Taco / Fajitas Recipe
I’ll be publishing at least three taco recipes: this is the mildest, the most kid friendly, and with the least heat. The home made seasoning mix can be used as both a fajita recipe and a taco recipe. I reverse engineered the recipe from my favorite commercial fajitas seasoning mix (its always much less expensive to make spice mixes yourself, there’s no anti-caking agents or preservatives, and there’s the added benefit of making it fresh and making only what you need). This particular recipe works really well with chicken, turkey and pork, and while I think it works best with my Braised Pork Shoulder Recipe, you could use ground pork, chicken or turkey, or it would also be a great way to re-purpose Thanksgiving turkey, rotisserie chicken or pork chop/pork loin leftovers into a completely different meal.
Taco Meat. I think this recipe works best with shredded pork, but its also great with chicken, turkey and other kinds of pork. You can also use ground meat, or leftover roast chicken, holiday turkey, pork chop or pork roast. For poultry, dark meat (thighs and drumsticks) works best, and if you don’t have pre-cooked meat, can be cooked in your pressure cooker for 6 minutes at high pressure (use natural pressure release) and the meat will be soft and tender, and so easy to pull off the bones. If you want to use white meat, or leaner cuts of pork like pork loin or pork chops, I would advise adding a little water or broth to the skillet to add moisture, as well as a little bit of butter or oil to improve flavor and to help the seasoning mix stick to the meat.
Tortillas for Tacos. Tacos are one of the ultimate Mexican street foods, so corn tortillas are more traditional. You can fry the tortillas if you like, but I prefer them steamed, both because its more traditional and because I prefer to reduce the calories there so I can have them elsewhere (like a little cheese or a dab of sour cream). My father lived in Mexico for several years, so we were raised to double up on tortillas for tacos, but I also like to double up on them because I like to really stuff tacos with lots of goodies. Doubling the tortillas really helps them hold up when well filled with lots of hot or juicy ingredients.
Taco Toppings. Traditionally, tacos would be topped by diced fresh onion and cilantro leaves, with a lime wedge or two on the side, and perhaps with a choice of sauces (salsas) like salsa verde, salsa roja, and pico de gallo). Other more authentic taco toppings might include pickled red onions and jalapeños, sliced radishes and cucumbers, and crumbled Mexican cheese (queso fresco or queso anejo for example). In some cases, tacos are served with grilled green onions. Topping tacos with shredded cheese, lettuce and tomatoes is an American practice.
SPICE BUYING TIPS: Never buy commercial spice mixes, always make your own. If you make homemade spice blends, you can reduce the amount of salt, remove preservatives and fillers (thereby ensuring your spice mixture is gluten-free), make just the amount you need, and it’s a whole lot cheaper. I checked the local supermarket for fajitas and taco seasoning packets and compared prices, and they ranged, respectively, from 67 cents to $2.49 an ounce, and 89 cents to $2.49 an ounce. That means you are paying between $8.04 and $39.84 per pound for taco seasoning and $14.24 and $39.84 per pound for fajita seasoning. Most people balk at paying those kind of prices for meat — there’s no reason to pay them for basic spices! The majority of these spices are probably already in your kitchen cabinet, and since cumin and coriander are used in cuisines all over the world, they are very useful additions to your spice rack!
Never buy herbs and spices in those tiny little jars, if you can avoid it. You can buy basic spices (pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, etc.) in bulk at good prices at Costco. You can buy more “unusual” spices (cumin, coriander) in bulk at Smart and Final, Amazon or through Penzey’s. (If you purchase through Amazon or Penzeys, make sure you make the minimum purchase to qualify for free shipping, for an even better deal. At Amazon, you can often use things like bulk spices, aluminum free baking powder, etc. as “add ons” to bring your book purchases up to the $25 minimum to qualify for free shipping. At Penzeys, always buy in bags, rather than jars, for the best prices per ounce.)
TORTILLA BUYING TIPS: I find I can get the best deal on tortillas by buying them in bulk (72 and 80 count packs) at Smart & Final or Costco. Whatever I won’t be using in the immediate future will be placed in ziploc bags in the freezer. When shopping for tortillas, be sure and check the ingredient list. Vegetarians need to be aware that some tortillas are made with lard, and although I didn’t find that to be true of the major brands I last checked, you may get different results. I was also quite shocked to find several “artisan” tortillas were made with hydrogenated oils, so look out for that as well. For those concerned with GMOs, especially in corn products, here’s a list of stores which sell the Mi Rancho organic corn tortillas.
