The Freedom and Joy of Taco Night

Growing up, Taco Night was one of the best dinner nights in the world.  It was better than any restaurant, better than any of the fast food that I craved and better than any of the other amazing things my mom cooked.   I was the creator!  I got to stuff that crispy hard taco shell with whatever ratio of delicious ingredients I wanted.  I often packed mine with black olives because I was seriously addicted to them.  Just a straight up black olive taco with loads of cheese and hot sauce.  Yum, right?!  It was my own special creation and it didn’t matter if no one else liked it because it was just for me.

After living in Southern California for 12 years my concept of “taco” has changed a lot.  I no longer crave those crispy fried shells.  Instead I crave the soft, chewy, hand made tortillas that some of the best taco stands in the city offer.  Instead of piles of black olives and cheddar cheese, I crave savory pastor or veggies topped with piles of cilantro, onions, salsa, raddish and cotija cheese.  The combination of heavy, hearty savory meat or veggies with fresh, light and spicy toppings is what my mouth waters for when I think of a taco.  Fortunately for me and you, I have a recipe that makes it super easy to create this experience at home in a jiff!

veggies for tacos

My homemade tacos are veggie tacos because that’s what gets delivered to my house. And guess what, they are amazing! Starting with great produce is step 1.

The Mother of Invention

The first time I made these veggie tacos it was out of necessity.  I had a desperate hankering for a taco but I had so much produce at home that I couldn’t justify going out and buying tacos.  So I rooted through my fridge and pantry and figured I had what it would take to make them myself.

masa for tortillas

This is my go to brand for tamales and tortillas. It has a great corn flavor and it’s relatively easy to find in the stores near my house.

Just Do It (Yourself)

Homemade tortillas are the best!  And they are super easy to make.  There are only 3 to 4 ingredients and it takes very little time or skill to make the dough.  There is a bit of skill when it comes to rolling out the tortillas and if you’ve never rolled dough there might be a learning curve but it’s nothing a little practice won’t fix.

chopped veggies for taco filling

These are the veggies I happend to have on hand but you can really use any kind you like. Get creative with it!!

Much like the taco experience of my youth, there are no hard and fast rules with filling and toppings.  Because I always have an abundance of produce in my house I use whatever veggies I happen to have on hand to make the taco filling.  Roasting them with cumin and paprika gives them a nice earthy, smokey flavor that is oh so satisfying.  Depending on what season we are in I will roast zucchini, peppers, winter squash, beets, potatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, or whatever else I can think of.

veggies ready for roasting

The one trick to roasting veggies that have different cooking times is to make the harder veggies that take longer to cook smaller. I chopped the beets into tiny pieces so that they would roast in somewhat a similar time as the peppers and zucchini.

While the veggies are roasting, it’s time to make the masa for tortillas.  Sometimes I like to add extra spices to the masa like paprika or turmeric or extra garlic powder but they are just as amazing with just a pinch of salt added to the mix.

Masa ball ready to rest for a bit

You want the dough to be smooth and moist, kind of like the consistency of play-doh.

Some recipes say to let the dough rest for 20 minutes to several hours.  I find that 20 minutes usually does the trick.  So while the dough is resting you can chop up your toppings and put them in the bowls or dishes you want to serve them in.  Then, when the dough has rested, you can start rolling and pressing your homemade tortillas.

tortillas ready to press

This parchment paper makes the whole tortilla making process so much smoother. Just place one eighth of the dough in a ball in the middle of half of the parchment paper and then press it as flat as you can with a plate.

Who needs a tortillas press?!  I found that using a plate to smash my balls of dough makes the rolling process much easier.  They are more likely to come out round rather than some unweildy amoebzoidal shape.  Although, they taste amazing no matter the shape.  If you’re wondering why I don’t use a tortilla press it’s because I have a moratorium on any new kitchen gadgets and this little trick makes use of things I already have lying around so it saves me money and space.  Win-win!

Parchment paper makes a great press

See, this is what it looks like from the side. Masa ready to be smashed!

Salad plate to press the masa

Any plate will do but I really like using these small salad plates.

