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
  • 8 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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Zucchini & Black Bean Tacos

I love a hearty vegetarian taco! This one was a wonderful way to enjoy the bounty of summer zucchini (and home-grown jalapeños!) as well.

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. I increased the spices, steamed the tortillas, and included avocado and cilantro in the toppings. The mashed black beans, sour cream and goat cheese added wonderful creaminess to the filling. Simple, fresh and delicious.

I’m sharing this one (belatedly!) with my friends at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #134 this week. Enjoy!

Yield: Serves 4

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium or large zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch rounds if medium or sliced & halved or quartered if large
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion (from 1 medium onion)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 can (15 ounces) organic black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • sour cream, crumbled goat cheese, sliced radishes, pickled jalapeños and carrots, and lime wedges, for serving (I also included Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted Diced Green Chiles)
  • fresh cilantro and avocado slices, for garnish
  1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. (I used a 4-quart pan)
  2. Add zucchini in a single layer; sprinkle with cumin and coriander. Cook, turning once, until golden, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Season with salt and pepper; cover to keep warm.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and add remaining oil, onion, and garlic to skillet; cook, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes.
  4. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute.
  5. Add beans and 1/2 cup water, season with salt and pepper, and simmer, smashing some beans with a spoon, until heated through.
  6. With tongs, toast each tortilla over a burner until charred in places; wrap in a towel. Alternatively, warm the tortillas in a microwave, covered with a damp towel and plastic wrap, for approximately one minute, or until warm and pliable. (I used my tortilla warmer with the microwave method.)
  7. Fill with sour cream, beans, zucchini, and cheese. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro.
  8. Serve, with jalapeños, carrots, radishes, avocado slices, and lime alongside, as desired.

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Shrimp a La Mexicana Tacos

Let me tell you something… (This information may actually be quite obvious to some of you…) Cooking the shrimp in bacon drippings made this dish ultra-delicious. ULTRA. 🙂

I usually cook bacon in the microwave. (gasp!) I know that this may not be the best cooking method, but, as a complete neat freak, this method does eliminate a major cleanup. Fortunately, I pan-cooked a serious amount of bacon at some point in time and reserved the drippings. Yay! Perfect for these wonderful summertime tacos.

We ate these as a belated Father’s Day celebratory meal with skillet creamed corn, brown rice, and refried beans. The skillet corn consisted of fresh corn kernels which were also sautĂ©ed in bacon drippings. The mixture was then combined with a little bit of sour cream and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. SO good.

My husband is a great dad and deserved a super tasty celebration. He always selects his menu and really wanted tacos on his special day for two reasons. Not only does he absolutely love tacos, but, after a thorough search, he gave me fabulous taco racks as part of my birthday gift- he really wanted me to use them ASAP. 😉

He found a local company that makes functional and pretty stainless steel taco racks: www.TacoRack.com. The racks make assembling and serving tacos so much easier. I have always needed such an item in my kitchen! A great birthday gift for me turned into a yummy Father’s Day meal for him. 😉

This recipe was adapted from Rick Bayless.com. Great.

I’m sharing with Angie’s Fiesta Friday #129 co-hosted by Jhuls @The Not so Creative Cook and Colleen @Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck. Enjoy!

Yield: Serves 4 generously

  • 3 T lard, vegetable oil, bacon drippings, fat rendered from chorizo, or even butter
  • 3 serrano OR one large jalapeño, stemmed
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 ripe medium-large tomato, cored and diced
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed, and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (I used large/21-25 per pound shrimp)
  • a few sprigs cilantro, finely chopped
  • a big squeeze of fresh lime juice
  • 10-12 corn or corn & wheat tortillas, for serving
  1. Melt the lard or other fat in a medium-size skillet set over medium heat.
  2. Seed the chiles then chop them finely and add to the skillet, along with the onion and tomato. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened but is not brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
  3. Add the shrimp to the skillet, letting the shrimp cook until they’re almost done through, about three minutes.
  4. In the meantime, warm the tortillas in a tortilla warmer or on a plate covered by a moist paper towel and plastic wrap. (I place a damp paper towel over the tortillas in my tortilla warmer, cover, and microwave for 1 minute.)
  5. Add a big handful of chopped cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, then scoop into a warm tortilla.

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Cinco de Mayo Chicken-Chipotle Tacos

Move over creamy chicken-chard-roasted poblano tacos… we have a new favorite in our house! These tacos are amazing. Thanks to the chipotle chiles, the filling tastes like it has been slow-cooked for hours. The finished full-flavored filling is loaded into a warm tortilla and smothered in toppings- incredible. Perfect.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by David Tanis. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of bone-in and substituted scallions for white onion as a garnish. It could easily be modified to use rotisserie chicken meat as well.

