Taco night!! It’s awesome. It took me way too long to figure this out. If taco night isn’t in your dinner rotation, it should be. It’s tasty, cheap, healthy, variable and flexible and whether it’s meaty, cheesy or vegan, taco night is always delicious. It’s easy to keep the ingredients for taco night in the house, so you can throw it together quickly.
Taco night can be quick and simple, or it can be a huge feast. In my house, “taco night” is shorthand for any dinner involving beans, rice, salsa and chips, but the more components, the better: add tortillas, grated cheese, guacamole, sour cream, sauteed or grilled vegetables, chopped tomatoes, chopped avocado, shredded lettuce, chopped onion, sauteed or grilled vegetables, or sprigs of cilantro. Make carne asada from scratch, grill some fish, or add leftover steak or chicken. Make tacos, or make burritos, or just eat it in a big pile!
Last year, I joined a small cow-buying club (Mark, our fearless leader, refers to us as his “beef-mates.”) Four households split a whole beef cow, paying a deposit to a local farmer in the spring and meeting in Mark’s driveway in November to split up something like 350 packages of vacuum-packed frozen beef cuts. As part of our quarter cow, each household received 46 one-pound packages of ground beef. One of my beef-mates claims that he immediately made it all into meatballs, but I was overwhelmed and needed ideas.
A lot of people grow up with taco night–crispy taco shells, with ground beef cooked with a packet of taco seasoning. I didn’t eat this growing up, but last year I happened upon a recipe on Homesick Texan for Tex-Mex taco beef. I tried it, I loved it, and now it’s a standard addition to taco night (and along with Burger Night, has helped use up that ground beef).
I’ve adapted the recipe for delicate New England taste buds (add hot sauce at the table), and because I don’t understand how the recipe, as written, allows the beef to brown. This is really forgiving recipe. I don’t measure anything (measurements below are approximate!) and I routinely forget or omit ingredients. It’s always great.
adapted from Homesick Texan
1 pound of ground beef (fat content doesn’t matter–see instructions)
1 small chopped onion
3 cloves of chopped garlic
1 chopped jalapeno pepper (or not. I frequently don’t have a jalapeno, so I add some green bell pepper, and maybe increase the cayenne and chili powder)
1-2 teaspoons of ground chili (I use some lovely New Mexican chili my friend Jane brought me from Santa Fe)
1-2 teaspoons cumin
1-2 teaspoons dried oregano (the original recipe calls for Mexican oregano, which I keep meaning to try)
small handful of fresh chopped cilantro
dash of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup of salsa (homemade or bottled)
half a lime
Here’s my method for browning ground beef: Put all the beef in a frying pan. If the beef is really low-fat, add some oil. Turn the burner to medium and break up the beef. Let it cook, stirring, and wait until the beef gives off all of its moisture. After the liquid evaporates, you’ll be left with fat in the pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high and let the beef sit there until it starts to brown. Stir, wait, stir, wait, until the beef is browned to your liking. Put the beef in a bowl, using a slotted spoon and discarding the fat if there’s a lot left in the pan, and put the pan back on the burner at medium heat.
Add the onion and jalapeno. Cook it for a minute or two, scraping up the browned beefy goodness, then add the garlic. Stir, and add the beef and all the rest of the ingredients (including a few big pinches of salt), and stir and wait until it sizzles. Turn down the heat to low, cover the pan, and let it simmer for twenty minutes. Squeeze the lime half over, stir, and taste for salt. Eat with, at minimum, rice, beans, chips and salsa.