(Yeah, I admit it, I’m shameless.)
My last apartment was situated in the middle of the East Village. I could get any kind of food - Italian, Indian, Lobster Rolls, an ice cream cone called The Salty Pimp - practically without even needing to put shoes on. Except that this is New York City and going barefoot outside would necessitate a tetanus shot or twelve.
This food paradise of a neighborhood also included an overabundance of tacos. Seriously, within a five block radius there were ten Mexican restaurants. There were also six or seven gyms. Coincidence? I think not.
I could have easily bankrupted myself trying all of the two-dollar tacos in the vicinity, but for the sake of both my wallet and my waist, tried instead to draw inspiration from the vast array of options around me and figure out how to make my own.
This is pretty much the world’s easiest meal from start to finish, and it has that fun DIY element that dinner is so often lacking. I, for example, am a weirdo who doesn’t like tomatoes or raw onions or avocados, and so I leave them off of my tacos. Yes. I know. I KNOW. And I understand if you decide that for those offenses, I am unworthy of calling myself a food blogger and you stop reading right here and now.
...Are you still here? Good! As I was saying, these are totally customizable. You can use either ground beef or turkey and hard shells or soft tortillas depending on your preference, and either amp up the spice level or keep it pretty mild based on a few tweaks to the proportions in the spice blend (because packaged taco seasoning is for suckers). I like to throw all of my ingredients in a bowl and make a salad, Adam prefers more traditional tacos. It’s pretty much the most low-maintenance dinner option out there, short of ordering Seamless from the restaurant down the block while in bed, binge-watching Gilmore Girls. Not that I’ve ever done that before…
DIY Taco Night
- 1 package of taco shells/tortillas
- 1 lb ground meat, either turkey or lean ground beef
- Taco seasoning (ingredients below)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 white onion, diced
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 large tomato
- 1 jalepeno
- 1 cup monterey jack or cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 head of lettuce, thinly sliced/shredded (This is probably the only time EVER that I will suggest iceberg. The crunchiness just works perfectly here. Yes, I know it “has no nutritional value,” mom!)
- ¼ cup water (optional)
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp oregano
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp fresh black pepper
- ½ tsp red pepper flake
- ½ tsp corn starch (optional)
- Combine all of your spices. I would suggest the shaking method previously outlined in my chocolate chip cookie recipe (i.e. put everything in a sealed tupperware and dance around the room).
- If you’re the kind of masochist who likes their food spicy enough to cause chemical burns, feel free to add additional cayenne at this point, but I find that ¼ tsp is enough to add some nice heat without making dinner a painful experience.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium-high until hot, and then add about a tablespoon of the diced onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until it begins to soften. Try to keep your boyfriend from snacking on the rest of the raw onion. (Is this something that only happens at my house?)
- Add your ground beef or turkey and cook, breaking up any larger bits with a spatula, until fully browned. If you’re anything like me, bits of meat will try desperately to make their escape from the pan as you do this. Try to avoid ending up with half of your meat all over the stove and floor. If you use ground beef that’s on the fattier side, feel free to drain it off a little at this point. Add the garlic, stirring quickly, and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until fragrant.
- Add your taco seasoning carefully, so as not to create a giant dust cloud of cayenne pepper that will make your throat and eyes burn for the next hour. Mix to incorporate. If your meat was very lean and is looking like it’s a little on the dry side, add ¼ cup water, a little bit at a time, to help get everything mixed in. Cook for another 2-3 minutes or until everything is entirely cooked through.
- And that’s it! Seriously, that’s it. You’re done cooking. Hang up your apron (if you’re the kind of person smart enough to wear an apron so that you don’t ruin your clothes while cooking - which I am not). Distribute the ground beef among your plates/bowls/tortillas/taco-delivery mechanism of choice. Top with the lettuce, cheese, sour cream, tomato, remaining onion, and jalepeno, or whatever other weird things you want to stick on your tacos. Done.