Perfect for your Cinco de Mayo feast… or Seis de Mayo if I’m too late. Fabulous any day! 🙂

Yield: 4 servings

Time: about 1 hour

For the Tacos:

  • 5 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 3 scallions, left whole
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 thyme branch
  • 3 black peppercorns
  • 1 allspice berry
  • 2 cloves
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Âœ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 or 3 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons adobo sauce, from the can
  • Âœ cup chicken broth (*use broth from simmered chicken*)
  • 8 fresh corn tortillas

For the Garnish:

  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped, soaked in ice water for 10 minutes and drained (I substituted unsoaked scallions.)
  • thinly sliced serrano chile
  • thinly sliced radishes
  • sliced avocado
  • crumbled queso fresco or mild feta cheese
  • crĂšme fraĂźche or Mexican crema
  • cilantro sprigs
  • dried oregano
  • lime wedges
  1. Put chicken thighs in a saucepan and cover with 3 cups water. Add scallions, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, allspice, cloves and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Simmer for 30 minutes, then remove chicken and cool.
  2. Shred chicken with your fingers. Strain broth and reserve. You should have about 2 cups shredded chicken.
  3. Put olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add diced yellow onion, season with salt and cook until softened and a bit browned, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add garlic and cumin and cook for 1 minute more.
  5. Add chopped chipotle chile and adobo sauce and stir to combine.
  6. Add shredded chicken, salt lightly and stir to coat.
  7. Add chicken broth and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, until sauce has thickened somewhat. Keep warm.
  8. Heat the tortillas over steam or by your favorite method, keeping them soft and pliable. (I placed them in a tortilla warmer, cover with a damp paper towel and microwave for 1 minute.)
  9. Build the tacos quickly: Put a spoonful of the saucy chicken in the center of each tortilla. Top with a teaspoon of chopped white onion or scallion, a few slivers of serrano chile, some radish and avocado slices, a teaspoon of queso fresco or feta and a teaspoon of crĂšme fraĂźche. Add a few cilantro springs and a small pinch of oregano.
  10. Serve immediately with lime wedges on the side.

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Oaxacan Pork Picadillo Tacos

This is an easy upgrade to the typical Taco Tuesday ground beef tacos. Rick Bayless uses tomatoes and sweet spices to flavor the meat (ground pork) as well as nuts and raisins to add contrasting texture. Delicious!

We ate the picadillo in warm hard-shell taco shells with avocado slices, refried beans, steamed greens, and brown Basmati rice. A little sprinkling of feta or queso fresco was a nice garnish too. This recipe was adapted from Rick Bayless.com.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
  • 1 1/2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean, coarse-ground pork
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns OR about 3/4 tsp ground
  • 1-inch piece cinnamon stick OR 1 teaspoon ground
  • 5 cloves OR about 1/8 teaspoon ground
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 4 tsp cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • coarse salt (about 1 teaspoon)

  1. Pour the tomatoes directly into a blender and blend until smooth. (I used a Vitamix.)
  2. Heat the oil in a large, 14-inch skillet over medium heat. (I used enameled cast iron.)
  3. When hot, add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 2 minutes longer.
  4. Add the pork in a thin layer and fry, stirring frequently, until cooked and lightly brown. (If quite a bit of fat has rendered from the meat, drain it off.)
  5. If using whole spices, add the pepper, cinnamon and cloves in a mortar or spice grinder. Add the ground spices to the skillet along with the tomato puree, raisins and vinegar.
  6. Simmer until reduced to a thick, homogenous mass, 30 to 45 minutes.
  7. While the filling simmers, toast the almonds for about 8 to 10 minutes in a 325 degree oven.
  8. Stir toasted almonds into the filling; adjust seasoning as needed with salt. Serve.

Note: The finished picadillo can be covered and refrigerated for 3 or 4 days.

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Vaguely Vietnamese Slow Cooker Pork Tacos

This really isn’t a taco blog! (or a Mexican food blog) 😉 I’ll stop after this one… or pretty soon anyway. In fact, calling these “tacos” is a little bit of a misrepresentation. They really taste something like deconstructed dumplings. Maybe? A warm, flavorful filling topped with a bright and crunchy slaw. All I really need to say is that these “tacos” were yummy.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Sam Sifton. I used trimmed boneless pork shoulder country-style ribs instead of a bone-in pork shoulder and an unpeeled European seedless cucumber. I served the filling in warm 6-inch corn and wheat tortillas instead of flour tortillas. Perfect.

