add two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Get a very hot skillet and layer the tortillas, two at a time, on top of each other. Flip back and forth for about three minutes until you reach your desired level of doneness.
4. Place on a glass plate and cover with a paper towel, then put them inside the oven and keep them warm at about 175 degrees Fahrenheit until you are ready to serve.
5. Place the beef in a bowl, bring out the tortillas, and serve the toppings in small bowls so that everyone can serve themselves and create their own tacos!
Helpful Recipe Hacks
In case you live in a place where Mexican food staples or some of the basic ingredients aren’t readily available at your local grocery store, here are some easy recipe hacks:
- If you can’t find jalapenos, use a bit of New Mexico red chili powder instead for flavor. Or you can use the standard American taco mix, but use only ½ the packet — otherwise it’s way too salty.
- For those guests who are not fond of spice, use onions and the garlic in the beef and skip the peppers altogether.
- If your stove cooks hotter and faster due to altitude or other factors, add more water in small increments to keep the meat moist.
- Can’t find fresh cilantro (or have guests who don’t like it)? Use diced peeled cucumbers instead. They balance the heat.
- Some folks are anti-iceberg lettuce. So if you prefer, use the mildest flavored, hardiest leaves you can find. Romaine is a great choice.
Want more Mexican-style goodness? Here’s a bonus recipe:
My good friend, Analivia Joffrey of Vigilante Living, describes this salad dressing as “crack for lettuce.” I invented the recipe at the last minute for a dinner party when I realized that I’d run out of vinegar. It’s super easy and keeps for about 24 hours. This can also make a great, healthy side dish for black, pinto or white refried beans.
Spicy Lime Salad
Mesclun or other non-iceberg lettuce leaves
2-3 tomatoes, sliced
1 sliced peeled cucumber
1 small white or yellow onion thinly chopped
¼ cup Extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 2 limes
2 cloves of garlic
1. Pour the olive oil into a bowl that is large enough to use a whisk comfortably.
2. Hand-juice the limes (avoid store-bought lime juice; it’s too acidic), and combine into the olive oil.
3. Press two peeled garlic cloves through a garlic press directly into the bowl. Take the whisk and blend together for about three minutes. Taste, and then salt accordingly. (It should only need a tad.) Add to the salad a few minutes prior to serving.
For more Mexican food recipes, please check out the Sixty Vocab blog post on Frenchiladas Sixty Vocab and spicy white refried beans.