Let’s Taco ‘Bout It

Ditch the basic meat, cheese and tomatoes for something a bit more extraordinary.

Forget Taco Tuesday. That’s so yesterday. The truth is, tacos are perfect for any day of the week, whether you’re talking breakfast, lunch or dinner.

And apparently, Americans are taking this to heart. Last year, we scarfed down over 4.5 billion tacos. That’s somewhere around 775 million pounds of taco goodness, or in more concrete terms, the weight of two Empire State Buildings.

The history of tacos, however, isn’t as obvious as their popularity.

Mayans and Aztecs considered corn the “seed of life,” and by the early 1500s, the Aztec diet centered on corn, tortillas and tamales with generous use of chilies. According to anthropologists, evidence suggests early residents in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico ate tacos filled with small fish.

In Mexico today, corn tortillas remain a cornerstone of most meals, and those tortillas are used both as eating “utensils” and to hold a wide variety of fillings, usually protein-based. Basically, if you can put it in a tortilla, you can make a taco out of it. One traditional option, Tacos de Cabeza, includes cow brains, tongue, eyes and lips. (Uh, no, thank you. I’ll pass on that one.)

Taco shells, deep-fried corn tortillas in the convenient U-shape, showed up in at least one cookbook in the late 1940s and were soon mass produced.

Whomever we credit for introducing tacos to our country, it was a fast-food chain that helped popularize them across the United States. Founded in California in 1962, Taco Bell certainly didn’t invent the taco, but it sure helped spread the word, thanks to franchising.

October 4 may be National Taco Day, but we couldn’t wait that long to celebrate. We’ve rounded up some of the tastiest and most diverse taco recipes based on a variety of different fillings from seafood and beef to chicken and pork. You’re sure to find some new favorites.

 

Taco Shells

Tacos can be made with soft corn or flour tortillas or fried corn tortillas in the traditional U-shape. Sure, you can buy ready-made hard taco shells, but it’s super easy to shape your own.

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. › Wrap corn tortillas (white or yellow) in a damp towel and microwave about 20 seconds. You want them soft and pliable. › Brush sides lightly with oil (corn or canola), and drape over two parallel bars in oven rack. › Bake about 4 minutes or until just crisp. › Remove to let them cool and harden on a tray lined with paper towels. Then fill with your choice of protein and garnishes.

 

Holy Guacamole

There are just about as many recipes for guacamole as there are tacos, but this simple version, which I grew up eating in Tucson, is a winner.

  • 1/4 to 1/2 chopped white onion
  • 2 ripe avocados, chopped and mashed
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. › If you want it chunky, serve as is. › If you prefer creamy, pulse in blender for a few seconds.

Variations:

Add chopped green chilies or diced jalapenos for some “kick.”

Fold in a small carton of cottage cheese. (This is how we always made it.)

 

Grilled Salmon Tacos with Avocado Slaw

Recipe/image courtesy Hass Avocado Board, avocadocentral.com
  • 1 lb fresh salmon filet
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup pico de gallo, homemade  or store bought
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • 4 cups Easy Avocado Cabbage Carrot Cole Slaw (see recipe)

Avocado Cabbage Carrot Slaw

  • 2 ripe fresh Hass avocados, halved, pitted, and diced, divided
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 cups sliced green cabbage
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

To make slaw, place one avocado, vinegar, water, sugar and cumin in a blender. › With the blender on purée setting, blend until smooth. › In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots, onion, cilantro and one diced avocado. › Pour dressing over cabbage mixture, toss gently and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle salmon filets with cumin and pepper. › Wrap salmon in aluminum foil, and grill over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, turning once, until cooked through. › Wrap tortillas in aluminum foil, and place on grill for 4 minutes, turning once until warm. › Fill tortillas with salmon, pico de gallo and Easy Avocado  Cabbage Carrot Slaw, dividing evenly.

 

Beer-Battered Fish Tacos

Recipe/image courtesy Old El Paso, oldelpaso.com, General Mills
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying
  • 1 cup Gold Medal all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups Mexican beer
  • 1 lb firm white fish fillets (such as cod)
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt
  • Chimichurri Aioli (see recipe)
  • 8 Old El Paso Stand ‘N Stuff taco shells
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 2 jalapeño chilies, thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Chimichurri Aioli

  • 1 can (4.5 oz) Old El Paso chopped green chilies
  • 1/3 cup packed fresh parsley
  • 3/4 cup packed fresh cilantro
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

To make aioli, in food processor, place all Chimichurri Aioli ingredients inside. › Cover; process, using quick on-and-off motions, until smooth. › Empty into bowl, and refrigerate until ready to serve. In deep fryer or heavy saucepan, heat at least 2 inches oil to 350°F. › While oil is heating, mix flour and beer in medium bowl. › Cut fish fillets into cubes. › Dip cubes into batter, and fry fish in batches, about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through. › Drain on paper towels; sprinkle lightly with salt. › Heat taco shells as directed on package. › Fill each taco shell with fish, cabbage, a dollop of aioli and chilies. › Serve with lime wedges. 

