Tacos, like hot dogs and hamburgers, make a perfect casual main course that can be prepared several ways with a countless rainbow of possible sauces and toppings. They are perfect to make for a family dinner, or a dinner party. Tacos can also be served buffet-style so that everyone can balance what goes into them, and personalize them to their own taste. Speaking for myself, the perfect Taco includes: spicy meat on the bottom, shredded cheddar cheese on top of that, followed by sour cream, tomato salsa, shredded iceberg lettuce, and several fiery dashes of hot sauce.
I have been making tacos since I was a teenager, so I have had a lot of time to perfect this recipe. For most of my life I relied on those little spice packets of pre-mixed “taco seasoning” to make the meat sauce. However, after having a couple of highly mediocre Mexican meals in restaurants, I set upon a quest to come up with my own signature taco recipe. In my Tucson, Arizona kitchen I did some culinary research and a little bit of experimentation, and I developed what I feel is the ultimate taco meat recipe. It is full of deliciously spicy flavors, causing these South of the Border treats to pack as much taste sensation as you can shove into a crispy taco shell!
Adding to the homemade flavor of this dish, this recipe also walks you through pan frying your own tortillas, forming them into clamshell-like taco shells as they cook. (If you want to make them into crispy and flat tostados instead of tacos, simply omit creating the fold as you fry the corn tortillas.)
Although I really like using ground turkey for this recipe, this same spice combination will work equally well with ground beef, pork, or chicken. If you want a vegetarian version of the taco filling: use the same tomato sauce and spice mix, and substitute two drained cans of black beans for the meat.
Like any spicy food, this taco recipe can be easily adjusted to your own desired spiciness. If you taste it, and want it a little more spicy, just add additional Red Cayenne Pepper in one-quarter of a teaspoon increments. Any way you serve it, you are going to love this recipe: it’s like having a total flavor fiesta in your mouth!
Taco Meat Filling
—1 pound of Ground Turkey (or ground Beef, Pork, or Chicken)
—3 tablespoons of Olive Oil (or vegetable oil)
—1/2 cup Tomato Sauce
—1/2 cup Water
—1 teaspoon Paprika
—1 teaspoon Salt
—1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
—1 teaspoon Chili Powder
—1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
—1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder
—1/2 teaspoon Red Cayenne Pepper
—12 to 14 uncooked Corn Tortillas
—1/4 cup Olive Oil (or vegetable oil)
—3 cups Shredded Iceberg Lettuce
—2 cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
—8 ounces of Sour Cream
—1 to 2 cups of Tomato Salsa (or diced fresh tomato)
—1 bottle of your favorite Hot Sauce
Additional Optional Fillings:
—Sliced Jalapeno Peppers
In a medium-sized frying pan, add the three tablespoons of olive oil and ground turkey meat. Over medium high heat, brown the turkey meat. (Even if you substitute the turkey with beef, pork or chicken, the oil prevents the meat from sticking to the pan and burning.)
When the meat is browned, add the tomato sauce, water, and the spice mix (paprika, salt, ground black pepper, ground cumin, onion powder, and cayenne pepper.) It is going to appear “watery” at first, however as you continue to simmer the meat and spices together uncovered at low heat for 15 to 20 minutes it will thicken up. This will give you time to fry the taco shells.
NOTE: If you need to shred the lettuce and cheese and prepare the fillings, do so now, so they are ready when you are done frying the shells.
In large frying pan, add 1/4 cup of olive oil and heat over medium high heat for about five minutes, or until you can see waves of heat on the surface of the oil. Fitting as many corn tortillas into the frying pan as you can. Do not overcrowd them, you want every tortilla fully touching the oil on the bottom of the pan. Using kitchen tongs, turn the tortillas several times until they start to turn golden brown and crispy on both sides.
When the individual tortillas are browning and getting crispy, using the tongs: mark a center point on the tortilla, and carefully fold or curve the tortilla in half while you continue frying them. While giving the folded tortillas an extra minute or two to further brown up on both sides of the fold, move them to the side of the pan so that you can add additional tortillas. Make sure that the open ends of the taco shell should have an inch wide gap for easy filling. As each tortilla is folded into a slightly open clamshell-like taco shell and finished cooking, set them onto a plate with a paper towel or paper napkin on it to absorb any excessive oil.
By the time you have all 12 to 14 finished taco shells done, the spicy meat will have the exotic flavors of the spices cooked into it, and the once-watery liquid will now be a thickened tomato based sauce.
Taking each individual taco shell in hand, fill the bottom with at least a tablespoon full of the spiced meat, evenly distributing it across the length of the taco shell. If you want sour cream on the tacos, using a butter knife smear as much as you like on one of the taco shell interior walls. Place a desired amount of shredded cheddar cheese on top of the taco meat, so that it melts slightly. Add salsa or diced tomatoes on top of the cheese. Cover it with shredded lettuce. Now add a desired amount of your favorite hot sauce on top of the lettuce, and you are really ready to take a bite and join the flavor fiesta!
This is my favorite way to have tacos. At a family dinner or a dinner party, I think it is fun to serve these tacos buffet style. Simply lay out the cooked taco shells, meat, and sauces and let everyone prepare their tacos their own personal way. You can certainly add jalapeno peppers, freshly squeezed lime, avocado slices, or guacamole. All of these work well with these tacos too!
Serve these tacos alone, with a salad, or with rice and beans. What I love about this recipe is that the meat, salsa, and hot sauce are all spicy; while the lettuce, cheese, and sour cream are cool. It is the best of both worlds, all in the same taco shell!