Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taco Filling for Health Foodies

I grew up eating a lot of ground beef hard shell tacos. In fact, I didn't know that other kinds of tacos existed until I was well into my 20s. Once I discovered more traditional Mexican tacos, I sought them out and ate them with delight. However, there is a place in my heart and stomach for the tacos of my youth, at least a healthified version of them.

I recently had the pleasure of picking up delicious Mexican tacos and handmade corn tortillas from a restaurant called La Tarasca in Centralia. My husband and I will always plan our drives to and from Portland based on visits to La Tarasca.

I thought it might be nice to fill those fabulous tortillas with my taco filling. It had the same kind of texture contrast as Shepherd's Pie, it turns out, and was quite tasty. The filling is also great with hard taco shells (we get the brands that don't have trans fats), chips, in wheat tortillas or supermarket corn tortillas. Heck, you could probably even make some sort of Tamale Pie with it by covering it with corn bread batter and baking it.

I base my recipe on a Cook's Illustrated ground beef taco recipe, but I made adjustments to the spice quantities because I add so much extra stuff. In addition, I took out all of the hot chile and substituted smoked paprika for the chili powder to ensure a toddler-friendly meal. Finally, though I made the recipe with ground beef this time, I have also had great success with vegetarian 'grounds' (we like Yves). I suspect you could also use ground chicken or turkey. Whatever protein you use, you'll need to taste several times to adjust the salt and flavoring level to your preference.

I use my food processor (quelle surprise) for all of the vegetables except the garlic, for which I use our garlic press.

If you were so inclined, I bet that some finely chopped red or yellow bell pepper would be another nice addition to the filling.

2 TBSP oil
2 small or 1 large onion finely diced
3-5 cloves garlic, finely minced or put through a press
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (mild)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
1 lb ground beef
1 can drained pinto or black beans
1 bunch greens, washed and finely chopped/processed
4 carrots, washed and finely chopped/processed
1 c. chicken or veggie broth (low or unsalted)
1/2 to 1 tube tomato paste (we use Amore in the squeeze tube, you could also use a small can)
1 tsp brown sugar
3-4 tsp vinegar (cider or red wine would work best)
Pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion
  2. Cook, stirring, several minutes until the onion is softened but not browned
  3. Stir in the garlic and spices and continue cooking for another minute
  4. Add the ground protein item, and stir well to break it up into smaller pieces
  5. Cook until the meat is no longer pink (for veggie grounds, just cook for a few minutes)
  6. Add the beans, greens and carrots as well as the tomato paste and stock
  7. Put a lid on the skillet to steam the veggies--about 5 minutes
  8. Remove the lid and stir then add the brown sugar and cider vinegar
  9. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference
  10. Use as a filling for hard or soft tacos, burritos, etc

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