This is the second dish I’m bringing to Fiesta Friday #105 this week! 😉 Hosted by Lily @ Little Sweet Baker and Julianna @ Foodie on Board. Enjoy!

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

For the Pork:

  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • Âœ cup hoisin sauce
  • ÂŒ cup fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
  • 4 to 5-pounds boneless pork shoulder country-style ribs, fat trimmed or a 5-pound bone-in pork shoulder, skin and fat removed
  • 12 to 16 corn and wheat tortillas, warmed

For the Slaw:

  • ⅓ cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 2 T neutral oil, like peanut or grapeseed
  • 1 tsp sriracha sauce, or to taste
  • 10 oz shredded green cabbage or 1 small green cabbage, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 European seedless cucumber, unpeeled, sliced into julienne or 2 medium-size cucumbers, peeled and sliced into julienne
  • 2 medium-size carrots, peeled and sliced into julienne
  • 1 Asian pear, peeled, cored and sliced into julienne
  • Âœ bunch fresh cilantro, rinsed, dried and roughly chopped
  1. Prepare the pork: Place a sauté pan over medium-high heat. After a minute or so, swirl in the sesame oil and then the onions, stirring to combine. Sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to cook until the onions are soft and becoming translucent. Turn off the heat, stir in the ginger and set aside.
  2. Add the hoisin sauce and the fish sauce to the pan, and stir to combine, loosening the mixture with a little less than half a cup of water. Add sriracha sauce to taste.
  3. Put a few spoonfuls of the sauce in the bottom of a slow cooker, then nestle the pork on top of it. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the pork.
  4. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 5 to 7 hours, or until the pork shreds easily with a fork. Remove the pork from the slow cooker and allow to rest for a few minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, make the slaw: Put the vinegar, ginger, sesame oil, neutral oil and sriracha sauce in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the cabbage, cucumbers, carrots and Asian pear and toss to combine.
  6. Shred the pork with a pair of forks. Discard bones, if applicable.
  7. Return the pulled pork to the slow cooker and stir to combine with the juices. Serve with the slaw and warmed tortillas, with the cilantro on the side.

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Braised Butternut Squash & Bacon Tacos with Arugula

I know that “Taco Tuesday” is a popular dinner plan… It is just a plan that doesn’t work with my kids’ after school schedule. 😩 We are trying to have “Soup Tuesday” because everyone has to eat at different times! So, the exciting new plan is to have “Taco Wednesday” – with enough time for my to execute my “Taco Tuesday” recipe from Rick Bayless. 😉 Great!

These are wonderful winter tacos featuring one of my favorite combinations- butternut squash and bacon. The tomatillo-chipotle sauce was an added bonus. (as was the arugula!) This recipe was adapted from RickBayless.com. I modified the plating, doubled the recipe, and increased the garlic. Yummy!

I’m sharing my “Taco Wednesday” dish at Fiesta Friday #105 this week! 😉 Hosted by Lily @ Little Sweet Baker and Julianna @ Foodie on Board. Enjoy!

Yield: Serves 6

  • 8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 6 to 8 medium (about 1 pound) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut in half across the equator
  • 2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, stemmed
  • 1 small (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 6 cups of chunks)
  • 4 oz (5 thick strips) bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt, more to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled
  • Generous handful fresh watercress or wild arugula
  • 12 to 16 corn tortillas
  1. Set a large (12-inch) skillet (nonstick or lined with foil) over medium-high heat and lay in the garlic and tomatillos (cut side down). When the tomatillos are well browned and soft, 5 to 6 minutes, flip everything over and brown the other side. (The garlic should be soft.) Cool, then peel the garlic.
  2. In a blender, combine the peeled garlic, tomatillos, stemmed chipotles and 2 cups water. Blend to a coarse puree. (I used a Vitamix.)
  3. Scoop the butternut pieces into a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the top and microwave on high for 4 to 5 minutes. (I used a silicone steaming lid instead of plastic wrap.)
  4. Meanwhile, in a large (12-inch) skillet set over medium, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crispy, 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. Add the butternut and tomatillo sauce to the pan, raise the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a brisk simmer.
  6. Cook until the butternut is fork-tender and the sauce has reduced by about half its volume, about 20 minutes.
  7. Taste and season with salt (it will need only about 1/2 teaspoon because of the bacon’s saltiness).
  8. Using a tortilla warmer, or a plate covered with plastic wrap, cover the tortillas with a damp paper towel. Warm the corn tortillas in a microwave for 1 minute.
  9. Top each tortilla with a generous sprinkling of arugula or watercress. Scoop the hot topping over the top and finish with a  sprinkling of the goat cheese.

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