Saturday, October 3, 2015

18. Classic "Americanized" Ground Beef Tacos (circa 1979)


I've been thinking about tacos a lot lately.  Obviously.  I love trying new flavor combinations, featuring unusual ingredients, and stretching the bar when it comes to the question:  "What is a taco?

This week, for some reason, I went in the other direction.  I was remembering the tacos that I had as a kid!  When I was little, tacos were not nearly as varied and diverse as they are today.  Tacos were made with crunchy shells (which came in a box), ground beef, an envelope of taco seasoning, shredded iceberg lettuce, mild cheddar cheese, and salsa out of a jar.  That was pretty much it.  I'm not knocking them.  They were tasty.  Things were different in the late 70s and early 80s!  

I remember when Taco Bell started offering "soft" tacos.  That must have been sometime during the 80s.  I may or may not be wrong about that.  I think that was the first time it dawned on me that people have a choice.  Crunchy or soft?  Wow.  It's a simple choice, but how many other taco roads could one choose to follow after realizing that tacos can be different every time you eat them?  Crunchy?  Soft?  Beef?  Chicken?  Tofu?  Lamb?  Salmon?  It's a whole new world!

So, am I going to make these exactly the way my mom made them when I was five?  Well, no.  Otherwise, it wouldn't be my recipe.  :)  I figure I'll make the taco seasoning and taco sauce from scratch.  (I just couldn't bring myself to buy sauce in a jar.)  I'll keep the iceberg lettuce and mild cheddar.  As an adult, I always appreciated a tad of sour cream and some sliced black olives with this style of taco, though I don't think we bothered with those when I was little.  Those will be on the list of garnishes - include them if you so desire! 

I couldn't buy the boxed shells, either.  Ha ha.  (Do those even have an expiration date?  I think they're like Twinkies - they last forever!)  I went with freshly made crunchy shells from our local Food City, which is a Arizona-based grocery store that specializes in Latin-American products.  They have the best tortillas and chips!  (I learned today that there is also an unrelated chain of supermarkets called Food City in some other states such as Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky - interesting.  I can't vouch for their tortillas and chips, though!)

It's Friday night.  I decided to go all out.  I'm making yellow rice and refried beans from scratch to go on the side!  :)

This nostalgic recipe is for my mom, who always made the tacos!  :)

Classic "Americanized" Ground Beef Tacos (circa 1979)

Serves 4-6 (about 12 tacos)


For the taco sauce:

1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
One 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp. New Mexico chile powder
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tbsp. white vinegar
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt

For the ground beef mixture :

A splash of olive oil
1 lb. ground beef

1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. New Mexico chile powder
1/2 tsp. Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
A few splashes of beer (or water)

12 high-quality crunchy taco shells (freshly made, if you can get them)

Garnish as desired with:

Grated mild cheddar cheese

Shredded iceberg lettuce

Chopped tomatoes

Sour cream

Sliced mild black olives

1.  Make the taco sauce:  Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Add the chile powders, paprika, cumin, coriander and stir until fragrant.  Add the tomato sauce and stir to combine.  Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Set aside.  If desired, you can blend the sauce with a hand blender (or regular blender) to make it perfectly smooth.

2.  Make the ground beef mixture:  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the beef and cook, breaking the pieces apart with a spatula, until almost done, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add all of the remaining ingredients and cook for a few more minutes to allow the flavors to blend.  Add a little extra liquid if the mixture seems dry.

3.  Heat the shells:  Toast briefly (a minute or two) in a 350 degree oven until hot and fragrant.  Watch them - they can go from toasty to burned pretty quickly!

4.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, place a taco shell on a plate.  Fill with some of the beef.  Top with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and taco sauce.  Finish the presentation with a small dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of olives.  Enjoy!

I'm not thrilled with my pictures this time around.  These hard tacos will just not stand up!  No matter what I did, the presentation looked a little sloppy.  Oh, well.  Maybe it looks homey, not sloppy.  Yes.  Let's go with that!  :)

I was thrilled, however, with my interpretation of these tacos from my childhood.  They were delicious!  The seasoning in the ground beef was just perfect, and I loved the taco sauce.  I could see it working in all kinds of situations.  I'd like to try it with eggs and hashbrowns for brunch!  The whole recipe is a keeper, but the taco sauce is a standout!  :)

Steve really liked these, too!  We will definitely be doing this one again!  I can't think of anything I would change.  Next time I have a craving for this type of taco, I will follow this recipe exactly!

These tacos definitely brought back memories.  These days, we tend to prefer softer taco shells.  I had forgotten how crunchy tacos tend to shatter all over the place when you take a bite . . . ha ha.  After the first bite, it's a challenge to see how many more bites you can take before the whole thing falls apart and you grab your fork in defeat.  Oh, well.  I'm glad I made the beans and rice.  A bite of beans, rice, and broken taco is a wonderful thing!

Feel free to comment on this recipe!  Did you try them?  What did you think?  Do you remember this same taco from your childhood?  :)

Thanks for reading!

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