Pre-cooked pork, chicken or turkey (allow several tablespoons per taco)
Roasted garlic (optional)
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon coarsely ground kosher salt
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Grated or crumbled Mexican cheese (optional)
Diced avocado (optional)
Sour cream or Mexican crema (optional)
Electric pressure cooker (if no precooked meat)
12″ silicone tipped tongs
Small container for mixing home made seasoning mix
- In a small container, combine 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon chili powder, ½ teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper and ½ teaspoon coarsely ground kosher salt. Stir to mix thoroughly. (Any of the homemade taco seasoning you don’t use can be stored in small plastic container or an empty glass spice jar.)
- Optional: If you want onions in your tacos, chop a storage onion into small pieces. Heat a skillet over medium high heat, add a little oil or other fat to the pan (I personally like to use Smart Balance because unlike unclarified butter, it resists browning), and sauté onion until brown, stirring periodically. If you are using pork, caramelized onions go particularly well with sweet meats like pork, and if you have some in your fridge or freezer, you can add them when you add your meat to the skillet instead.
- Add a handful or two of your pulled, shredded or chopped pre-cooked meat to the skillet. Allow a couple of tablespoons of meat per taco, 2 – 3 tacos per adult, 1 – 2 tacos per child. Add at least a teaspoon of roasted garlic (or several cloves of minced garlic, if you prefer). If you want to add caramelized onions instead of sautéed onions, add them now. If you want diced chiles or red or green pepper, you can add them in now as well.
- Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of your homemade taco / fajita seasoning on your pork (or other meat) and stir in. Let cook for 1 minute before tasting. (Heating the spices in the skillet “blooms” them and gives them a more intense flavor, so you should wait a minute before tasting to see if you’ve spiced the meat enough.)
- If you decide you want more spice on your meat, sprinkle another teaspoon of the seasoning on top of your pork, mix it in, and then let it cook for a minute before tasting again. Repeat the process until your filling mixture is spiced to your taste. If you accidentally over spice, just add in a little more meat to cut the heat. If you want a little more kick, you can add dried red chile flakes after you have seasoned the meat.
- Once you have bloomed the last batch of seasoning mix, remove the skillet from the heat. If you are using pork shoulder, poultry thighs or drumsticks, the meat will likely have crisped up a little bit during the cooking process (much like carnitas). If you are using leaner cuts of meat, like chicken or turkey breast, pork chop, or pork loin, you may need to add a little water or broth to moisten the meat a little bit, and perhaps a bit of butter or margarine to add to the flavor.
- There are a couple of ways you can prepare your corn tortillas. You can use a Tortilla Warmer, you can place them in stacks on a plate and microwave them for a minute, or you can steam them in a skillet. Over a low flame, heat an empty skillet. After a few minutes, flick a little water with clean fingers onto the surface, and place a tortilla on top. Flick more water on top of the tortilla. After a few seconds, flip the tortilla and flick more water on top. Repeat until tortilla is soft enough that you can fold it over without tearing or breaking it. If you prefer to fry your tortillas, you can heat a small amount of vegetable oil, use tongs to grasp each tortilla, drag it quickly through the oil a couple of times until it is lightly fried, but not so hard you can’t fold it over.
- Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the taco meat filling into each taco. If you want to stretch your filling, and make your tacos more nutritious, you could add a tablespoon or two of pre-cooked pinto or black beans.
- Sprinkle a bit of shredded Mexican cheese (or you could crumble a bit of queso fresco) on top of the meat mixture in each taco.
- Add chopped lettuce, if desired. I like to use romaine lettuce not only because it has a gorgeous dark green color, but because it is far more nutritious than iceberg lettuce.
- Add finely diced tomatoes. I like to use homegrown tomatoes, if I have them, or Romas, because I find they both have more intense tomato flavor, a more vibrant red color, less pulp/liquid and fewer seeds. You can also add diced avocado and sour cream, if you like.
Serve your tacos with refried beans and Mexican Red Rice. (I’ll be posting my recipes for both, shortly.) My refried beans are made without lard, virtually without vegetable oil, so I can add a little shredded cheese on top instead. The red rice is quick and incredibly easy to make in the pressure cooker.
