One of my favorite dinners as a kid was taco night, where everyone got to make their own tacos from a buffet of filling choices. When you’re a kid, people are always telling you what you can and can’t do or what you should and shouldn’t eat. Taco night is autonomy. It’s freedom from authority. It’s your one chance to do it your own way. And that is why it’s fun for everyone.
Taco night is not a recipe, it’s a fungible and customizable set of guidelines that you can tailor to your tastes and time. Here are some ideas and variations of what to include:
Tortillas: My mom used to individually deep fry flour tortillas in oil to order for each family member (!!!) but for a variety of reasons involving my laziness and my arteries I don’t do that. I like corn or flour tortillas toasted over the gas flame of my stove top. Done carefully and over a low enough flame, you get a little char on there that’s just delicious. Of course, room temperature tortillas or hard shells are just fine too.
Meat: You have a few choices for the meat here. I sauté ground beef with a packet of MSG-laden Lawry’s taco seasoning, because I think it has crack in it, but my purist mother only used salt and pepper on her meat. You can also use ground turkey or chicken, or the meat from a rotisserie chicken. If you live near a Mexican market you can buy carnitas, carne asada, etc. Grilled shrimp or fish are unorthodox choices for me, but I will admit they can be delicious.
Standard accoutrements: Shredded cheese – heated refried, black, or pinto beans – sour cream or Mexican crema – avocado slices or guacamole – shredded lettuce – pico de gallo – hot sauce.
Non-standard but delicious accoutrements: Roasted corn – Roasted peppers – sautéed onions – cilantro leaves – chopped scallions – olives – sautéed mushrooms.
Set-up/Rules: Put tortillas and fillings on the table in separate bowls/plates. Each person is responsible for the creation of his or her own taco(s). No one is allowed to judge what goes in another person’s taco. Your taco is yours alone to be the boss of. [Heather's note: my son put strawberries, cheese, and avocado in his!]
More Not-so-secret Hints
Take a shortcut: Taco night kind of already is a shortcut… except the part when you have to go to the grocery store.
Feed the baby: Lots of choices here- beans, avocados, etc.
Picky toddler: Taco night is all about letting the picky toddler be who he/she is.
Lower the calories: Corn tortillas have about ½ the calories of flour. You can also skip the tortilla altogether and make a taco salad over some of the shredded lettuce.
Make it fancy: see section entitled “non standard but delicious accoutrements” for ideas.
Leftovers? Keep everything separate, and this isn’t really a problem!
Huge thanks to (Auntie) Karen for her delicious recipes and tips for rookie moms! If we can talk her into sharing a few more, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, there’s always more Karen off the meathook.