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Idea of the Week: Embrace the Taco

Kara Kimbrough

Tacos get a bad rap. In most cases, they’re relegated to the kids’ table or drive-thru item at the fast food Mexican place. It’s high time to take tacos from the bottom of the totem pole and move them to the dinner table. After all, if they’re created the right way, tacos can be a healthy, well-balanced meal.

First, consider the fact that in one handy pouch, you’ve got the four major food groups in the form of grains, protein, vegetables, and dairy. And I have yet to find anyone, even those like myself who don’t especially enjoy Mexican food, to say they’re not delicious. While upgrading their image, I’ll share a healthier and foolproof way of enjoying them. Here’s a hint: no more salt-laden seasoning packets or shaky shells.

First, a word or two about how they moved into our mainstream food chain. Like many foods, we Americans have embraced and labeled “international,” our version of tacos is nothing like the authentic version served in Mexico, their country of origin. Authentic Mexican tacos are small, soft tortillas made from ground corn, then filled with seasoned meat and topped with cilantro and lime, wrapped in a corn husk. At no time do sour cream and salsa enter the picture.

Restaurants have been quick to recognize the potential of tacos, adding an increasing number or varieties to their menus and offering toppings that, while delicious, bear little resemblance to the humble meals served south of the border.

A quick inventory of some of the state’s restaurants showed chefs are quite inventive in transforming a corn tortilla into a tasty work of art. A few combinations that might prove inspirational in your own kitchen include Asian chicken with mango slaw; lamb with minty Mojito slaw and cucumber salsa; teriyaki chicken with a grilled pineapple and pear salsa; spicy Sriracha shrimp with cilantro lime slaw and my favorite, grilled steak with sliced avocado, chopped red onions, and tomatoes with a spicy queso dressing.

Despite our affinity for basic ground beef fillings, fish tacos are quickly becoming the taco of choice for restaurant diners.

A few of the multiple fish taco offerings on menus are coconut-crusted fish with mango salsa; blackened fish with avocado sauce; smoked tilapia topped with chopped vegetables and a creamy lime dressing; spicy catfish with chipotle mayonnaise and grilled red fish topped with lime cabbage slaw. The one I can't wait to try is crispy Baja fish with fresh pico de gallo topped with a creamy white sauce and a sprinkle of fresh lime juice.

If these delicious restaurant menu items still don’t inspire you to begin making tacos at home, I don't know what will. Okay, here are two additional thoughts that may cause you to transform tomorrow night into “Taco Thursday.”

There is a way to easily make your own seasoning and by extension, control the amount of sodium and other ingredients to spice up your tacos. Second, if you prefer old school taco shells over corn or flour tortillas, but hate it when ingredients fall out of the shell, look for flat-bottom taco shells in the supermarket. They fit neatly into a baking dish and later, stand up nicely on a serving platter or a plate.

So, join the growing movement and embrace the taco. Take it from me, Taco Night can be healthy, delicious, and fun.

Easy Taco Bake

4 large boneless chicken breasts

1 medium purple onion, sliced and thinly diced

1 red bell pepper, sliced and thinly diced

1 medium Roma tomato, sliced and thinly diced (another for topping later)

2 chicken bouillon cubes

1 cup water

1 tablespoon each: chili powder and cumin

1 teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, paprika

1/2 teaspoon each: salt and pepper or Mrs. Dash

Place chicken on bottom of large crockpot, then add other ingredients. Cook on low for eight hours or on high for 4 hours. Remove chicken from crockpot and shred meat. Place equal amount of shredded chicken in eight flat-bottom tacos, then top with cooked vegetables. Place tacos in a baking dish, fitting them close together. Top with Mexican cheese and bake in a 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes, or until cheese melts. Remove and serve with additional chopped vegetables and toppings, if desired.

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