Ground Beef Gringo Tacos
I’m still mostly proud of the fact that my first food service industry job was at Taco Bell. I loooooooved Taco Bell in high school, so much that I got a part-time job there my senior year and still went there a few times a week during lunch period. I became convinced TB was the healthiest fast food option, not so much because of what you ate but rather how they prepared it—that is to say remotely and with no grubby hands all over the food. Everything came in a bag already prepared: chopped lettuce, chopped tomatoes, even the beef came in a bag that you boiled to bring up to temperature before slicing it open and sliding it into a steam table. And using something exactly like a caulking gun to shoot guacamole and sour cream on those tacos and burritos is just plain fun.
Decades have gone by and I’m also happy to say that I don’t eat much fast food anymore. It’s been years since I’ve visited a Taco Bell, and longer for BK and Mickey D’s. I will not deny a Shake Shack, and even Five Guys will occasionally enter the scene, especially on road trips. So nowadays we mostly keep fast food out of the picture, but nostalgia is never far away.
On a recent trip to the market, wandering the aisles in search of ideas, we thought it was time for gringo tacos. I’d already tried more authentic-style pulled pork tacos initially (will get to that recipe eventually), but thinking of Taco Bell and Old El Paso style tacos from my youth made me wonder if they would be an easier gateway to the real thing. After reading the ingredients list on the prepared taco seasoning packet, I also realized I was about to pay $3 for around 25¢ worth of spices I already had in the cabinet. So after a few tries here is the result—it may not be Taco Bell, but the kids eat it up. Still working on getting them to add more lettuce and any tomatoes, but we live in hope.
- For the Tacos
- 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, small dice
- 3 large cloves of garlic, minced (around a tablespoon)
- 1/2 jalapeño pepper, de-seeded and minced
- 1-1/2 lbs. ground beef
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. sweet smoked paprika
- 2 dashes ground cinnamon
- 15 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1/4 c. water
- 14-16 Tortillas (whatever your preference, soft flour or corn are easiest to handle)
- For the Toppings
- 6 ozs. Cheddar and/or Monterey Jack cheese, grated
- 1 Plum tomato, diced
- 3 leaves green-leaf lettuce, chopped
- 2 Green onions, diced (optional)
- 1 Radish, thinly sliced (very optional)
- 4 oz. Sour Cream
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat with the oil. Add the onion and sauté for two minutes, then add the garlic and jalapeño pepper and cook two minutes more.
- Add the beef and all the spices from the salt through the cinnamon and mix it into the onion/garlic/pepper, breaking up the beef. Continue cooking the beef until any water it has released has mostly cooked off. At this point I like to remove it from the heat, push all the beef mix to one side of the pan and tilt the pan so that most of the oil pools to the empty side of the pan—then I sop that oil up with a paper towel and discard. Mind you, this is not for health reasons, it simply makes for less frustrating taco eating later.
- Return the pan to the range and add the diced tomatoes and water, and stir to combine. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking and occasionally stirring until the tomatoes melt into the beef and most of the added water has steamed off again, around 15 minutes. Prep your toppings while the beef is cooking.
- Warm the tortillas in a pan or on a griddle until they are just beginning to toast. Serve with a few tablespoons of beef each and let everyone else use their grubby hands to add toppings as they want.
- Use lower-fat ground beef like sirloin.
- All toppings are optional, really. At least according to the kids.
- NB: This recipe serves 8, so I usually freeze half or we just have Round 2 after a few days. The Toppings section above is per meal, so you'll want to do those fresh again for your leftovers.