Friday, October 16, 2009

Tacos Like My Momma Used to Make

My mom is one of those people who can hear a piece of music then whip out her violin, guitar or keyboard and play it back for you. Pretty amazing. But when I was growing up, her talents did not extend to the realm of the kitchen. She did have a few standbys that I did always look forward to. And tacos were one of them.

Unfortunately most people think of tacos as tasteless packaged shells with some bland ground beef thrown in. But for us, back before anyone worried about heart disease or diabetes, tacos were fresh tortillas from a local Mexican bakery filled with seasoned beef and fried at home. I never ate Taco Bell until I went to college.

A couple of months ago I had a craving for good homemade tacos. I don’t normally fry too much, but we’d just purchased some grass-fed ground beef so I hoped that sort of made up for the frying. Then I re-created one of my favorite meals. Trevor had never had tacos this way before. The crunch of the fried tortilla and well-seasoned ground beef won him over and he will not be going back to prepackaged shells.

This week Trevor bought some more grass-fed beef from Highland Oak at the PSU Farmers’ Market after working at the Persephone Farm stand. And he had tacos on the brain. We used onion from Persephone. And Trevor made a delicious salsa with Persephone sunburst tomatoes, shallot, garlic, jalapeƱo and cilantro.

The key to these tacos is making sure your oil is hot enough. Warm it up slowly over medium heat. I use the Rachael Ray trick of sticking the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil to see if it’s hot enough. If bubbles form around the handle, it’s good to go. Also shape the beef into flat little ovals, that aren’t too thick so they will cook quickly.

Homemade Tacos
Serves 2 to 3. Please be very, very careful when frying. Make sure all handles are facing in toward your stove. Keep all small children and pets out of the area and wear shoes. Trust me on that one.

canola oil or other frying oil
½ pound ground beef, preferably grass-fed natural beef
6 corn tortillas
¼ cup onion, diced
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¾ cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1 medium tomato, chopped
½ cup lettuce, shredded
salsa to taste

Fill a large skillet about 1 to 1½ inches of canola oil. Heat over medium heat until bubbles form when the handle of a wooden spoon is dipped in.

Combine, ground beef and onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Form six flat, oval-shaped patties that will cover one half of the tortillas.

In another skillet, heat tortillas until they are soft and pliable. Working quickly, place one patty in each tortilla and fold the tortilla in half. When all six on finished, carefully place as many tacos as will fit into the skillet with hot oil. Cook about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Adjust the heat as necessary. If it’s bubbling very rapidly, turn it down a little; just a few bubbles, turn it up slightly. Tortillas should be crisp and lightly browned. When taking each taco out of the oil, carefully tip it to each side to allow excess oil to drain.

When tacos are done, place them on a cookie rack with paper towel underneath. You may pat them lightly with a paper towel to removed excess grease. While tacos are still warm, open them slightly and fill with grated cheese.

Once all the tacos are finished cooking, you can fill them with tomatoes, lettuce and salsa or any other topping you desire. Enjoy!

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