 

Grilled Shrimp Tacos

Recipe/image courtesy McCormick & Co.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped jalapeño pepper
  • 1 tsp McCormick Gourmet Lemon Peel
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp McCormick Gourmet Organic Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 tsp McCormick Gourmet Organic Paprika
  • 1/2 tsp McCormick Gourmet Sicilian Sea Salt
  • 1 lb jumbo (16 to 20 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Jalapeño Mango Slaw (see recipe)
  • 6 flour tortillas, 6-inch

Jalapeno Mango Slaw

  • 3 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1 mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4-inch cube
  • 2 tbsp chopped red onion

Mix first nine ingredients in small bowl with wire whisk. › Reserve 1/4 of the marinade for jalapeño mango slaw. › Pour remaining marinade into large resealable bag. › Add shrimp; turn to coat well. › Refrigerate 15 minutes. › Make slaw, mixing cabbage, mango and onion in large bowl. › Add reserved marinade; toss to coat. › Cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve. › Brush 1 side of each tortilla with oil. › Grill, oil-side down, over medium heat 2 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. › Remove tortillas; cover with towel to keep warm. › Remove shrimp from marinade. › Discard any remaining marinade. › Grill shrimp over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes per side or until shrimp turn pink. › To serve, place 3 shrimp on each tortilla. › Top with slaw and serve immediately.

 

Chipotle Chicken Tacos

Recipe/image courtesy McCormick & Co.
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 3 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp McCormick Garlic, Minced
  • 1 tsp McCormick Chipotle Chili Pepper
  • 1 tsp McCormick Cumin, Ground
  • 1 tsp McCormick Onions, Minced
  • 3/4 tsp McCormick Oregano Leaves
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into thin strips
  • 6 flour tortillas, 8-inch

Mix oil, vinegar, salt and all of the seasonings in small bowl until well blended. › Place chicken and vegetables in 2 separate large, resealable plastic bags. › Pour 1/2 of the marinade into each bag; turn to coat well. › Heat large skillet on medium-high heat. › Add chicken; cook and stir 5 minutes. › Add vegetables; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp and chicken is cooked through. › Serve chicken and vegetables in warm tortillas. › Serve with sour cream and lime wedges, if desired.

 

Breakfast Skillet Beef Tacos

Recipe/photo/information courtesy of The Beef Checkoff BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com
  • 8 oz cooked (leftover) beef steak or roast, chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup frozen Mexican vegetable blend
  • 8 small flour tortillas or taco shells (about 6-inch diameter), warmed
  • Crumbled queso blanco or shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend (optional)
  • Toppings (optional): salsa, guacamole, dairy sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped avocado

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. › Add eggs and vegetables; cook 1 to 3 minutes or until eggs are scrambled and just set, stirring occasionally. › Stir in beef steak; cook and stir 1 minute or until beef is just heated through. › Evenly divide beef mixture between tortillas; top evenly with cheese, if desired. › Serve with toppings, if desired.

 

Honey and Spice Sauteed Pork Tacos

Recipe/photo courtesy of National Pork Board. For more information about pork, visit PorkBeInspired.com.
  • 1 lb. boneless pork chops, thinly-cut (1/2-inch thick), cut into strips
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp ground chipotle pepper (smoked or plain paprika can be used as an alternative)
  • 8 small corn tortillas, warmed
  • 1 cup romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 1 cup prepared pico de gallo
  • light sour cream, or crema to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the honey, olive oil, lemon juice, soy sauce and ground chipotle pepper, and whisk to combine. › Add the sliced pork to the marinade, and let it sit for 15 minutes. › Heat a skillet over high heat. › Add the slices of pork to the skillet, and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, flipping with tongs in the middle of the cooking process. › Once cooked, remove the pork to a plate, and reserve. › Arrange 8 corn tortillas on a platter. › Sprinkle each with equal amounts of shredded lettuce and pico de gallo. › Arrange a few pieces of pork on top of each taco, and top with sour cream or crema if desired. 

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