salad, bean & meat tacos

Until Friday I never had a typical beef taco I liked and I never understood the fuss & drama about them. The ones we had before were not very special: devoid of flavour, soggy, messy and unexciting. So, there was never really a big draw to make those, we were quite contempt with our other chicken, fish, pork taco recipes, thank you very much, and there is a far more exhilarating vegetarian black bean version in my queue than the all American stand-by.

Well, we were so wrong and happy to be in the know, finally, after I winged a recipe I had found while browsing some of my favourite sites. Ree Drummond’s (The Pioneer Woman) Salad taco recipe sounded intriguing and inspiring (she adds beans and tomato puree for more flavour and I think a less dry mix) and apparently everyone commenting has a very strong opinion about beef tacos, so we gave it a shot and tried our own:

I used a mixture of beef and pork for a juicer and less dry ground meat base, added black beans for colour and flavour as well as to upholster the meat with some more vegetables/pulses. Since I have no taco seasoning and will never buy any, I seasoned as I thought would be sort of tex-mex and added cumin, oregano & chiles along with some Mexican chipotle salsas that were crowding the fridge.

The absolute revelation was to bake the pre-fried taco shells in a hot oven for about 5-10 minutes for absolute crispness (note: taco shells from a Mexican online store, not the supermarket – it makes all the difference) and get this, another great Pioneer Woman trick: fill the taco shells first with shredded salad and you will never have a soggy taco again. Maybe an old hat for all you who knew that a looong time but we’ll share the knowledge with those living in the dark ages as we have until the revelation. It is still a little messy eating those but that is what I mean by Friday fun food. Great with a movie or the new Sherlock series, when, oh when will that finally be out?

Salad, bean & meat tacos
For about 12 tacos, inspired by this recipe from The Pioneer Woman

500g (a little more than 1lb) minced meat, equal parts of beef & pork
olive oil (1-2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of ground dried chiles (I have a mixture of ground ancho, mulato, chipotle & pasilla chiles)
¼ teaspoon of garlic powder or a little clove, finely chopped
½ teaspoon of onion powder
½ teaspoon of piment d’espelette
salt & black pepper
2 tablespoons of tomato purée
½ tin (210g) of salsa picante de chiles chipotles (I used La Morena) or any other chipotle chile sauce
½ tin (210g) of salsa mexicana roja (La Morena)
several dashes of Cholula hot sauce or Tabasco chipotle (optional)
½ cup or more water
1 tin of black beans

The trimmings:
12 corn taco shells
2 handfuls of shredded salad (we had endive escarole salad = german: Endiviensalat)
½ avocado
5 small plum tomatoes
½ small red onion, chopped
a little finely minced garlic (¼ clove)
lime juice
coriander (cilantro) which I had forgotten but should be there
salt, pepper, cayenne
grated cheddar
toasted cumin crema (a tablespoon of whole cumin seeds + a few tablespoons of crème fraîche or sour cream, see below for method) or ranch dressing or sour cream

Heat a shallow pan or cast-iron skillet with some olive oil and brown the meat. Break up all the bigger pieces with a wooden spoon or spatula to get an even ‘rubble’. Add the various spices, oregano, tomato purée, salsas or sauces and water to get a thicker sauce like consistency and stir. Include the drained beans and let it simmer and reduce the liquid until you get thick and drier base. I think it does need a little time (15-20 minutes) for all the flavours to meld.

While the meat and beans simmer prepare the rest of the trimmings: shred some salad leaves into fine ribbons, I used endive because we had it and I would definitely use it again since it is more malleable than iceberg and has a (slight bitter) taste, not so much crunch and provides a nice cushion for the meat. Further make a chunky avocado-tomato salsa (not a guacamole but with the same ingredients) and mix the chopped tomatoes, avocado, onion, garlic, & coriander and season with salt, pepper, cayenne and lime. For the cumin crema: toast a tablespoon of whole cumin seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, grind them in a pestle and mortar and add a few tablespoons of crème fraîche or sour cream for the cumin crema along with some salt.

Preheat the oven to 180°C or 350° F and bake the taco shells for about 5 minutes until crispy. A little longer does not worry me.

Align all your trimmings and start constructing the tacos: salad ribbons in the bottom, use some on a plate to hold the tacos in position (nice to look at, too), meat&beans, avocado-tomato-salsa, cheddar and a blob of cumin crema (or ranch dressing or sour cream). Switch on TV & DVD player, grab napkins and enjoy.

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