Taco night is a big deal in our house. Everyone in the family loves them, and there is something inherently festive and fun about a hands-on, interactive meal. If you’re looking for a dinner to counterbalance a cranky day, this is the one. I usually go with ground turkey or chicken,instead of beef. You choose, and if you choose beef, drain it well. And if you choose turkey, don’t go for the extra lean, get the 93 percent lean/7 percent fat or the 85 percent lean/15 percent fat ratio—they’re juicier.
I have certainly been known to reach for a package of store-bought taco seasoning at times, but with an extra few minutes you can make a homemade seasoning blend that tastes amazing, and the sodium level won’t be through the roof. Then throw together a big salad, or some steamed broccoli or cauliflower, and you’ve got dinner.
Yield: Serves 8
For the taco filling:
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)
Nonstick cooking spray
2 pounds ground turkey or beef
Salsa or taco sauce
Shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, or a Mexican cheese blend
Low-fat or regular sour cream
About 12 taco shells
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Place the chili powder, cumin, onion powder, salt, cornstarch, garlic powder, oregano, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne or red pepper flakes, if using, in a small bowl or plastic container. Blend well.
3. Spray a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray and place it over medium-high heat. Add the turkey or beef and cook, stirring and making sure to really break it up into small crumbles, until it is browned throughout, about 5 minutes. Drain off any liquid. Add the spice mixture and cook stirring, until you can smell all of the spices, about 1 minute. Add ¾ cup of water and stir until the water is mostly evaporated, the meat is evenly coated with the spices, and there is still a little bit of liquid in the pan, about 4 minutes.
4. To serve, place your choice of toppings in small individual bowls. Heat the taco shells on a baking sheet (or right on the oven rack, whichever you prefer) in the oven until warm and toasty, about 5 minutes. Transfer the meat to a serving bowl. Place the taco shells on a plate and cover them with a napkin or clean dish towel to keep them warm, setting them out with the bowls of toppings. Let everyone serve him or herself.
Cooking Tip: This makes enough taco seasoning for two pounds of meat, but because doubling or tripling the recipe takes no extra time, wouldn’t you want to make a big batch and throw the extra in a small plastic container or zipper-top bag, and be happy with the knowledge that your next taco night is halfway complete? Or, if you have a smaller group, make the seasoning, put half in a container, and use just one pound of meat.
What the Kids Can Do: The kids can measure away, and this is a really good recipe to use as a teaching tool to discuss how many teaspoons go into a tablespoon (three, of course), and if you double or triple this recipe it’s an awesome math moment in the kitchen. Kids can also put the different toppings in small bowls.