I call anything I wrap in a tortilla – soft- or hard-shell, sprouted grain or corn – a taco. Goes over well with the fam, for one. Tacos = yummy in this household. But I do it for myself, too. Tacos feel decadent to me, like party food, even my healthiest versions. Plus they’re seriously cheap eats, and on the table in a flash, which makes them pretty much perfect. I choose small tortillas to keep the whole taco less than 300 calories – load up on the veggie and salsa garnishes without guilt. Use cheese, avocado, or sour cream in small amounts for big-impact flavor and texture.
Here are a few of my favorite versions:
The Classic American: ground meat in a crunchy shell is pretty tough to beat. Ground beef, pork, chicken, or turkey all work well. I choose the leanest meat possible, skip the commercial seasoning, and add chopped onion and garlic, lots of ancho chili powder, cumin, and oregano, and a splash of Frontera Enchilada Sauce (excellent product – most commercial enchilada sauces are blech, this one rocks; available locally at Byerly’s and Whole Foods). Serve with shredded lettuce and cheese, chopped tomatoes, onion, and avocado, and life is good.
Tofu: when I’m alone for lunch, I whip up a tofu taco – yep, tofu makes a terrific taco filling. I saute a little garlic and onion to start, crumble firm tofu into the pan, add several shakes of seasoning (see above, same concept, don’t forget a bit of salt), and saute until hot. The classic toppings work beautifully, but experiment with spinach, sundried tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, shredded cabbage, fresh lime. Guacamole is a must. I like the contrast of the soft tofu in a crunchy shell and with crunchy fillings. (Pictured, with seasoning in the saute pan above, and in process of being consumed below, with a smear of bean dip, spinach, red cabbage, and a drizzle of tomatillo salsa.)
Fish: ooh, my favorite tacos are fish tacos, including shrimp tacos. Marinate the fish first in a mixture of lemon or lime juice, minced garlic, minced jalapeno, a drizzle of olive oil, maybe a splash of enchilada sauce or salsa. Saute or grill the fish and serve hot in soft (corn or flour) tortillas with shredded cabbage. Make a creamy “sauce” by stirring together lowfat Greek yogurt and Thai chili sauce or spicy salsa. Serve raw onion, sliced avocado, and lime wedges as garnishes. (For you cilantro lovers – lots of fresh cilantro!)
Leftovers: tacos make leftovers fun! If you have a few slices of last night’s steak, chicken, or pork roast, you’re so jamming. Chewier cuts work better in soft (warmed) tortillas. Corn and flour are obvious choices, but sprouted grain tortillas are tasty too. Pureed spicy beans (or refried) are a great pairing, as are guacamole and leafy greens. If I have only a spot of roast to work with, I’ll chop it up and saute it with onions and some leftover rice, adding salsa or enchilada sauce for seasoning, before rolling it up in a tortilla with a sprinkle of cheese. Experiment with cheeses – the classic jack cheese is always tasty, but crumbled Mexican queso fresco or feta (they’re somewhat similar) are fantastic too.
Beans: all types of beans of course make a delicious taco filling, either whole or mashed. Since the point here is ease and speed, I choose canned beans, applying the same seasoning treatment as I do to ground meat or tofu (above). Garbanzos, pintos, cannelini, navy, black – all work beautifully. Sometimes I crave something soft and comfort-y, so I roll pureed beans and a little cheese into a soft tortilla. When it’s crunch I’m after, I fill a hard shell with whole beans and a few of the garnishes I like with tofu. Mix rice into the beans for added substance. Completely versatile, always satisfying.
Eggs: a scrambled egg with avocado and salsa in a soft tortilla? Oh so good. And in the same vein, not exactly a taco but I’ll mention it anyhow – a soft corn tortilla spread generously with enchilada sauce and warmed in the microwave, topped with a fried egg. Sprinkle with a bit of queso fresco and salt and pepper. To die for.
Veggie: any mix of sauteed vegetables could make a great taco – I like mushrooms (for their meaty quality), zucchini, spinach, tomatoes. Add seasoning while you saute, top with salsa and cheese (for some protein), add raw veggies (for texture), and dig in!
Potato-Chorizo: the tacos that Rick Bayless made famous – really simple (especially if you buy Frontera Tomatillo/Avocado salsa), really cheap, really, really delicious. Not exactly light, but I’ve made them with tiny tortillas as part of a Mexican-themed party. (Barrio is serving a delicious version.) Recipe here.
Carnitas: slow-roasted, succulent pork – by definition not quick…but still easy! And so good, I’m including it anyhow, in case you’re in the mood to put a pork shoulder roast in the oven and forget about it for a several hours. When it’s falling apart, it’s done. Shred and serve in small, soft corn tortillas with pickled onions, radishes, crema (a slightly thinner version of sour cream), and queso fresco. Party food. Recipe here.
I mentioned several of my favorites garnishes above, but here they are as a list. I’m sure you love others I haven’t even thought of. I think of garnishes as “salad,” so I go for the most nutritious, colorful mix I can pull together. Mix and match for an interesting variety of textures and flavors:
Shredded cabbage (green or red)
Chopped fresh tomatoes
Chopped sundried tomatoes
Sliced bell peppers (raw or sautéed)
Sliced onion (raw or sautéed)
Sliced jalapeños (raw or pickled)
Pico de Gallo
Shredded cheese (jack, cheddar, mozzarella)
Crumbled cheese (feta, queso fresco)
Sour cream (or Greek yogurt; plain or mixed with spicy salsa or chili sauce)
Refried beans (or pureed spicy beans or bean dip)
Whole beans (garbanzos, pintos, cannelini, navy, black)
Rice (plain or seasoned)
Fresh lime or lemon