Janine Gilbertson's Granite Kitchen: Spice up your game on your next taco night

By JANINE GILBERTSON January 18. 2017 1:34AM
A soft-shelled chicken taco is ready to be rolled up. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

If your idea of taco night is to reach for a store-bought seasoning packet, it’s time to upgrade your taco game.

I know, the seasoning packet is convenient, quick and easy. I’ve used the packets before, thinking they somehow had magic ingredients that made the meat taste better and more authentic than anything I could make on my own, but that just isn’t the case.

With a few simple ingredients, you can make your own fresh, authentic taco fillings.

When I make tacos, I like to sauté some onions and peppers with a little salt, lime juice and seasonings, then remove them from the pan and set them aside. 

While the skillet is hot and there’s a little oil (which is now flavored) left, I add the meat. This works whether you’re using a ground meat like beef or pork or if you’re using cut up, raw chicken such as breast meat or thighs. You can also add precooked meat that’s been shredded, such as chicken or pork.

Once the meat is in the skillet, the seasoning starts. I like to use cumin, ground coriander, salt, a little chili powder and a pinch of paprika. Once the meat is cooked, squeeze in some fresh lime juice to deglaze the pan and scrape all the bits from the bottom of the skillet. When the meat is done, add the onions and peppers back in with some fresh, chopped cilantro and you’re ready to fill your tacos.

Taco assembly is a matter of personal preference. Soft or crunchy? Flour or corn? I prefer the taste of corn tortillas, especially when they’re made fresh. Tacos are great if you have picky eaters at the dinner table because they can pick their own toppings.

If you’re making your own filling from scratch, don’t be afraid to change up the toppings too. Many grocery stores are now carrying fresh Mexican cheeses that are excellent in tacos such as queso fresco, so if you’re tossing the packet, you might as well toss the processed cheese too.

Making your own taco seasoning and fillings is easy and economical. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Easy Taco Seasoning 

1 tbsp chili powder

2 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp cornstarch

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp paprika

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp dried cilant

Add all ingredients to a small container with a cover. Cover and shake to combine. Store for up to a month.

Fresh Chicken Tacos

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

1 green bell pepper, julienned

1 yellow bell pepper, julienned

1 lime, quartered 

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, sliced

1/2 tsp kosher salt

3 tbsp chicken stock

3 tsp easy taco seasoning (recipe above)

Final assembly

12 taco shells (soft or hard, corn or flour)

1/4 cup queso fresco

1/4 cup store-bought fresh salsa

2 chopped green onions, if desired, for garnish

3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped 

Queso fresco, a mild Mexican fresh cheese that can be substituted for feta or goat cheese, is among the toppings on today's tacos. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the peppers and onion and sprinkle with kosher salt. 

Sauté, stirring frequently, until onions and peppers are softened and slightly browned. Squeeze a quarter of the lime over the onions and peppers and stir to distribute. 

Remove onions and peppers from skillet and set aside. Lower the heat to medium high, then return skillet to stovetop and add the shredded chicken. 

Add the chicken stock and stir. Cook for two to three minutes. 

Sprinkle the taco seasoning over the chicken and stir, cooking for an additional two to three minutes. 

Add the peppers and onions to the chicken and stir to combine, then remove from heat. 

Fill taco shells, using about 3 to 4 tbsp filling in each taco. Top with salsa, queso fresco, cilantro and green onions. Use remaining lime wedges to squeeze over tacos before serving. 

Shredded Chicken Flour Soft Tacos

To prepare, follow the recipe for Fresh Chicken Tacos, using 1 dozen flour tortillas and adding 2 to 3 tbsp sour cream for serving. 

After adding the peppers and onions to the chicken and stirring to combine, heat briefly before removing from heat. 

Include sour cream with the rest of the toppings.

Hard Shell Beef Tacos. (Janine Gilbertson)

Hard Shell Beef Tacos

To prepare, follow the recipe for Fresh Chicken Tacos, substituting the chicken with 1 lb ground beef, and substituting the tortillas with 1 dozen hard shell corn tacos. Instead of chicken stock, green onions and cilantro, you will need 1/2 cup finely shredded romaine lettuce

After adding the ground beef to the skillet, cook until beef is cooked through and no longer pink, stirring frequently to break up large pieces. 

Instead of adding chicken stock, squeeze two fresh lime wedges over the beef. After sprinkling with taco seasoning and stirring well to combine, heat an additional one to two minutes, instead of two to three. 

Warm taco shells for about 5 to 7 minutes in an oven heated to 350 degrees, then remove from oven and fill. Top with lettuce, salsa and cheese as desired.ro


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