Sam Sifton’s Middle-School Tacos

We are counting down the days until the end of my son’s elementary school career. 😦 His 6th grade Graduation- a.k.a. “Moving Up” ceremony- is next Tuesday. So… it’s the perfect time to share this recipe for a popular Middle-School lunch! I’m getting him ready for his next chapter. ❤

The recipe for these “Middle-School ‘Gringo’ Tacos” was featured in a New York Times article titled “The Case for Hard Shell Tacos,” contributed by Sam Sifton. They were a wonderful upgrade from a taco kit. 🙂 I used ground turkey instead of ground beef, decreased the chile powder and red pepper flakes, and doubled the garlic. We topped them with grated cheeses, sour cream, guacamole, shredded iceberg lettuce, and chopped grape tomatoes. I served them with refried beans on the side as well. Great.

Of course, my kids absolutely loved them! Then they informed me that their school lunch tacos are served in soft tortillas. Funny. Maybe that’s an elementary school thing? We’ll see! 😉

Time: 30 minutes

For the Meat Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola, peanut or grapeseed
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 pounds ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1-2 tablespoons chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (or substitute hot or sweet paprika)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 cup chicken stock or beef broth, low-sodium if store-bought

For Serving:

  • 12-18 hard taco shells
  • refried beans, optional

Topping Suggestions:

  • grated cheese (I used both cheddar and Monterey Jack)
  • sliced jalapeños
  • chopped tomatoes
  • shredded lettuce or cabbage
  • sour cream
  • guacamole
  • lime wedges

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the oil. When it begins to shimmer, add the onion, and cook until softened and starting to brown, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute or so to soften, and then the ground meat. Cook until it starts to brown, stirring and chopping with a spoon to break up the meat, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Pour off excess fat, leaving only a tablespoon or two in the pan.
  4. Add the chile powder, cumin, salt, pepper, cornstarch, paprika and red-pepper flakes, and stir to combine.
  5. Add the stock or broth, stir, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until the sauce has thickened slightly, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
  6. As sauce cooks, place taco shells (on a taco rack, if possible) on a sheet pan, and toast in oven until they are crisp and smell nutty, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Serve a few tablespoons of meat in each taco, along with whatever toppings you like.
  8. Serve with refried beans on the side, if desired.

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