I freakin’ love tacos. I think they may be my favorite food. When it comes to Mexican food, I’ll take a taco over a burrito any day, even though I do love burritos, as well—sometimes they’re just too big, that’s all. And between tacos and enchiladas? That’s a bit of a toss up for me.
Taco night was huge at our house when I was a kid. Of course we ate probably the most Americanized tacos humanly possible—ground beef seasoned from a ready made seasoning packet, fried taco shells, shredded cheddar, tomatoes, iceberg. My mom preferred Lawry’s seasoning the best. When we left California, and she couldn’t find it at most Midwest stores, she always bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t find that seasoning anymore.
And she was the queen of the taco shell. She always fried her own—she even had a special frying pan dedicated only to taco shell frying—that’s how much we loved tacos in our family (and how often we ate them!). No Old El Paso pre-made shells for us! No way! She always made her own. I shudder to think how much canola and vegetable oil I probably ingested as a kid as a result of this, but I’m sure that’s passed through my system long ago (hopefully…).
These totally gringo tacos were the collective family’s favorite meal hands down. They were so beloved that serving them eventually became a bit of an in-joke between my brother, sister and I. This was in part because taco night was sort of chaotic, with some ingredient always being passed and forth across the table as everyone assembled and ate their tacos. Pans and bowls were either constantly being passed, or they would sit while someone would repeatedly ask for the cheese to be passed while the person closest to said cheese either ignored the request or was too busy chomping or assembling to take the time to pass the cheese bowl or lettuce or whatever. Eventually we decided that when friends or roommates or SOs came to visit, they should be subjected to this chaos of volleying requests and bowls of food back and forth across the table. If they could handle our chaotic meal (which probably should have been served buffet style), they “passed” their initiation into the family culture.
I no longer eat fried shells with my tacos these days—I usually just warm my tortillas in the microwave and eat them plain. And if I make tacos at home, I usually make either chicken or ground turkey (occasionally fish) rather than ground beef since I don’t eat a ton of red meat anymore.
Warning: if you’re looking for tacos that are authentic or even Tex-Mex-y, you may want to leave this page now. These two recipes are totally non-traditional and, well, there’s nothing really Mexican about them. They’re waaaay gringo, but they were good nonetheless.
The first recipe is really a bit whacked, but sort of totally Cali. Chicken, asparagus and mushroom tacos. Yup. Asparagus. Mushrooms. In tacos. These were, I have to admit, in part inspired by some tacos that I had at San Francisco taco joint, Tacolicious, for lunch about a month ago with my friend L-. He and I split a plate of four tacos, 2 chicken, 2 veggie, and the veggie tacos were made with asparagus and potatoes. Tacolicious has quite a following in SF, but neither of us were all that impressed, I’m sorry to say. It was good, but I’ll take La Taqueria hands down any day for Mission tacos. Anyway, my weird asparagus tacos are way better than Tacolicious’, trust me.
The second recipe is a sort of Lazy Girl’s al pastor. I love al pastor. What’s not to like about a sort of sweet and spicy taco with pineapple? I am not a big pork eater, but I will eat pork when I find al pastor on a menu. Anyway, I found some al pastor salsa at Whole Foods, so these are super lazy tacos using that salsa. If I was going to make my own al pastor, I would definitely spring for some adobo, pineapple and pineapple juice rather than how I made these, but I was using what I had in the house (trying to be thrifty!), so these are totally heretical to anything resembling real Mexican (I’m Scandinavian for Chrissakes!) food, but they taste good and can be made quickly when you don’t have a lot of time on your hands–good for a quick weeknight meal or for using up leftover chicken.
Without further ado…
Chicken Tacos, Two Ways
1-2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (leftover roast chicken would also be good)
1 large onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic minced
For the Chicken, Asparagus and Mushroom Tacos
½ bunch asparagus, cut in 1-in. pieces
8-10 cremini mushrooms, quartered
½ can green chiles (can use mild or hot, depending on how much heat you want)
1 c. chicken broth
2-3 tbsp. chopped cilantro
For the Lazy Girl’s Al Pastor
¼-1/2 jar Whole Foods Al Pastor salsa
½ c. chicken broth
½ c. apple juice (use pineapple if possible, I just didn’t have any on hand; juice can also be left out if you want it spicier)
Optional toppings: cheese, avocado, black olives, green/purple cabbage, extra cilantro.
1) Poach chicken breast in chicken broth. (I like to season the broth with dried minced onion and whole peppercorns). When done, remove chicken and shred. You can also use the remaining broth for the asparagus mixture.
2) Saute onion in 1-2 tbsp. olive oil. When onions are beginning to soften, add garlic and sauté until fragrant.
For asparagus/mushroom mixture:
3a) Saute asparagus with onion and garlic – add pinch of salt.
4a) When asparagus is starting to soften, incorporate chiles, then mushrooms and continue stirring.
5a) Before mushrooms wilt, add chicken broth, then shredded chicken. Simmer over medium heat until most of the liquid is absorbed into the veggies and chicken. Stir in cilantro.
Serve on warm corn tortillas. If desired, top with a mild cheese (such as jack, cotija or queso fresco), avocado.
For the Lazy Girl’s al pastor
3b) Add salsa, juice and broth to onions and garlic to make a sauce. (If you like things spicy, you may not need or want to add juice.)
4b) Incorporate shredded chicken to sauce mixture. Simmer over medium heat until liquid is mostly absorbed into chicken.
Serve on warm corn tortillas. If desired, top with cheese, mixture of purple and green cabbage, avocado and black olives.
All recipes and photos copyright of Foie Gras and Funnel Cakes unless otherwise noted.