 

Pressing tortillas

After the masa has been smashed by the plate, it is ready to be rolled by the rolling pin.

 

Rolling out tortillas

I’ve seen someone screw this up royally so I’m going to tell you that the pressure should be sort of light and you should start in the middle and then gently roll out towards the sides in a cross pattern so that it rolls out evenly. Not hard but does take a bit of practice if you’ve never done it before.  And if you do screw it up, you can always start over.  This dough is super forgiving.

 

Fresh tortillas

Eh voilet! There is a tortilla for you. Looking all perfect and pliable.

Now we are ready to cook our tortillas!  You can us any flat bottomed pan but I am partial to using my cast iron skillet.  It’s big and wide so I can fit two tortillas at a time if I want to.  The trick here is to let the tortillas cook long enough on each side so that they get little brown spots on them.  That’s how you know they are ready.  As you cook them the pan will heat up and they will cook quicker so keep and eye on them!

Toasting tortillas

You can see a little of that golden brown goodness on there… that means it’s almost taco time.

Check the veggies because they should be close to done by now.  You want them to have a little bit of that golden Malliard effect on them.  If you want more tips and tricks about roasting veggies and how to achieve roasted veggie perfection, check out this guide.

Roasted veggies for tacos

Even without the spices these veggies would pack a flavor punch thanks to that golden brown finish.

Let’s Talk Toppings

Toppings are at least half the fun of tacos so get creative with it!  The options are damn near limitless but here is a quick list of just a few ideas:

  • Avocado cut up in slices
  • Turn that avocado into guacamole – add salt, lime juice, clilantro and a small pressed garlic clove and mash it up
  • Cheese – Cotija, Cheddar, Jack all work
  • Lime wedges
  • Tomato
  • Cilantro
  • Red Onion
  • Combine the four above with salt to make Pico de Gallo
  • Roasted pepita seeds
  • Salsa
  • Hot sauce

And then once you have your toppings all sorted it’s time to dig in!  Make all your tacos the same or make each one a unique expression of who you are in that moment.  It’s your world.

 

 

Delightful Recipe

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup of masa harina (I use Maseca brand)
  • 1 scant cup of hot water
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder (optional)
  • 4 lbs of seasonal vegetables (raw weight)
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 small garlic clove, pressed
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1/2 one small red onion
  • 1 small japapeno pepper
  • Salt
  • Grapeseed or other neutral flavored oil
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the masa harina, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and a pinch of salt.  Mix well and then add the hot water.  Mix until the masa harina has absorbed the water.  Form the mixture into a ball.  It should resemble the texture of Play-doh.  If it is dry and crumbly, add water by the Tablespoon.  If it is wet and sticky, add masa harina by the pinch until it reaches the desired consistency.
  • Set dough aside to rest, covered with a towel to keep it from drying out.
  • Trim and chop all of your veggies to desired size.  Toss in a bowl with enough oil to coat the veggies.  Sprinkle the cumin, paprika, garlic powder and salt over the oiled veggies and toss.  Make sure the spices are evenly distributed on the veggies.  Spread the veggies out in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast in preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until they are cooked through and golden brown along the edges.
  • While the veggies roast, prepare your toppings.  Mash avocados in a bowl with a pinch of salt, the juice from half a lime, the pressed garlic and chopped cilantro if you want.  Chop tomatoes, red onion and cilantro and toss with a pinch of salt and the juice from the other half of the lime.  Set toppings aside.
  • Divide rested dough into 8 equal balls.  Take a piece of parchment paper, fold it in half and then place a dough ball the center of one half of the parchment paper.  Cover the dough with the other half of the parchment paper (see photos above). Take a small salad plate and press the ball down as flat as you can with the plate.  Then take a rolling pin and roll out the dough until it is very thin.
  • Heat up a large skillet over medium high heat.  Place the tortillas into the skillet and cook on each side until each side has a few dark toasty spots.  Place the cooked tortillas on a plate and cover with a towel until they are ready to eat.
  • Place roasted veggie and toppings on each tortilla and then fold them up and enjoy.  Repeat until they are gone.
veggie taco with fixins

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