Alternatively, I like to serve tacos with Lorna Sass’ Mexican Green Rice with Corn. And yes, the color on that photo is right, once cooked, the rice is brown, but many of the ingredients are green. I like this recipe first and foremost because its tasty, particularly if you grill the corn first, but also because it’s a good way to sneak brown rice into your family’s diet without them knowing it. The pressure cooker makes brown rice so much better than any other method, its lighter, its significantly fluffier, and every grain is well cooked (no more little crunchies, as one relative put it).
- Pre-cooked pork, chicken or turkey (allow several tablespoons per taco)
- Onion (optional)
- Roasted garlic (optional)
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground kosher salt
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- Grated or crumbled Mexican cheese (optional)
- Lettuce (optional)
- Tomato (optional)
- Diced avocado (optional)
- Sour cream or Mexican crema (optional)
- In a small bowl, combine the garlic powder, onion powder, ground coriander, ground cumin, chili powder, sugar, coarsely ground black pepper and coarse kosher salt.
- If you’re using a sweet meat like pork and want to use caramelized onions, skip to the next step. If not, chop up part or all of a storage onion. Add a little oil or fat to a skillet, heat on medium high flame, and add diced onions. Sauté, stirring periodically, until onions are lightly browned.
- Add shredded pork (or other meat of your choice) to the skillet, allowing 3 tablespoons of meat per taco, 2 – 3 tacos for adults, 1 – 2 tacos per child. Add at least 1 teaspoon of roasted or minced garlic and caramelized onions, if desired. If you want to add green or red peppers or chiles, dice them and add them now.
- Sprinkle a teaspoon of your home made taco seasoning mix on the meat and stir to blend in. Allow to cook 1 minute to “bloom” the spices (this enhances both their scent and their flavor), then taste to see if you want more spice mixture on the meat.
- If you want more spice mixture, sprinkle another teaspoon on top of the meat, and mix it in. Wait another minute before tasting. Repeat as needed until the meat mixture is spiced properly. If you put too much, add some more meat to compensate. If you want your mixture even spicier, you can sprinkle in some red pepper flakes.
- Once you have seasoned the meat to your taste, remove the skillet from the fire. If you’ve used a leaner cut of meat, chicken breast, turkey breast, pork chops or pork loin, you may want to add a little water or broth to keep the meat a little moister, or add a little butter, margarine or chicken fat to add flavor and help keep it tasting moist.
- If you want fried tortillas, you can heat a small amount of oil in the skillet, grasp the tortillas with your tongs and essentially drag each tortilla through the hot oil, flipping it, dragging, and repeating until the tortillas are a little crisp, but not stiff enough that they can’t be folded without cracking or breaking. To steam tortillas, you could use a Tortilla Steamer steamer, or place the tortillas on a plate in several stacks and microwave them on high for 1 minute. To steam them on the stove, wash your hands and bring a saucer or shallow bowl of water over to the stove. Heat a small pan over a low flame. When the skillet has warmed up, use your fingers to flick water drops onto the pan surface, add a tortilla, and flick a few more water drops on top. Wait a few seconds, flip the tortilla, and flick more water droplets. Repeat as needed until tortilla is pliable and can be folded without tearing.
- Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the meat filling into each taco. If you want your taco mixture to go farther, or to boost the nutrition even further, add some cooked black or pinto beans on top.
- Add a little grated Mexican cheese or queso fresco on top of the filling.
- Finely chop lettuce and add to the tacos. I like to use romaine lettuce or any of the loose leaf green lettuces both because of their vibrant green color and because they are far more nutritious than iceberg lettuce.
- Dice tomatoes into small bits and add on top of the lettuce. I like to use Roma tomatoes because of their deep red color and because they have fewer seeds and less pulp than regular tomatoes. Add diced avocado and sour cream (or Mexican crema) (optional).
Fajitas. Its almost as quick to make fajitas with this home made seasoning. Slice an onion in half from root to tip, peel, cut off the root and tip, then slice into ½” wide slices so you have lots of thick, long onion slices. Cut off the top and bottom of several different colored peppers, remove the seeds and ribs, and cut the body of the peppers into long planks. Saute the onions and peppers in a skillet at medium high heat until some of the moisture has evaporated and the vegetables are browned and cooked through. Then follow Steps 3 – 8 above.