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Tacos - where to begin?

“Tacos are great because you can eat very well, with really good ingredients, for not a lot of money or time,” Joe Hargrave

The other evening to my amazement, David suddenly asked if we could have tacos for dinner sometime. He said he had just seen an advertisement on the television. I don't know what for - probably Old El Paso or something because they definitely have the monopoly on Mexican food in the supermarkets over here. Or maybe it was an ad for a cooking programme. Anyway I had no idea he liked anything Mexican - I mean - chillies!


Anyway because I am a good little wife and because I know very little about Mexican food I have been looking into it. I am now totally bemused really because this is a dish that is sort of considered fast food - certainly in terms of buying it. It's street food in Mexico. However you also have various cooks and magazines telling you that this is a quick and easy, as well as nutritious and crowd pleasing meal. Indeed David told me that what appealed was that it looked very nutritious and fresh. Just what that quote at the top of the page says. And yet, when you look at the more gourmet versions it can involve hours of slow cooked meats.


Where to begin indeed? Well perhaps with the different elements.


The taco shell.

And by the way, apparently the difference between a taco and a burrito is size. Taco smaller than burrito. Taco street food. Burrito restaurant and home food.


Obviously you can buy tortillas because this is what the wrapping is. There are corn tortillas and flour tortillas - it depends on the part of Mexico you are in. There are crispy and there are soft. I had been wondering whether I could use the chapatis - well that's what I called them - that I made the other day to go with a curry - and yes I think I can, because when you look at recipes for flour tortillas, they are basically the same, and mine are not very thick. If this lot of tacos - tomorrow's dinner - is a success then I might have a go at making some corn tortillas some time.


Crispy or soft is the next thing. I wasn't a attracted to those crispy shells you see and I smiled when I saw this quote which confirmed my thoughts on the matter:

"Thank you hard taco shells for surviving the long journey from factory, to supermarket, to my plate and then breaking the moment I put something inside you. Thank you." Jimmy Fallon


I do quite like the idea of slightly crisp though, so was also happy to see that you can heat them in the oven until crisp or:


“Put it on the griddle and flip it back and forth for about a minute. I don’t know why, but if you do it for a minute versus 30 seconds, the tortilla seems to hold together better when you fill it, so do it for a minute.” Jorge Barelles Jr.


The basic filling

Fundamentally anything meat or fish if you are going to be authentically Mexican. Well not quite, because I was going to use some minced beef from the freezer and Nagi Maehashi from Recipe Tin Eats says: "You will never find ground beef / mince tacos in Mexico." Not that this stops anyone as she goes on to say:


"So beef mince tacos, the single most popular type of taco meat made in million and millions of households the world over, is totally un-authentic. And that’s absolutely ok. We love them anyway – and we will always love them!"


Moreover in her recipe for Baked beef tacos shown here she bakes the filled tacos - covered in cheese - also not authentic - in the oven to make them crisp. She does say this is a totally inauthentic recipe. And moreover Jamie Oliver, amongst many others will make Beef tacos with minced beef. Why not? It's quick and easy, and as long as it has Mexican style spices - cumin, oregano, chilli, paprika - in the mix it's all good

Actually you are supposed to either slow-cook the meat, or barbecue it, or maybe grill it. Which means that tacos are not really a quick and uncomplicated thing if you are going to be authentic. The website Gran Luchito has a pretty comprehensive guide to some of the regional variations in Mexico for them all, and I found a couple of more inauthentic ones as well: BBQ lamb tacos with pineapple pickle and chutney from Ottolenghi; Tacos al pastor from Danielle Alvarez; Pork pibil from Gran Luchino which uses a heap of their products; as do their Lamb barbacoa and Carnitas recipes but Curtis Stone does a Pork belly carnitas recipe as well - from this month's Coles Magazine - there's always a taco recipe it seems to me. For chicken - well let's try Donna Hay's Chipotle chicken and cauliflower tacos.

But let's not forget fish, and I have to say there were an awful lot of fish recipes out there and it's the only taco that Felicity Cloake has checked out and it did look pretty good, as did Jamie's Herring tacos.


Of course we are now in the Vegetarian and Vegan age and so there are a myriad of offerings in this field out there. Much to the horror and scorn of the Mexicans who would never have a vegetarian or vegan taco - no matter how much vegetable matter they may add to the mix. One of the most attractive vegetarian versions I saw was from Anna Jones - Cauliflower ceviche tacos.


Vegetables and pickles

Vegetables give the crunch factor to your taco. Felicity Cloake says that shredded cabbage is a non -negotiable factor in making the perfect fish taco, but I don't know whether that applies to other kinds of taco. Suffice to say that there are always at least a few pieces of lettuce, plus a pickled something - usually onion but it could be carrot or radish. And sometimes it's beans - those refried ones you buy in cans are often mentioned. I might add some beans to the meat perhaps.


Salsa

Sprinkled on top - well here let your imagination run wild although a good guide is this one from Joe Hargrove:


“I always say you need chile, lily (onions or scallions or any member of the allium family), vinegar or citrus, herbs and salt. If you have that, you can make a salsa.” Joe Hargrave


Fruit too perhaps - avocado is obviously an obvious one, although that is often reserved for the last element:


Sauce

A bit of moisture to finish it all off. Sometimes this is guacamole, sometimes it's yoghurt or sour cream with either lime juice or a swirl of chilli sauce, sometimes it's a flavoured mayonnaise, sometimes it's other kinds of chilli sauce. Well it's Mexican isn't it? You have to have chilli in there somewhere.


So perhaps I should have some way of providing optional chilli for my version, because David is definitely not into it. In fact I'm really still wondering what to do. I think I'll heat my breads in a frying pan as suggested but shall I stick to my idea of beef mince or go for chicken instead? I don't think I'm going to go the full slow cooked pork or lamb way, and I have other ideas for fish this week. I do still have a bit of cabbage left after making sauerkraut yesterday and there's always lettuce and carrots of course. I can probably cobble together a salsa as well. Then, I think the idea is to just put out the elements and go for it. We'll see. I'm not sure I'm going to be quite as ecstatic as Isabel Quintero though:

“Tacos are like what the voices of a hundred angels singing Bob Dylan while sitting on rainbows and playing banjos would taste like if that sound were edible.” Isabel Quintero


I couldn't find a suitable angel so a unicorn and a dog will have to do. There's a rainbow though - and tacos.



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