By now, lots of us know that the iceberg-lettuce-and-shredded-cheddar-cheese-topped tacos we grew up eating at home and in the school cafeteria are not all that authentic. Even worse, they’re just boring.
Here are some ways to spice up your average taco — and give Taco Tuesday back its due.
1. Go Full Traditional
Tacos in Mexico, where they originated, are served on small, soft, hand-made corn tortillas. The marinated meat inside is grilled, stewed, or fried in oil and then topped with finely-diced white onion and chopped fresh cilantro.
Try eating your own tacos with traditional toppings only — serve a spicy salsa verde on the side to bring some heat and freshness.
If you feel like you need cheese on your tacos, try crumbling some cotija cheese over the top, or get melty with some creamy oaxacan cheese.
2. The Tortilla Matters
Homemade tortillas can be difficult to get right, but the reward is a pillowy, perfectly-chewy and warm place for everything else in your taco to hang out in. You’ll need to get ahold of a tortilla press and some masa harina– an extra-fine version of corn flour — to do so.
If that sounds like a little too much to take on, store-bought tortillas can be just as tasty. Corn and flour both provide a solid base for your tacos, but be sure to warm them in the microwave wrapped in a damp papertown for a few seconds before using to keep them soft.
Unwilling to give up the hard-shell taco experience? Consider making some yourself. Simply fry soft corn or flour tortillas in a pan in a little bit of oil. Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from pan and shape into a shell. Let rest before filling.
3. Beyond Ground Beef
Even though I’ll always have a fondness for the seasoning-packet-flavored ground beef that graced the tacos I grew up with, there are so many other proteins to explore.
A pile of greasy, drippingly-delicious pork carnitas is just as at home on a tortilla as a few crispy fried shrimp or some chopped grilled chicken. You can even go vegetarian with black beans or refried beans, or one of the many plant-based substitutes out there.
For my favorite homemade tacos, I take chicken thighs, season the tops and bottoms with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder. Then, I sear them in my dutch
4. Pickle Something
Pickled foods balance out the fatty, smoky flavors of tacos with an acidic punch. While you could throw a dill pickle or sweet gherkin on top of a taco, I recommend trying the quick-pickling method instead.
You can quick-pickle just about anything you’d slow-pickle. For tacos, pickled radishes provide some added crunch, and they’re easy to throw together. Thinly-slice a few radishes, place the slices in a shallow dish and cover with salt, vinegar, and some water.
By the time your tacos are ready to eat, your radishes will be tangy but still crisp — and the perfect compliment to just about any taco base.
5. DIY Salsa and Guac
Store-bought salsa –even the fancy kind stored by the deli– can still be lacking in freshness. And don’t even get me started on store-bought guacamole. To truly make your tacos sing, try making your own salsas and guac.
You can make a simple-yet-delicious salsa by throwing together some diced tomato, diced onion, diced jalapeño pepper or diced poblano pepper, chopped cilantro, salt, and pepper into a bowl. Add a squeeze of lime before serving.
And homemade guacamole is even easier. Smash the flesh of 2 avocados in a bowl using the back of a spoon. Add the juice of one lime, some chopped fresh cilantro, and a hefty sprinkling of salt. Mash together and enjoy.
6. Dip and Fry Your Tacos. Really.
Ever heard of Birria tacos? This dish is the ultimate in taco decadence. My mouth waters just seeing them.
It all starts with a tangy, savory, hot, sweet beef stew. It’s cooked for hours until the beef is coming apart in your tongs, then the tender meat is heaped into taco shells. The whole thing is then dipped back into the stew and then straight-up fried in a pan.
The soft shells become firm as the fatty broth cooks off of them, leading to a hot-and-juicy, drippingly-good final taco that’s truly one-of-a-kind (I guess unless you have two…or three).
7. Push Flavor Limits
Tacos provide a fantastic canvas for experimentation. There are so many proteins, toppings, and preparation combinations to try — I don’t think I’ve ever made the exact same tacos twice.
You could make an Asian taco that features teriyaki chicken, topped with a soy sauce and sesame broccoli slaw and pickled bok coy. What about a BBQ-inspired taco stuffed full of pulled pork and topped with vinegary collard greens?
Or fish tacos served with a creamy mayo-based sauce. Or breakfast tacos full of eggs, cheese, bacon, and anything else that sounds good.
What’s your perfect taco? Let us know how you keep your tacos spicy.