Post # 72 Tacos

November 16, 2012 at 5:39 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I’ve been wanted to write about tacos for quite a while now, and now just happens to be the time.  I’m not going to get into what’s “authentic” and what’s not.  I’m just going to tell you my experience with tacos and leave it at that.  Tacos are good and fun to eat and any way you enjoy them is best.

Tacos were first created in Mexico several hundred years ago, but made their way to America in about 1914 or so.  A taco is basically a flatbread sandwich.  Tacos are made with tortillas, either corn or flour.  Corn tortillas can be fried crispy, or cooked soft.  Flour tortillas are always soft.  Therefore, crispy tacos will always be corn, and soft tacos will always be flour.  Corn tortillas can be fried in oil or lard until crispy in either a U shape or flat like a disk.  Corn tortillas can also stuffed with a filling and rolled tight and fried crispy.  This form of taco is also called a flauta or taquito.

The fillings for tacos range through the entire gamut of culinary expertise.  I can say that I have not yet seen a peanut butter and jelly taco, but give it time.  My experience with taco is meat, cheese, and spicy vegetables.

I started eating tacos as a kid in New York.  I don’t know where my mom learned how to make them but I grew up in tacos long before we ever got to Arizona.  Mom would brown hamburger, chop tomatoes, shred lettuce, and grate sharp cheddar cheese.  Each of these went into its own bowl.  Mom would heat oil or lard in a frying pan and fry corn tortillas that she got out of a can (I don’t remember this, but my little brother swears he does).  She would fry the tortilla for several seconds on one side, then flip it and fry it on the other side for a slightly less time.  This made the tortilla crispy at the edges but leave it soft and easy to manipulate.  The tortillas were stacked on a plate between layers of paper napkins to drain the oil.  Once they were done, everyone sat at the table and built their own tacos.  First, we took a tortilla and placed it flat on our plate.  A spoonful of hamburger was place on the tortilla, then topped with a small amount of cheese.  A spoonful of chopped tomato was put on top of this, and a generous helping of shredded lettuce capped it.  If you wanted onion or tabasco sauce, it was usually floating around the table somewhere, but I didn’t care for onion then, and tabasco sauce was too spicy for my young palate.  You then grabbed the sides of the taco, folded it up to surround the filling in a U shape.  Holding it tucked into the palm of your hand to keep the filling from tumbling out, you took a healthy bite out of the free end and worked your way down to the end you were holding.  Anything that spilled out onto your plate got scooped in the next taco, or just eaten straight off the plate.  We loved tacos.  They were messy, fun, and good.  They were basically a hamburger in a corn tortilla instead of a bun.

When we moved to Arizona, we found what tacos could be.  We started using different fillings.  We did shrimp, chicken, roast beef, pork, steak, fish, and anything else we could think of.  Once, in Tijuana I had beef tongue tacos.  Very good!  We learned to substitute the tomatoes with salsa.  Cilantro supplanted the lettuce.  We switched out the cheddar cheese for queso fresco.  We added refried beans, tried flour tortillas, even made out own rolled tacos, the taquito.  It was anyone’s guess what the taco was going to be when we said “Tacos for dinner!”

The older I get, though, the more I tend to go back to my comfort foods.  Now when I make tacos, I tell partner/spouse we’re having tacos a la Joe, the tacos of my youth, because he knows a completely different way to make them and they’re mighty tasty his way, too.  I’ve even taken the leftover fixings the next day and made a big bowl of taco salad.  I add corn and crunch by throwing some fritos on top.  I put my head down and graze and don’t come up until I’m done licking the bottom of the bowl.

Recently, I had a wonderful asian appetizer with a kick.  They called it Asian Chicken Taco.  They fried wonton skins in the shape of a taco shell, added marinated grilled chicken, and a spicy cabbage slaw on top.  It was so good!  There’s a relatively new fast food place named after a popular spicy smoked chile that served the best tacos ever!  As with all their food, it’s made right in front of you and you can request what you like.  I always get soft tacos with either steak, chicken, or carnitas (slow cook pork), salsa fresco, extra cheese, and lettuce.  Three of those and I’m burping as I go out the door.  Usually licking my fingers, too.

There’s one other taco-style dish I used to get back home in Arizona.  For a long time, I could only get it when the Fair was in town.  Then someone discovered that people like it and started making it all the time.  It goes by lots of different names, but most commonly is called Indian Tacos.  I think it’s called Indian Tacos since it’s made with Navajo Fried Bread.  They take a small lump of bread dough and shape it by hand into a disk about 6-8 inches across.  This is fried in HOT oil until it’s brown on both sides and done.  Now, when I was growing up, Navajo Fried Bread, or Indian Fried Bread could have all kinds of toppings on it, sweet and savory.  The only way I’d have it was called deluxe and is what they refer to now as Indian Taco.  When the bread comes out of the oil, while it’s still hot, it’s spread with a smear of refried beans.  Browned ground beef  that’s been seasoned is layered on top.  Grated cheese, salsa, and lettuce is added.  It’s folded into a U shape and eaten.  It’s nearest to ambrosia we’ll ever get.  Some restaurants call it a chalupa, but I’m sorry, they’re wrong.

Well, that’s about all I can think to say about tacos.  I hope I’ve inspired you to at least try one, if not try fixing them yourselves.  And as always, Enjoy!

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